CTG reports from Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival: Day 3

the big screen in the Albert Halls

the big screen in the Albert Halls

Onto Sunday, and it was hard to believe that the festival was almost over. But there wasn’t time to feel sad as I was booked into a full day of sessions.

The morning started with So You Want to Be a Crime Novelist? A bunch of eight brave writers pitched their novels to the panel – agent Mark Stanton, editor Alison Hennessey, and last year’s winner (and bookseller) Joseph Knobbs. All the participants pitched brilliantly and showed nerves of steel. Massive congratulations to the winners – Alex Cox and Dan Stewart – who both won a gorgeous Toshiba tablet.

Next was the Masters of the Dark session with Mark Billingham and Stewart Neville (chaired by Peter Guttridge). Both writers talked about how freeing it could be to write a standalone novel after focusing on a series, and touched on their research methods (like going out in a patrol car with a couple of Police Officers for the night shift). They also discussed the art of the plot twist – when it works, when it doesn’t, and when there are just too many of the damn things.

After lunch I headed to the Craig Robertson & Chris Carter session (again chaired by Peter Guttridge) entitled Chasing Serial Killers. They discussed where their ideas for stories begin – a murder scene, a motivation, or a character – and the strange places they can suddenly get ideas. Chris Carter talked about being on the beach when one of his story ideas popped into his mind.

In the final session of the day, At the Top of his Game, the ever-sparkling Peter Guttridge chatted to the ever-charismatic Lee Child with an audience packed to the rafters listening in. Peter focused the interview more on Lee than on Reacher, asking him about his own experience growing up, whether Reacher’s fighting techniques, including the head-butts,  are skills Lee himself honed (answer:  yes!), and what his plans are for the series (answer: three more books agreed, after that he’ll see if people want more – I expect that we will!). Of course Lee’s new book NEVER GO BACK was discussed, but as to whether Reacher finally gets to visit with ‘the woman with the great voice’ that he’s been travelling to meet for the past couple of books, well, I guess you’ll just have to read the story to find out! [No spoilers here!]

And then it was over.

All that remains is to say a huge thank you to Dom Hastings and his amazing festival team. Their friendliness, great festive spirit and endlessly positive responses to queries both before and during the festival made for a warm and welcoming atmosphere that I’m sure will bring people back to Bloody Scotland for 2014 and beyond.

[hop on over to www.bloodyscotland.com to check out the early bird offers for Bloody Scotland 2014]

CTG reports from Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival: Day 2

Queue for Jo Nesbo

Queue for Jo Nesbo

Now queuing might normally be viewed as an annoying if not frustrating aspect of festival going, but not at Bloody Scotland. The buzz in the queue for the sold out sessions at the Albert Halls was tremendous, and it was great to strike up conversations with fellow fans of crime fiction and find out what their highlights of the festival had been and which sessions and authors they were looking forward to seeing. In the process I managed to add a few more authors to my ever growing ‘must read’ list.

As for the sessions I attended, the highlights of my day were:

The Fresh Blood panel. Chaired by Michael Malone, the panel of Matt Bendoris, Lisa Ballantyne and Malcolm Mackay talked about their debut novels and their experiences of getting to publication. They talked of the challenges (and need for dogged determination) when juggling home, work and writing, with Matt Bendoris admitting that he wrote his debut (and second novel) on his Blackberry while standing on a packed commuter train en-route (and back) to his day job!

Thrilling Tales and Psychological Twists saw Professor David Wilson in conversation with Zoe Sharp and Julia Crouch. Professor Wilson asked Zoe and Julia to first read excerpts from their books – Julia from her most recent novel Tarnished, and Zoe from her new standalone novel The Blood Whisperer – and then invited the audience to say how the narrative had made them feel. It was fascinating stuff, and so interesting to hear the impact both the writers’ narrative had.

Professor Wilson was keen to learn what had prompted the authors to write crime thrillers and prompted Zoe Sharp speak of her real life experience of receiving death threats when working as a photo journalist. In a rather unconventional departure from the standard interview format he then turned a question to the audience – why do you read the crime genre? An overriding theme from the discussion was that readers enjoy the sense of justice and resolution in crime novels – something that you don’t always get in real life crimes.

