Backtracking…..Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2005

Tuesday, May 14th 2013

Just did a bit of tracking back through an old hard drive and found this, rather lengthy, report on my festival experiences from 2005. Might be of interest to anyone booking up for this year’s festival:



Theakston’s Old Peculier 

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2005

By Keith B Walters


This, the third of Theakston’s sponsored annual Crime Writing Festivals in Harrogate, has got to be viewed by all concerned as nothing short of a complete success.


Over four days, crime fiction fans and writers from all over the world gathered in the pleasant surroundings of the Cedar Court Hotel to immerse themselves in all things related to the world of crime fiction writing and its greatest exponents.


What follows is my diary of this years event, which I hope serves to demonstrate the passion that clearly went into all of the elements of the festival and as a thank you to all of those involved in making it such a success.


Thursday 21st July.


At around the halfway point of my journey to Harrogate, I took a short break to have a coffee and a bite to eat at a service station just outside of Doncaster.  Clicking the CD off, I tuned the radio whilst I unwrapped my sandwiches and heard the DJ announce that a bulletin would follow with the latest developments in London.

One hundred and fifty miles from home and I was listening to news of a second terrorist attack in our capital city.

The horror and evil of true crime behind me, I motored on towards the escapism and fantastic fictional crime awaiting me at Harrogate.

The events in London had a clear effect on those at the festival, as they did across the country, but all seemed determined to press on and make it the best festival to date.


8.00pm – Theakston’s Old Peculier Prize for

Crime Novel of the Year Award.


The opening night’s first event was to be a presentation by the six short-listed authors, hosted by BBC presenter and author, Jenni Murray.

When the finalists took to the stage, however, only Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and Simon Kernick appeared, along with a giggly Stella Duffy.

It was explained by Murray that, unfortunately, the other three finalists; Ian Rankin, Minette Walters and Andrew Taylor were unable to attend and that Duffy “the chatty one” had agreed to stand in for the other three writers.

Organiser Jane Gregory had suggested that Duffy could dress up and give each reading in character – perhaps wearing a kilt and speaking Scottish for Rankin, wearing a hat and talking posh as Walters and being “nice” for Taylor.  Duffy decided she didn’t do “nice”, so chose to read the book sections as herself.


In turn, each author took to the stage and gave a brief summary of their nominated novel, before proceeding to read a section aloud to the assembled audience.


After the readings, Ottakar’s PR Manager Jon Howells described the voting process which had started with each major publishers being given the opportunity to put forward five British crime authors and titles for consideration.  The one hundred book selection was brought down to a more manageable 20 by Ottakar’s staff voting.

A public vote through Ottakar’s stores and on the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival web-site then resulted in the final six being announced for the final public vote.

Apparently the only quibbling that took place was that only British authors were allowed into the vote, but many had made the comment that there would have been a danger that The Da Vinci Code might have had to been announced as winner if it had been open to US titles!

Howells also mentioned that he had been surprised that CJ Sansom’s novel Dissolution hadn’t made the final six.


Those on stage gave a short question and answer session following the readings, enabling the audience to get more insight into their work and in particular to their short-listed novels.


Val McDermid told of the true tale that had inspired her to begin The Distant Echo.  It was based on her friend’s son and group of friends who had been walking home after a night’s drinking and chased off a gang who were beating a young boy.  They found they themselves were suspects when the police arrived to find them with the boy and with his blood on them.  Fortunately, the boy was conscious and able to explain what had happened, but it got McDermid asking herself “What if…?”


When Stella Duffy read from Ian Rankin’s A Question of Blood, she said she was going to read a section featuring Siobhan rather than Rebus, referring to it as his girl bits.

Mark Billingham was up next, and stated that he was reeling from the revelation that Rankin had “girl bits!”


The assembled writers were asked why they thought fire played such a role in many crime novels.  McDermid said that she thought it may have to do with the cleansing mechanism that it provides to many crimes.

She went on to say that she had received an email from the Australian police regarding an arson-murder they were investigating.  They’d discovered that the killer was a fan of her books so, to save them reading all twenty novels, could she let them know which one to read!


There followed a brief interval, and then we were given the news that a delighted Mark Billingham had won the prize for Lazy Bones.  He was awarded with a cheque for £3000.00 and a specially made Theakston’s beer keg trophy.  I was very pleased that Mark had won – the Tom Thorne books are a great read and he’s such a nice fella; even asking the professional photographer to move aside so I could get a photo – shame my camera batteries were flat!


The rest of the evening was spent in the bar with the assembled writers and crime fans, giving a chance for getting to meet established writers such as John Rickards (whose third novel The Darkness Inside will be out soon) and new rising stars like Stuart MacBride (Cold Granite).

This was a great opening night, giving those who met last year a chance to catch up and for all of us to meet with other fans and writers.



Friday 22nd July


9.00am – How to get published in the Crime World.


It was an impressed on-stage line up the following morning, and I think many of us in the audience were also surprised that we’d managed to get ourselves together from the previous night’s party to be wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at a 9am event.


Notebooks were a plenty as many of us “one day will be” writers sat waiting to scribble nuggets of information down, hoping for the little gem which would unlock the secret of how to write and have our first novel published.


