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Today I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Kathy Reichs to the CTG blog. Kathy is the best selling and award winning author of the Dr Temperance Brennan series and the Tory Brennan series, and is a producer of the chilling hit TV series Bones. She is also a Professor of Forensic Anthropology and Vice President of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists.

So, to the interview …

Your latest novel – Speaking in Bones – is out this month. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Tempe doesn’t solve every case.   And it bothers her that a few nameless dead languish unidentified in her lab. Information on some of these UIP’s, unidentified persons, is available online, and “websleuths” work to match them with MP’s, reported missing persons. At the outset of the story, Tempe is visited by one such amateur detective who believes she’s successfully connected skeletal remains in Tempe’s storage facility to a young woman missing for three years.  What seems at first to be an isolated tragedy takes on a more sinister cast as Tempe uncovers two more sets of bones. Still reeling from her mother’s diagnosis and the shock of Andrew Ryan’s potentially life-changing proposal, Tempe tries to solve the murders before the body count climbs further.

In the story, your main character, Dr Tempe Brennan, is approached by an amateur detective who thinks they’ve identified some remains – what was it that sparked the idea for this story?  


As usual, the story emerged from the coalescence of different idea particles floating around in my brain.  Thousands engage in websleuthing worldwide.  I was intrigued by the concept and thought my readers might also find the pursuit interesting. Brown Mountain, located in my home state of North Carolina, is famous for an unexplained phenomenon of floating lights whose origin no one can explain.  The Blue Ridge Mountains are home to many unusual and little-known religious groups, some of whom handle poisonous snakes and speak in tongues as part of their worship.  I took these disparate bits of knowledge, threw in some old cases, and Speaking in Bones was the result.

Your books always have a great balance of technical fact and fast paced fiction – what’s the secret to achieving this?  

I think what gives my books authenticity is that I actually do what it is I’m writing about.  I think the fact that I am in the autopsy room, I go to the crimes scene and I work in a full-spectrum forensic lab gives my books a flavor they otherwise wouldn’t have.  I think my readers want to learn something.  They want to read about the science behind DNA, ballistics, blood splatter pattern analysis.  I write for the reader who wants to learn something new and enjoy a good old -fashioned murder mystery at the same time. The key to the science? Keep it short, entertaining, and jargon free.

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Could you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot the story out in advance or jump right in and see where it takes you?  

My writing days begin in the morning and end in the evening.  If I am not inspired, I write anyway.  I start with a chapter by chapter outline of the story, then write in a linear fashion moving from beginning to end.  I have the plot twists and ending in mind.  But if I stumble upon a great idea midstream, in it goes.

What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?  

Write every day.  Or every week.  Perhaps every dawn.  Whatever time block you have available.  Don’t accept writer’s block.  If what you are writing is disappointing, at the end of the day you can delete it.  Write every chance you get, no matter what.

And finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?  

I’m actually working on an off-series novel.  Brand new, not Temperance Brennan.  New characters, setting, and premise.  No more spoilers!

A huge thank you to Kathy Reichs for stopping by the CTG blog today and answering our questions.

Kathy’s latest book – SPEAKING IN BONES – is out this week. Here’s the blurb: When forensic anthropologist Dr Tempe Brennan is approached by amateur detective Hazel ‘Lucky’ Strike, at first she is inclined to dismiss the woman’s claims that she’s matched a previously unidentified set of remains with a name. 
But as the words of a terrified young woman echo round her office from an audio recorder found near where the bones were discovered, something about the story won’t let Tempe go. 

As Tempe investigates further she finds herself involved in a case more complicated and horrifying than she could ever have imagined.”

To find out more, hop on over to her website at www.kathyreichs.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter @KathyReichs

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What the blurb says: “A brutal murder. A lone female investigator. Two hundred metres below the ocean’s surface, the pressure is rising … Suicide must be investigated, especially when a Royal Navy sailor kills himself on a nuclear submarine only days after his wife’s brutal murder.