So, by the end of these two sessions, I’d added five more books to my reading pile:

The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp

Tarnished by Julia Crouch

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne

Killing with Confidence by Matt Bendoris

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackey

 

I just hoped that there would be enough room in my case for all the books I wanted to buy, especially as there was still one more day to go …

 

[hop on over to www.bloodyscotland.com to check out the early bird offers for Bloody Scotland 2014]

CTG Reports: Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival Day 1

wine and ticket

wine and ticket

Stirling in Scotland is a pretty long way from where I live, but this fabulous new crime writing festival was well worth taking the seven hour train journey from my home to the Stirling Highland Hotel and immersing myself in the activities of Bloody Scotland 2013 for a few days. This was the second year of this new but fabulously organised crime writing festival, and my first visit to both it and Stirling.

And what a treat I was in for.

The festival began on Friday 13th September with three wonderful sessions held in the magnificent Albert Halls. Firstly, Quintin Jardine opened the festival sharing tales from the dark side with festival co-founders Lin Anderson and Alex Gray.

The second event followed, with Val McDermid, interviewed by Christine Hamilton, in a session entitled ‘Can You Sleep at Night?’ and sponsored by The Open University in Scotland. During the interview Val McDermid shared how she still feels ambitious, that she still strives to write better books, and she enjoys reading books that make her think about her craft, mentioning Margaret Atwood and Kate Atkinson as two of those writers that she enjoys to read.

Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre closed the evening’s events with the most hilarious, sweary and laugh-till-you-cry session. Through their quick-paced banter and sparky anecdotes they gave the audience a glimpse into the world of a crime writer – their working habits, their (other) festival horror stories and the interesting reader emails they get, from the complements and the complaints through to the downright scary! The memory of Mark Billingham reading from his novel as Chris Brookmyre performed modern dance across the stage behind him will stay with me for a long time to come!

Then it was back up the hill to the gorgeous Stirling Highland Hotel, to catch up with friends in the bar and plan which sessions to attend the next day …

 

[hop on over to www.bloodyscotland.com to check out the early bird offers for Bloody Scotland 2014]

RUSH OF BLOOD by Mark Billingham

Rush of Blood cover image

Rush of Blood cover image

What the blurb says: “Three couples meet around the pool on their Florida holiday and become fast friends. But on their last night, the teenage daughter of another holidaymaker goes missing, and her body is later found floating in the mangroves. When the shocked couples return home, they remain in contact, and over the course of three increasingly fraught dinner parties they come to know one another better. But they don’t always like what they find. Then a second girl goes missing. Could it be that one of these six has a secret far darker than anybody could imagine?”

Holiday friendships: sometimes they last, sometimes they don’t. But they’re usually fun while they last, and don’t usually involve murder, unlike the holiday friendships made in Mark Billingham’s standalone thriller RUSH OF BLOOD.

What starts out as the story of three couples from England who meet at a Florida beach resort  takes a sinister twist when the daughter of a fellow holiday maker goes missing. Back in the UK, the couples stay in contact and over the course of three dinner parties, and a few girly and blokey evenings out, discover far more about each other than they might ever have wished for.

Billingham creates a huge sense of dread for what has, and might, happen. While initially each couple seems happy in their everyday lives and relationships, as the story unfolds the reader starts to realise that no one is exactly as they seem, and some have darker secrets than others. In fact many of the characters have rather unattractive traits: they’re mean or angry or jealous or attention-seeking or rude. But, you find yourself thinking, does that make them more or less likely to be the murderer?

This is a book that keeps you guessing. As a reader you know a bad thing has happened. You’re fairly sure one of the six holiday makers is responsible. But which one, and how they did it, provides an intriguing puzzle. Helping solve that puzzle along with you is Trainee Detective Constable Jenny Quinlan– an over-eager workaholic who is determined to crack the case (and meet the Florida homicide detective – Jeffrey Gardner – whose voice she so adores).

