Harrogate 2017: the party of the year

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Photo (c) Charlotte Graham.

Grantchester author James Runcie (left) with Robson Green. Photo (c) Charlotte Graham/CAG Photography Ltd.

Here at Crime Fiction Lover we know that covering Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is a tough gig. You only have to look at some of our previous coverage to know it is not a mission for the faint hearted or the lily-livered. So, we sent three times crime writing festival veteran and Crime Fiction Lover contributor Catherine Turnbull to Harrogate with orders to keep a clear head and her wits about her, no matter what temptation was thrown her way.

Writers don’t get out much, right, and nor do their readers if they are doing their job properly. So, that must be the reason why these naturally reclusive types get together annually for the crime party of the year on the pristine lawns of the Old Swan Hotel. The crime scribes say they find the socialising more exhausting than writing, but like the pros they are, they rise to the occasion. It’s a giddy rammy of the scribbling classes, happy to welcome readers into the fray, watchful young publicists, eagle-eyed agents and a small galaxy of mega-stars (most of them willing to be selfie-snapped).

It’s like entering another part of the solar system up the hotel drive, straight into the buzz that will keep its momentum for 48 hours of panels, special guest slots, incident rooms, book signings and publisher parties and lots of unexpected encounters and happenings.

My first party was hosted by HarperCollins to celebrate its 200th anniversary and its debut showing of its outdoor Agatha Christie Exhibition of rare images and documents from its archive (she was published by Collins). One photograph and headline caught my eye: ‘You know I am not usually a party woman.’ And the explanation that despite her protestations Christie attended a number of parties thrown for her by William Collins. She wrote to tell him what a very enjoyable time she had even though she wasn’t usually a party woman. But everyone was so nice.

Things haven’t changed that much then…

Intriguing info card at the HarperCollins tribute to Agatha Christie.

Of course Harrogate kicks off with an opening party to celebrate the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Awards. The novel of the year was won by Chris Brookmyre for Black Widow.

Special guest Lee Child was honored with the outstanding contribution award. The genial tall man, who charmed everyone he met during the weekend, was bowled over when he met a real-life Jack Reacher – a military policeman who is six-foot-seven, like his fictional hero.

Lt Col Mark John is a fan of his literary doppelganger, Jack Reacher and the meet-up was organised by Lt Col John’s regiment, who wanted to mark his move from Command of 1 RMP at Catterick Garrison in Yorkshire. He said: “I have always been a very big fan of Lee’s novels and obviously I feel a connection with the Jack Reacher character.  I keep an eye out for new releases and I’m keen to read the latest offering.”

Photo (c) Charlotte Graham/CAG Photography Ltd

Lee Child (right) meets real-life, Jack Reacher-like military policeman, LT Col Robert John. Photo (c) Charlotte Graham/CAG Photography Ltd.

Child was scouting opinions from everyone from readers to writers as he’s chair of the festival programme next year. He was asked if he could get Reacher actor Tom Cruise to appear in 2018.

Celebrations for the 30th anniversary of Rebus with Ian Rankin decamped to the bigger venue of the Royal Hall. I’ve been to a recent Rebus event so went to a brilliant thriller writing masterclass with author Isabel Ashdown and editor Sam Eades. Top tip: Take your characters to the cliff edge.

There were plenty more exciting happenings off the programme, such as Noir at the Bar, a fringe event that sees readings at the Blues Bar and a burlesque performance by the Slice Girls, a line-up of basque-wearing crime writers.

The biggest book-signing queues were around 90 minutes long and readers queued for selfies too with Granchester actor Robson Green and author James Runcie, and also Vera actors Brenda Blethyn and Kenny Doughty and writer Ann Cleeves.

But back to the programme and the highlights and top quotes I admired or just found hilarious…

New Blood
Val McDermid’s pick of new talent session is always packed as her ‘ones to watch’ are a sure-fire list of the stars of the future. This year’s are Fiona Cummins, Joseph Knox, Jane Harper and Kristen Lepionka.

Fiona Cummins discussing why she took up writing: ‘I was a show biz journalist, but there comes a time when being in a hotel room with George Clooney just doesn’t cut it any more.’

McDermid’s reply : ‘Do you know George Clooney personally then… because if you do, do you think you get an espresso machine for the green room?’

