Saturday evening/night – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Special Guests in conversation: David Baldacci & Joseph Finder.

A great double-header event and one that showed clearly that no moderators are required when you get a couple of great crime writers together for what was essentially a good old chin-wag. Within a few moments, this was as though we as the audience were just listening in on a private chat between two writing buddies discussing their work and little anecdotes of their careers.

David Baldacci told a great story where he was mistaken by a fan for being John Grisham in a diner. They spoke about their research and that the best way to treat it is like an iceberg – only ever using the 10% or less you would see above the surface.

Joe Finder did actually ask to be placed in a coffin for his research for ‘Buried Secrets’ – he described the coffin as being very comfortable, something that probably goes unappreciated by most. He also expressed concern that they seem to be pretty much soundproofed – either that or the guy that screwed the lid down was playing a trick on him. Both said that the details of modern technology in fiction need to be ‘juiced up’ when describing the super-zooming in on images, whereas in the real life the investigating team might be standing and cursing over a broken fax machine! With regards to detail, they both receive more criticism over firearms than any other subject/area of their work. And with regards to reviews and any criticisms of the types of book they write, both seemed in agreement that we all want different types of reads at different times – as Stephen King said, sometimes we want a Big Mac & fries.

I had to make a swift exit from this entertaining talk before it got to the Q&A section, but I’m sure that was just as much fun. Despite this being my fourth visit to Harrogate, I had never been to Betty’s Tea Rooms and a lovely invitation from Transworld to meet their authors at a reception there was all the excuse I needed. Some may get a little more than used to meeting the great authors who they read, but I really doubt I’ll ever become that used to it, I am still very often both star-struck and tongue-tied when meeting the names who adorn the covers of the books on my shelves, or tucked under my arm at events.

Such was the case at the Transworld reception which gave the opportunity to meet with their top authors in a very relaxed and informal gathering. And a great line-up they had in place there too, SJ Watson, Tess Gerritsen, Simon Kernick, SJ Bolton, James Henry, Belinda Bauer and (just prior to his own headlining event) Theakstons’ Crime Novel of the Year winner Lee Child. It was great to be able to congratulate Lee on his win in person and, of course, to get a copy signed whilst there, and to catch up with and meet the other authors. The biggest thrill for me was to get to chat to the lovely Tess Gerritsen over Betty’s scones (which she loved), get copies of her latest books signed and dedicated for my wife’s 40th birthday and to thank her for a very special gift she’d brought in her suitcase for me.

A few weeks prior to Harrogate, my wife had spotted on Tess’s website that there were promotional t-shirts for the Rizzoli & Isles tv series being given as prizes to US competition winners. Knowing that she’d love one for her birthday, I dropped Tess an email via her website to ask if I could purchase one to be sent to the UK – a ‘Team Maura’ one which features a scalpel if at all possible. I received an email straight back saying she’d be happy to bring one to Harrogate in her suitcase for me as a gift for my wife! Earlier in the day (whilst I was in The Outer Limits panel) I received a voicemail message from the lovely Liz Hyder (Riot Communications) to say that she had the lovely Tess Gerritsen in reception with a present for me. Unfortunately, by the time I got out of the panel, Tess had gone, but the gift had been intercepted by the true gent Ben Willis of Transworld and stored safely for me (despite the fact he threatened to go for a morning run in it the following morning). I’d always maintained that the UK crime writing community is an incredibly friendly and generous place to hang out – clearly that generosity and friendliness stretches across the pond. Needless to say, my good lady wife was very pleased and surprised with her gift – after I’d first played her the voicemail message!

During the time spent with the Transworld team and their authors, back at the hotel the Criminal Consequences Dinner was taking place, with top authors hosting tables whilst Martyn Waites played gamesmaster. This year the meal also served as a birthday celebration to MC Beaton, author of the Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth novels, for her 75th Birthday. By all accounts, this was another great evening’s event.

By 8.30pm it was time for Lee Child to take the stage with Independent Columnist Christina Patterson for his very own Room 101. (As an aside, there were apparently a number of hilarious scenes in the hotel reception when staff were asked by ticket holders where Room 101 was, and in at least one case were sent upstairs to the first floor – despite it not even having a Room with that number!) Lee Child just exuded ‘cool’ and gave as good as he got, despite the fact that he did say the bartering with Christina as to what could and couldn’t be subjected to Room 101 felt a bit like marriage. All of the subjects/objects up for possible inclusion were crime fiction linked and included the phrase ‘There’s been a murder’, characters looking at themselves in the mirror and describing themselves for the benefit of the reader and, complete with man in Robin (as in Batman) suit standing beside him on the stage, sidekicks in crime fiction. This was a thoroughly well presented and great fun event and the perfect lead up, after a few beers, to the Late Night Quiz.

Hosted by Quiz Night regulars Val McDermid and Mark Billingham, and with the seating swiftly rearranged for a cabaret style night, this was full of all of the usual festival fun. Picture rounds, music rounds (even if that did include Hugh Grant’s singing at one point! – thanks to Mr B) and some really twisted and taxing criminally challenging questions, this had everything – even teams cheating with excessive numbers of people (I will not name names!). Needless to say, the team I was on was not triumphant, but we didn’t come in last – so I took that to be quite an achievement.

Sunday morning’s last two events weren’t due to start until 10am – which meant everyone could relax a little and have an even longer night in the bar or outside in the hotel garden. Fortunately it was a pretty warm night and the weather stayed fine. Knowing that some would be leaving first thing in the morning and that others would be departing straight after the last events of Sunday to head home, it was time for beers and good conversation. I recall arranging to walk back to the Holiday Inn with a few friends, but then, when the time came, I told them I’d stick around to chat to a few others, two hours later and I have no idea how my internal radar got me back to my hotel, but it was a nice night/morning for a stroll nevertheless…..

Keith

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

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