Monday, 21 July 2014

Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2014

erm... yeah... just WOW! What a weekend!

It all began, very early in the morning of Thursday 17th July. I was up in time to leave the house by 5:30am, collected the lovely Linda at 6am and then drove to Harrogate.

I knew that I needed to use the M62, around peak time, so I left three hours to get there. Luckily,. although the traffic was heavy, we made it in very good time, and parked up at the Old Swan Hotel, in Harrogate (yes, that's the one Agatha Christie was discovered at after she vanished in 1926) just after 8am. We collected our tickets from the festival desk and I went to sign in for Creative Thursday!

Creative Thursday

There were around 50 - 60 participants in total, and in the morning, we were all welcomed onto the course by author Steve Moseby, who is also the chair of the crime writing festival committee. Then we separated into two groups for the morning session.

My groups' first session was with Laura Wilson. It was called, Last Orders: How to Create a Murderer. Laura was great, she talked us through the basic forms of motives, how to create a believable villain (even if you sympathise with them), and ran through the top movie villains, along with what made them so memorable. She mentioned some recommended reading (I haven't finished going through my notes to make that a list yet, but I promise that the recommended reading from this weekend will make up part of another blog post at some time in the future.)
Laura also talked about research, gave us some very good advice, and set us an exercise to do. I was in no way brave enough to read mine out, but some of those that did were really good. We had a question and answer session, followed by a coffee break, and then 'Modern Day Detective'.

The second session was for both groups together, was lead by Ian Sales who teaches detectives and was informative and entertaining. I did learn that I don't have what it takes to be a detective... but on the grounds that I very rarely get whodunnit, I wasn't surprised. There were a few exercises for that too, but I think that we did alright. I might make a half deccent uniformed officer who is first at the scene and then makes sure that the crime scene is 'run' correctly, so I wouldn't be totally useless, but I don't think any police force will be mourning the fact that I am not an officer any time ever!

Then there was lunch (which was lovely, especially the lemon posset pudding... yum! Not convinced my diet appreciated it, but it was a one off!)

In the afternoon, we split back into groups, I was in the Melanie McGrath session, Getting Started, which talked about how to structure a novel, how to come up with original scenarios, develop believable characters, developing the whole lot into a believable, full length story and all of this was interpersed with lots of practical exercises to try ourselves.

It was really good, and I made copious notes, but the room was warm and stuffy and I had just been fed, so I yawned more than I should have, but hopefully Melanie didn't notice. Could really have done with a few windows open for that session, but the session itself was really, really good!

After another coffee break, it was time for The Dragon's Pen... this was the literary equivalent of tv's Dragon's den; where would-be novelists were given two minutes to pitch their novel to a panel of experts (agents, editors and a publisher) hosted by crime novelist Mark Billingham (who compered the event, and was funny and sympathetic). I could not have done what those guys did. Some of those concepts were fabulous and the feedback from the panel wasn't negative, they were all given positive criticism, and the chance to answer questions. A few of the participants were told to send sample chapters to the agents as well. I did myself sat with some authors to watch this session and they were the nicest people!

I have to be honest, that was a theme for the entire weekend, from the festival staff, the hotel staff, the authors and the other attendees, everyone seemed to be nice! How does such gruesome subject matter end up being the liveliehood and favourite book subject of so many lovely people?!?!

I did head to my hotel after Dragon's Pen to check in and have a shower. I met Linda for tea, and then we went to the party, where we met more lovely people.
I didn't stay at the Old Swan (it was fully booked) I was at the Cairn (pictured)

Friday was a blur of talks, lunch, and book signings. The really, really, big one on Friday was obviously the Robert Galbraith talk in the evening. We weren't allowed to take photographs during the event, but I got one of the view from my seat before it started... 
Yup - second row seat! Squee!

Val McDermid was interviewing her, and Val was fabulous. She was able to make the audience feel part of the conversation and JK Rowling (who came in her 'Robert' suit, a lovely shade of grey with a pink tie) was extremely entertaining. The major points of the interview were covered in a BBC news article which was probably online before I'd even made it to the sushi restaurant over the road, but after getting my copy of The Silkworm signed... I did manage to get that finished before Friday as well, so I was very pleased. I want to tell you that I had an erudite and witty conversation with JK Rowling, but I didn't. I said thank you, she smiled and made eye contact and I scuttled off to enjoy sushi with Linda (I want to say and beloved, who had joined us for the weekend... he did come with us to the sushi restaurant, and he did eat... but I don't think that he enjoyed it!).

Speaking to the festival staff after the event, there were over 1,000 people in the signing queue, and JK Rowling smiled and made eye contact with each and every one... it must have taken a good few hours to get through, but you have to admire a woman who can sign books for that length of time and keep smiling! I'd have thrown a pen at someone with wrist cramps long before I'd done 1,000!


I am ashamed to admit that I missed the first talk on Saturday (due to some agregious over-sleeping on my part), but I was there in time to join the signing queue... Alas, the queue (whilst not as long as for JK Rowling) was rather lengthy and I had to go to the next session before I got to the front... 

The next session was Sophie Hannah and SJ Watson though. We were treated to a trailer for the film of SJ Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, which looks like a must watch film (due out in September), and the 'in conversation' that they had, was fabulous. Another very entertaining session. I did manage to get both author's to sign my books.

Speedy lunch followed by more fabulous talks, and more book signings!

We did find a lovely little all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet for dinner on Saturday night, but I also got rained on (heavily) whilst caught with no coat, and no brolly... TWICE! Twice in one day with no coat and no brolly. Not like me.

