Harrogate 2014

2014-07-18 23.10.44

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!

Just after la Tour

Just after la Tour

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.

Mmmmm chips

Mmmmm chips

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…

Appearing Soon!

In some cases, very soon! This Saturday I’ll be at Leicester Comic Con on Saturday with the lovely Adele, supporting the Fox Spirit Books skulk and signing books and what not. Drop by and say hello. I will be the one stroking the lovely covers of my books. A weekend of fun, running down to London and plotting world domination will ensue. You can’t say we didn’t warn you.

In July I’ll be at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. A lovely spa town — P. G. Wodehouse stayed there, writing quietly, so I will try to follow in his footsteps between attending panels at the fest. Looking forward to seeing folks there.

A big thing: In August I’ll be at World Con in London AKA LonCon3 with my dear pal Debit Chowdhuri — and a whole bunch of folks and I’ll be very busy as well. Here’s my panel schedule so you’ll know where to catch up with me:

Tove Jansson’s Moomins: Their Legacy and Influence
Thursday 12:00 – 13:30

It’s 100 years since the birth of Finnish author/artist Tove Jansson, the award-winning creator of the beloved Moomins. Moomins appeared in novels, illustrated books, comic book strips and today are celebrated with their own theme park called Muumimaailma (Moomin World). Why did Jansson’s Moomins capture the attention and affection of the panelists, and how do Moomins continue to fire the imagination of new generations despite being nearly seventy years old? What is the legacy of the Moomins, and how do they continue to influence European comic books today?

K. A. Laity (M), Lynda Rucker, Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson, Mary Talbot, Karrie Fransman

Medieval Influences and Representation in SF/F
Thursday 15:00 – 16:30

Three academics each give a 15 minute presentation. These are followed by a 30 minute discussion jointly held with the audience.

Constance Wagner, “FRODO AND FARAMIR: Mirrors of Chivalry”
K. A. Laity, “The ‘Old Weird’: Recognising the Medieval Roots of the ‘New Weird’”
Julie Hoffman, “The Year of the Fruit Bat, the Middle Ages, and the Long 19th Century”
Shyamalika Heffernan (M)

Fantasy and Medievalism
Friday 11:00 – 12:00

High fantasy is almost invariably set in invented worlds inspired by medieval Europe. Can we put this down to the legacy of Tolkien and to genre works being in close conversation with each other? Or is there something about the place that medieval Europe occupies in our imagination that makes it a perfect companion for tales of epic striving and larger-than-life Good versus Evil? Either way, does this help or hinder the genre?

K. A. Laity (M), Suanna Davis, Robin Hobb, Marieke Nijkamp, Lynda Rucker

The Weird on Screen
Friday 16:30 – 18:00

In their introduction to their anthology “The Weird”, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer describe the form as “unapologetically transgressive, imaginative, and strange.” Where can we find the weird on screen? What differences are there between the written weird and the weird on screen?

K. A. Laity (M), Nina Allan, K. J. (Kirsten) Bishop, Richard Calder, Alexander Dan Vilhjálmsson

Vox Populi: the new voice of comic book criticism?
Sunday 10:00 – 11:00

Anyone with a blog or social media presence can send their opinion directly to comic book creators. How is this affecting comic book criticism? Is this the death of the old stuffy regime of taste-makers, or the rise of a new type of creative pressure? How is the closer connection between creator and audience affecting the work? And what happens when the collective force of a fanbase focuses upon ‘punishing’ critical voices?

K. A. Laity (M), Karen Davies, Marcus Gipps, Emmeline Pui Ling Dobson

After that, I’ll be at Shamrokon, but more of that anon.

I Get Around

Without going out of my door, I can know all things on earth,
Without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of heaven:
The farther one travels, the less one knows, the less one really knows.

George Harrison, The Inner Light

I consoled myself this weekend with the idea that I was being productive while my friends were at Harrogate or Necon or whatnot. Except of course I wasn’t feeling especially productive as I struggled with an essay I regretted agreeing to do, especially while wondering how I could stretch a 1500 word section to 2K, then finally realising it was supposed to be only 1K. D’oh!