The “one day will be” phrase I picked up from Minette Walters last year, which does of course sound more positive than the old “would-be” phrase.

However, I heard from Michael Marshall later on that, in this increasingly politically correct world, that some writers are now saying they are a “pre-published writer”!

Whichever way you want to look at it, there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of us lining up and wanting to be the next new group of names in the bookstores.


This morning’s event consisted of a chain of those involved in the publishing process starting with Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown Literacy Agency.

He said he’s always looking for a good page-turning story and not necessarily looking to target a particular genre.  Not looking to pigeon hole an author means there can sometimes be cross-over and one recent example of this would be Jake Arnott – whose The Long Firm can now be found in both “Crime” and “Literary A-Z” sections in bookstores.


Next in the line-up was Lynne Patrick, Managing Director of Crème de-la Crime publishers.  Being a small publishing house means that the buck stops with her and also gives them the opportunity to take some risks with their author list.

Crème-de-la-Crime launched their search for new writers to spearhead their new authors-based titles two years prior to Richard & Judy’s writing project – something Lynne was clearly and justifiably proud of.  Their search led to 600 novels which she had to whittle down to 100, before then carefully selecting the successful final six authors for their company.

Lynne explained that 70% of their readership is female and 5 of their 6 authors are women.  The only male author, Adrian Magson, has a strong female protagonist in the shape of Riley Gavin, his female investigative reporter in his debut novel No Peace for the Wicked and in its follow up No Help for the Dying, which is due out in September.

The strong female slant is not intentional, however, it’s just a reflection on the interests of their readers.


Kate Bradley, of Book Club Associates, backed this up by saying that their Mystery & Thriller Club has 70,000 members and 75% of them are female.  Their sales show that fictional crimes featuring serial killers set in the US, or UK based Police procedurals, are their two best selling types of book.  European crime or crime in translation doesn’t sell too well for them.


It’s very important for BCA that the book jacket is right for the novel they are trying to sell and gives a very clear message, as it’s a one-shot in their magazine which they send out to their readers.  Whereas in a book store, would be readers can flick through and sample a novel and read its blurb and acknowledgements before making a judgement, in the BCA’s case the whole novel needs to be summed up with a short description and an image of the cover artwork.


Jon Howells of Ottakar’s said that, typically, Ottakar’s would receive proofs and covers of upcoming novels to decide on the ordering requirements for their shops.

He joked that crime novels would normally have a jacket featuring an image which loosely would fall into one of three categories;

A lonely road disappearing into the distance.

A shadowy image of a figure

A blurry photographic image.

Ottakar’s then look into how well supported the title is by its publishers, if it’s from a well known established author, and whether the book has had any reports of being any good!


Five years ago Crime fiction overtook Science Fiction/Fantasy fiction as the best selling genre section in Ottakar’s stores.


They organise crime book of the month across their shops – a title regularly selected by Ewan, a crime fiction fanatic based at their Glasgow store.

A lot of in-store recommendations are driven by the passion of their booksellers.


New author features in store are often selected by Jon Howells through proofs which he sends out to readers for their comments and approvals.

Recent examples include Michael Marshall’s The Straw Men and Stuart MacBride’s Cold Granite.


Jonny Geller commented that publishers may say they are looking for something new, but in truth what they are often looking for is a bridge from a previous successful author to the next big thing.  You only have to look at how often comparisons are made between new authors and names who regularly appear on the bestsellers list to see this in action.


He went on to say that most published authors have written 2 or 3 unpublished novels before their third or fourth novel is published as their debut book.

He also said how important is was for the writer’s voice to come across in the first few pages and how it needs to read as something which only the writer could have written.

The “hook” of the story was also discussed, but probably the best piece of advice Jonny gave was to sum up your novel in one or two sentences and, if you were unable to do so, then the book probably didn’t work.


The conversation then turned to the issue of 3 for 2 book purchase deals in book shops around the country and the price of books in general.

Jon Howells made a valid point here for hardbacks in that they almost help to furnish your home once you have read them and you put them on a shelf, not to mention the fact that they are often read by another family member or friend.

Jane Wood of Orion Publishing added to this by saying that a paperback, which will give hours of entertainment, is only around the same price as a cinema ticket.


There followed a Q & A session with the audience, the first question of which was to ask if marketing budget for a new novel was dependant on when it was sent to the publishers desk and what it was up against at that time.

The answer from Jane Wood was that, due to the very nature of publishing being quite a long process, timing didn’t really play a part as launches and marketing are planned so far in advance.

If it’s a series of novels, a new author may find that they do not get the full on publicity machine until some way into the series.  This was true of writers like Ian Rankin, who received major publicity only after Black & Blue became a success.


Jon Howells stated how important it was to know if a new author is good for promotion and wants to be involved in signing sessions, talks and in-store events.  He commented at this point that Mark Billingham was particularly good at this.

If a new author doesn’t want to do the PR bit then it’s important that’s known so that the promotion can be treated to suit the launch without too much author involvement.


On the question of whether to send a synopsis or a cover blurb to prospective publishers or agents, Jonny said to always send a synopsis along with a good professionally worded, but brief, covering letter and the first three chapters.

In his agency, Curtis Brown, he has two agents who deal solely with crime fiction.