Now Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis, the Navy’s finest Special Branch investigator, must interrogate the tight-knit, male crew of HMS Tenacity to determine if there’s a link. Isolated, and standing alone in the face of extreme hostility, Dan soon realises that she may have to choose between the truth and her own survival. Justice must be served, but with a possible killer on board the pressure is rising and her time is running out …”

This debut novel from J.S. Law is a tense read from start to finish. Danielle “Dan” Lewis – a top investigator with more than a fair share of secrets hidden in her past – is brought in to investigate the alleged suicide of a member of HMS Tenacity’s Ship’s Company. Right from the get-go it’s clear that the odds are stacked against her – Tenacity’s men are a close-knit team and they don’t want anyone – especially a woman – poking around in their business.

Despite the hostility towards her, Dan presses on with the investigation. Master-At-Arms John Granger lends his support (although there are unresolved tensions between the pair that make for a tricky working relationship) and it seems that the investigation will manage to move forward. Then Tenacity gets the order to dive, and Dan has to continue the investigation on-board beneath the ocean’s surface. As she studies the nuances of the case and interviews the men, Dan begins to uncover the lies and secrets hidden within Tenacity’s history, and the danger that might still lurk within.

Like the novel’s title suggests, Dan is a tenacious lead character and someone that, as a reader, I found it easy to root for. She’s a survivor of injustice, using her own experiences as fire to fuel her unrelenting determination to achieve her goal – utterly focused on searching out the truth, even when it puts her own life in danger.

As an ex-submariner, author J.S. Law’s detailed knowledge of the Navy and submarines shines through to make for a highly authentic and atmospheric setting. The uniqueness of the tightly sealed environment of HMS Tenacity is made increasingly claustrophobic through the ever-increasing build-up of jeopardy.

Gritty, super-charged with tension and claustrophobically atmospheric, TENACITY is a real page-turner of a read – perfect for fans of military thrillers and police procedurals.

Highly recommended.

 

[Many thanks to the lovely folks at Headline for my copy of TENACITY]

 

 

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: Author Nelly Tucker on March, 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Author Neely Tucker (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Today crime writer Neely Tucker is taking the reins of the CTG blog to talk about the real life places, and events, that have inspired his two recent books THE WAYS OF THE DEAD and MURDER, D.C. 

So, over to Neely …

“The Ways of the Dead” and “Murder, D.C.” are based on very real Washington neighborhoods with very real histories, and both novels are based on very real events.

“Ways” takes as its inspiration a real-life serial killer named Darryl Turner, who police say killed as many as nine women, most of whom were in the low-end drug trade. He killed all of them on or near a two-block long street called Princeton Place. It’s about two miles north of the U.S. Capitol. In the late 1990s, when the novel is set, this was a predominantly black neighborhood, in which older residents were middle class and took very good care of their homes, but were surrounded by drug dealers and crack houses (abandoned buildings where addicts get high).

The recent film, “The Butler,” about the long-time butler to several U.S. presidents, is about a man who lived in this neighborhood.

In 2000, as the court reporter for The Washington Post, I covered the initial proceedings against Turner. The contrasts of the neighborhood struck me, and that was the beginning of “Ways.”

“Murder” moves about four miles south, to a little-visited part of D.C. known as “Southwest.” Here’s your handy travel tip: D.C. is divided into four quadrants, with the U.S. Capitol acting as the dividing point. “Northwest D.C.” is the land north and west of the Capitol, and so on.

Southwest DC is a tiny quadrant, just south of the Capitol and quickly cut off by the Washington Channel or the Potomac River. Before the Civil War, there were at least two “slave pens,” or jails where enslaved African Americans were kept and sold, in the area.

If you go along the National Mall today, by the Air and Space Museum, you are less than two hundred meters from an antebellum slave pen. There was also a very large slave auction house just across the river, in Virginia. Again, if you saw the film “12 Years a Slave,” that’s where the man was actually first held.

So I created a fictional knob of land,  Frenchman’s Bend, imbued it with the combined histories of these nearby slave pens, and set it along the waterfront. It’s a cursed, gothic sort of place that no one wanted to touch after the Civil War, due to horrors that had gone on there. Think of it as an open-air haunted house.  By the late 20th Century, it’s a very unpleasant drug park, the most violent place in the most violent city in America — which D.C. really was at the time.

