Confessions from the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate: Part 1

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 …

My Guest Review for the Mean Streets blog: The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway

cover image

cover image

A high-action, atmospheric procedural with plenty of twists and turns

What the blurb says: “Declan Cleary’s body has never been found, but everyone believes he was killed for informing on a friend over thirty years ago. Now the Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains is following a tip-off that he was buried on the small isle of Islandmore, in the middle of the River Foyle.

Instead, the dig uncovers a baby’s skeleton, and it doesn’t look like death by natural causes. But evidence revealed by the Commission’s activities cannot lead to prosecution. Inspector Devlin is torn. He has no desire to resurrect the violent divisions of the recent past. Neither can he let a suspected murderer go unpunished.

Now the secret is out, more deaths follow. Devlin must trust his conscience – even when that puts those closest to him at terrible risk.”

Compared to the majority of police procedurals that I read, what struck me most about this story was the action-packed, fast paced style. Despite the tip-off that Inspector Devlin is following being about a murder conducted over thirty years previously, the story feels immediate and pacy right from the start. As the plot unfolds, and Devlin starts to uncover the many activities – both within and outside of the law – that Declan Cleary was connected to, he realises that this was not the straight-forward revenge killing that he had originally believed it to be.

The isle of Islandmore, or Isle of Bones as it has come to be known locally, is an atmospheric setting that adds to the brooding tone of the novel. That Islandmore is also the site of a ‘cillin’ – an unofficial burial site for unbaptized babies – adds to the sense of sadness and loss. As the story progresses, Devlin discovers that what took place at Islandmore all those years ago, still has a huge impact on the local community.

The subject matter covered in the story is evocative and main all the more chilling and heartbreaking by its closeness to real life events. When the bodies of seven children are uncovered as part of the dig for Declan Cleary’s body, Devlin wrestles with the action he believes to be right – to investigate their deaths, versus the constraints of the law by which he is bound – that no bodies found as part of a Commission’s dig can be investigated. This personal struggle shows the human, family man that Devlin is, as well as his strong commitment to the community and personal values.

This is the first of the Devlin novels that I’ve read – The Nameless Dead is the fifth in the series – but I’ll certainly be looking out for the others.

Highly recommended.

 

The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway is available now, published by Pan Books.

Check out this and other great reviews over on the Mean Streets Crime Fiction Blog at http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/crimefiction/