Tag Archives: mark billingham

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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The facts of life and death (in Harrogate)

What do the following statements have in common:

  • Patricia Highsmith used to breed snails and was so attached to them that when she moved to France she smuggled them in her bra.
  • The north is better than the south at playing football
  • I am really rubbish at quizzes.
  • The name Jack Reacher came about because Lee Child could reach things from high shelves in supermarkets.
  • Knitting can be taken anywhere.
  • I have the same first name as Simon Theakston’s wife – sadly for Mr F that doesn’t allow me a discount on his favourite Old Peculier.
  • If turning around a hotel room from theatre to cabaret style was an Olympic sport the Old Swan would definitely take the gold medal.
  • In Iceland they suck on boiled sheep heads as a tasty snack.
  • Crime writers make me look a complete amateur when it comes to drinking in the bar.

The common thread? Yes you guessed it, these are just some of the many fascinating facts that I learnt at this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Once again the festival is over and I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel the disappointment. Having spent three days immersed in crime books, crime authors and crime discussion, having to return to the boring minutiae of work really is rather dull. It’s difficult to remember that when my boss tells me about her recent vandalism problem she just wants a bit of sympathy and head nodding – not a ten minute monologue on why fingerprints are only fingerprints once they’ve been identified.

It was as always another fantastic festival. This year the sister and me had agreed not to make our usual mistake of spending three full days rushing from session to signing queue to coffee queue to session and to take time to enjoy the atmosphere a bit more. We were very selective with what sessions we actually attended and managed to have at least one each day that we kept spare. This gave us a great chance to chat to people outside, sit in the sun and get even more free books than previously.

The atmosphere at this festival is always the best; it’s no exaggeration to say that for people who spend their time conjuring up the most gruesome ways possible to kill and scare people, crime writers really are the most friendly bunch. To me the writers at this festival are the equivalent of A List celebrities to the readers of Hello, but you can actually talk and walk amongst them. I bet not many festivals include an award winning actor browsing in the bookshop (on being asked to say a few impromptu words at an awards ceremony their reply was I can’t I’m pissed) or the winner of the 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Novel of the Year standing next to us in a signing queue. (The winner was the lovely Sarah Hilary)

The programme for this year again gave a great range of authors and topics. Apart from my favourite New Blood panel led by Val McDermid, some of the highlights for me this year included the Perfect Match with David Mark and Anya Lipska discussing reviewing and choosing that next new book, the Forensics panel which was fascinating and gave an interesting insight into the real world of detection, as well as the surprise of the weekend which was Eddie Izzard talking to Mark Billingham. Not strictly crime but very entertaining.

Of course no matter how excellent the weekend there is always a downside. This one being the amount of books I returned with. Despite my best acting I’m not sure Mr F believed that they were all ones I already had and had taken with me! I’ve definitely got my work cut out to read my way through them all before the next festival. Which reminds me of one final fact:

  • Its only 52 weeks until the next TOPCWF.

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Dead Gone by Luca Vesta – a review

I have a habit of buying books a bit like I buy wine, in bulk. It’s a money saving thing really as if I had to go into Waterstones and only buy one book at a time I’d end up wasting hours trying to decide which one, and time is money after all! Dead Gone was therefore a book I added on impulse to a pile I bought before my operation. Despite not having heard of the author before, the front cover had a recommendation by Mark Billingham and if it’s good enough for Mark its good enough for me.
deadgone

Set in Liverpool this is the debut novel by Luca Vesta. The story starts with the disappearance of Jemma as she walks home one night. Her boyfriend seems to be distraught, however things are not always what they seem. Her family and friends are at first sceptical as Jemma has gone missing before. Yet as time goes on they begin to realise things are not right and suspicion starts to point at the boyfriend. Alongside this story, bodies are being discovered with notes attached describing experiments carried out in the 1920s.
I enjoyed this book and thought the subject matter of the story was fascinating especially the references to varying psychological experiments. A few years ago I went to some ‘fun’ lectures about criminal psychology which discussed alot of the unethical work that was done during the 20s, and therefore the idea that someone could try and recreate the experiments nowadays was both interesting and scary.  The writing itself felt quite punchy, short sentences added to the pace and kept me turning the pages. The descriptions of the killings are pretty atmospheric and you can feel the terror the victims go through.
One slight issue I had with this novel was that I wasn’t struck on the lead detective. As usual in detective fiction he had lots of issues having recently lost his parents and his wife. I felt that there was a bit too much concentrating on this rather than the actual crime. Personally I’m one of those people who is more interested in the story than the background so at times I found this a bit distracting, which wasn’t helped by my lack of patience as I just wanted to get on with the search for the murderer.
I found the setting of Liverpool to be very interesting as it’s a city I’ve visited a few times and enjoy. To anyone who knows the city the descriptions of places are obvious, but they manage to walk that fine line between describing too much detail and not setting the scene properly.
Overall I would say this was a very good debut novel that is well worth a read and I will definitely be looking out for future novels by Luca Vesta next time I’m bulk buying in Waterstones.

