Tag Archives: mark billingham

To catch a rabbit – Big City Read 2017

I have always been very glad to live in York. It’s a beautiful city, full of stunning buildings like the Minster, and beautiful green spaces such as Hob Moor (my personal favourite although I’m on the Friends committee so am biased) We have great pubs and lots of them, we have wonderful coffee shops (so I’ve been told anyway, pubs I have more first hand experience) and of course we are nice and close to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

Well this year York has suddenly got even better. A little while ago I spotted that one of my favourite authors Val McDermid was speaking at my local library. Of course I snapped up a ticket as it is always a pleasure to hear Val talk. What I hadn’t realised was that this talk was just a little taster of what was to come with the launch of York’s Big City Read 2017. The novel chosen was To Catch A Rabbit, by York based author Helen Cadbury who I was lucky enough to meet earlier this year. Sadly Helen died back in June, but the programme she helped put together is a fantastic legacy, and it is great that so many people will discover her excellent novels.

The line up this year is great, especially for die hard crime fiction fans like me. Over the next few weeks there are talks by authors including Sophie Hannah, Ruth Ware, and Francis Brody (I’m on her blog tour in October) There are discussion events including book groups all round the city who are going to be talking about To Catch A Rabbit. There are workshops on things such as using Goodreads, and planning the perfect murder (always useful to know just in case) There are plays straight from the Edinburgh Fringe and murder mysteries to join in. To top it all off the event ends with an ‘in conversation’ with the fabulous Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre.

The event kicked off last Thursday with Val McDermid and it was of course a great start. Only at a crime readers event could conversations include crisp packets as incendiary devices, painted Christmas trees, and burying bodies without someone calling the police.

As if York didn’t have enough reasons already to visit, the Big City Read programme of events has just provided one more. If anyone needs me during the next few weeks l’ll be in the library (or maybe in the pub obviously, even crime readers have to have time out of the library sometimes!)

Find out more about the programme of events here York Big City Read

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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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Killer Women

killter-woemn-crime-writing-festival-2016I am quite used to getting strange looks off friends and colleagues when I’m asked about my weekend plans. My penchant for heavy metal music, combined with a love of crime novels, Coronation Street and horse riding regularly leads to a look of confusion when the question is asked. Usually followed by a mumbled ok before they back quickly away. This weekend was no exception. People seemed to run away even quicker than normal, when I announced I’m off to the Killer Women Festival in London.

Luckily for Mr F this wasn’t an instructional day on how to do away with your partner (although I think I met a lot of people there who might be able to help with ideas on that front) It was the first ever festival organised by a fantastic group of mainly London based crime writers, collectively known as the Killer Women.

The event was held in Shoreditch Town Hall and was a fabulous mix of panel discussions, author interviews and workshops. As soon as the programme had been released, I started by circling all the sessions I wanted to attend. This seemed like a sensible plan until I realised that actually I wanted to see them all. Therefore, on the day, me and the Sister decided we’d adopt a divide and conquer approach and split up so we could see as much as possible.

The day passed by way too quickly, in a blur of crime, books and our festival pastime of author spotting. Martina Cole, one of my favourite authors, had us all in stitches as she talked about her life and her novels. There was an interesting workshop on how to write a successful book blog with Ayo Onatade of Shots magazine, apparently her blog gets on average five hundred hits a day (Very similar to acrimereadersblog – well the five part anyway) I was entertained by Mark Billingham and Douglas Henshall amongst others in Serial Thrillers, although I’m not convinced that the Great British Body Off would be a big hit. I heard a discussion about being Inside a killers head with authors including Jane Casey and Tammy Cohen. This was a truly terrifying line up, never mind inside a killers head, inside a female crime writers head is much more disturbing! There was even a session where I learnt about solving a crime, with two real life detectives. Having been shown the building blocks of solving a crime I went into the interactive ‘Murder mystery session’ pretty confident that I could solve it quicker than Miss Marple could say knit one purl one. Only to be put in my place rather smartly when I got the answer completely wrong.

The whole day was absolutely superb, it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and you can’t beat a day that ends in some killer women cocktails. I would thoroughly recommend this event to anyone interested in reading or writing crime fiction. If next year we could throw in some heavy metal, and a Coronation Street actor on horseback it really would be a perfect day.

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Lazybones

I must confess to not normally being a sports fan, much preferring to sit around and read a book. Therefore usually the Olympics passes me by. Only marked by the noticeable lack of Casualty on the TV due to the BBC’s continuous Olympic coverage. However this year due to a) living with someone who is utterly sports obsessed and will watch absolutely anything and b) my newly rekindled love of horses,  I have actually watched quite a lot.

