Harrogate — or to give its proper name, Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival — is always full of shenanigans. Put a bunch of writers together at a vintage pub in a spa town in Yorkshire when it’s far too hot and well, what would you expect? While usually I’d call the cheeriest writers either romance writers or horror writers (yes, really and if you’ve sung showtunes at dawn on a Rhode Island beach, you’d know that) this is the year dubbed #happygate because there was no happier place to be (in your face, Disney).
A big part of that is due to the surprise proposal Scott made to Jo at the end of the “In Space, No-one Can Hear You Scream” panel — but the screams were all of joy. Sly boots all: a happy couple even before the surprise, and it was pulled off with aplomb, champagne arriving on cue and a speechless Jo quite overwhelmed. Since Scott made it the last question from the audience, I think people were looking expectant at the end of every panel when the moderators queried, “Are there any final questions?” Congratulations!
The panel itself was an interesting one, hosted by program chair Steve Mosby and discussing with Lauren Beukes, Sharon Bolton, James Smythe and Lavie Tidhar the mixing of other genres with crime, which always seems to get sneers — yet also seems to enliven the genre each time there’s another cross-genre hit (I may be biased here). Since we no longer have to face the tyranny of the genre bookshelf, why stick to one label?
The interview with Denise Mina had kicked off the morning. I never get tired of hearing her speak. She’s funny and frank, and so inspiring. I loved how she talked about the pull of politics as someone who adamantly fights for change, but also realising the cost of political work — and the horror of the people who are often drawn to that life. She called them men with “suits too expensive for their faces” which seemed perfect. Politics will eat artists alive.
Martyn Waites hosted a panel of folks who represented the range of publishing paths out there: James Oswald (without his coos), Mark Edwards, Mari Hannah and Mel Sherratt. The upshot of the discussion is what William Goldman wrote long ago: Nobody knows anything. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because we’re still in the midst of change.
I went to see ‘Robert Galbraith’ better known as J. K. Rowling because I figured I’d not get another chance to see her in quite so intimate surroundings. Although the event was held ‘off campus’ the town hall was still rather small and I was in the 4th row. Val McDermid had us laughing from the start (as usual) by teasing her about the name and declaring she would call her Bob. Although Rowling seems quite polished these days, the eager enthusiasm remains plain. She loves what she does — and she loves her audience. And she says there’s no limit to the Galbraith books.
Although out late, I steeled myself to get up early to see Lynda La Plante and I am so very glad that I did. Like Rowling, here’s someone who’s had a lot of success and yet the thing that came through was how happy she is to know people read her and watch her stories. Her RADA training shows in her seasoned persona, though she made sure to play down her acting as “lots of prostitutes” and of course that appearance on Rentaghost. La Plante is a hoot and a half; if you get a chance to see her, do. Someone asked what she does when she procrastinates, but she said she can’t wait to write. I think she felt the air leave the room then, but before all the writers could faint she added that she knew herself to be in a very fortunate place where people were waiting on her words. “I keep a sign over my desk that reads ‘Rejection does not mean NO!’” Nobody knows anything: to seize luck, you have to be in a position to do so.
Sophie Hannah and S.J. Watson talked a lot about the mysteries that other people are to us (and we to them). The film of Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep looked rather good. The new blood panel with Val McDermid was fascinating to see just how different all the new stars she’d picked were — from a Chastity Flame-like secret assassin, to migrant workers in the UK to a novel on the Axeman murderer in New Orleans and a dead child in a Irish convent school (which won the Dundee prize).
As usual, most of the fest was spend wandering around and chatting, passing out promo things for my own books (the Extricate chocolates went very fast) and apparently missing more people than I found. Some of that may have to do with disappearing to eat and play with Adele, Vince, Kat and others because they had a flat across the road.
The town was still full of Tour de France decorations — everything rather yellow. Harrogate’s a pretty town. I think I saw more of it last time, at least the lovely gardens. I always mean to try the Turkish baths. I did have a quiet lunch at the pub where P. G. Wodehouse used to drink on my way out of town.
The only problem with going away is trying to catch up again with all the things. Bit by bit…