Monday, July 30, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Day 5 - Sunday: The End

All good things must come to an end. It all seemed to go so quick – indicative of the jam packed schedule and the whirlwind ride that is the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (okay, its official title has Theakstons in there somewhere too).

There were two events left and The Jingo and I attended them with a mixture of excitement and dread. We did not want this weekend to end, yet we were very keen to see what the Festival could muster up on its final day.

First, we had the very entertaining panel discussion about “What Really Gets Me Going” with the brains trust of the festival – Mark Billingham, Val McDermid and Natasha Cooper. Joining them was the very funny Christopher Brookmyre. The panel bantered on about the aspects of writing and reading crime novels that cheeses them off. They also managed to throw in a few jabs at agents, publishers and readers; all tongue in cheek and all very amusing.

After the usual half hour break, where I had three more books signed by the authors, we were into the last session (awwwwww!): an interview with Harlan Coben held by Laura Lippman. It was very interesting and entertaining - Mr Coben is a very amusing guy. The session also gave me more encouragement to get on with writing my novel. The one consistent thing that every author has said during this Festival when giving advice to budding writers has been: get on with it. Take a leap of faith and go for it! Good advice indeed.

The Festival finished with a thank you from Natasha Cooper and a round of applause in her direction for her organisation of the event. Praise was also given to the Festival organisation team who had been toiling away in the lead up to and during this big weekend.

Harlan Coben shook my hand and signed my book and then I was off! We had a rendezvous with Betty's tea rooms. It was definitely worth the twenty minute wait: chicken club sandwich for me, marinated Yorkshire lamb for The Jingo, followed by scones and tea and a lovely brown bread sundae with crushed almond macaroons and pecans. Ooh yeah.

We returned to the Crown Hotel for our bags and said our goodbyes to all that remained. The hotel was eerily quiet, although there were a few people still wandering around, trying to delay the inevitable end of the Festival and the depressing return to reality.

We caught an overcrowded train back to London with Sarah. The trip back drained the life out of us and we all started to feel the effects of the weekend, the excitement of the Harrogate Festival no longer keeping us awake. We ended up having to share floor space near a toilet that wouldn’t flush. A teenager walked around the carriage with toilet paper stuck to his foot after hiding from the ticket inspector in the men's – this kept us amused for a good part of the journey.

Finally, the train pulled into London. The Jingo and I said our goodbyes to Sarah and then headed home, tired, weighed down by books, hungry and thirsty, but with the sights and sounds of the Festival still dancing around in our heads.

Once again, it was a memorable and inspiring event.

See you next year, Harrogate!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Day 4 - Saturday : It's Veally Good

I thought I would be nodding off this morning while watching the “Here Come The Cops” panel, but somehow I managed to keep my eyes open. Once again, a short night of sleep did not bode well for the day’s forthcoming schedule. The intriguing and amusing panel discussion about police procedurals with Alex Gray, Cath Staincliffe, Elena Forbes and Peter James helped keep the sleep fairies away, but I have a theory that there is something else keeping me going: the Festival itself. It’s full of discussions about every aspect of the crime novel told by those who write them and as I love crime fiction and want to be a crime writer, the Festival contains everything that I find interesting. And therefore I am wired, despite the high levels of sleep deprivation.

That said, a decision had to be made. The mind may be willing but the body may eventually throw up its arms and say “I’ve had enough!” So a sacrifice had to be made for some much needed sleep. “Getting It Right”, about ensuring that an historical novel is accurate, was the offering I gave up to the sleep gods. I apologise to all those involved for not attending, but it was the best sleep I had had in ages.

Aptly following my mid-morning snooze was a Q&A session entitled “Getting Vigorous”, chaired by the ever resourceful, imaginative and sometimes zany Stuart MacBride. Using PowerPoint to its full capabilities, Stuart constructed a magical hour filled with questions and discussions about strange facts (such as the best way to dispose of a body and what human flesh tastes like) with the lovely C.J.Carver, the laid back Simon Kernick, the terrifying Zoe Sharp and the terrified Michael Marshall. It was a barrel of laughs.

The rest of the day was filled with more wonderful sessions, including a discussion about examining a crime scene by Helen and Ian Pepper, the former a registered forensic practitioner and the latter an ex-crime scene investigator, and a panel concentrating on the modern day spy thriller, including contributions by one real ex-spy (I won’t tell you his name – sworn to secrecy – these aren’t the droids you’re looking for).

The first (and hopefully only) setback for the Festival was the non-appearance of a big ticket item – Frederick Forsyth. The floods rampaging through Northern England had trapped him at his home, so he was unable to attend. Thankfully, the brains trust came up with something equally entertaining – a debate over whose crime fiction is better – the US or the UK. It was hilarious – Val McDermid and Mark Billingham fought for the UK, Lee Child and Harlan Coben sauntered along for the US. It was a close call in the end, but Mark Lawson declared the UK victors to the sound of cheers and gnashing of teeth.