Jane Wood said that she had never taken on an author who didn’t have an agent, but she knew that some of her colleagues had, on very rare occasions, pulled a new author from the “slush-pile” of unsolicited manuscripts.


None of Crème de-la Crème’s authors have agents, although Lynne Patrick said an author coming to her via an agent would happily be considered.


This was a very informative panel, much of which would be inspiring and of use to all of the budding Billingham’s and McDermid’s in the audience.



10.00am – Crème de-la Crime Book Launch


Held in the hotel-based Ottakar’s book shop, Lynne Patrick launched her two summer titles to the Crème de-la Crime canon with an appearance and signings by the authors.

Dead Old is the second title by Maureen Carter, following on from her debut novel, Working Girls, which first featured her Birmingham based Detective Bev Morriss.

Personal Protection is a debut by Tracey Shellito, based in and around a lap-dancing club in Blackpool and featuring a unique crime fiction character in the form of Randall McGonnigal, a female bodyguard who lays her life on the line for the woman she loves.

Both titles are worthy additions to the growing stable of Crème de-la Crime’s novels and have the same smart and iconic white, red and black book jacket designs which clearly define their product.

Unfortunately for me, but no doubt fortunate for Lynne Patrick, the book launch was well attended, meaning I couldn’t get close to her to chat at the time.  I was lucky to catch up with her later on in the day and to talk with her and with Adrian Magson, and they were both very encouraging and generaous with their time.  Only my busy schedule prevented me from taking them up on their kind offer of tea at the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms.  I hope I can join them there next year.





10.30am – Anthony Horowitz.

10.30am – Sex & Violence – where’s the line?

Val McDermid, Natasha Cooper, John Fullerton, Simon Kernick.

Chair: Mark Billingham.


This was the only occasion in the whole weekend’s schedule when two events were running concurrently.

The Anthony Horowitz event was clearly very well attended by adults and teenagers alike and, from all reports, was a successful an enjoyable talk.


Personally, I felt that the other panel was more suited to my studies and it’s not often that a young lady greets you at the door of a hotel reception room with the question “Sex & Violence, sir?”


The event seemed to be a sell-out, with hotel staff rushing around to bring in more chairs even after the discussion had started.


The basis of the discussion, chaired by Mark Billingham, was whether crime writers need to operate within a moral code and whether there are self-controlled boundaries in which they write.

The panel comprised of Val McDermid, Natasha Cooper, John Fullerton and Simon Kernick.


Mark Billingham kicked off by saying that as they only had one hour, they were going to talk for about forty minutes and then he would go straight to questions.

He didn’t want any gaps in the running of the event so, if he didn’t have a question within 5 seconds, he would start picking on members of the audience by asking us questions!  Clearly his stand-up comedy work has done him nothing but favours when chairing this kind of event.


Natasha Cooper said that she felt it would be dishonest not to show that violent acts hurt, and that it was therefore important to show this fact in the writing.


Simon Kernick, whose novels have included some pretty gruesome acts, including a graphic torture scene with a power drill said that “It’s not as bad as it sounds!”  But then, over the sound of the audience’s laughter, added “Maybe there’s something wrong with me!”


John Fullerton, who as a Reuters correspondent has seen more than his fair share of war-zone horror around the world before turning to fiction, his latest being This Green Land, said that there is “No line that shouldn’t be crossed.”

As he quite rightly questioned, who would or could police the subject matter or detail in every novel?  He also said that he thought, to a certain extent, the writing policed itself, as if the readers didn’t like what they read, they would stop buying.


Val McDermid added that she thought “If you don’t flinch when you read some of this stuff, you should probably seek professional help!”

She went on to tell the story of a librarian friend who told her of a lady who came into the library every week and borrowed six crime books.  She was completely open in her reading, everything from cozy crime novels to true crime and serial killer books.  She had almost read everything in the section when one week she came in and returned her six crime books, saying to the shocked librarian that she was through with crime and now wanted to start reading some nice romantic fiction.  The librarian was shocked and asked her if she’d read something that had upset her.

“Oh no, dear.”  She replied.  “My husband has just died and I don’t have to think about murdering him anymore!”


Through their discussion, Mark and Simon seemed keen to get to the next page to get on to write the action scene or the killing moment, whereas Natasha and Val tended to approach every scene in their work in the same way, with Natasha even saying that she much preferred to write the domestic scenes rather than the violent elements.


Val  even commented that she has had letters which complain about other elements in her books from people who must be okay with the violence.  She has had one such letter from an American fan complaining about the amount of smoking that takes place in A Place of Execution.

“No one ever got cancer from second-hand fictional smoking!”  She argued.


Mark Billingham said he does get complaint letters about swearing, which he finds ironic that readers will pick up his books, read that they include a vicious serial killer, buy them, read them and then feel shocked at reading a few swear words.


Simon Kernick then got the discussion turned to its second subject, sex, and had everyone laughing when he said he doesn’t write sex scenes because he’s embarrassed his mum and dad might read it!


Val McDermid commented that readers can easily be turned off liking your character, or indeed the author, if sex is not handled correctly in the novel.