A cross between a police procedural and a psychological thriller, this high-tension, fast paced, character driven story is masterfully plotted and flawlessly told.

It’ll also make you think twice about striking up a conversation with the people sitting round the pool or beside you on the beach next time you’re on holiday!

Highly Recommended.

 

[I bought my copy of RUSH OF BLOOD at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival]

Jo Nesbo touring the UK and Ireland: starts next week

Jo Nesbo poster

Jo Nesbo poster

If you’re a fan of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo it’s time to get very excited. He’ll be landing in the UK next week for the start of his first nationwide tour of the UK and Ireland.

The tour celebrates the publication of his new Harry Hole thriller – Police – which will be published by Harvill Secker on 12th September [watch this space for a review coming soon!].

Jo Nesbo will be appearing at events and signings in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Stirling, Belfast and Dublin from 12th to 16th September including the Coronet Cinema, Notting Hill, with Waterstones Piccadilly; headline events for both Bloody Scotland! Crime Writing Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival; No Alibis bookshop in Belfast; and The Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire for Eason.  There are also three lunchtime signing sessions with Waterstones in London.

On the 14th he’s also doing the country’s first ‘high-speed book signing’ on-board a Virgin Train with WH Smith, and signings  in support of the Books Are My Bag campaign.

If you’re in London, Manchester, Glasgow or Dublin watch out for the fly posters going up to promote the tour.

I’m heading off to the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival next week and I’ll be sure to look out for the posters and the man himself!

To find out more about the tour hop across to www.jonesbo.co.uk for all the details.

THE NEVER LIST by Koethi Zan

THE NEVER LIST cover image

THE NEVER LIST cover image

What the blurb says: “For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the ‘Never List’: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, they failed to follow their own rules. Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her ordeal. But now the FBI has news that forces her to revisit her memories, and finally attempt to find justice for Jennifer. If she is to keep her captor behind bars, Sarah needs to work with the other women who shared her nightmare. But they won’t be happy to hear from her. Because down there in the dark, Sarah wasn’t just a victim.”

This is one of the standout books of 2013 for me.

From the very first page, no, the very first paragraph, this story had me hooked. I don’t know if it was the terrifying premise – three women imprisoned in a cellar by a man they thought that they could trust; the unwavering loyalty to her friend Jennifer that the protagonist, Sarah, maintains despite the danger that in puts her in; or the three women’s determination, against all odds and all that had happened to them, to succeed in their quest for justice and uncover the shocking truth. Whatever it was, I just couldn’t put it down.

One of the things that, for me, made the story seem so real was the voice of Sarah. A prisoner in her own home at the start of the book, she has to face her fears (and there are so very many of them) just to be able to leave her own building. She knows that she has allowed herself to be governed by fear, and that it’s far from normal, yet she has engineered a life for herself that allows her to work, to eat the food she likes and see her physiatrist without ever leaving the safety of her apartment. She is still a prisoner, only now it’s within her own home. And she is still receiving letters from the man who abducted her.

Then she gets a call from the FBI telling her that the man responsible for her imprisonment, and her friend Jennifer’s death, is coming up for parole. The news spurs Sarah into action, setting her on a quest to not only keep her abuser in jail, but also to get justice for Jennifer by finding her body. It’s hard to go into any more detail without spoilers, all I’ll say is that Jennifer manages to reunite with Tracey and Christine, the other two survivors from the cellar, and re-enter the world inhabited by her abductor to seek out the clues, and the people, that the FBI failed to find.

For their ‘Never List’ Sarah and Jennifer had imagined every terrible thing that could happen, and made a list of actions to prevent against them. At the creepy and heart-wrenchingly scary climax of the book, Sarah learns that sometimes the truth is even worse than the terrors in her imagination.

A chilling, page-turner of a psychological thriller: a real must-read for all fans of the genre.

Highly Recommended.

[Many thanks to Harvill Secker for my copy of THE NEVER LIST]