Murder, D.C. cover image

Murder, D.C. cover image

Welcome to the real estate upon which turns “Murder, D.C.,” and the fate of Sully Carter.

Huge thanks to Neely Tucker for stopping by to talk Locations.

MURDER, D.C. will be published in hardback on Thursday 30th July. Here’s the blurb: “When Billy Ellison, the son of Washington, D.C.’s most influential African-American family, is found dead in the Potomac near a violent drug haven, veteran metro reporter Sully Carter knows it’s time to start asking some serious questions – no matter what the consequences.

With the police unable to find a lead and pressure mounting for Sully to abandon the investigation, he has a hunch that there is more to the case than a drug deal gone bad or a tale of family misfortune. Digging deeper, Sully finds that the real story stretches far beyond Billy and into D.C.’s most prominent social circles.

An alcoholic still haunted from his years as a war correspondent in Bosnia, Sully now must strike a dangerous balance between D.C.’s two extremes – the city’s violent, desperate back streets and its highest corridors of power – while threatened by those who will stop at nothing to keep him from discovering the shocking truth.”

The Ways of the Dead cover image

The Ways of the Dead cover image

THE WAYS OF THE DEAD will be published in paperback on Thursday 30th July. Here’s the blurb: “The body of the teenage daughter of a powerful Federal judge is discovered in a dumpster in a bad neighbourhood of Washington, D.C. It is murder, and the local police immediately arrest the three nearest black kids, bad boys from a notorious gang.

Sully Carter, a veteran war correspondent with emotional scars far worse than the ones on his body, suspects that there’s more to the case than the police would have the public know. With the nation clamouring for a conviction, and the bereaved judge due for a court nomination, Sully pursues his own line of enquiry, in spite of some very dangerous people telling him to shut it down.”

To find out more about Neely Tucker and his books hop on over to his website at www.neelytucker.com and follow him on Twitter @NeelyTucker

crime writer Neil White

crime writer Neil White

Today I’m delighted to be hosting the latest stop on best selling crime writer Neil White’s blog tour. Neil’s kindly agreed to let me grill him about his latest books and his writing process.

And so, to the questions …

Your latest thriller – THE DOMINO KILLER – comes out this week, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the concluding book in the Parker brothers trilogy and deals partially with the running thread through the first two books, the murder of their sister many years earlier. As well as that, men are being murdered in Manchester, with a link between each one. The story starts with the murder of a man in a park, and it’s discovered that the dead man’s bloodied fingerprint was found on a knife near a body a few weeks earlier. What links them, and is there a connection with Sam and Joe’s murdered sister?

Your lead characters are brothers Joe Parker (a top criminal defence lawyer) and Sam Parker (a talented detective) – what gave you the idea for them?

It was really the notion of conflict, which I hit upon by accident when I was writing my first series involving a crime reporter and a detective who were also in a relationship. What seemed to work was that the reporter wanted to know about the cases his partner was involved in, and of course she wanted to keep him out of them.

When I realised I had to come up with a new idea, I stuck with the notion of two people who are close but have conflicting roles. Two brothers on the opposite side of the legal fence seemed to fit.

It fitted also with my own desire to make the books more legal.

I’d flirted with legal elements in the earlier books, but had always worried that I would become obsessed by making them so accurate that they ceased to be interesting; a day in court can occasionally be as mundane as any other job, punctuated by delays and often filled with so much routine.

When the drama does happen, however, it’s often pretty fun. I’m a prosecutor, and I’ve been shouted at and threatened, and at one point invited outside to “resolve matters”, and that’s just from the defence lawyers (yes, really, including the invitation to a street brawl). The criminals, on the whole, have been okay.

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You’re a lawyer by day and a crime writer by night, what’s your secret to juggling these two roles?

I wish I knew it. I do what I have to do, and I don’t doubt that each job impacts negatively on the other through fatigue.