She made the valid point that, whilst readers for the most part know that their authors are not serial killers, it only takes one sex scene and it can start people talking “I didn’t know he/she was like that!”

She and Natasha were in agreement that three dot sex works best on the whole and that is where the sexual tension starts and then, at the crucial point is left hanging with a … – leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader.  Should this be named “Readus Interruptus”?  Val wondered.


The Q & A session began with the comment that a London based novel dealing with a bomb attack had been halted from being launched this week due to the real London bombings.  A highly publicised double-episode finale of the tv show CSI directed by Quentin Tarantino had also been pulled from the scheduling for the same reason.

It was felt by the assembled panel that such actions were wrong in that they’d showed in a way that the terrorists had won in a small part and were stopping us going about our daily business.


Natasha’s next novel includes a scene where a middle-Eastern man wearing a rucksack is on a tube hear Kings Cross and escapes via Warren Street.  The scene is integral to the plot, but has already caused discussions at her publishers.


The authors were then asked if there was anything they had read which disturbed them.

Natasha Cooper said that Mo Hayder’s Birdman had crossed the line with its cruelty.

Val McDermid said that she felt that Karin Slaughter’s third Grant County novel A Faint Cold Fear had gone a little too far.

Mark Billingham said he was most disturbed by bad writing and, not for the first or last time during the festival, a certain Da Vinci Code was mentioned.

Simon Kernick said he only had a problem with books which featured explicit violence against children.

John Fullerton clearly had a problem with lengthy descriptions of medical procedure, which he said could make him feel dizzy and ill.

Finally a member of the audience practically pleaded with the authors to not hurt their main characters, saying that once we’ve grown to like them we don’t want them hurt.

Mark Billingham put our minds at rest as best he could by saying that putting their characters through hell is what most writers enjoy the most!




12.00 noon – Lunch Bite – Why do carers kill?

Robert Forrest – Professor of Forensic Chemistry at Sheffield University .


This was a fascinating, if deeply worrying, study of why and how nurses and doctors deliberately poison their patients.


Within the relatively short period of an hour, Forrest was able to give a great insight into the subject, with lots of specific case examples and overviews on case histories and their outcomes.


The delivery was almost deadpan, but tinged with macabre humour, which was often a welcome release from the worrying statistics that we were hearing, particularly with regards to the numbers of those tried for murder who were now back on the wards!


He began by explaining that most male murderers use overt methods, such as shooting, stabbing etc, whilst women more often use covert methods such as poisoning.


In a hospital environment, with beds containing the deceased being cleared and readied for the next patient so quickly, the evidence can be cleared very early and would very often be destroyed by fire in the hospital incinerators.


Also, with hospitals and healthcare areas, there is of course a well-funded defence to protect the hospital from any bad press.


Forrest concentrated mainly on Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide cases for his talk and clearly didn’t have a lot of time for the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service), whose acronym he thought should stand for Couldn’t Prosecute Satan or Can’t Prosecute, Sorry!


Of course a certain Dr Shipman was mentioned throughout the talk, but knowing that the case was so well known, he talked of less known cases such as Jani Adams in the US, who took part in staff sweepstakes where they would bet on which patient would die next.

She seemed to have an uncanny talent for picking the winner on a regular basis!


Most disturbing was probably the fact that, due to the difficulty in detecting hospital based murder, most killers are 20 – 30 into their series of victims before they are detected…


2.00pm – New Blood – New Novelists.

Louise Anderson, Stuart MacBride, Catherine Sampson, Ilona van Mil .

Chair: Val McDermid.


I’ve always been interested in hearing about or from new writers and my guess is that, like me, many of the audience members would have a finished or well-underway novel sitting in a drawer at home.


This was a good humoured run through of the authors’ backgrounds and their debut novels.


Stuart MacBride, whose critically acclaimed debut crime novel Cold Granite has recently been published by HarperCollins, wrote his Aberdeen based serial killer novel after being fed up with the “all twee and tartan” depiction of Aberdeen often shown in television series.

He’d dabbled with science fiction as his first foray into writing, but was soon discouraged by his then agent who suggested he try writing a crime novel.

He has had many other jobs in the past, including some acting in series such as Roughnecks set on oilrigs, where he has also worked scrubbing toilets and cites the acting as his only claim to fame, other than the fact his wife went to school with The Proclaimers!


Ilona van Mil’s first novel Sugarmilk Falls is out now from Pan MacMillan, and we may never have seen the book had it not been for Ilona’s interest in a CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) leaflet in her local library for the debut dagger, offering the chance to be the next Ian Rankin.

Seeing that the runner up prizes were sets of twenty crime books, she set to work in the hope that she might get some new reading material.  She won the competition and was offered a contract by McMillan.

She said that the only thing she’d ever won before was a chicken dinner in a village raffle!


Louise Anderson wrote her debut crime novel Perception of Death after trying chick-lit and being unable to get an agent.  She was overjoyed when both Random House and Headline offered her a two book deal direct after she sent the manuscript to them without an agent.

She is now represented by Darley Anderson, who seems to be a real favourite, particularly with new female crime writers (Sheila Quigley, Alex Barclay etc).

Louise is an accountant by trade but doesn’t wish us to hold that against her!

Her second novel is very nearly finished.


