Category Archives: Theakstons Festival

End in tears (of sadness at the end of TOPCWF)

Going out bras, spot porn, fart jokes, and murder – it could only be The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing festival (TOPCWF for short)

Our bathroom at the Crown was a lot cleaner.

Yet again it was a superb weekend over in Harrogate, with an absolute cornucopia of authors and bloggers from all over the country (and the world) I know I probably say this every year but I really think this year’s event was the best ever. Well, in all aspects except the weather. Sadly someone forgot to order the usual bright sunshine, and Saturday was positively torrential. However the river like streets didn’t seem to dampen any enthusiasm.

As usual there were some big hitting names. Kathy Reichs was making her first appearance at the festival discussing everything from bones to beavers (the dam making kind before you get any ideas) and Ann Cleaves bought along not one but three celebrity TV stars to keep us all entertained whilst talking all things Vera and washing machines.

One of the funniest events of the weekend was the late night panel, featuring Sarah Millican chairing, with Val McDermid, Lee Child and Mark Billingham. Secrets were flying round the ballroom, from who used to have David Beckham washing his car to who sleeps naked, and which celebrity nearly crushed their dogs head with her (or his!) boob. This was probably my most favourite session of the weekend and they all had the whole room in stitches.

The quiz is always a highlight of the event, and this year was no exception. Questions range from music to pictures, with our hosts Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. There is always a beer tasting round thanks to the Theakstons brewery, although a slight technical hitch meant that the answers weren’t counted. This was a shame really as helpfully the answers were actually written on the drinks so this might have been the one and only round that we actually did any good in.

Ian Rankin and whisky

I know everyone says it but this really is one of the friendliest festivals ever. For a bunch of people who spend their time thinking of murder, death and crime most of the time, the people at this festival are some of the nicest you will ever meet.  Where else would you get to discuss whisky with Ian Rankin (Laphroaig is one of his favourites if anyone wants to send him some, mine too by the way!) or talk shopping with Eva Dolan?

 

Of course for us readers the real bonus to this weekend is the sheer amount of books on offer. Strangely I actually heard a couple complaining that their goody bags had too many books in them. Clearly these people are not friends of mine, and frankly I worry for their mental health. There is no such thing as too many books. All in all TOPCWF is really one of the best weekends in the world, and I am sure a few tears are shed when it’s over and we all have to go back to mundane real life.

Whilst I am never going to start watching spot porn, or be the kind of woman that owns going out bras, I am definitely the kind of woman that is going to be back in 2018. Especially as Lee Child is rumoured to be the next programme chair!

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When the Music’s Over

Once again the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is over for another year. The whirlwind of books, authors, crime and intrigue has finished. The dead bodies have been scraped off the pavements, the books have been transported back inside bricks and mortar buildings and us readers have gone back to our mundane office life hankering after a world where we could get paid to read.

As always this was another great weekend, created by the fantastic team at Harrogate International Festival’s, with a wonderful programme committee lead by the excellent Peter James. The programme was jam packed to the point that it was difficult to find a session that could be missed. Missed, some had to be though, as this isn’t just about listening to talks, there are free books to be collected, passports to be stamped thanks to Crime files on tour, people to chat to and even fingerprints to be taken and crimes to be solved.

Unfortunately one of the biggest crimes this year at the festival was  the signing queues. For some reason WHSmiths decided to ditch the age old Harrogate tradition of one queue for all, instead opting to have separate queues for each author. This meant that if you had more than one author you wanted to meet you had to queue numerous times and it was never certain which queue was for who. However this lack of management did probably lead to one of the biggest shocks of the whole weekend – an unlikely friendship was struck up between me and my arch rival, the bookseller.

Every year the same two booksellers turn up with their big pile of books, they go into no sessions, have little interest in the authors and just want to get the books signed to sell them on. Every year, because I’m known for my calm and tolerant persona, this really winds me up as they are always at the front of the queue. However this year, in the face of adversity me and the Bookseller drew on our great british spirit and joined forces sorting some of the queues ourselves. See there is always a silver lining and its amazing how suddenly having a common aim can unite enemies.

