A Peculier Crime

by Zoë Sharp

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Harrogate for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Harrogate is now in its seventh year, and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It’s very different from the US conventions I’ve attended, as you have to be invited to take part on one of the range of panels, and only one panel track is run at any one time, ensuring large capacity audiences. Fortunately, as the whole thing is professionally miked and lit, you can’t see much beyond the spotlights anyway when you’re up on the stage, which tends to help authors who are a little shy or not used to performing in front of so many people.

Harrogate also differs from many conventions in that you can buy tickets for individual panels, as well as weekend rover passes, although many people never quite manage to make it out of the bar. However, I’m sure the prospect of listening to Lee Child, George Pelecanos, ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon, Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie, Stuart MacBride, Denise Mina, Andrew Taylor, Martyn Waites, Caro Ramsay, Chris Simms, Val McDermid, Laura Wilson, NJ Cooper, etc, will be more than enough to ensure packed houses for every event.

Among the silly things I’ll no doubt be doing over the weekend, I’m giving a workshop as part of the opening day, Creative Thursday, on self-defence and writing action scenes. Andy, brave soul that he is, has volunteered to be my Crash Test Dummy for this. Practise for that quickly degenerated into undignified grappling and fits of giggles, I can tell you – there was a water pistol involved – but we shall endeavour to be serious on the day.

Other workshops taking place will be the Award-winning writer Laura Wilson talking to CSI officer Andy Manns; lawyer and crime author Martin Edwards will be unravelling the legal side of crime writing; exploring the structures of a novel from ancient to modern with crime author and Head of Writing at Liverpool John Moores University, Adam Creed; a discussion between author Mark Billingham, abridger Kati Nicholl, and actor Adjoa Andoh about adapting for audiobook; and finally the Dragons’ Pen.

This latter event gives would-be authors two minutes to pitch their story to a panel comprising top agents Jane Gregory and Philip Patterson, and editors David Shelley of Little, Brown, and Selina Walker of Transworld. A scary prospect indeed, but worth the risk to get your idea in front of such a line-up, even if there is the danger of crashing and burning in spectacular fashion.

So, I hope you’ll excuse the short post this week, and I’ll leave you with the question have you ever attended a writing workshop – either a course or a single day event? If not, what puts you off? And if you have, what did you gain from it? Is there one specific piece of advice that stands out?

Last week, of course, were the CWA Dagger Awards, held at Tiger, Tiger in Haymarket, London. I was nominated for the CWA Short Story Dagger for ‘Served Cold’, which originally appeared in the Busted Flush anthology A HELL OF A WOMAN, edited by Megan Abbott, and was published in the UK in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME, published by Constable & Robinson. The worthy winner was Sean Chercover, for ‘One Serving of Bad Luck’ from KILLER YEAR, published by MIRA. Many congrats to him, and also to Colin Cotterill, winner of the CWA Dagger in the Library; to Fred Vargas for THE CHALK CIRCLE MAN, winner of the CWA International Dagger; and finally to Catherine O’Keefe, winner of the CWA Debut Dagger for the opening section of her novel, THE PATHOLOGIST.

This week’s Word of the Week is deprehend, meaning to catch, to seize, to detect, whereas apprehend means to lay hold of, to arrest, to be conscious of by the senses, to lay hold of by the intellect, to recognise or catch the meaning of, to understand, to consider, conceive or look forward to, and to anticipate, especially with fear.

14 thoughts on “A Peculier Crime

  1. Catherine Shipton

    Zoë ,fear and money have combined to negate urges to attend one day workshops or courses..one I have in abundance, the other not so much. There may be a day where my desire outweighs the fear and I could probably scratch around and come up with the money. At that point hopefully I could list off gains with relish and offputting thingos would be in short supply….oh and sterling nuggets of wisdom…they’ve just be falling off my lips/fingertips…and I could write, and contribute and mentor, as well as read like a fiend.Maybe.

  2. Louise Ure

    Deprehend is now my nbew favorite word.

    I’ve been to writers’ conferences, both as a student and as a member of the faculty. And no matter how much I think I know the topic, I always come away with at least one new nugget of information.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    God, sounds awesome. I so want to go.
    I’ve never been to a writing conference as an attendee. I’ve spoken at a few – about the process of developing novels into screenplays for feature films. But I have yet to attend one as an author. I can’t wait.

  4. pari noskin taichert

    This weekend sounds fantastic! I hope you enjoy every minute.

    I’ve been to a couple of writing cons and a few workshops. All of these were before I was published.

    This October, I’m going to a two-week intensive master class in Oregon. I’m trembling with anticipation AND fear.

  5. Jake Nantz

    That sounds like a hell of a good time. Have fun! Only writing weekend I went to was sponsored by the MFA department at UNCW. It was a lot of fun, and it reinforced my belief that I can do this, but it was mostly about writing literary work that MEANS something (if you can imagine them saying it with capital-letter-emphasis, then you get my meaning). Because of that, it kinda turned me off to that particular spot, but not to the courses and conferences altogether.

  6. Zoe Sharp

    Hi Catherine

    Fear, it seems to me, is the one biggest factor that stops people from attempting to write, or finishing a project and submitting it for publication or consideration by an agent. Have the courage of your convictions ;-]

  7. Zoe Sharp

    Hi Louise

    Deprehend is a lovely one, isn’t it?

    And today’s been enlightening. I sat in on the Dragons’ Pen, which was highly illuminating about what agents and publishers are – and are not – looking for at the moment.

  8. Zoe Sharp

    Hi Alex – you’ve got to give this one a whirl. Especially while the dollars so strong against the pound!

    Hi Stephen – you never forget your first conference as an author. Mine was Sleuthfest in Florida and it was such fun.

    Hi Pari – good luck in October. I hope you have a ball and come back refreshed and renewed and filled with enthusiasm and faith in your undoubted talent!

    Thanks, Brett. I’m having a ball – except for the dreadfully slow internet connection at the hotel. Hence the fact I’m having to reply to everyone’s comments in one email, otherwise I’m going to run out of battery on my laptop before all the comments post. Argh!

    Hi Jake – this is one of the nicest things about Creative Thursday at Harrogate. It’s geared specially towards crime writers.

    Thanks for the commments ;-]

  9. Katherine Howell

    Hi Zoe,
    it hurts to read about Harrogate when I had such a great time there last year! Hopefully I’ll make it back next year and get to catch up with you then 🙂
    Have a fantastic time!

  10. Catherine Shipton

    Zoë thanks some day I may be able to pull it all together in the same direction…and just leap. In the meantime I’m delighted to absorb some of the process through the masses I read and Murderati postings.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *