Old Peculier* crime writing festival
Harrogate July 19 – 22,
For a long weekend in July the Crown
Hotel, Harrogate, was crowded with crime fiction enthusiasts for
this major event – the only UK
festival dedicated just to crime. Since its inauguration in 2003
it has developed into a significant date in the literary calendar.
On Thursday budding novelists
were given hints and tips from published authors about plot (Simon
Kernick), setting (Greg Mosse), inventing characters (Laura Wilson)
and writing (Natasha Cooper). The speakers all gave helpful advice
which they illustrated by reading passages or demonstrated with PowerPoint
presentations. Practical information about topics like structure
and plot analysis was interspersed with examples of possible pitfalls
and how to avoid them. All the speakers were enthusiasts of the genre
and very knowledgeable about the work of other writers. Natasha Cooper
illustrated how the elements of a very simple idea involving a cat
and a family could be written very differently as a village mystery,
a serial killer story or a psychological thriller.
On a more practical level,
the final session of the day featured a publisher (Hilary Hale) and
a literary agent (Jane Gregory) discussing important matters like
how to attract an editor's attention and how to have your novel assessed
professionally. Although the market is hard to break into and very
few manuscripts sent direct to publishers or agents are published,
they indicated that a well-researched and written novel that has
is likely to catch their eye.
|Allan Guthrie and his book
evening saw the announcement of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime
Novel of the Year, the only crime award chosen by readers – Two
Way Split by Allan Guthrie (Polygon). Set in Scotland, this noir
thriller owes more to American influences than British, and interestingly
was published in the US before the UK.
From Friday to Sunday there was a packed programme running from
9am until late at night. All you needed was stamina and I am afraid
that by late Saturday I was flagging! One particular highlight was
the opening interview with Val McDermid who won the Crime Writers
Association Gold Dagger in 2006. Her writing is often shocking perhaps
because she concentrates on the victims of crime, who are frequently
women. Some male writers have criticised her work but she maintains
that it is important to reflect the world we live in and the nature
of violence within it.
On Friday various panels of authors
discussed topics such as Country Matters (rural crimes in beautiful
locations – more shocking than
in the inner city?) and New Blood (newly published authors discussing
the genesis of their novels). With Snobbery with Violence there was
a heated discussion about whether the best crime fiction is set in
the mean streets or in the drawing room. However it disintegrated
into an argument about social class and additionally about what type
of crime women should write about (if at all).
Plumbing the Depths explored the psychological reasons for killing
and highlighted the influence of Freud in our interpretation of the
motives of murderers. All the authors used their particular specialisms,
whether as a psychologist, comedian, journalist or a Mafia investigator
to inform their writing.
In the evening the highlight was an interview with Lee Child whose
character Jack Reacher has now featured in 11 novels. Child who suggested
that being a good storyteller is the most important part of his writing,
described his character as a knight errant and loner who aids a community
to deal with a threat and then rides off into the sunset, rather
like a cowboy in the old westerns. Reacher is what Child would be
if he could get away with it! A master storyteller and speaker, Child
exudes and enthusiasm for the genre and his character in particular.
Saturday started with Here
Come the Cops a panel discussion chaired by Marcel Berlins considered
fictional policemen and women and the reality of police work. The
challenge of creating interesting and believable fictional policemen
(or women) led these authors to variously feature a happily married
normal investigator, one interested in the paranormal/supernatural,
one involved in how the team functions and one with a modern single
mother with 3 children and a baby to support. All agreed that they
had to twist reality, such as the length of time it takes to obtain
a DNA profile, to make the fiction work. The influence of TV crime
drama and the way reality is bent for these was also significant.
UK vs USA Val McDermid and Mark Billingham
crime fiction was discussed in Getting it right. These authors
set their investigations in periods ranging from pre-Roman Britain
and Rome to 19 th century Istanbul and finally 1930s Britain. Although
everyone agreed that it was important to try and ensure that their
settings seem historically accurate, sometimes there was no evidence
to use and therefore using your imagination was acceptable. Dialogue
that reflects the language and style of the period was particularly
Crime in the City contrasted
with the earlier discussion on crime in rural settings. All the authors
had given careful consideration to the role of the location they
chose from Venice, Portsmouth, London and Cambridge to London ,
Athens and Edinburgh. Making readers see these places through different
eyes was their most important task.
Crime fiction also includes
thrillers and in Secrets, Spies and Foreign.
Affairs the panel discussed the important elements in their novels.
Often seen as a male genre, these narratives deal with deception
and betrayal and highlight the lonely individual who is tackling
with problems with courage.
This festival was a fantastic opportunity for crime fiction aficionados
to meet not only authors, publishers and agents but also other enthusiasts.
Here you can gain insight into their work as well as discover the
type of novels that are being published. A large number of attendees
seemed to be involved not only in reading crime fiction but also
producing short stories or novels, or writing websites.
To find out more about
* a specific
type of dark beer.