Rounding off the night was the annual Quiz night. Quiz nights can frequently turn out to be a dog’s breakfast and this one came close to it. The only saving graces were the involvement of all the authors at the Festival, the entertaining duo of Simon Kernick and Natasha Cooper conducting the quiz, and the BTZers table, where I sat. In addition to those BTZers I had already met, there was Kevin, Jane, Jo and Mr K, Helena and Mr H, Derrin, Gungho and Smudge. It was great fun – very loud, lots of laughs, lots of conversations, one person in particular taking the opportunity to get things off her chest, and Mark Billingham being hauled to the back of the room for a photo opp with the Billingham Babes, who were decked out in their fabulously produced T-shirts. Fun had by all. I even managed to get two quiz questions right – who would’ve thought my purchase of The Thing soundtrack many years ago would have paid off.

The quiz finished and drinks moved into the now familiar Crown Hotel bar. There had been a wedding reception held in the hotel today (how they managed to double book has me beat) but they had moved on, so we had the bar to ourselves. My fuel tank was low, so after a few bevies and at the stroke of 2, I said goodnight to the remaining BTZers and authors and hello to the sweet, sweet sleep fairies.

One more day to go!

P.S. To the man who I had many discussions with about Theakston’s beer and the portability of a half dozen free bottles – I apologise that I have forgotten your name – but kudos to you – I hope you clinked your way back home safely.

P.P.S Update: I've been informed that his name is Dean! Hope to catch up with you next year, Dean.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Day 3 - Friday : Obi Wan at Harrogate

Five hours sleep is not enough. This morning my heard hurt, my throat was parched and my eyes were bugging out of their sockets. I didn’t want to get up, not even for breakfast. But then something moved inside me, something kicked me out of bed and sent me to the showers – it was Val McDermid. She was on at 9am. The Festival was about to begin.

The Jingo and I hurried through breakfast, worried that we were going to miss the start. Then we spotted Val, sitting down at her table, eating cereal, taking her time. We relaxed then; as long as Val was still at breakfast, we wouldn’t miss anything.

Val McDermid’s interview was one of the highlights of the day – she is a very funny person and has many great tales to tell. She spoke about her new book, Beneath the Bleeding, and the new series of Wire In The Blood, based on her Tony Hill series. It was all very interesting.

As were most of the sessions today. The format of the Festival contains hourly panel discussions or interviews with half hour breaks in between. This is a great way of doing it – you never miss anything and you always have time to stretch your legs, have a bite to eat or get your favourite authors to sign your books. It also gave us a chance to catch up with the BTZers and see what they thought of each session.

The day was jam packed: Val McDermid’s interview was followed by a panel discussion about crime novels set in the countryside, an introduction to four “new” authors, an hilarious hour on class in crime fiction (upper class David Roberts against the rest of the world), a discussion about the psychology of violent crime and a special hour celebrating the works of Daphne Du Maurier.

Throughout the day, I bought the books of New Blood authors, Nick Stone, Tom Cain, Caro Ramsey and Nicola Monaghan (for The Jingo) as well as ex-head of Florence flying squad, Michele Giuttari, who has the kindest face for someone who must have seen the aftermath of the most heinous crimes. All of these authors kindly signed my copies too.

The Jingo and I had dinner at one of Harrogate’s many fine seafood restaurants and then it was a mad rush to see the sold out appearance of Lee Child. He was magnificent to watch – a very serious man with a dry sense of humour who had plenty of stories to tell. It was a great session.

Following that was a regular feature of the Festival – the Foul Play performance hosted by Simon Brett – a whodunit acted out by Mark Billingham and Stella Duffy with Stuart MacBride and Laura Lippman trying to solve the crime. It was a barrel of laughs – especially when Mark’s impersonation of Alec Guinness included the line: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” I pissed myself laughing, although no one else near me got the reference.

After Foul Play concluded, we were off to the bar. I mingled once again with the BTZers, enjoying a few drinks here and there and catching the occasional author for a quick chat. I spoke to James Twining about Asian action flicks and restoring old cinema houses and listened with great interest as Nick Stone recounted his run in with a dodgy fella earlier in the day, who had a quite relaxed stance about profiting from other people’s hard work with the use of EBay. Stuart MacBride’s agent did a monkey dance and a Scandinavian tried to dry hump every woman in the bar. Sheila Quigley was in pain from a swollen finger and had to be whisked away to the hospital for painkillers. I spoke to Simon Kernick, Kevin Wignall and John Rickards but the conversations were far too fleeting. The need for sleep took hold, dragging me kicking and screaming to bed. I will hopefully catch them tomorrow night.

