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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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