The 2015 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival has concluded in Harrogate, and as is the tradition here on Crime Fiction Lover, we’ve invited a guest correspondent to file a report from this very special event. Over the previous three years, we’ve had missives from Stav Sherez, Eva Dolan and Craig Robertson – all wonderful crime fiction authors. This year, we’re shaking it up and asked French crime fiction expert Catherine Dô-Duc of Le Blog Polar to tell us what she thought of Harrogate. So, let’s hand over to Catherine…
The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate has just closed its doors on its secrets, murders and horrors for another year. From Thursday 16 July to Sunday 19 July 2015 author Ann Cleeves, who set the programme for Harrogate this year, gave us an impressive range of emotions, surprises and memorable moments. Let’s start at the beginning, with the Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year…
Harrogate 2015: the prize
The ceremony opened with Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves paying moving tributes to the crime authors we’ve lost this year – Ruth Rendell and PD James. Later, the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year was handed to Sarah Hilary for Someone Else’s Skin, which received five stars on Crime Fiction Lover last year. Meanwhile, Sara Paretsky received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.
Sara Paretsky and Val McDermid
It was logical therefore that Sara Paretsky should be interviewed by Val McDermid later on at Harrogate. Scotland’s queen of psychological thrillers pointed out that the American author is the creator of one the first female detective characters, Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, AKA Vic. A private investigator in Chicago, she’s become the voice of a politically engaged writer, for feminist causes and minorities. Sara Paretsky helped start Sisters in Crime in 1986, concerned about violence against women depicted in graphic novels. Today, the main purpose of the organisation is to help female authors gain wider recognition. It now has 3,600 members in 48 chapters all over North America.
Plenty of events devote panels to Scottish and Nordic crime authors, but it seems Irish crime is now on the rise and moderator Brian McGilloway brought together Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty and Steve Cavanagh to investigate crime fiction from the Emerald Isle. The conversation quickly focused in on how difficult it is to talk about The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Most of the authors were too young to experience the 1970s and 80s in Ireland as adults, and each takes his own approach to the topic. Adrian McKinty stressed that authors simply forget to report that during this period, life continued as normal for the most part and that the Irish have a good talent for self-derision. He remembers vividly the aftermath of terrorist attacks: “Sure, it was tragic. But the day after, on playgrounds and in pubs, people knew how to talk about it with ‘humour noir’. This might be one of the origins of the very specific style of Irish crime fiction.”
But all do remember Bobby Sands’ funeral in 1981 with deep emotion, when 100,000 people wept and walked in the streets of Belfast. McKinty tells how in the early 2000s he proposed a TV series taking place in Belfast in the 1970s, with its fashion, music and atmosphere. “In fact, Life on Mars stole everything from me,” said McKinty. “The TV guy looked me in the eye and said: ‘Young man, this is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” I must admit that at the time, for the outside world, Ireland’s image was still The Quiet Man.”
McKinty also gave a reading from his recent Sean Duffy book Gun Street Girl in a nearby pub, telling fans how he wanted the first page to be filled with the letter Ssssss to represent silence, but the publisher wouldn’t have it.
Every year, Val McDermid introduces her New Blood panel. This year she picked: Renee Knight for Disclaimer, where the heroine discovers that her worst secrets are exposed in the book she’s reading; Clare Mackintosh for I Let you Go, a psychological thriller with an incredible twist in it; Lucy Ribchester for The Hourglass Factory, a novel exploring the hidden side of the suffragette movement; and Ben McPherson for A Line of Blood, a thriller concerned with family relationships, where a father tries to protect his son from the trauma of having seen the dead body of his neighbour. It was stimulating to discover what is inspiring today’s young authors.
What’s on the box?
Cracker, State of Play, Shameless, Touching Evil – what do these TV series have in common? Well, it’s the talent of screenwriter Paul Abbott. At Harrogate this year he answered questions from one of his fans, BBC Breakfast presenter Stephanie McGovern. The interview revealed the impressive itinerary of a true workaholic, capable of working on seven projects simultaneously and of being just as creative when writing for Coronation Street, which he did early in his career, as he is when producing such provocative programmes as Shameless. The passion and curiosity of this man are truly amazing, and at the end of his interview he had a revelation for fans: there will be a second season of State of Play.
A tribute to Patricia Highsmith
Author birthdays are celebrated on the Crime Fiction Lover Twitter feed, but did you know that Tom Ripley is celebrating his 60th birthday in 2015? As a tribute to his creator, the festival brought together Martin Edwards, Sarah Hilary, Peter James, Andrew Taylor and Peter Swanson and asked: “Would you give Patricia Highsmith the Nobel Prize for Literature?”
The unanimous answer was ‘Yes’, but it was disappointing that the round table then focused so much on Patricia Highsmith’s sexuality, alcoholism and smoking, as well as her legendary nastiness. The panel could have benefited from a including a Highsmith specialist who could get beyond the complaints about her to bring forward the author’s main obsessions, such as identity and remoteness, stressing the qualities of her writing. Dommage…
Arnaldur: the quiet man?
By his own admission, it was to please Ann Cleeves that Arnaldur Indridason agreed to participate in the Harrogate festival so we have her to thank for the Icelandic author’s attendance. He delivered a high quality interview on the final day that was both sincere and humorous. Barry Forshaw, an expert on Scandinavian crime fiction knew what to ask. And we’ll have our own interview with the author soon here on Crime Fiction Lover.