Tag Archives: harrogate festival

My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood – a review

As readers of this blog will know, one of my favourite things about the festival is the amount of new books you come away with. One of last year’s new discoveries was Nuala Ellwood’s novel My Sister’s Bones. I didn’t realise at the time that she was a York based writer, until I spotted that she was launching her novel at the local Waterstones. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the event, which was a lovely evening. I always say the only thing better than books, is books with wine. I do think I came across as a bit of a stalker though. It wasn’t until I was in the queue to meet Nuala that I realised I had already had my proof copy signed in Harrogate. Well clearly once in a queue you can’t just leave if you change your mind, what would people think? Instead I got some very odd looks when I asked to get my already signed book signed again.

My Sister’s Bones focuses on two sisters Kate and Sally. Kate is a war reporter who lives in London and has just come back from reporting in Syria. She is clearly struggling to deal with all she has seen out there as well as grieving the death of her mother and dealing with a brother in law who is getting a little too close. Kate soon starts spiraling out of control and seeing ghosts around every corner.  Sally on the other hand, didn’t manage to physically escape the town where the sisters had been brought up by their dysfunctional parents. Instead she escaped through alcohol, an addiction that became even harder to control when her daughter left. Seemingly the opposite of her high-flying sister she barely leaves the house. Eventually the two stories collide with quite shocking results.

This was a really gripping story that covers a range of issues including alcoholism, domestic abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The story is written in two halves, first from Kate and then secondly from Sally. This gives us two different perspectives on the same events which I felt gave a really interesting angle to the book. The two characters voices felt very different to me which goes to show the skill of the writer in telling the same story from different women.

What also stood out for me, was that both the main characters were quite unlikeable, yet you cared what happened to them. The horrific things that Kate has seen are told sympathetically rather than sensationally which can be disturbing in places. Yet whilst you are led to have empathy for the characters, a lot of their behaviour is rather frustrating, which gives a great portrayal of how deeply experiences can affect how people act.

My Sister’s Bones was a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking debut novel, plus it was an interesting evening hearing Nuala talk. Definitely worth the potential restraining order coming my way.

If you are interested in hearing more from Nuala Ellwood she will be appearing at Betty’s Tea Shop as part of the York Literature Festival

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under book review

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Theakstons Festival, Uncategorized

The End of the Wasp Season

Well the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is only two weeks away. Therefore the 2015 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Challenge (try saying that quickly after a couple of glasses of wine) is very nearly at an end.

By my reckoning there are 56 authors appearing during the main three days of the festival. Of those there are 28 authors that I haven’t read. That is a pretty poor show by anyone’s standards. I’m actually beginning to think that this might be an impossible challenge. I think I need to join forces with some of my fellow bloggers who are attending. I’m sure if we all put our heads together and combined our reviewing forces we’d be able to cover all the authors. Maybe I should arrange for us all to meet for a coffee at Harrogate and we can see if we’ve managed it?

On the positive side however, the TOPCWFC2015 Lite as I’m now calling it is much more manageable. The aim of this one is to read at least one author in every session. Again by my own calculations removing things such the dinner, and the reader awards there are 16 sessions. Currently I have read at least one book by an author in 15 of these sessions. I think with two weeks to go that is pretty good going, so it’s just one more book to go.

Of course the actual blogging is very far behind the reading
I had an interesting conversation the other day with someone who was saying they used to write a book review blog, but found that they read more than they had time to review so gave it up. I completely understand what they mean, I definitely read alot more books than I actually review. I suppose it depends on what you like doing most. If you let yourself get bogged down in it, the reviews start taking over your life, the unwritten ones becoming as annoying as a wasp round your glass of wine. I enjoy writing this blog and I like to think that occasionally someone other than my family actually read it, but for me it’s always the actual reading that is the best part. The blog is just an added bonus. On that note, time to stop writing and get on with some more reading I think. Challenge completion here I come.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Theakstons Festival

No time for goodbye

The tents have gone, the bar is empty, and the dead body outline has been taken up from outside the front door, yes the annual Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival has finished for another year. Despite the rain which was an unwelcome new addition to the festival, normally the organisers are able to arrange for glorious sunshine, once again it was an absolutely fantastic weekend.

Arriving on Thursday afternoon as soon as you drive up the path there is an unmistakable buzz that says you are in for a real treat. The tents were even bigger than last year, there was an outdoor bar and the whole thing was set around one of the best bookcases I’ve ever seen.