Catherine Sampson was a journalist in China for some time and tried to write a novel based there.  Falling off Air, her debut crime novel ended up being based much closer to home – almost directly opposite her home in fact as the opening scene came to her in wondering about a body falling from the window opposite where she sat at her desk.

Her second novel is due in August.


The authors discussed their research and writing methods, which varied greatly.

Louise read lots of books in preparation for her novel, both fact and fiction books and also, where appropriate for information, she checked the internet.


For Catherine the pace and plot are very important as she said that she has a very short attention span.  She didn’t have to do a lot of research for Falling Off Air as the book isn’t a police procedural, but she did cite Google as being  a great tool.


Ilona has spent a lot of time in courtrooms as her day job is in Law.  She said that just being in the courtrooms and looking at the defendants and asking yourself “why?” went a long way to forming ideas for stories.

She said that she was uncomfortable with “the body” and eventually had to persuade herself to go to the local police station and look through photo files with a scene of crime officer to overcome the problem in writing about the subject.

Earlier on, at another Val McDermid panel, an audience member had asked what the connection was with crime fiction and fire.  Ilona commented oon this, by saying that she thought the equation was “women + fire + crime = cooking!”


Stuart phoned his police station in Aberdeen when he needed some information and it was the first time they’d ever been asked to help a writer so they were very helpful.  He recalled a discreet conversation about some macabre subject matter over a drink in a pub with a pathologist who offered to help him – not the sort of conversations you want overheard at your local!


On the subject of “Voice” within their novels, Ilona use various narrators for her book, which is set in Northern Ontario.


Catherine uses a first person narrative.  She chose to make her character tough by her background of having her deserted by her husband, and previously by her father, and said she enjoyed creating problems for her characters.


Louise also uses the first person in her novel to give the immediacy she required.  Halfway through explaining her “voice” she forgot where she was going and explained it away to hilarious effect by declaring she was a natural blonde and that many were surprised she could read, let alone write!

She went on to say that she enjoyed being someone else in her books and the facility it gave her to be horrible and to toughen up, rather than being just mum to her two sons.


Stuart explained the problem in reading crime novels whilst you are writing your own, with what you’re reading often filtering through into what you are writing.  He said that he has a whore’s ear – and then, just in case anyone thought he was the subject of a future book, countered it by saying it wasn’t one he kept in a box or anything!


The talk gave way to some really funny moments, particularly between the two Scots, Stuart MacBride and Louise Anderson with Louise getting MacBride onto the subject of “sheep-shagging” – and no, I can’t remember how – and asking if his wife’s name was Baaaabara or Maaary!


In a final comment by Louise, which once again proves that fact can often be stranger than fiction, she told how when the tax office were chasing her for outstanding taxes she asked if they would consider taking one of her small children in lieu of payment as a joke – and they actually wrote back to say no they couldn’t!



3.30pm – Surely Not? – The Return of the Conspiracy Theory Novel.

Paul Routledge – Political Commentator.

Panel – Tom Bradby, David Hewson, Michael Marshall.


This, whilst an interesting and mostly entertaining panel, was I felt the only unsuccessful event in this year’s festival.

Paul Routledge’s introduction of Michael Marshall as author of four(?) books (which didn’t make sense if you included or excluded his science fiction work) jarred with me and I’m sure others in the audience, not to mention Mr Marshall himself.

Once the debate got underway, I felt slightly uncomfortable for those on stage as questions were poised at writers who did not really deal with the areas being addressed, and the fluidity that we had seen at all other panels seemed to break down here.


That is not to say that all did not have valid points and contributions to make, just that it was an odd mix.  Whether the omission of Chris Petit, who was unavailable for the event made a difference to the flow of the questioning, we will never know.


David Hewson was very entertaining and said that his job as a fiction writer was to make it up – unlike when he was a journalist!


Tom Bradby said he saw crime books, and with particular reference to his historical crime novels, as being a way of giving an idea of what has happened at a moment in time and that books written now about the London bombings could be a recent history novel for future generations to learn what it was like.


As with all the events, it was great to hear the writers speak of their work – I just felt that the subject matter didn’t really go anywhere with this one.




5.00pm – Serious about series.

Mark Billingham, Frances Fyfield, John Sandford,

Cath Staincliffe

Chair: Simon Brett.


Simon Brett kicked off this panel with a quote from Ruth Rendell that in most cases the series characters that novelists write about tend to be themselves, but ten years younger!


Francis Fyfield, whose latest Sarah Fortune novel Looking Down is out now in paperback, said that Sarah Fortune is who she would like to be and Helen West (her other character) is who she is.


John Sandford, whose successful series of Lucas Davenport novels are out in Pocket Books, has given his character the same eye colour, hair colour and height as his own, purely so he doesn’t ever forget those details!  All of Davenport’s other characteristics are a mixture of movie stars and cops he knows.


Like Francis Fyfield, Cath Staincliffe also writes two series, each with a female lead.  She said that Sal, the lead character in her first series, is pretty much an alter-ego, similar to her in many ways but more brave and foolish.

Janine’s character was intended for a standalone novel and not a series, but was taken up for a television adaptation before being published.  The character went through quite a change to become the Janine who is now portrayed by Caroline Quentin in the Blue Murder TV show.


