Category Archives: Theakstons Festival

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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