I’m not as good as I used to be after a day at work. I work just three days a week now, so I write off those nights, but I find it hard to believe that it isn’t that long since I was doing both full-time. I remember getting to the end of one of my books, I can’t remember which, and just said that was it, I was beat. I was shattered, a squeezed sponge. So I gave up a couple of days of work and now it feels more balanced.

The hardest thing is losing so much of my time. I never truly have a day off, and have taken my laptop on most of my family holidays.

What got you started writing crime fiction?

That is probably a two-part question.

What got me writing fiction? Because I always thought it was something I could do. That is just about as simple as it gets. It was something I was able to do well at school and seemed to stand me in good stead during university. I said even then that I wanted to be a writer, and at one point thought of giving up my law degree to switch to journalism, just because I thought putting words on a page was my strength.

So why crime? It’s because that’s what I read, and crime has always been my interest. As a student, I imagined myself in a courtroom, not a boardroom. I’m a criminal lawyer because I like crime. I write crime fiction because I like crime. Who couldn’t be interested in the extremes of human behaviour and emotion?

What’s your best writing moment so far?

Reaching number one in the ebook charts with my fifth book, Cold Kill. To go onto Amazon and see my book at the top of the pile on the homepage was unreal. It was something I couldn’t have imagined when I started out.

For those aspiring to publication, what advice would you give them?

That depends on what sort of publication.

If someone is aspiring towards traditional publishers, keep on plugging. If you’re good enough, someone somewhere will spot you.

If someone is wanting to self-publish through ebooks or print, engage an editor. I self-published in 2004, and it was the self-published book that got me an agent and eventually a publishing deal, but the one thing I hate about it is the failure to engage an editor. There are typos and grammatical howlers in it, and it would have been so much better for me to be proud of it still, but instead it’s the one I’m happy to see fade into history.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

I’ve just signed a deal for three books with Bonnier, under their new imprint Zaffre, and it sounds like they have exciting things planned. It’s a move of publishers but that brings new challenges and new adventures. The first book should be out next summer; once I’ve written it, of course.

Fantastic! Thanks so much to Neil White for taking the time to come and chat to us on the CTG blog today.

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Be sure to check out Neil’s latest thriller – THE DOMINO KILLER – which is out this week in hardback. Here’s the blurb: “When a man is found beaten to death in a local Manchester park, Detective Constable Sam Parker is one of the investigating officers. Sam swiftly identifies the victim, but what at first looks like an open and shut case quickly starts to unravel when he realizes that the victim’s fingerprints were found on a knife at another crime scene, a month earlier. Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Joe – a criminal defence lawyer in the city – comes face to face with a man whose very presence sends shockwaves through his life. Joe must confront the demons of his past as he struggles to come to terms with the darkness that this man represents. Before long, Joe and Sam are in way over their heads, both sucked into a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to change their lives for ever …”

You can also now get your hands on THE DEATH COLLECTOR in paperback now (released last week). Here’s the blurb: “Danger sometimes comes in the most unexpected guises. The Death Collector is charming, sophisticated and intelligent, but he likes to dominate women, to make them give themselves to him completely; to surrender their dignity and their lives. He’s a collector of beautiful things, so once he traps them he’ll never let them go. Joe is drawn into the Death Collector’s world when he becomes involved in a supposed miscarriage of justice, and when the case becomes dangerous, Sam is the first person he turns to. In this gripping thriller, danger lurks for not only the Parker brothers, but also those closest to them.”

To find out more about Neil and his books hop on over to his website at www.neilwhite.net and follow him on Twitter @neilwhite1965

 

The New Blood Panel

The New Blood Panel

On Saturday (after a rather late night on the Friday) I started my day with the New Blood panel.

To a sold-out audience, Val McDermid talked to debut novelists Renee Knight (Disclaimer), Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go), Ben McPherson (A Line of Blood), and Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory) about the inspiration behind their books, their journey to publication, and what they had planned for their second books.

It was a real treat, especially as I’ve read, loved and reviewed Renee Knight and Clare Mackintosh’s books – find the reviews here for Disclaimer and I Let You Go. And wonderful find out more about Ben McPherson’s chilling psychological thriller about a seemingly ordinary family caught in the middle of a murder investigation, and Lucy Ribchester’s fabulous sounding historical murder mystery set in the world of suffragettes and trapeze artists – two more books to add to my To Be Read pile for sure!