Anyone who has any interest in books will by now know that J K Rowling made an appearance as Robert Galbraith, an event which surprisingly was completely wizard free. However this was only one of many many fantastic sessions put together by programme chair Steve Mosby of which it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

There was no doubt that for me Lynda La Plante was definitely a highlight. It showed exactly what I love about this festival. I went along with a pre-conceived idea, I had seen a lot of her tv credits but had only read one of her books so I was in two minds as to whether to go. Yet she completely blew me away. She was funny, charming, interesting and intelligent, and it definitely goes down as the session I laughed the most in. I came away wanting to immediately rush out and buy all her back catalogue.

Unfortunately the back seat and boot of the car were already full with all the other books we’d bought so I thought it best to wait until I got home. Thanks to Mr F a copy of Twisted is now on the top of my ‘to read’ pile, a pile which could conceivably be described as more a tower than a pile. The number of books I came home with possibly out did even last year’s tally, as it is completely impossible to sit and enjoy listening to authors talk without wanting to go and read their books. I can’t guarantee I’ll manage to get through as many as Natalie Haynes who in the turning to crime session said she’d read about 220 novels last year, but I’ll give it a go.

As always there are some interesting debates and points of view put forward, during one session James Smythe suggested what is possibly both the best and the worst idea ever. He thought that one way of getting people to read books they wouldn’t usually read was by changing bookshops around so that books are stored a-z rather than by category. This could be a good way to find new books, but would mean that a quick trip to the bookshop would actually end up taking me all day.

People familiar with this festival will know that listening to the authors up on stage is only one part of the fun, celebrity author spotting adds another dimension, which author eats the most for breakfast, who was the last still standing in the bar at night, will people make it to the morning sessions, and of course the most important question of all, will anyone join us to make a team for the Saturday night quiz. Excitingly for us this year we were actually joined by the lovely Tony Thompson, although our performance was rather dismal compared to this years winning team lead by Stav Sherez.

The weekend is certainly not a relaxing one, its non-stop with sessions and book signings back to back throughout with little time for chatting. Yet it is definitely one of my most favourite ways to spend a weekend, finished off as always by a quick Betty’s lunch before heading home to sort through all my new books. Its a wonderful weekend,  and a great way of finding new authors, plus you never know what interesting knowledge you’ll pick up, who knew cabbage shows up the same as blood in some forensic tests. I’ll be more careful with my cabbage chopping in future!

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Theakstons Festival

Sharp objects by Gillian Flynn – a review

I should start this review by saying that I’ve previously read both of Gillian Flynn’s novels after seeing her at the festival in 2012. The reviews of Dark Places and Gone Girl can be read by following the links, but for those of you too busy with all your last minute Christmas shopping, its suffice to say I really enjoyed both those books. Therefore I was looking forward to reading Sharp Objects, which was actually the authors debut novel.
Camille is now a reporter in Chicago. She is told to return to her home town of Windy Gap where one young girl has been murdered and another recently disappeared. When the bodies turn up their teeth have been removed. Camille’s mother still lives in the small town and has a teenage daughter called Amma who she dotes on, almost to the point of obsession. She had a third daughter that both she and Camille adored, but Marian was a sickly child who died when young.
This story explores not only Camille’s relationship with her mother, but also her return to a small town where she was very unhappy. Alongside this it becomes obvious that Amma is not quite the sweet little girl that the family seem to think.
As mentioned earlier this was Gillian Flynn’s debut novel, but actually the third one of hers that I’d read. Unfortunately I didn’t think it was as good as the previous ones, but that’s probably to be expected. I imagine writing is like any skill it gets better with practice. The story itself is quite good, and the ending was sufficiently unpredictable, but I just felt it maybe wasn’t written as well as it could have been. The characters were all a bit unpleasant and I struggled to warm to any of them, especially Camille.
The portrayal of the small southern town was interesting. I felt it gave a good impression of the claustrophobia surrounding a small community. You could imagine how hard it would have been to grow up in that kind of place, especially if you didn’t particularly fit into any of the main groups. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to feel any sympathy for Camille. Her drinking seemed to sometimes be about to become a real issue, then it would be forgotten. Equally her habit involving words just annoyed me, plus some bits were downright silly, such as her having a drug fuelled evening with a bunch of 13 year olds. Yet other bits were very clever, and I didn’t guess the ending. I enjoyed the story and would recommend it although ideally read this first and then continue with her others.

Comments Off on Sharp objects by Gillian Flynn – a review

Filed under book review

The Dark Room by Steve Mosby – a review

I first encountered Steve Mosby at last year’s festival, however this is the first of his books I’ve read which was actually a bit of a surprise. For some reason I’ve always assumed I’ve read his books but can’t find any evidence of it. It was one of the first books I bought at the festival this year.