In between all this, during the afternoon, I managed to squeeze in my one-on-one session with Greg Mosse to talk about the treatment to my novel. This was the moment I had been waiting for for some time and I was a little nervous. I met him in a hotel room across from The Crown and we spoke for 20 minutes about my novel. He was very easy to talk to and quite encouraging. In summary, he was very excited about my novel’s potential, although he said that I had taken on something that would be difficult to pull off even for an established writer. Not like me to complicate things. Greg also gave me sound advice which I will take on quite happily.

This was a milestone moment – now I can crack on with it!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Day 2 - Creative Thursday

Excitement kicked in as I walked down to the breakfast room. The sleep last night wasn’t the best – someone above me thought it was a good idea to do little laps around their room at 4 in the morning, every step creating a god awful creak from the old floorboards. Despite that, I was pretty wired.

I scanned the breakfast area looking for either authors I would be able to recognise or Mark Billingham forum members (BTZers) who I knew were here and vaguely knew what they looked like. I didn’t have much success on either front, although I did see the lovely Ann Cleeves lining up for a sausage and/or grilled mushrooms.

Today is the first day of the Festival. As is the tradition, this day is reserved for The Creative Thursday workshop: a run through the main aspects of writing presented by those in the know. We started off with an introduction by the Programming Chair of the Festival, Natasha Cooper. A different author chairs the Festival every year and Natasha has organised a very good line up this year.

Following Natasha Cooper was Simon Kernick. His hour and a half allotment was spent talking about Plot. It was a very funny session with loads of anecdotes and jokes but plenty of good stuff for any budding writer to go away with and think about.

Setting with Greg Mosse followed soon after – a more structured session talking about setting and how it can be used to propel a story along and the dos and don’ts when describing your location. Greg is a teacher in his own right as well as an author and his hour or so session gave me a glimpse at how beneficial my one on one session with him tomorrow will be.

Laura Wilson talked about Inventing People, including how to come up with character names (my pet hate / struggle), Natasha Cooper returned with advice on how to sit down and just write your novel and Jane Gregory and Hilary Hale rounded off the day with sound advice from the agent’s and publisher’s perspective. They were encouraging, although the statistics telling us how many people actually get published each year were quite depressing.

The Creative Thursday was great – I really enjoyed it – lots of good advice and encouragement. Throughout it all, I was keeping my eye out for Sarah. She is a fellow BTZer and writer (and artist) and I knew she was in the workshop. I did spot her but at the time, I wasn’t 100% sure – but with the help of Natasha Cooper, Sarah’s identity was confirmed and we introduced ourselves. It was like we had known each other for years – clichéd I know, but, as with all the other BTZers I met today, it was true.

The Jingo arrived from London and straight away we joined the crowds for the first event – the announcement of the winner of the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The winner was Allan Guthrie. The look on his face when he accepted the coveted Theakston’s barrel and generous cheque told it all – he hadn’t expected to win. It was a special moment - not a dry eye in the house! The fact that this award is voted by the readers made the win even more rewarding. I don’t think Allan let go of that barrel for the remainder of the night – he may have even slept with it – I know I would have!

Next was the Festival Opening Party which was reasonably low key – free wine and Theakston’s beer for all. The Jingo and I spoke with William, a 17 year old who has written three novels already and was scoping the crowd for agents and publishers. He had the determination and drive to become an author that I wish I had had at his age. He even had business cards printed off. Look out for him in the future.

We rubbed shoulders with the elite, spotting faces in the crowds, whispering names to each other – “Isn’t that so and so?” “There’s Mr whathisname.” – unashamed in our fan boy frenzy. Then we met more BTZers – Betty, Tzara, Chelbel and Ravenscross – all great people who I hope to catch up with again during the festival.

After the final event of the day finished, it was off to the bar where fans, authors, publishers, agents and the occasional sleazy playboy mingle and dross about anything and everything. I spent most of the time talking to the BTZers – catching up, giving each other encouragement with our own writing, talking about any conversations we may have had with the big names of the Festival. It was a grand night, tapering off into the early hours where only a handful of people, mainly authors, remained. I was so tired, I was in danger of slipping into a coma, so I decided it was time to head off. I would have liked to have talked to more authors but my bed was calling me and there is plenty of time left in this Festival to chat with these accessible, generous and good natured people.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Day 1 - Wednesday : Chorizos and Melted Cheese

When I walked into the lobby of The Crown Hotel this afternoon, I was struck with a sense of anticipation. The place was quiet: one or two drinkers at the bar, a white haired old couple pulling luggage up a corridor, a smiling lady behind the reception counter. But in less than 24 hours, the place would be swarming with authors, agents, publishers and fans of the crime writing genre.