Like the man said: sometimes the magic works and sometimes, it doesn’t.

I’ve come to realise that there’s not much point in going to conferences unless I have something to do, and at the very least I need to have a good cadre of friends there, too. And I’m not especially good at putting myself forward, so there’s little chance that I would have got fantastic photos like these (thank you, Caitlin Sagan — you rock!):

Legendary Scottish Crime Writer, William McIlvanny

Legendary Scottish Crime Writer, William McIlvanney

Noir Carnival Ian Rankin

Inspector Rebus creator, Ian Rankin, mimics the clown’s rictus

So maybe it’s best to enjoy things vicariously since I just came back from EdgeLit, Byron is visiting this week and next week I’m off to Finland — and there’s a lot that needs to be done in between things. So I best get to work. After all, it’s the work what needs to get around.

A la Mort Subite poster

I belatedly discover that Human Cuisine is now available as an ebook for $5.00. If you care to avail yourself, you’ll find some interesting essays including my “Grimma Gæst” about Beowulf and Grendel. Click the link below


I wouldn’t say the swanky spa town of Harrogate gets completely taken over by the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Fest, but they do go all out. The first thing you see when you get off the train is this:

It made me think of how Kalamazoo seems to adjust to the deluge of medievalists every May. Like season birds that show up hang around chattering for a bit, then fly on to distant woods, never to be seen again until the next year. Which is not to say that Harrogate doesn’t have its own oddness. I had the weird feeling I was being watched the whole time.

The crime writers gathered at the Old Swan, a gorgeous old hotel with some really beautiful rooms. Of course the pub ended up being where they all congregated. In the evening the scrum around the bar itself became nigh impenetrable. And if you were trying to meet up with people you knew only from online, it was often difficult to find them especially if their avatars don’t really give you a good idea of what they look like (ahem).

We lucked out with some unexpected sun on Saturday so the lawn before the Swan was filled with writers blinking in the unexpected light. I’m sure some of them went to panels, too. Surely. On the first night was the awards ceremony, with MC Mark Lawson, who joked that while the UK had its lowest serious crime rate in years, no one believed it because of the success of all these crime writers. It was lovely to see Colin Dexter receiving his lifetime achievement award and Denise Mina win the Novel of the Year award.


I went to the oldest pub in Harrogate, ate lots of wonderful food, learned a few things, watched Adele plotting world domination via baked goods and celebrated my latest publication. Of course the real fun is hanging out with friends old and new, just having fun. See more pictures here: I think I’ll post about the gardens separately.


The Maltman

Happy birthday to my big brother, Steve!

Wandering the Howff again, trolling for material I suppose as always. That’s what I do all the time. You know that by now, don’t you? That’s what writers do: absorb everything and turn it sideways and fit it into stories. You have to turn it slant, as Emily would say, because the naked truth seldom makes a good story. Too many jagged edges and implausible events.

So here’s the gravestone erected by maltman (i.e. brewer) Robert Ramsey and his wife Isabel Duncan in memory of their daughter Margaret who died aged 4 years and 10 months in 1814.

It’s a shock to remember just how recent the heartbreak of early childhood death stopped being so widespread. While poorer nations continue to suffer these losses as a sad norm, we’ve grown used to the expectation that our children will grow and thrive. We went to a christening yesterday, a big happy celebration of life for little Ayla. Long may she prosper. Thankfully she has every likelihood of doing so.

Georgian and Victorian families: together in death as in life. Everyone takes their place in turn. Tradition takes many forms and the constancy of place (at least until the Howff was closed to further burials) preserves a tangible history in a lovely location.

Much to explore in Dundee, but I do find myself drawn back to this site. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. And other nice surprises await there; I shall have to ask Miss Wendy about this nest. I’m not sure what kind of bird dwells here. A ‘pendant nest’ I understand from the initial searches I did.

See more of the photos of this grave at the 2nd Dundee photo album. Much to do this week as I’m off to Harrogate on Thursday. Doubtless many stories to tell from there! Trying to get some good way into the new novel in case I have an opportunity to pitch it to someone.