Mark Billingham always wanted to write a series novel.  His character, DI Tom Thorne, is a year older than he is and likes the same music, but that’s about as much of a biography as is written.  Mark said that he is finding out about his central character at the same pace as the reader.


Work and family commitments are high on the conflict agenda for Cath’s work and she said she couldn’t write a character without the family background side of the character being part of the story.


Where the characters live, their setting and the way they live – the interiors of their homes, are all important considerations for Francis Fyfield.

She takes the opportunity that fiction writing gives you to furnish your character’s home as you would like to have your own, and to give them the things you would really like for yourself.


Mark Billingham added that it is important to make the right decisions with series books as to which characters to move further into the foreground and which to move into the background or jeopardised as the series progresses.


John Sandford’s first Lucas Davenport novel was meant as a stand-alone and he wanted to write good female parts and relationships for Lucas.  Once it became clear that it would become a series, he decided to have Lucas married so as to not have him have 17 relationships with 17 different women in the books.  This did mean, however, that he couldn’t have the strong romance angle he wanted to include in for his character, and his editor advised him against letting Lucas have an affair.


The discussion then turned to the age of the characters and how they age through a series.

Francis Fyfield feels that her characters stay where they are in time, as they are fictional.  The only problem she feels she encounters is that as the writer gets older, the “voice” may start to be getting a bit Victor Meldrew in its attitude!


John Sandford moves the background of the books in real-time so that the technology is up to date, but holds the aging process of his character back by aging him only about one month to each year.


Cath Staincliffe sees her character as dealing with case regularly, with only a few weeks between each book.


Mark Billingham currently writes in real time.  In doing so he has the same upcoming problem as Ian Rankin has for his Rebus character – the policeman needs to retire after a set period of time.  DI Thorne needs to be retired after thirty years – so this puts a time limit on what can be achieved if the character continues to operate in real time.  Mark did say that he may need to bring Thorne back as a special consultant to the Met if he wants Thorne to carry on beyond his thirty years.


The need for a back-story is always tricky with a series novel.  A series novelist wants existing readers to continue to buy and read them, but to gain a growing readership any new novel needs to be able to be read and enjoyed in isolation, without having to go back to book one.


John Sandford said of this that he felt the biggest problem is if a character is killed off, then any reader going to an earlier book in the series will already know that character’s fate.


Francis Fyfield said that she tries to reintroduce the information as new in each novel in such a way that it can be read by established or new readers.


Mark Billingham confessed to being quite anal about series books – having to read them in order every time and shelving them in order at home.

He said that another thing that needs to be treated carefully is any reference in a new book which gives away the conclusion or answers to a previous book’s plot/mystery – commonly known as spoilers.


But, how do you keep a series fresh?


John Sandford said that it’s important to introduce your character each time in a different way, so that it works for regular and new readers.


Cath Staincliffe added that readers sometimes make good suggestions for things for the characters to do, once they have taken the characters to their heart.


And as to the future?


John Sandford has no plans to end his character in the near future, but whe he does he thinks he’ll let Lucas settle with a happy life ahead of him.


Mark Billingham tried to write a stand-alone novel, but all attempts have so far ended up as Tom Thorne books, so he’s more than happy to continue.


Francis Fyfield said that at point of frustration she’d want to ask all her characters to line up to be shot, but she said there’ll always be easy ways to write characters out just by placing them in real situations.  Currently by example, she mentioned that she could have had a character killed in the London bombings.


Cath Staincliffe said that she would prefer to go and write something else if she ever got bored with her characters, meaning she could always return to them.



8.00pm – Ruth Rendell.


The UK Guest of Honour this year was Ruth Rendell.  First published over forty years ago and, now still producing regular novels under her own name and as Barbara Vine, this could have been a much longer conversation than the 60 minutes allowed.


Interviewed by Vivian White (BBC Panorama reporter), Rendell took to the stage in this, the week that saw the release of her latest novel Thirteen Steps Down in paperback.


Vivian began by talking to her about how important her characters are to her and that her characters could be anyone in the room.  He said that he felt she had empathy with all her characters, but very little sympathy.


Rendell replied by saying that “People are strange.  People are peculiar (peculier)! – Not wishing to make a pun!”  She nicely tied in the festival sponsor’s name.


She feels that her books distract people and help bring them out of themselves.


When asked if she was religious, she said no.

When it was suggested that she didn’t like religious sects, she replied by saying “I have it in for Christian Fundamentalism!”


She certainly isn’t one to dodge questions and, despite what appears to be a certain amount of shyness about her, was determined not to give an inch where she didn’t wish to.  This led to a few uncomfortable silences on the part of Vivian White, but I disliked the way he would react by phrasing a question with her full name as if trying to get back at her.  “So, you tell me, Ruth Rendell…”  It was like a Paxman-lite interview at times and I personally would have preferred to see Rendell in conversation with another crime writer.


She confirmed that certain traits within her own character are Wexford – almost certainly her most popular creation.


When asked if she could empathise with a terrorist or get into their mind-set, she replied by saying it was unlikely she would ever write of that subject as it’s not her type of story.  She has dealt with racial issues in her past work, but terrorism is a subject which is probably beyond her.