Every year there are some fantastic sessions and this year was no exception. Julia Crouch chaired an interesting discussion about domestic suspense which included Paula Hawkins and the award winning Claire Mackintosh, whereas Tess Gerritsen took to the stage alone and was absolutely amazing. The discussion between Val McDermid and Susan Calman was definitely a highlight for me. Both have a great sense of humour and it’s clear there was a real friendship there which always makes the panels more entertaining. 

Surprise of the weekend was the ‘Out of Africa’ panel. It was informative and entertaining and I came away with another new author to try.That being said though, it does mean that technically I didn’t get to complete the TOPCWFC2016 as I hadn’t been aware Leye Adenle was attending. Yet I’ve created another rule for my challenge which is, if I didn’t know in advance they would be there it doesn’t count. Therefore I have officially ticked off another one on my list of 40 things to do.

The festival is not just all books either, there is beer, wine, football, and even music. I was lucky enough to meet the excellent Mark Billingham, who whilst signing my book asked if I’d ever heard a song called Candi’s Room by Bruce Springsteen. Mark, as well as his main character Thorne, are well known lovers of music, so this would have been a great opportunity to impress him with my expertise. But no, instead of saying something witty  I stuttered that I thought Brotherhood of Man had done something too. Well the look of disappointment on his face was just embarrassing, why couldn’t I have picked something cooler?? That surprisingly was the end of our conversation.

From the Thursday evening awards, through the final session with Yorkshire chap Peter Robinson it has once again been a fantastic weekend. I’ve come away with tons of book, including lots of new authors to try, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

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Nemesis

So with one week and two days left to go until the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival I thought I’d have a bit of a check where I am with the TOPCWFC 2016. I had high hopes this year. Looking through the list there were a lot of authors that I’ve seen before and therefore there was a high chance that I had read something of theirs already. However it does look like sadly I may have taken on more than I can chew yet again. This challenge is beginning to be my nemesis.

On the positive side, I’ve realised I’d counted wrong in my initial plan. I had counted two authors separately although they write as a team, and I’ve also excluded one author on the grounds he only writes true crime and this is a fiction challenge (my challenge my rules!) However with only nine days before the festival I still have 4 authors to go. Now admittedly as I write this I’m about to finish an audio book of one, and I’m halfway through another in hard copy, yet I still suspect it’s going to be a case of so near yet so far.

Out of interest though I’ve listed all those books I have read below. Obviously with some authors I’ve read most of their novels and so I’ve just listed the most recent one. It was actually quite an interesting exercise going through the authors and seeing what I’d read. Although it has made me realise how many new books there are out there that I really want to read. If only I could find a job that would pay me to read books all day, fingers crossed for next year.

The TOPCWFC 2016

  1. Linwood Barclay – Broken Promise
  2. Mark Billingham – Time of Death (audiobook)
  3. Peter James – A Twist of the Knife
  4. Sharon Bolton – Little Black Lies
  5. Mari Hannah – The Murder Wall
  6. Ysra Sigurdardottir – The Silence of the Sea
  7. Julia Crouch – The Long Fall
  8. Helen Fitzgerald – The Cry
  9. Paula Hawkins – Girl on a Train
  10. Clare Mackintosh – I let you go
  11. Alex Marwood – The Wicked Girls
  12. Simon Brett – The Hanging in the Hotel
  13. Frances Brody – A Death in the Dales
  14. Ann Granger – Dead In the Water (audio)
  15. Catriona McPherson – Quiet Neighbours
  16. Ruth Ware – In a Dark Dark Wood
  17. Elly Griffiths – The Crossing Places
  18. Brooke Magnanti – The Turning Tide
  19. Kate Medina – Fire Damage
  20. Val McDermid – Splinter the Silence
  21. Sophie Hannah – A Game for all the Family (audio)
  22. Simon Kernick – The Murder Exchange
  23. Laura Lippman – After I’m Gone
  24. Martyn Waites – The Dolls House (Yes technically its Tania Carver but its my rules!)
  25. Laura Wilson – The Wrong Girl
  26. Jeffrey Deaver – The Skin Collector
  27. Mark Lawson – The Deaths
  28. Gerald Seymour
  29. Martin Holmen – Clinch
  30. J S Law – Tenacity (audiobook)
  31. Beth Lewis
  32. Abir Mukherjee – A Rising Man
  33. NJ Cooper – Vengence in Mind
  34. Paul Mendleson – The serpentine road
  35. Deon Meyer – Devil’s Peak
  36. Margie Orford – Daddy’s Girl
  37. Michael Stanley –
  38. (Micheal Sears and Stanly Trollop one author above)
  39. Pierre Lemaitre – Blood Wedding
  40. Bernard Minier – The Frozen Dead
  41. SJ Parris – 
  42. Martina Cole – The Life
  43. Tess Gerritsen – Last to Die
  44. Charles Cumming – A Divided Spy
  45. Frank Gardner (True Crime so not in the challenge)
  46. Kate Rhodes – River of Souls
  47. Gillian Slovo – Ten Days
  48. Neil Cross – Captured