Joseph Knox: ‘My inciting incident was at a drink and drug-fueled party. No one knew who was throwing it. It was really like the Great Gatsby. I’m an insomniac so I went home and wrote. It took me eight years…’

Dennis Lehane on Trump: ‘I just want to be back in the hands of an adult.’

Joseph Finder on Trump: ‘I think Trump has been deeply involved with the Russians and made a deal. The Russians are good at establishing deals and then they blackmail you.’

Arne Dahl: ‘Sweden is very close to Russia. There is a real threat with Russian violations of our border by air and sea.’

Where the Bodies are Buried
A chat show hosted by Sarah Millican revealed:

Val McDermid: ‘I once did a gig in Oldham Library. Thirteen people is a good audience for Oldham on a Monday. One elderly woman with a shopping trolley elbowed me out of the way to get to her Catherine Cookson shelf. It’s not always easy.’

Mark Billingham: ‘I flew across the US to Austin, Texas. Four people were there and two rose to leave. They were there for an intimacy workshop.’

What happens if you see someone reading your book? Lee Child: ‘I asked someone on a plane if they were enjoying my book and they said ‘no’.’

Val McDermid: ‘I said to a woman ’that’s my book’. She said it wasn’t because she’d paid for it.’

Sarah Millican: ‘I have a book coming out. What advice can you give me about going on tour?’

Val McDermid: ‘Always take a sandwich in your bag.’

TV Panel: Grantchester
One of the top draws was the chance to see Grantchester star Robson Green who plays Geordie, chat to author James Runcie.

James Runcie: ‘It’s about faith, love and death. That’s what I try to write about.

‘I think my father [Archbishop Robert Runcie] would have been amused. I wanted in a way to bring him back as Sidney has similarities. I sometimes have chats with him in my head.

‘I wanted a sexy vicar, not a high-voiced comedy vicar. Now actors are known for taking their tops off. We were the first to have topless scything.’

Robson Green: ‘The best thing about Robson and Jerome was when it ended.

‘I wept after some of the scenes in Grantchester. When Sidney turned to Geordie and said God forgives you. And he says he doesn’t believe in God and Sidney says ‘I forgive you’.

‘I wish I had James [Norton’s] knowledge. That’s where the bromance comes from.’

Where do your crimes come from?
Sarah Hilary: ‘I don’t plot ahead. I’m glad I don’t. ‘

Steve Mosby: ‘By the end of my books the characters are broken and empty.’

Belinda Bauer: ‘Everything is material. As a journalist you are always appearing to empathise with people you wouldn’t associate with normally.’

Mark Billingham: ‘I wish 20 years ago I’d thought about an idea of a boy wizard.’

Vera star Brenda Blethyn enjoying the Harrogate experience. Photo (c) Charlotte Graham/CAG Photography Ltd.

TV Panel: Vera
Brenda Blethyn: ‘Vera is the most enjoyable shoot of any I’ve ever done. The north east is so welcoming. Sometimes when we’re filming people come and sit down to watch with a bottle of wine.

‘Sometimes people who usually see me as Vera come up to me and say, ‘Oh you are so pretty.’ My stunt double has a ginger beard.’

‘I love Mick Herron’s books and was thrilled to meet him here.’

Ann Cleeves: ‘The intentional appeal in Vera is to have a strong woman and a male sidekick, flipping more traditional roles.’

Kenny Doughty: ‘I love seeing how the strong woman deals with it. It’s what makes Vera such a great show.’

The Vera cast and author then went on to have fun at one of the many crime solving exercises around the hotel and helped solve a case.

Stranger than Fiction
Eva Dolan: ‘Crime writers are incredibly moral. I like writing confrontational crime. I like to be provocative and those that hate it I prefer in a way, I know I’ve got to them.’

Chris Brookmyre: ‘Most of the people we employ to prevent malicious hacking were themselves once malicious hackers.

‘I believe in redemption and that everyone is redeemable, apart from Trump and Boris Johnson.’

This final panel concluded that there is less violence in the world than there was in the past, and after all we do have bacon milkshake.

This year’s festival programming chair, author Elly Griffiths, promised to make it a party to remember. She succeeded brilliantly. Even making sure those who aren’t usually party people had a fabulous time.

Our very first Harrogate report was back in 2012, when Stav Sherez gave us this colourful reportage… For more crime festivals, check out our Events page.Thank you to Charlotte Graham for the photography.



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