What happened at the brilliant #BloodyScotland Crime Writing Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival is one of those festivals that goes from strength to strength. This year the organising team, led by the ever sparky Dom Hastings, put on a fabulous programme of events from panels to interviews, an awards dinner, a pub cabaret, and a football match – there really was something for everyone. In fact, it was so good it’s taken me a week to recover enough to blog about it!

The weekend kicked off with Val McDermid and Peter May in conversation, followed by Whose Crime is it Anyway? – with TV presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli throwing out the challenges to crime writers Christopher Brookmyre, Kevin Wignall and Caro Ramsay to improvise on the spot. Once the opening events finished, as ever at crime writing festivals, the rest of the evening was spent in the bar at the Stirling Highland Hotel with a glass of wine (or two, or three …).

Scotland v England

Scotland v England

On Saturday, I wasn’t able to get to many events as I was in training for a special performance with The Slice Girls at the Crime in the Coo event later that evening. But I heard great things about the Killer Women panel – Louise Millar, Helen Giltrow, and MJ McGrath – who discussed whether the Woman is deadlier than the Male? The thought provoking Self Publishing session with Alexandra Sokoloff and Allan Guthrie, and the New Crimes panel with debut authors Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory), Chris Dolan (Potter’s Field), SJI Holliday (Black Wood) and Mark Legatt (Names of the Dead) – which all sound like fabulous reads.

In the afternoon, in a brief pause between practices, I did get along to the Breaking the Law panel which had dynamic law buffs Steve Cavanagh, Neil White and Jeffrey Siger, along with Craig Sisterson, talking about the difference between the law in crime thrillers and crime fact, how they draw on their real life experiences in their writing, and the legal thrillers that they especially admire. After that, it was a quick sprint to get ready for the Crime in the Coo before meeting my fellow Slice Girls for one final practice (more about that on the blog tomorrow!)

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

After a late, late night on Saturday, my start on Sunday wasn’t especially early! The first event I got along to was the Thriller panel with Simon Kernick, Tom Wood, G.J. Brown and Mason Cross. In a lively debate they talked locations – whether to visit them or not, and the perils if you don’t, the fun of writing “lone wolf” characters, and about their routes to publication (the key, so they say, is not to let rejection stop you).

Then, with the sky getting darker by the minute, it was a short walk up the hill to the bowling green at Cowane’s Hospital where the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match: Scotland v England was happening. After Scotland’s convincing win last year there was a lot at stake, and as the game kicked off both teams looked very determined. In a tense game, where the players had to contend with alternating sunshine and pouring rain, the two sides looked pretty evenly matched with goal keepers Luca Veste (England) and Craig Robertson (Scotland) kept busy as both sides battled it out to win.

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

At the end of the match, the score was 5-5.

The Scotland goals came from Mark Stanton, Christopher Brookmyre, and Doug Johnstone (3). For England the scorers were Vincent Holland-Keane (2), Col Bury (2) and Howard Linskey. The team captains – Ian Rankin (Scotland) and Simon Kernick (England) held the trophy aloft and then, as the rain got heavier, it was time to trot back down the hill (to the bar!).

The final event of the festival was Literary Agent, Jenny Brown, interviewing bestselling crime thriller writer, Linwood Barclay, who was on his first visit to Scotland. To a packed audience, Linwood talked about his writing career, his latest book Broken Promise – the first of a sequence of three connected stories – and on creating a story with a killer hook. Very interesting and highly entertaining, this was the perfect session to end the festival with. Then it was back to the bar, for one final night, before setting off home the next morning.

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Next year the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival runs from 9 – 11 September 2016. If you love crime fiction then you absolutely need to be there – put the dates in your diary and book a hotel, now! Trust me, this is one festival that you won’t want to miss out on.

But, of course, there’s something that I haven’t told you about in this blog post – just what happened at Crime in the Coo on Saturday night.

If you want to know, pop back tomorrow for my “(Not so) Secret Diary of a Slice Girl post. 

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peep …

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

#BloodyBlogTour Day 9: CTG interviews Dr Kathryn Harkup – author of A IS FOR ARSENIC

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Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival #BloodyBlogTour and delighted to be welcoming the fabulous Dr Kathryn Harkup to the CTG blog. Kathryn’s background as an avid Agatha Christie reader, and chemist with a doctorate on her favourite chemicals – phosphines – plus loads of postdoc research, makes her perfectly placed to investigate just how much science fact went into the fiction of Agatha Christie’s novels. Her book A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie does just that.