 

 

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The Forty (nine) Steps

Back in the dim and distant time that was 2012 when I was but a much younger thing I set myself my first ever Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC). In case you don’t know this was for me to read a book by every author at the festival that year.

Well it quickly became apparent that that was rather an impossible feat, and I narrowed it down to reading something from at least one author from each session was much more manageable. Well its now 2016, I’ve just turned 40,  and so it is fifth time lucky for the TOPCWFC.

This time I’m feeling pretty hopeful.  As you’ll know I wrote a list of 40 things I’m going to do this year, it could be called 40 steps to making this year ‘The Year of Me’ (Spot The Middle reference there) Completing the TOPCWFC is one of those. The programme has been released and as always it looks like a fantastic weekend. There are some of my favourite authors returning including the excellent Peter James, Tess Gerritsen and Martina Cole. Val McDermid is doing a double hitter this year being in conversation on Friday night and of course doing my favourite New Blood panel. There is also what is sure to be one of my top ranked panel discussions ‘Domestic suspense – the killer behind the front door’ featuring five of my favourite female authors including Julia Crouch and Paula Hawkins.

As well as those who I’ve seen before there are some new faces to the festival although not new to crime fiction such as Jeffery Deaver the writer of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers most of which I’ve already read. Then there are others such as Gerald Seymour who is a new name to me although he has actually just written his 32nd book.

This year if my maths is correct there are 48 authors appearing alongside comedians, playwrights, forensic podiatrists, and radio producers. Of these I’ve read 26 already, so only 22 to go. That shouldn’t be too hard to do surely? Thanks to netgalley I’ve already made a start on A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee and I recently purchased a novel by Ysra Sigurdardottir so fingers crossed I’m well on the way to completion for the first time ever! (There is nothing wrong with a bit of optimism)

 

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Sorrow Bound by David Mark -a review

I first met David Mark in 2012 when he appeared in the New Blood panel. As I’ve often said if it’s good enough for Val McDermid then it’s good enough for me, and this was no exception. Since his first appearance back in Harrogate David Mark has become one of my favourite authors.

Sorrow Bound is the third book to feature Aector McAvoy. The detective is settling into a new house with his wife Roisin and their two children as he struggles to oversee his team of detectives who are all coming apart at the seams. There are two separate storylines running through this novel. There is a series of murders that link back to an old case. Then there is also a new drug gang in town that McAvoy’s wife accidently gets caught up with.

I thought Sorrow Bound, like the previous two novels was excellent.  It’s very dark and violent which is exactly how I like crime novels to be sometimes. It is set in Hull which is a city I don’t know well  (apart from a trip with a friend a few years ago, the most memorable bit of which was a fish nearly landing on my friends head) but it is always nice to read stories set outside London. It’s difficult to review more of the story without giving any spoilers away but it was a fast paced read with plenty of twists and turns. The ending itself however is a real cliff hanger that disappointed me slightly as I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

One of the things that makes David Mark stand out for me is the actual writing. The descriptions add an extra depth to the story that makes this different to a lot of the usual novels. When I read I skim read a lot as I’m always anxious to find out what’s next (sorry that must be annoying for authors to hear as they agonise over every word they write) With this series I really feel like every word is important and should be savoured.

The main character of McAvoy’s is of course flawed and the story starts with him having to see the forces psychologist. However he is also a loving husband and father who is trying his best to keep his family safe and not let his job colour their lives. It makes a change to have a detective who isn’t a single man with his only friend a bottle of whisky. All the characters in this series are seemingly well rounded but with faults just like us all which makes this more than just a story about a crime but also a good reflection on the human race.

