Last weekend, The Murder Room attended our first Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.
The festival is a much-anticipated fixture of the literary year, so we were very excited to finally experience it in its full tenth-anniversary glory. The idyllic setting of Harrogate was even more magical than usual in the heatwave, which added an air of feverishness to what is clearly always a thrilling event. Based at the Old Swan Hotel (Agatha Christie’s bolthole during her famous disappearance in 1926), what is so special about this festival is the sheer volume of readers, writers and publishers who all come together to share their enthusiasm – and boy, was there a lot of enthusiasm!
Charlaine Harris with husband Hal
I am by no means jaded, but having spent a lot of time over the past few years in the presence of a number of well-known and successful crime writers, I just didn’t expect to be quite as star-struck as I was. From Val McDermid, 2013 Festival Programming Chair, who opened the proceedings, to Orion’s very own Denise Mina winning the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for the second year in a row, and Charlaine Harris – whose event closed the festival in truly exuberant Southern style – everywhere I turned there were people who were so knowledgeable and passionate about crime writing that I just wanted to absorb every single word.
Denise Mina with her Theakston’s Old Peculier Novel of the Year award. She’s gonna need a HUGE mantelpiece to support two of those!
It’s so hard to pinpoint the highlights, but listening to Ruth Rendell discuss the nature of criminality and examine the way in which people avoid the truth about themselves, with her friend Jeanette Winterson, was pretty special. ‘You never judge,’ said Winterson at one point. ‘You always listen.’ Which seemed to me the neatest possible exemplification of what makes a good writer.
And perhaps the biggest revelation was William McIlvanney, creator of Laidlaw (reissued by Canongate), who read from his own work and breathed life into it in a way I have never quite experienced before. His audience was rapt and there was an hour-long signing queue afterwards – not only was he a fantastic reader, but a witty, charming and down-to-earth raconteur with an equally entertaining foil in his interviewer, Ian Rankin. If you’re a fan of Rebus, then I wholeheartedly recommend Laidlaw!
Ian Rankin, sitting next to Hal, with Steve Mosby to the far right
If your appetite for the full crime experience has been whetted, then why not come to Harrogate next year? You can go for the whole weekend, or attend your own choice of events, which run from 8 p.m. on the Thursday to midday on the Sunday. Writers and readers mingle freely in the bar and on the Old Swan’s lovely lawns – and if you need any further inducement, Bettys famous tea rooms are a five-minute walk up the hill. In 2014 the festival runs from 17-20 July, and you can find more information here.
I’m already excited to be in Harrogate again next year – and hopefully you’ll be there too!
R. S. Pateman (on left), looking very jolly despite the heat, celebrating his first Harrogate and the publication day of his debut thriller The Second Life of Amy Archer.