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Breaking point

With less than a week to go until the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival its time to take stock of how the TOPCWFC2013 has gone.

Unfortunately however it looks like I’m definitely more Novak Djokovic than Andy Murray. Even for a reasonably fast reader like me there are just so many authors at the festival it’s impossible to read them all. By my calculations I counted 43 at the beginning of the challenge. That’s nearly a years’ reading at my normal one a week rate, and as much as I do love reading sometimes other distractions just get in the way (a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show this week for one) There has also been a big difference this year in that I have more blog followers, which in turn means I’ve actually been asked by people to review their books. This is not a complaint at all as it is still very exciting to be asked to read someone’s book, and I’ve discovered some very good authors that way. It does mean though that the challenge has come somewhat unstuck.

However when it comes to looking at the ‘TOPCWFC2013 Lite’ then things are a lot more rosy. There are 17 sessions not including the opening party, the quiz (at which we did rather well in last year, our team PTCK came third) or the dinner. Of these 17 I have read authors in all but two of the sessions.

Unusually for me the missing authors are actually two of this year’s ‘big hitters’. Someone recently accused me of sounding like a frog when in a bookshop ‘read it, read it, read it’ and so to admit that I have never read either William McIlvanney or Lee Child is rather embarrassing.

Crime itself is such a huge genre that it can be difficult sometimes to work out which authors to try. Often the easy option is to stay with the tried and trusted such as Val McDermid and Mark Billingham as you know you are going to be getting a great book, and straying away can be disappointing. It can also be a great experience though. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing this challenge, sometimes it may take over my life but its also addictive. The more I read the more I want to read and the festival provides such a plethora of new writers it is impossible not to want to try them. It is not even just about showcasing brand new writers such as those in the New Blood session, the festival is also about discovering writers that have been around but somehow slipped through my net, such as Lee Child.

Therefore with a week left to go, its down to the break point I’ve got a William McIlvanney book in my bag ready for a train journey this afternoon, and then I just need to fit in a quick Lee Child next week and its game set and match for the TOPCWFC2013 Lite.

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Bad friends

I spent a lovely evening out on Tuesday with some friends. A few glasses of wine and the conversation turned, as it tends to with me, to books and my favourite authors. I was asked to recommend some new authors which you would think I’d be happy to do.
However despite my obsession with all things crime literary, I find it is one of those questions that sends me into a state of panic. Mark Billingham of course is one of the first names that always slips willingly off the tongue but I find after that I get stuck. There are so many authors I love that having to pick one or two is like having to choose between chocolate or biscuits.
There is of course also the fact that I have a shocking memory, so the first author that always springs to mind is the one I’m currently reading. That’s fine at the moment for example as I’m reading Val McDermid therefore that’s would be a very good recommendation for anyone wishing to try crime novels. However sometimes I can be reading something not quite so good or something that just doesn’t go with my image of me. The crime reading heavy metal fan admitting to reading a Mills and Boon would just ruin my street cred (not that I have ever read Mills and Boon of course and to be honest I suspect I’ve always had very little street cred anyway!)
The other problem with recommending books is that I think it’s a huge responsibility. If you tell someone they should read a book and they don’t like it, well it is an awful situation for everyone. They have to tell you they don’t like the book, and that’s like a personal criticism. You then feel bad for putting them in that situation, its a vicious circle. A bad recomendation can suddenly create bad friends!
I think books are even harder to recommend for people than films. A film is usually quite short so even if it’s awful its only two hours of your life thats been taken up. Often the popcorn is worth the outing alone. Whereas books take much more effort. To read a book can take hours and hours (or in my Dad’s case years and still counting) so you have to really invest the time and energy into it. Often people don’t want to spend time doing something like reading a book, when they can get the same story in a two hour sitting.
So it means that the pressure when recommending books really is a serious business and not to be taken lightly. Fingers crossed my friends on Tuesday enjoy Mark!

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