by Zoë Sharp
I suppose, first of all, I need to start with an apology. I’ve been singularly absent from the comments section to posts on this blog since … well, since my last post, to be honest.
Summer is the silly season as far as the day-job goes. Not that it seems to rain less, exactly, in the British summer for location photoshoots, but the rain’s certainly warmer. And the last month or so, what with the run-up to the CWA Dagger Awards and trying to plunge into the new Charlie Fox book, well. Let’s just say things have been a little hectic. Spending six days out of seven on the road does not make for a good ‘Rati member, I freely admit. So, apologies again, and I’ll try harder. In fact, when JT originally asked me for a title for my blog, I so very nearly used Must Try Harder instead of Changing Feet. Sometimes it would have been very appropriate. Whenever I do get the chance to catch up, I find you’ve all been having superb posts that I really would have liked to take part in.
Anyway, my last bout of rushing around the country took in the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate . Not quite the glamorous location of NYC for the recent ThrillerFest, but Harrogate still has a fine traditional connection with crime writing. When Agatha Christie did her famous eleven-day disappearing act in 1926, it was in the Harrogate Hydro Hotel she was eventually found.
The crime writing part of the Festival has been going since 2003, rapidly establishing itself as one of the biggest and best. I don’t say that lightly, or to belittle any other events. Everything that promotes crime and thriller fiction is welcome, I feel, but Harrogate is pretty unique for several reasons. The line-up is the first thing. Robert Crais, Jeffery Deaver, Andy McNab, Peter Robinson, Laura Wilson, Simon Kernick and, of course, our own Tess Gerritsen, to name but a few. You have to be invited to take part, are paid a small fee for the privilege, and only one panel track runs throughout the four-day event. Hence the fact that there can often be more than 400 people in the audience for each panel. Which would be quite a scary prospect were it not like being on a theatre stage, where the lighting means you can’t see past the first few rows.
My own bit was part of Creative Thursday, which is aimed at budding crime writers rather than those already established. I seem to be acquiring quite a reputation of sorts, because I was asked to deliver a workshop on How To Kill Someone With Small Change. For this I went trawling through my lists of ordinary objects that could be used to great damage and effect, and came up with things like hairspray, a flashlight and a table fork, which we bent into a knuckle-duster of sorts. So many people subsequently asked to see this that I ended up carrying it around in my handbag for most of the weekend, hoping I wouldn’t undergo a stop and search by the police while walking back to my hotel in the early hours. Indeed, Meg Gardiner saw a police chase and arrest from her hotel bedroom window.
Mind you, one particular writer got picked up by the police himself trying to return to his hotel in a somewhat ‘tired and emotional’ state. He thought they were being friendly and helpful when he blundered into the wrong building, but apparently they thought he was a burglar.
As is always the way, when you get a bunch of writers together the drink flows. Last year, the hotel turned over one of the bars to a wedding party, but I’m told their entire evening’s spend did not equal an hour of author drinking, so both bars were firmly available to the crime writers this year.
Sadly, there was no repeat of the chimpanzee impersonations by literary agent, Phil Patterson, regardless of encouragement by the rest of us. People kept greeting him as Agent Phil, which made him sound like some shady fed. I expected him to flash a government ID at any moment – "Agent Phil: Hominoid Division."
The hotel management could have run a book on how late the authors stayed in the bar. This Kevin Wignall would undoubtedly have won. On Saturday night he didn’t leave until 5:50 AM, only resurfacing just before lunchtime on Sunday, wearing dark glasses and a slightly delicate smile.
Of course, there was some serious business done, too, and the additional number of European publishers present was noticeable this time around, all a sign of how the festival is growing in stature.
Many happy returns to Lizzie Hayes of Mystery Women, whom we helped celebrate her birthday, along with her friend Sue, and Adrian and Ann Magson, in the Drum and Monkey. And no, Agent Phil wasn’t there …
I think one of the highlights must have been Stuart MacBride channelling the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe in the Balloon Game on Friday night, where a bunch of modern crime writers defended their predecessors in a hypothetical sinking hot-air balloon. The audience got to choose who stayed and who was thrown over the side in defence of the others. Despite a downright creepy performance by Stuart as Poe – complete with a raven glove puppet made from a sock – clean, we hope – in the end it came down to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle versus Dame Agatha Christie, as represented by Mark Billingham and Val McDermid with, somewhat bizarrely, a bag perched on her head.
The usual mass quiz on Saturday night was fun, although treated with deadly seriousness by some of those taking part. This year I was stunned to discover that one of the questions was about my books – trying to put the early ones in the right order. I knew writing FIRST DROP as book four would come in confusingly useful one day! Congratulations to my fellow team members, Martin Edwards, Meg Gardiner, Rhian Davies from It’s A Mystery and Karen Meek and Maxine Clarke from Eurocrime, all of whom knew far more than I did.
I was even asked to join a discussion on the BBC Radio 4 arts programme, Front Row, along with Chelsea Cain, Simon Kernick, and Mr MacBride. The programme, all about the highlights of Harrogate, was broadcast in the UK on Wednesday evening, but you can Listen Again Again on the ‘Tinterweb for the next week, if you feel so inclined. I also recorded an interview with the delightful Sarah Walters of the Yorkshire Post for their OutLoud online series.
One of the most interesting surprises was the new book-related board came – Bookchase – designed by Tony Davis. I’d love to tell you how it all works, but I haven’t got hold of a copy yet. Still, it was launched at the Hay Festival last year and it looks fascinating. Tony promises that a crime and thriller edition might well be on its way!
I’m sure there’s lots I’ve forgotten, but it will come back to me. Meanwhile, I offered a small prize to the best suggestion from my workshop class of use of an improvised weapon, or (very) short scene containing one. The deadline for that has already passed, but if anyone wants to suggest something, I happen to have another prize. A copy of the ingenious TELL AN OUTRAGEOUS LIE – 188 Legal Stimulants Designed to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing – by Mandy Wheeler and James de Ville.
Oh, and if anyone’s interested, I will be delivering an evening lecture at Lancaster University as part of their summer programme of events – 8:30 PM on Tuesday, August 5th.
This week’s Word of the Week has to be hominoid, an animal of the family Hominoidea, comprising man and the modern apes and their extinct ancestors.