 

Authors Paul Finch and JS Law

Authors Paul Finch and JS Law

After the panel I caught up with some friends for lunch before heading across the lawn to the tent where Headline Publishing had set up a submarine-themed game of battleships to celebrate the launch of JS Law’s debut novel (on 30th July) TENACITY.

 

 

Here willing volunteers battled it out in a game of wits and rum. Author Paul Finch was victorious in a game (pictured here with JS Law). I have to admit that I didn’t play the game – but I did get my picture taken with JS Law.

 

After that, I caught up with Graeme Cameron, author of NORMAL – which was one of the books available for festival goers to bag (if they were fast) from the bookshelves. I was chuffed to get myself a copy – and have Graeme sign it for me.

 

JS Law and CTG

JS Law and CTG

Then it was off to the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs. South Challenge Cup football match (you can read my post on the game here).

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t make it to any panels on Sunday morning. It was either that or the fact that it’s impossible to move more than a few feet at Harrogate without bumping into friends – hours seem to pass in a flash.

 

But all too soon the weekend was over and I was saying my goodbyes to all the fabulous crime folks and heading home weighed down by as many books as I could carry.

 

 

Graeme Cameron pointing to his book NORMAL

Graeme Cameron pointing to his book NORMAL

If you’ve not been to the festival before I seriously recommend that you check it out and make a plan to go next year – it really is a crime reader’s heaven.

 

You can find out more here

 

The 2016 programme chair is best selling crime writer Peter James – so go on, book now, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

 

The Quiz!!

The Quiz!!

 

The Ref and The Players - The North (in Red/Black) The South (in Yellow/Blue)

The Ref and The Players – The North (in Red/Black) The South (in Yellow/Blue)

One of the great new additions to the festival programme this year was the football match. At 6.30pm on Saturday evening two teams of brave crime writers lined up to be counted in a passionate and thrilling match for the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs South Challenge Cup.

The teams, pictured here at the start of the match with Referee Mark Billingham, were:

  • For the North (sponsored by Fox Spirit): Luca Veste, Craig Robertson, Nick Quantrill, Col Bury, Howard Linskey, Vincent Holland-Keen, Dan Stewart and Graham Smith.
  • For the South (sponsored by Crime Files): Tim Weaver, Chris Ewan, James Law, Graeme Cameron, Tom Witcomb, Adam Hamdy, Ian Ayris and Darren Laws.

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With a large crowd of spectators assembled to watch them the match kicked off and right from the start the competition was fierce. The North, with great form from their convincing win at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match last year, started strong, but the South were determined to give them a challenge and at first possession seemed equally held.

Then the first goal came – from Luca Veste for the North – and from then on the goals from the North kept on coming.

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A short time later it seemed like the South might shorten the gap with Tim Weaver putting the ball in the back of the net. But the goal was disallowed because it occurred after Craig Robertson saved a goal from Tom Witcomb – whose momentum took him illegally (but accidentally) into the box where he illegally (accidentally) flattened Craig – both players were still on the ground when the ball went in the net). Despite some player protests, Referee Mark Billingham stood firm in his decision to disallow the illegal goal, and the teams played on.

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The action was fast and the teams were cheered on as they chased the ball up and down the field with vigor and determination right to the final whistle. Although the South played valiantly to the end, this match was all about the North – with the final score standing at 6-0 to the North. The goals scored by Luca Veste (1), Howard Linskey (2) and Col Bury (3). Craig Robertson saved two penalties.

The match was a real crowd pleaser, with the enthusiastic crowd cheering on the teams the whole way through. But this sporting event didn’t pass without the sheading of blood, sweat and (probably) tears. Confirmed injuries included a fractured wrist (Graeme Cameron) and a fractured ankle (Luca Veste) – and it’s worth noting the grit of these players as they played on with their injuries, Luca still managing to hit the bar and post after his.