It’s a fascinating read, investigating fourteen of the poisons Christie used in her books and looking at the scientific reality behind the poisons, the feasibility of getting hold of them, administering them, and detecting them historically and in modern times, and comparing actual cases with the murders written in Christie’s books.

So, welcome Kathryn to the CTG blog. Let’s kick off with my first question …

The premise of A IS FOR ARSENIC – a book focused on fourteen of the poisons Agatha Christie used, and the novels she used them in – is so intriguing. What was it that first gave you the idea?

It came about from a discussion with my editor at Bloomsbury. At first I was going to base each chapter on a different Agatha Christie book, but as I started researching it I realised it would be better to base the chapters on the poisons and draw on several different books for each. As I worked on it, and chatted about what I was doing with friends, I got asked the question ‘are you ordering it alphabetically?’ I wasn’t at that point, but when they asked me it seemed a great idea.

You say in the book that you’ve been a Christie fan since you were a teenager. How did you decide which poisons to feature in A IS FOR ARSENIC?

Well, the ones everyone knows were easy to pick – like cyanide and barbiturates. Some poisons have the most fascinating histories, in the way they were used, or in medical terms, so I picked them too. The science is subtle in Christie’s work, but it’s all there, so I re-read all her books, made a list and revised down from there. The list of novels including arsenic and cyanide was huge, but including Sparkling Cyanide was an obvious must!

In the book, you show how each poison was used in Christie’s novels, and investigate the feasibility of its use both at the time the novel was written and in the present day. How did you go about researching this?

Lots of background reading! Scientific texts and Christie’s novels. My Google search history is amazing – I must be on all kinds of watch lists! The British Library was great, they answered all my many questions and were so helpful. Reading isn’t a chore when what you’re looking at is so interesting. I just wish I could have fitted in more [to the book]!

What was your favourite part of the writing process?

The reading and the research. I love learning new things so any opportunity to do so is fantastic. As the focus of A IS FOR ARSENIC is so specific I had a clear goal and could be really structured in now I did the research.

Have you been tempted to follow in Christie’s footsteps and write a novel?

No! I absolutely couldn’t. I’m in awe of people who do. Having read 83 of her books I’ve only once guessed the murderer! I’d be rubbish at writing fiction – I’m creative in some ways, but not in that. You could say that the focus of my work is very different to Christie’s – my aim is to illuminate how things are done, Christie’s was to disguise and cover.

If you had to pick one Christie novel, which would you say was your favourite?

For sheer fun it would have to be the ABC Murders, but there’s no poison in that. So, if you’re after a poisoning one, I’d pick Five Little Pigs as it’s so well plotted, with the poison symptoms threaded so brilliantly into the plot.

You and Christie share a passion for chemistry. Do you think that reading her books had any influence on your choice for career?

I’d like to say yes, but I doubt it did. It was the problem solving aspect of Christie’s books that I loved so much. And you could say it’s the problem solving, puzzle, aspects of science that interests me. In terms of the chemistry in her novels, I think it probably passed me by back then. Christie explains all the necessary information, but does it in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re having a science lesson.

Christie was a pioneer of her time, both in terms of her writing and also as a women working in a scientific profession. Still today there are far fewer female than male scientists; what do you think can be done to encourage women into science?

I think it’s great that there’s lots more popular science around now. It makes everyone more aware of science. When Christie was working and writing science was a lot more distant – it was mainly done by men who’d been to University – but now it’s more accessible. I would really encourage anyone – whatever background or gender they are from – who wants to do science to do so.

You’ll be appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in September. What can the audience look forward to hearing about during the event?

All sorts of disgusting stories about horrible poisons! It’ll be good fun. Christie has a great humour to her books. Also, as far as it’s possible, I’ll talk about the good things about poisons too. The main thing I want to do is to show how awesome Agatha Christie is and how great the science behind her books is too.

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

I’ll be very busy this autumn going all over the place talking about Agatha Christie and her poisons. I’ll also be doing more research and more writing. I have the best job!

Huge thanks to Dr Kathryn Harkup for spending time chatting to us about A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie.