I mentioned before I am a big fan of David Mark and would definitely recommend his novels especially if you like gruesome well written stories. As always another great find from the new blood panel.

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The hand that feeds you by AJ Rich – a review

This was one of the books I picked up at the festival earlier in the year and last week made it to the top of the TBR pile.
The story begins with a rather gruesome discovery by main character Morgan. She arrives home to find her fiancé Bennett has been ripped to pieces by her dogs. Morgan is writing her master’s thesis in forensic psychology and met Bennett via her online research into victims. After his death Morgan attempts to get in touch with her fiance’s family but soon finds out that Bennett has been weaving a pack of lies. She starts to try and find out who the man she thought she loved really was and soon finds out that it is not only her life that is in danger.
This book is proving tricky to review. On the one hand whilst reading it I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked from the beginning and really wanted to know what had happened. However once I’d finished and started thinking about the review I realised that it was actually a bit of a ridiculous story. The main character Megan was just annoying. We are supposed to believe she is an educated women working as a psychologist, yet she falls for Bennett within what is seemingly a matter of minutes, when any normal person would have realised from the start he was odd. We are given an in depth description of a traumatic incident that happened to her when young, yet seemingly this hasn’t had any long term effect on her at all and she trusts everyone she meets.
Having dogs as the main suspect in a murder was an unusual idea, although it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to be that cut and dried. For some reason though again with hindsight I am just not sure that I actually cared about the dogs or their fate – and I usually prefer animals to people. I am not sure that Megan really cared either, despite us being told numerous times how she loved dogs and had two rescue dogs.
As I said it’s a difficult book to review, I did enjoy reading it and wanted to know the outcome for Megan. However I’m struggling to think why I enjoyed it. I would say that ‘The hand that feeds you’ is worth picking up if you are looking for a nice easy holiday read but its not necessarily an outstanding psychological thriller.

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An advancement of learning

This year at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writers Festival Eddie Izzard was special guest. Whilst his link to crime writing might have been tenuous (he is friends with Mark Billingham and appears in the TV version of Hannibal) he turned out to be really interesting and quite inspiring. One of the things that he says is that he tries to learn a new skill every year which I think is something to aspire to. His examples included running 43 marathons in 43 days and learning Arabic so he can give his stand up routine in the language.

Last year I started horse riding again after a gap of approximately 20 (and a bit!) years. As a child I spent most of my time mucking out and going out hacking round the fields rather than actually learning properly. This time round it is all a bit more serious and I’m actually learning how to ride properly. The past couple of weeks have been very exciting as I’ve been learning to jump. Admittedly I suspect people would say I was just staying on top of a horse rather than actually jumping but the thing is I don’t care because I love it. I have probably lost my chance at riding in the Olympics therefore it doesn’t matter that I’m not very good because it’s all just for fun.

I think a lot of the reason people don’t learn new things is fear of failure or embarrassment. As a child we are constantly learning and it’s seen as the norm. Clearly as a child we are expected to not know most stuff therefore we can accept that we have to learn. As an adult we spend so much of our time at work pretending that we know everything about our jobs (or is that just me?) that I think people forget that they don’t know things and it’s ok to learn.

I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, and am happy to admit that I don’t know a lot of stuff. I think it is helped partly by the fact I have very little in the way of competitive spirit. Even as a child I had no interest in competitive sports – when I was in nursery (or primary clearly I can’t remember that far back) apparently during a race in school sports day I was in the lead but stopped to wait for my friend ultimately losing. It’s probably a good job I haven’t got pushy parents who forced me into sports I would have been such a disappointment.

I think that all adults would be happier if they accepted the point of learning something new is that you are not supposed to be any good at it to start with. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve not done something because I might not be any good or might be embarrassed. Running is a great example that I put off for ages in case everyone laughed at me as I jogged (or walked) round our local park. It took me a good while to realise that no one is looking. The only people who look at other people trying to run are those that are runners and without fail are remembering a time they started out and were not any good. Therefore I think it’s time to all embrace our inner Eddie Izzard and learn something new and not care if we are no good at it. As long as we enjoy it. I may give learning Arabic a miss though.

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