The quiz in the evening, hosted by Val McDermid and Mark Billingham, was very, very hard! But our team didn't come last, and we had fun!


I was very sorry that when Sunday dawned it meant we were almost done, going home, and that was it all over. However, I did go to the John Harvey interview (he was being interviewed by Mark Billingham) which was fantastically entertaining! We did get a chance to speak to John Harvey on Saturday afternoon, and he is a really lovely guy! He was talking about his poetry book which came out in June, but sadly wasn't available in the festival book teepee, nor is it available for kindle... yet.
The Book Teepee
Before we left, we grabbed a sandwhich for lunch (and got rained on again - I did have my brolly this time, but it was no match for the torrential storm we walked through - my jeans soaked up the water to my knees and when I made it to a loo, I took my top off and was able to actually ring it out! We did stop at services on the way home, where I had a rummage in the suitcase for some dry clothes and went and got changed in the loos.)

Whilst I was sad to leave the crime festival, I was happy to see Little Bit again. She has been spoiled rotten by her Grandparents for the weekend, and sounds like she had lots of fun... she even took her school report home on Friday night.

I was very pleased, on Sunday evening, when she asked if her report was 'good' to tell her that it was not. It was 'Excellent'. (we had to explain that this meant better than good, due to a slightly wobbnly lip for a moment), but she got 'Excellent' on every one of the five sections, some lovely feedback from her teachers, and, although Little Bit doesn't know it yet... has earned her a celebratory bowling trip. We won't go until Wednesday, as she has two more days of school (today and tomorrow) with after-school activities on both days!

Speaking of Little Bit and her after-school activities... it's time for cricket! As I have an absolute plethora of new books (signed, unsigned, and freebies), I shall pick one, take daughter to Cricket and sit in the fading sunshine with a drink! 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

July's reading list, with bonus Guide Dog Puppies

I finally managed to finish reading Her Privates We, by Frederic Manning. I don't want to review this one here in much detail, but I will say that I struggled with it. A lot of the conversation is written in local accents which are (as of this year) 100 years old!

I did find it interesting that the description of being at war was more realistic than in other novels, where they skim over the boring parts. It makes it clear in Her Privates We that war isn't a four year stretch of not leaving the trenches, instead Manning has his characters in the trenches, then out again, marching between different towns and villages, drinking in estaminets, bedding down in tents, making friends, and, in one case, deserting.

Whilst it made for hard going, I think I appreciated the dull, none-exciting parts of the narrative more for the realism that they offered than a Holywood-ised non-stop action version would have been.

Certainly, in the centenary year of the outbreak of WWI, this book is worth a read to see just what it was really like for the squaddies in the trenches.

I only gave this one 3 stars, mainly due to how hard going I found it, but I am likely to go back and upgrade it to a four later on.

This also filled in the H gap in my alphabet challenge, and as I had already read the I book, that moves me onto J.

So, for July, I need to read;
  • The Scarlet Lion, Elizabeth Chadwick (for my Historical Book CLub)
  • The Magpies, Mark Edwards (for my online general book club)
  • The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith (before I meet the author at the Crime Writing Festival)
  • Dark Side of the River, Brian Formby (for my local book club - we read anything, but this happens to be by a local author!)
  • and an as yet undecided novel, with a title starting with the letter J.
Quite a list! On top of getting through my reading list, we are still mid-way through the selling and buying a house process (complicated stuff, our solicitor is being utterly awesome, and really taking a lot of the strain off us though!) and there's the little matter of the International Crime Writing Festival in a little over a week's time! About which, I am becoming positively giddy with excitement! 

Now, we don't have any more walking excursions planned for this month, yet... but there is a walking festival in North Wales (which is about half an hour by car from here) at the end of August that we would quite like to go to!

And Finally:

A friend and colleague of mine, breeds dogs for the Guide Dogs Association, and in return for me sending him boxes of newspapers from time to time, he sends me photos of each litter of beautiful guide dog puppies... here's his latest batch, who all leave home to go into Guide Dog training tomorrow...

For more information about Guide Dogs for the Blind, or to support this amazing charity, please visit their website,

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

2014 Alphabet Challenge

As well as reading 52 books this year, which is an average of one per week, I decided to also try to read at least one book for each letter of the alphabet. For this to work, the title needs to start with the letter of the alphabet and being me, I didn't want to use the second word, where the first word was the or a. Daft, I know, but there you have it.

Luckily, I am English, so there are only 26 letters in the alphabet and that is less than my target anyway, so I decided to combine the two challenges!

I haven't read the books in the right order (maybe next year)... but I thought that I would list the books here, that I have covered so far;

A - Annabelle, by MC Beaton
B - Blood, Sweat and Tea, by Tom Reynolds
C - Chasing Azrael, by Hazel Butler
D - Dominion, by CJ Sansom
E - e. by Matt Beaumont
F - Fleshmarket Close, by Ian Rankin
G - Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
H - 
I - Intractable Heart, by Judith Arnopp

I know, considering that this is week 27, and I have read 25 books, but only 7 of them fit into my alphabet challenge, I think that it is safe to say, that I have fallen behind!

Luckily, there are 25 weeks left. I only have 2 books to catch up to the 52 book challenge target, but I only need 19 more to finish the alphabet challenge... so. I still have a chance.

I am now, utterly determined to finish Her Privates We, by Frederic Manning, which I got part way through and then sort of... well, left. Mainly, because it is 'H', which would fill in my gap! But also, because I should really finish it.