Kathryn is appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling on Saturday 12th September. To celebrate 125 years since the birth of Agatha Christie, Kathryn will be joined by novelist Ragnar Jonasson – an Agatha Christie expert who has translated fourteen of her books into Icelandic. Together they will offer unique insights into the work of the enduringly popular author who’s still an influence and inspiration to crime writers around the world today. To find out more and book tickets, hop on over to the Bloody Scotland website at www.bloodyscotland.com/event/the-poisons-of-agatha-christie/

And be sure to check out A IS FOR ARSENIC: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – it’s a fabulous read and a real must for fans of Agatha Christie, murder mysteries, and anyone who wants to learn more about the real life science behind the poisons used in fiction. The book is published on 10th September by Bloomsbury. To find out more and pre-order, click here to go to Amazon.

And don’t forget to check out the rest of the wonderful stops along the #BloodyBlogTour …

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Confessions from Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival: Part 3

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!!

 

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 …

Bloody Brilliant Scotland 2014

 

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

The Female in Crime Fiction panel being introduced

Last weekend was Bloody Scotland 2014. This hugely friendly and welcoming crime writing festival is going from strength to strength. Now in its third year, the festival played host to a plethora of crime writers in three days of entertaining, informative and massively fun events.

Having spent the best part of seven hours on trains travelling from my home to Stirling, I met up with some friends at the Stirling Highland Hotel and then headed over to Hotel Colessio for Mark Billingham and Stuart McBride’s Dead Funny event. As with the Billingham and Brookmyre double act last year, Billingham and McBride answering questions from readers (allegedly) made for a hilarious evening with McBride’s dark poetry, and the skilful answering by both authors of some rather random questions from the audience, real high spots.

Next morning, Saturday, I helped out SJI Holiday (acting as her notetaker) at an interview with Kati Hirekkapelto, author of fabulous book The Hummingbird, before having a quick walk around Stirling – seeing the Castle, the city walls, and peering into the old Gaol.

Then it was off to the New Blood/Fresh Meat panel featuring Eva Dolan, Hania Allen, and Mason Cross. Each of the panel began by reading from their debut novels – three different styles and stories, and all super gripping. Then, led by moderator Peggy Hughes, they spoke about how they got the idea for the novel, the research they did, and what their route to publication was like.

At the same time, the Scotland versus England 5-a-side Football match was taking place. With Ian Rankin captaining Scotland and Mark Billingham captaining England there was a good turnout to watch the battle commence and the #BloodyScotland twitter feed was alive with score updates and photos. After a tense game, the final score was Scotland 13 – England 1, and the magnificent silver trophy went to Scotland.

Next up, I went along to The Female in Crime Fiction (in association with Glasgow Women’s Library) panel with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Lin Anderson, and Catriona McPherson. The panel debated female protagonists in crime fiction (including how many crime books would pass the Bechdel test which looks at whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), the joy of reading a thriller that compels you to turn the page (crime writing top tip – always keep the secret withheld as long as you can!), and why it might be that women make up more than half the readership of crime fiction.

The next panel featured Luca Veste, Michael Malone, and Martyn Waites, chaired by Mark Billingham. This lively and entertaining panel discussed their most recent books, the importance of location and why they’d chosen to locate their books where they had, how they go about doing research, their route to publication and how Martyn Waites came to take on his alter ego – Tanya Carver.

The final event of the day was Ian Rankin in conversation with Kathy Reichs. This session in the Albert Halls seemed to fly by with Kathy Reichs talking about her route to publication, what it’s like working on a long running TV show (having to think up new murders after 200 episodes being one of the challenges!) and what it’s like co-writing a YA series with her son.

Then it was off to dinner with friends at the amazing Maharaja curry house before chatting in the bar well into the early hours.

On Sunday I was actually part of an event rather than just watching. Having submitted a 100 word synopsis for the Pitch Perfect session I was excited (and terrified) to hear that my story was one of seven that had been picked to be pitched. Along with the other six pitchers I was ushered into the green room and introduced to the wonderful Jenny Brown who chaired the session. From there it was on to the event with publishers Alison Hennessey (Harvill Secker), Krystyna Green (Constable & Robinson) and Tricia Jackson (Pan MacMillan) on the panel. Each pitcher had three minutes to pitch their story. There were some great pitches, and I think it was probably the longest three minutes of my life! But good fun and I’d definitely recommend it. The panel were friendly and their feedback hugely helpful, and Margaret Stewart was a most deserving winner.

And then it was over.

As I set off on my journey home, I reflected on what a fantastic weekend I’d had – great panels, a fabulous location, a warm and friendly atmosphere and the chance to catch up with all my writerly pals.

The seven hour trip was definitely worth it.