The closest she has come would be “King Solomon’s Carpet” which featured two terrorist style characters.


She admitted that if she had started writing the Wexford novels later in her career, she may have considered making the character female.


She started her crime writing career with the first Wexford novel and feels that the moving spirit or theme throughout her work is suspense and that the novels she writes as Barbara Vine (a name created by using her second Christian name and the maiden name of her great grandmother) are closer to general fiction than to crime fiction.


She spoke of the current problems in society as she sees them;

Lack of self-esteem

Lack of encouragement

Bad parenting.


She also has strong views on the fact that there are seven million people who are illiterate in the UK, and has eluded to this fact in the opening line to A Judgment in Stone.

She talked of illiteracy being a kind of blindness or deafness and something she’d really like to help to change.

Towards this, a simply written novella entitled The Thief will be published next year.  It has been written with a simple straight narrative and timeframe as part of a literacy project she is part of.


She uses a researcher sometimes for her work, but loves to walk the areas she is writing about.  She also said she is a big fan of the London Underground and whilst she hopes we are not driven out of it, she fears we are being so.


We can all feel suitably lazy alongside Ruth Rendell, writing as she does in three separate strands, namely; Ruth Rendell stand-alone novels, Ruth Rendell Wexford novels and Barbara Vine novels.

Of these, she said that only the Wexford books are carefully plotted and she knows the end whilst she is writing them.  For the other novels, she works those out as she goes along.


She is also a keen reader of biographies and popular science books, Victorian fiction and new fiction, plus classic old favourite novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird.  She also said she was a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s novels.


Described as the “Queen of Crime Fiction”, she refused to comment on who the up and coming crime authors are, saying that she didn’t wish to talk anyone up or down.


Surprisingly for an author who is so well received, she is frightened of her reviews and doesn’t search them out to read them.  She tends to hear from others if they’ve read a good or bad review of one of her books.


She doesn’t age Wexford in her novels, preferring not to set a timescale for the end of his career, although she did once toy with the idea of writing his death and filing it away to be published after her own death.

She doesn’t think ahead too much, so will probably just carry on book by book.


The final audience question was to ask whether she would have rather been anything else other than a writer.

She simply turned and looked over to the audience and said “No.”



10.00pm – Foul Play

Simon Brett, Mark Billingham, Stella Duffy.


With investigators Francis Fyfield and Cath Staincliffe, Simon Brett had changed the Chandleresque hint in the festival program and once again (following it’s great success last year) we were treated to a new murder mystery play, with all the character parts played superbly by Billingham and Duffy.


What a double-act!

They had the audience folded up with laughter for the full hour, particularly when Billingham’s characterisations slipped into Woody Allen, Elmer Fudd and Tweety Pie.  He was also suitably proud that it took 35 minutes to get to the “I’m not a cop, I’m a Dick!” line.


This, the best of comedy improvisation was balanced by the shrewd detective skills of Fyfield and Staincliffe, with the latter somehow being able to take the whole thing very seriously and actually solve the crime correctly.


Thoroughly enjoyable and what, I hope and suspect will be a mainstay at future Harrogate Crime Writing Festivals.




Saturday 23rd July


9.00am – Reginald Hill – interviewed by Natasha Cooper.


After what was bound to have been a blurry end to the previous evening’s proceedings, it was a far more subdued and relaxed Saturday morning  event to start the day.  Reginald Hill, truly one of crime writing’s real gents was joined on stage by Natasha Cooper, along with coffee and croissants for this breakfast time chat.

Hill quipped that this was why he always wanted to become a writer, as it requires no qualifications and, one day, people will pay to come and watch you eat breakfast!


When starting out, he was asked by his agent if he thought he had what it took to sit on his own for long hours, pen poised in his hand just waiting to write something.  He’d replied that he thought he did have what it took to write novels.  His agent then told him he wasn’t describing a day at the writing desk, he was describing a first signing event when no one turns up!


One of his teachers at school, on hearing what he wanted to do with his life, suggested he become a long distance lorry driver – a job that would give him time-off in the cab on breaks when he could write!


Crime fiction wasn’t the path Reginald Hill had originally set out for, but having tried most of the other genres he discovered that crime fiction seemed to work best for him, and he was finally able to work full time as a writer in 1980.


When asked what he thought of comments that he writes very strong female characters – particularly in the case of Ellie in the Dalziel & Pascoe novels, he stated that compared to writing about complex criminals and terrorists, writing a strong female character is pretty easy to do.


He sees the character of Peter Pascoe as an everyman with good and bad angels.  The characters of Ellie and of Andy Dalziel play the angels and often swap places from good to bad and back again to keep the conflict within Peter’s character.


He seems to write with the often familiar crime writers’ hatred of bullies, but his character of Andy Dalziel can also be seen as a bully a lot of the time.

Hill said that it wasn’t initially written to have Dalziel coming through like that, or so strongly – he was to be a background character who was to bully Peter Pascoe from a distance.


He also spoke of the fear of fear.  Namely that as a writer, he often imagines he is going to be disappointed or attacked in reviews of his work.


He likes the fact that he only writes when he feels he has a story to tell and doesn’t like it when series authors seem to only change a few plot points and are basically selling the same novel over and over again.


