Big and Bloody Scotland

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Torches as mighty as claymores fired up the biggest Bloody Scotland crime writing festival to date, with an opening procession from the crag of Stirling Castle, just a hammer’s throw from the Wallace Monument and the site of the Battle of Bannockburn.

Held from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 September 2017, this year’s event set a record attendance. Audiences grew by a third from last year to 8,754 ticket sales. However, with three venues on the go the intimate atmosphere was preserved in the ballroom and church sites, and indeed in the bar at the Golden Lion Hotel hub, while the main theatre at the Albert Halls packed in the big names with queues and audiences to match.

While Ian Rankin and Val McDermid celebrated their 30th anniversaries as authors, and Linda La Plante and Ann Cleeves with actor Douglas Henshaw discussing Shetland were the big crowd draws, the unexpected discussions at the smaller sessions were the events with lasting qualities for me.

Shetland actor Douglas Henshaw with its author Ann Cleeves.

Don’t say ‘domestic noir’
I plunged straight into a debate about grip lit and domestic noir with CL Taylor, Sarah Pinborough and Clare Mackintosh, chaired by Newcastle Noir’s Jacky Collins for a discussion about the loathing of labeling. All the authors agreed that psychological thriller is their preferred genre name, if forced by their publishers to have one.

Hearing Michael Ridpath reveal how he walked up a remote track in the Highlands to find the cottage for his latest book Amnesia, and that the locals didn’t even know what was up the glen, offered all sorts of possibilities for novels about hidden locations and secrets. These discussions inspired audiences with dizzy ideas for plots.

John Simenon, son of the Belgian author Georges Simenon, was joined by Scottish writer Graeme Macrae Burnet to discuss the Maigret series. Simenon is the producer of the latest Maigret series starring Rowan Atkinson, while Burnet’s novels have been influenced by the great writer. They discussed the theme of humanity that runs through the Maigret series, which is being republished in its entirety by Penguin.

The cost of Brexit
And LibDem leader Sir Vince Cable was in Stirling to speak about his debut thriller set in London and Mumbai. He used the opportunity, aided and abetted by interviewing journalist Magnus Linklater, to discuss the great folly of Brexit and the myth that India will do a special trade deal with the UK.

The Long Drop, Denise Mina

Denise Mina’s McIlvanney winner.

In the high hilarity stakes Two Crime Writers and a Microphone – Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste – interviewed Ian Rankin, Eva Dolan and Mark Billingham for their live podcast. It will be uncensored, sweary and irreverent. Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville were among the band members of the Fun Lovin’Crime Writers who brought the house down in the Curly Coo pub on Saturday, and in the Albert Halls on the opening night with Val McDermid.

This year Historic Environment Scotland partnered with Bloody Scotland to publish an anthology of 12 stories by crime writers inspired by iconic Scottish monuments. The session with Doug Johnstone on the Forth Bridge, Louise Welsh on Crossraguel Castle and ES Thomson on Stanley Mills would be a great starting point for a road trip across the Tartan noir landscape where buildings are accomplices to murder and dirty deeds.

At the gala reception in Stirling Castle, Denise Mina was the first woman to win the McIlvanney Prize, for her book The Long Drop. And, for the back pages, the Scotland v England football match saw the Tartan authors triumph 6-3. More importantly, the festival lives to return next year for more banter and a bloody good time.

Team Scotland pose with the cup, along with an inexplicable foreground object.

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