As I made my way up to the counter, struggling with a large backpack and my computer bag, a few guests passed by, looking at me with restrained curiosity. I thought to myself, hmmm, maybe they think I am an author, arriving for the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival. It felt pretty good and I milked it for what it was worth (stopping short of soliciting requests for autographs).

My façade dropped, however, as I searched, with similar excitement, the faces of other patrons of the hotel, hoping to recognise a genuine crime writer. Alas, there were none; but I was patient: tomorrow would bring forth a plethora of authors for me to see and chat with.

It’s hard not to have dreams of discovery when attending the Harrogate festival. It's a major crime writing festival, the best going around, and it attracts everyone from the industry. As a budding writer working on his first novel, I would be lying if I didn’t fantasise about wooing authors and agents alike with my witty banter, charming personality and ultimately, excellent, heart stopping, ground breaking prose. But I made a pact with myself – this Festival was about learning from those in the industry, through panels, interviews and the occasional chat at the bar. But it was also about making new friends and having fun.

The Jingo is arriving tomorrow so I went Han Solo for dinner to a nice Mexican restaurant at the end of Station street; had a nachos with chorizo. Probably a bad move as the stomach feels a bit unsettled. Probably just nerves (and the diarrhoea is probably just due to my healthy fruit rich diet). I walked around town afterwards, admiring the city of Harrogate. The buildings look amazing here and the gardens are beautiful – a nice relaxing place with loads of restaurants and nightlife too. I checked out the restaurants in the area, picking out a few for when Jingo arrives. Betty’s tea room is one we will definitely not miss.

The sunny afternoon moved on into a cool evening and I decided to retire to my room. The room is nice, nothing too flash but has all the necessary amenities. The bed is pretty small for two people and the floorboards creak, but otherwise, it’s suitable. I set up the computer but instead of writing, I decided to watch a couple of DVDs – Homicide: Life on the Street, just to get me in the mood for tomorrow.

Not that I need any help with that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Preview

As I write this, I am 15 minutes away from catching the tube to Kings Cross station where I will hop on an overland to Harrogate. It's hard to believe a year has gone by but its that time again - time for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

When The Jingo and I went to the festival last year, we didn't know what to expect. What we got was two full days of seminars, interviews and discussions with some of the UK's leading crime writers including Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and John Harvey. This year, we are going for the full festival and there are just as many, if not more, big names to entertain us.

I am travelling there today in preparation for tomorrow's Creative Thursday - a full day of tutorials covering such topics as Plot, Setting, Inventing People, Writing and Selling - a kind of prelude to the actual festival. The tutorials are presented by big names in the industry including Simon Kernick, Natasha Cooper and Greg Mosse. I am really looking forward to this day, especially given I have started my novel and any extra help is well received. I think the highlight will be listening to real publishers and editors speak about how to sell your work.

The Jingo arrives on Thursday evening, just in time for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year presentation and the Festival's Opening Party. A few beverages will be consumed, no doubt.

The next three days after that are filled with interviews and discussions covering all aspects of crime writing, held and participated by the big names in the industry, including Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Lee Child, Frederick Forsyth, Harlan Coben and lots, lots more. The ever approachable Mark Billingham will be there, as well as the Festival Programming Chair, the lovely Natasha Cooper. Many, many stories to be told and talked about over four magnificent days.

During the hectic schedule, I will also be having my 20 minute one-on-one session with Greg Mosse, discussing my treatment and my novel. Something I am really looking forward to.

Harrogate also has lots to offer in terms of food - The Jingo and I will definitely be partaking of the local delicacies - especially tea at Betty's!

I will be offline over the Festival, but look out for my day by day summaries that I will prepare on location and post retrospectively here.

For those who will be there, I look forward to meeting you "off-line" for the first time, knocking back a few beers and talking about all things criminal.

This is the highlight of my year and I can't wait to get there!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Day Has Come

Status on day 106: countless hours of researching, plotting and procrastinating under the belt; a 3,000 word treatment sent off to a professional writer for review, ahead of a one-on-one session at Harrogate; and a working title that will do for now.

Day 107: it started like any other weekday. My alarm went off at 6 a.m. and it took me fifteen minutes of groaning and swearing before I got up. Once up, I showered, shaved and had some breakfast. Powered up the computer and sat at my desk.

And began.

First, I opened Word and created a master document. Then I created another file, a template file. I then saved this template file as another document, entitled “One”.

I opened “One”, looked at the blank page before me, took a deep breath and began typing.

It had been a long time coming. It had been over five years since I started my writing course by correspondence, learning the skills of writing. During that period - writing articles for magazines I didn’t even subscribe to, trying to cram short stories into imposed word count restrictions for competitions, walking through bookstores and jealously scanning all the published authors on the shelves – through all that, I had been waiting for this day to come.

Day 107: the day I started writing my novel.

DAY: 107 PAGES: 4