After hearing the first round of ‘twittergate’ last year at the festival I must confess to having a bit of a soft spot for this chap. That means it’s always a gamble in case the book is a disappointment. Therefore I’m very pleased to say that the Dark Room was far from a disappointment.

The book starts with Detective Andrew Hicks and his partner Laura going to the scene of a crime where a woman has been murdered. To the Detectives it seems a simple case of a crime of passion and the first port of call is the ex-husband. However when a homeless person then turns up having been murdered in the same way things start to get more complicated. As far as Hick’s can tell people are being killed seemingly at random and with no links which goes completely against his belief that most murders are easily explained.

As the story progresses, alongside the other victims, we are introduced to a grieving candle-maker Levchenko and his wife Jasmina, the strange General and Hick’s pregnant wife Rachel. Hick’s has to solve these apparently unrelated murders as well deal with his own personal issues around family and impending fatherhood.

I really enjoyed this book. One of the elements that I thought stood out in this novel, and may indeed be a theme throughout the authors other works, is the anonymous setting. The author is from Leeds, a nearby city I’ve come to know better recently (although won’t be moving there!) but there is no indication that the story is based here. It could be set in any dark northern city. This gives the writing a certain blankness unusual to a lot of novels which nowadays often have the setting playing a key part to the stories.

The stories of the different characters were cleverly interwoven and the different viewpoints they were told from helped to make the switch between characters clearly identified. Overall I thought this book was very interesting, although I was a little disappointed by the perpetrators motive in the end. However that didn’t detract from what was a dark and disturbing tale. It was a great story, that keeps you gripped until the end. I’ll definitely be looking out for more Steve Mosby books in the future and am very pleased to hear he is going to be chairing the programme committee at next year’s festival.

Leave a comment

Filed under book review, Theakstons Festival

Crime Writers: A decade of crime

Well it’s all over for another year. The weekend before last the sun was shining, the deck chairs were out and the pimms was ready on ice as Harrogate got taken over by 100s of people all with one thing in common, an obsession with crime fiction.

The Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival really is the highlight of the year for anyone with an interest in crime fiction. This year to celebrate the festivals tenth anniversary they had gone full out for the festival theme, there was a bookshop in a tent (or yurt if you listened to Mark Lawson) lots of outdoor chairs and of course plenty of drink. The weekend began with the award of the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year which for the second year running went to Denise Mina. I think we may be her lucky charm.

The days go in a blur of talks and queuing (beware there is a lot of queuing for sessions and signings, all worth it though) and chatting about crime fiction.

To me and the sister one of the highlights of the conference is always the New Blood Panel and this year was no exception. Anya Lipska shared the stage with Malcolm Mackay, Collette McBeth and Derek Miller and it was interesting to hear them discuss with Val their new books and of course get a sneak preview of what to expect next.

One of the things I like about this festival is the wide range of topics (within crime of course) and one of the most fascinating was Val McDermid in conversation with Prof Sue Black. There were certainly some memorable moments, and were I not already a vegetarian I doubt I’d ever eat tuna fish again.

Despite the heat and the sunshine outside, the sessions were all packed, and none more so than ‘Vera’ where alongside Ann Cleeves we were treated to a reading of her latest novel by Vera herself the lovely Brenda Blethyn.

The evenings in the bar are just as much fun as the sessions during the day, and being able to just mingle with the authors to us is like getting to go back stage at a Bon Jovi concert (insert most favourite band here) Where else would you sit down with a glass of wine and be next to Baroness Ruth Rendall, Jeanette Winterson and Val McDermid?

The dinner was a last minute addition to our booking as neither of us are James Bond fans. Yet this turned out to be a great decision as we got to join a table with Julia Crouch who was an excellent host. Despite not guessing the murderer we were with a lovely group of people and to top it off we got a copy of Julia Crouch’s new book.

After a quick listen to Lee Child talking to Sarah Millican (and of course being asked about Tom Cruise) it was straight into the quiz. This is always a great way to spend an evening, and is a perfect example of how friendly everyone is. Someone will always come and join you to make up a team. Sadly we didn’t do as well as last year although were by no means last which I always say is all you can ask for.

Charlaine Harris was the final talk of the event and the queue for her book signing broke all records. Luckily she obviously didn’t finish too late and we spotted her heading upstairs in Betty’s for afternoon tea before we left.

The whole weekend was once again a fantastic experience and coming home and making Mr F look at every single book, signature, photo and freebie I got is just part of the fun (for me not him)

Roll on TOPCWF2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Theakstons Festival