NEW BLOOD – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Bounding onto stage sporting a headset mic set and doing the first line of ‘Like a Virgin’ before admitting that Martina Cole beat her to it with her ‘Britney’ the day before, festival favourite Val McDermid took to the stage to introduce the ‘New Blood’ event.

This has been a very popular panel since first being put on at Harrogate as it gives readers a chance to hear debut crime novelists describe their route to publication and provides a chance to get started reading new crime authors from their very first book and see how they then develop over, hopefully, years to come.

But it also serves to give those established authors a reason to keep upping their own game, seeing these bright young things rising up as potential threats on the bestseller charts. McDermid announced that she was dealing with this by ‘ritually murdering the panel afterwards’, but she has also got her first children’s book ‘My Granny is a Pirate’ coming out – just in case she needs to change tack.

She introduced the panel, starting with Gordon Ferris, who has had great ebook sales and now in print with 1946 set West of Scotland books including ‘Truth Dare Kill’ – McDermid advising the audience ‘Don’t start any of these (books) if you have to be somewhere in half an hour.’

Julia Crouch, who has written the fantastic psychological thriller ‘Cuckoo’ described how she’s a big Nick Cave fan and loves to run in her home town of Brighton, so often runs along listening to Cave’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ hoping she may bump into him.

Next up was Melanie (MJ) McGrath, whose ‘White Heat’ has been one of my favourite reads this year. Her book was inspired by a trip to the North Pole which was the followed up by witnessing an attempted murder when she got back home. Much has been made of the food detailed within her book, but she laughed it off by saying that after a few weeks in the region where the book is set ‘the body takes over and you wake up and say “Yay! Whale blubber!”’

Gordon said that he has to set his books in the past as he doesn’t like all the csi and police procedurals. Val McDermid said she did think that ‘CSI Kilmarnock somehow doesn’t have the same ring to it.’

When talking about their style of book or the terms used to describe them, Julia Crouch said she thought her book was a ‘crime of passion’ novel – which essentially meant she could then join the Crime Writers Association and the Romantic Novelist Societies.

The fourth member of the panel was SJ Watson, who has had amazing success with his great debut ‘Before I Go to Sleep’, who simply stated that ‘at the age of 40, I have discovered what I should be doing.’

Gordon Ferris said that what authors do is ‘a craft – not a God-given right.’

Melanie McGrath added that she is often ‘surprised by how profoundly you need to know your characters.’ ‘Only by really knowing them allows them to tell you what they are going to do next.’

Julia Crouch, who wrote the first draft of what was to become ‘Cuckoo’ as a NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) project said that she ‘Hadn’t realised how many times you can re-write a novel. She continued to speak of her publishing experience and clearly had a lot of respect for readers and for library events.

Before going to the Q&A section of the discussion, there was time for each of the authors to mention what was next for them:

SJ Watson – A novel currently titled ‘Nine Lives’ (although subject to change). He is fascinated by identity and its fluidity – the masks we wear at different times – and there’ll be more sex in this one.

Melanie McGrath – Book 2 is about a month away from being finished – will feature more sex (and possibly more whale blubber) with sexual and political skulduggery in the same region as ‘White Heat’.

Gordon Ferris – ‘Bitter Water’ – a sequel to ‘The Hanging Shed’, in the first person again and set 2-3 months on from the previous book in high summer. He promised an outbreak of violence, a pattern being formed and metered out to the bad guys – rapists/thieves – in the form of vigilantism. Mean streets, Mean city, Mean people.

Julia Crouch – ‘Every Vow you Break’ – Set in upstate New York (she knows the area and the them very well as her husband works there a lot as an actor). The story centres around a family who go there, where the husband is an actor. There’s a stalker in it, and it doesn’t end very well…..

And then it was time for the Q&A section, kicking off by asking about each author’s oute to publication and whether their published book was their first novel.

SJ Watson – Not a typical route to publication at all. It wasn’t his first novel, but it was the first one he’d managed to finish.

Melanie McGrath – ‘White Heat’ was her first fiction book, but she had several non-fiction books already published. It took her a couple of years to find a suitable route into fiction publication.

Gordon Ferris – Has a large back catalogue. He shot to fame overnight, after 12 years. His kindle published download had an ‘invisible’ rise on amazon to the top of the charts with 120,000 ebooks sold. Now his work is available in paperback, he feels he’ll be able to better judge if writing is his career.

Julia Crouch – Described her route as fairly ‘cushy’ – after redrafting her NaNoWriMo entry until ready, she submitted a synopsis and 5000 words and was sold within 3 weeks to Headline.

Were there any changes in the books?

Julia Crouch – Yes, in the first NaNo draft they all died – just to get the thing finished!

SJ Watson – Couldn’t recall any changes.

Gordon Ferris – No major changes to the plot. ‘Kenny’ became ‘Douglas’ but that was the only change he could recall. Comments on their writing processes: SJ Watson – has early starts and writes whilst half asleep.

Melanie McGrath – Likes to be writing fairly early, starting with getting up at 7.30am

Gordon Ferris – Starts at 8.30am and rewrites until he throws it away!

Julia Crouch – Using the NaNoWriMo concept for first draft meant it was done very quickly. She uses post-it notes and colour coding – don’t all authors love their stationary!

And all agreed that they use [ ] brackets for all the unknown parts of their novels as they go along.

[Insert BIG bit of plot here ! ]

Keith

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Filed under Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2011

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