One of the things that really struck me was how easy all the sporting people made things seem to look. Take the equestrian sports for an example. I go riding and recently I’ve been learning both jumping and dressage techniques. Neither of these things are even slightly easy. Attempting to jump a cross bar approximately two inches off the ground at nothing faster than a trot still feels as though you are being asked to jump the Grand Canyon. As for dressage, well my riding style is more windmill like than calm and serene so trying to get a horse to smoothly trot in a circle is neigh-on impossible (see what I did there?) Yet the fantastic Charlotte DuJardin made dancing horses look very cool, and Nick Skelton barely broke a sweat as he took his horse over impossibly high jumps.

I suspect that writing a novel is another of these things that on the surface looks really easy, yet in reality is the exact opposite. It’s not only the writing, but also the coming up with ideas. Last weekend we spent a lovely evening having a dinner party (how very grown up!) with some friends. The conversation as it often does turned to books.  This on the back of a conversation about our dream jobs, led to the suggestion that I should write a novel. Clearly due to my love of reading it was seen that the next logical step was for me to write one myself. However that lead to the first stumbling block, the idea. I think coming up with an original idea is harder than winning gold and silver in the Olympic Triathlon, unless you are the Brownlee brothers of course. One suggestion for an idea was that a group of people at a dinner party agree to murder each other’s enemies. Hmm where have I heard that before?

Even if you do then come up with an idea that hasn’t already been done to death, you have to get round to the actual putting of pen to paper, or fingers to keys in this day and age. Whilst it may seem that the hardest bit is starting and that once you begin the rest will follow I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case. The likes of Mark Billingham and Val Mcdermid may make the whole process of writing a novel seem easy as they put out hit after hit, yet I’m sure in reality just like in sport the hard work that is put in behind the scenes is monumental.

I like most readers would love to have the ability to write a novel, however I’d also like the ability to win a gold medal for dressage at the Olympics, or take the winning trophy at a triathlon yet considering my best 10k race time is 1 hour 4 minutes, and Alistair completed his Triathlon with a 10k time of 31 minutes, I suspect I might be somewhere off, especially when you add in the fact I am actually inherently lazy. In fact I think I’ll stick to reading books and complaining about the lack of Casualty, it is certainly much less exhausting.

 

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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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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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Deal breaker

This weekend I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon catching up with two very good friends over a couple of bottles of wine. It was, as always, lovely to see them and we had a nice afternoon looking at their wedding pictures and catching up on all the gossip (well two of us did, one half of our friendly foursome were mainly interested in the football for the first couple of hours)

Over dinner as is often the case the subject of books was discussed. The M’s have always been a big supporter of my blog and it’s always nice to hear that someone other than the Mother actually reads it. One thing that came up was a request for book recommendations before Mrs and Mrs M set off on their honeymoon.  Apparently Mrs M had picked up a copy of Girl on a Train based on my enjoying it, and so she fancied some similar reading matter.

You’d think that this would be a simple thing for me to do. I love books, I love reading books, I love reviewing books and I love talking about books. However offering recommendations absolutely terrifies me. It’s a challenge utterly fraught with problems that can be a real deal breaker. What if I recommend a book and they don’t like it? It could ruin their honeymoon. What if I recommend a favourite of mine and they think it’s terrible? It could ruin a friendship. What if I recommend a book and they are really bored by it? It could ruin my blogging reputation (ok that’s a bit of a long stretch)

However I’ve decided to bite the bullet and offer my holiday reading recommendations based on the caveats put on them by Mrs M. Namely they should be as gripping as Girl on a Train and good enough to keep her interest despite the very easy distractions of beaches, sunshine and cocktails. So here goes. My top 5 reads good enough to take on honeymoon:

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – a review

Great story, interesting angles and perfect holiday reading matter.

The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney – a review

Slightly more disturbing than Disclaimer but a gripping tale with unreliable narrators giving it a claustrophobic feel perfect for open air beach reading.

The Deaths by Mark Lawson – a review

A tale of suburban family life that’s a great antidote to the excesses of an all inclusive buffet restaurant.

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham – a review

Not only one of my favourite authors but also a great standalone novel with a holiday front cover.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – a review

A great story and she’ll also hopefully be appearing here in December to answer some questions, (so clearly a bit of self-promotion but it’s still a great book honestly!)

So that’s the end of it, my top 5 holiday reads. Fingers crossed they go down well, and there are more afternoons of wine and chat in the new year!

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