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As the triumphant North held high the Harrogate Crime Writers North vs South Challenge Cup later that evening, talk was already turning to the 2016 rematch, and the rigorous training schedules that the players would be putting in place in preparation.

Massive kudos to all who played. It was a fabulous event and one that I’ll be super excited to see return in 2016!

Val McDermid presents the cup to The North (photo credit: Fenris Oswin)

Val McDermid presents the cup to The North (photo credit: Fenris Oswin)

[with thanks to Kat Miller and Luca Veste for the excellent action photos]

Going to the crime festival at Harrogate is a bit like entering another world – a world populated entirely by crime writers and crime readers. A perfect place for a crime fiction addict like me to hang out!

The Irish Noir panel

The Irish Noir panel

So I arrived on Thursday afternoon in time for the opening party (of course!) and the announcement of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. This year the highly coveted barrel trophy was won by the fabulous Sarah Hilary for her brilliant novel Someone Else’s Skin. [FYI: the partying went on well into the night/morning]

On Friday I managed to make it to breakfast (just before the food was cleared away) and after a few strong coffees was ready to skip along to the Irish Noir panel. This lively event, with Steve Cavanagh, Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Eoin McNamee and Adrian McKinty, saw the authors discussing why they’d chosen to set their books where they had (in Ireland or not, and in the far past, recent past or present), what their writing influences had been, how the troubles had shaped them as writers, the challenges of research – including the danger of being sucked down the rabbit hole by Google and Wikipedia – and many other topics.

Killer Women

Killer Women

Then it was time for lunch and drinks on the lawn where I caught up with some of the wonderful Killer Women (pictured) Anya Lipska, Helen Giltrow, Louise Voss, and Helen Smith.

Then it was time for the Yorkshire Pride panel with moderator Nick Quantrill posing the questions to Lee Child, Steve Mosby, Frances Brody and Peter Robinson around the central topic of Yorkshire. Lee Child spoke of his fond memories buying sweets with his grandma in Harrogate, Steve Mosby spoke of creating a Leeds-like place to set his novels in, and Peter Robinson and Frances Brody spoke about the Yorkshire settings – both present and past – of their novels.

As soon as the panel ended it was a quick sprint along the corridor to the Dead Good Reader Awards – luckily not arriving too late for one of the special ‘The Widow’ themed cocktails (pictured) of blood orange and bubbly!

'The Widow' cocktails

‘The Widow’ cocktails

From the thousands of votes, the winners of the first ever Dead Good Reader Awards were announced as …

  • The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book: The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
  • The Lee Child Award for Best Loner or Detective: Vera Stanhope (Ann Cleeves)
  • The Val McDermid Award for Fiendish Forensics: Time of Death (Mark Billingham)
  • The Reichenbach Falls Award for Most Epic Ending: The Skeleton Road (Val McDermid)
  • The Dr Lecter Award for Scariest Villain: You are Dead (Peter James)
  • The Patricia Highsmith Award for Most Exotic Location: Amsterdam – The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die (Marnie Riches)
Award winner Marnie Riches with her agent

Award winner Marnie Riches with her agent

And there was still much to come. The next event was Mark Billingham in conversation with Eddie Izzard. This session, to a packed out audience, was one of the major highlights of the festival. With great banter, packed full of anecdotes and laughs, they talked about some of the stranger venues they’d played on the comedy circuit, what it’s like to die on stage, how to deal with hecklers, through to the need to continuously challenge yourself, and how everyone can keep learning – even if they’re 90. The hour seemed to pass in a flash, and I for one could have continued to listen to them all night.

The final session of the day (starting at 10pm) was The Black Art of Criticism panel with moderator N.J. Cooper posing the questions to panellists Jake Kerridge (the Telegraph’s book reviewer), and authors S.J. Parris, Stav Sherez and Ann Widdecombe. It was a playful panel who debated how they approached reviewing, and how they took being reviewed, with plenty of entertaining discussion.

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The Black Art of Criticism panel

And so, at 11pm as the events of the day drew to a close, I headed to the bar – where I stayed until the early hours of the next morning.

To be continued …