Natasha Cooper brought up the question of his interest in mathematics, particularly the subject of Amicable Pairs, which play a part in Hill’s latest novel, The Stranger House.

Hill responded by saying he couldn’t really start to explain it at this early hour of the morning and said that he rarely speaks to anyone but his dog before 10am most mornings!


With regards to his writing style, his novels are unplanned and evolve organically rather than scientifically.  He also said that he is prone to overwriting and often cuts up to 50% of what he has written to bring the page count down for the final version of the novel that hits the shops.

The cut scenes and ideas are dumped into a bottom drawer and he compared these to having spare organs or body parts for possible future use.


Hill is a great exponent of using new and longer words in his novels and finds this is something that fans like, as they often write to thank him for the fact that they’ve had to look a word up to understand what they have just read.

As a wordsmith, he did state, however, that he does not do crosswords, but is hooked on Su Doku, which although uses numbers is more of a logic puzzle than mathematics.


He confessed to not being a big fan of the horror of murder being splashed on the crime novel page and to reading some sections of Val McDermid’s books with his eyes closed!  He suggested that maybe publishers could tint the nastier pages pink, or maybe give them a different texture or, better still, why not employ a scream or sound effect like those built into talking greetings cards!

Despite all reservations about gratuitous violence on the page, however, Hill did concede that it was always a better place to vent anger and to get the nasty stuff out.


When asked if there was anything he wouldn’t write about, he said he couldn’t have written American Psycho or passages that he finds hard to read in other author’s books.  Although he has dealt with the deaths of children in his book On Beulah Height, he never dealt with the graphic elements which may have been written by other authors, and the murders in that book had all taken place before the first page.


During the Q & A session after the main interview, the subject of his series novels and those of other writers came up.

Hill said that he always maintained that the best series take note of the fact that character’s experiences need to be taken into account for all future books and not discarded.  Everything that has happened to them has helped or hindered their characteristics and emotions for future stories.


With regards to future projects, one audience member asked if we will see a return of Hill’s Joe Sixsmith in a new novel at some stage.  Whilst he stated that he needs a lot of alcohol to defy his editor, he may one day do just that and bring us a new Sixsmith novel, although he will need to do something with the central pub in the stories which had been named after Gary Glitter – not a reference he would like to use in future books.  He did joke that he may burn the pub down in a new novel and open a new pub called The Cliff instead, as that should be fairly safe territory.


Although he doesn’t fully plan or know where the novels will finally end up, he said he was fairly certain he knew where the current book was headed.


Hill once dreamt a complete bestseller and had everything in his head ready for when he woke.  Unfortunately when he did wake, he’d forgotten everything but the first line – which he then used as the first line in The Long Kill.

This was a really smooth journey into the Saturday’s schedule of events and a very enjoyable talk and interview.  In fact both interviewer and interviewee were so engrossed in their discussion that the coffee remained unpoured and the croissants uneaten!



10.30am – Raymond Chandler discussion.

Michael Connelly, Stella Duffy, Val McDermid.

Chaired by Beverley Cousins of Penguin Books.


Penguin Books have just reissued the classic six Raymond Chandler novels with fresh new graphic jackets and introductions by some of the best in the business (Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver, Jonathan Kellerman and Colin Dexter) and this event was to tie in with their re-launch, with the assembled panel discussing what Chandler and his work meant to them.


US guest of honour, Michael Connelly kicked off by saying that Chandler was the one who had changed him from being a crime fiction reader to being a crime fiction writer.

Up until then he’d been reading mainly contemporary novels, but became interested in reading The Long Goodbye after seeing the Altman film which was like a 70’s take on a 50’s novel, and rushed out to buy the movie-tie-in novel with Elliott Gould on the cover.

Michael Connelly was around nineteen at the time.


Stella Duffy confessed to having read Chandler for the first time in March of this very year, after finding out she was to be on a panel about him!

She is a big fan of movies, particularly from the 30’s – 50’s with Bette Davis being a real favourite.  Because of her interest in the noir movies, she has been reviewed as having some Chandleresque elements in her novels, despite never having read his work until now!


Val Mc Dermid read Chandler in her teens whilst at school – her English teacher suggested she try The Big Sleep when she was around 15 years old.

She felt she could never replicate his work because of the US language and alien concepts such as armed men and women in long evening gowns wo populated the books.

She said that Sara Paretsky’s books have big Chandler influences and it is probably from her work that she gained help in form and style for her Kate Brannigan novels.


Beverley Cousins read The Big Sleep as part of a film student course and revisited the book this year prior to the re-launch.

She said she is now finding herself being quite evangelical to friends and family in spreading the word that Chandler is much more than just Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe.

As to whether Chandler would get a book deal today, she thought he probably would, but probably not with a great advance.

In today’s climate, he wouldn’t be particularly marketable – he wasn’t young when he wrote the novels, he wasn’t very pretty, and it would be hard to know whether to categorise him as literature or crime if dealing with his work for the first time today.


Michael Connelly added that he was just glad that Chandler was “one of us” – namely one of the crime fiction writers heritage, but didn’t feel that he would have gotten a publishing deal if alive and submitting for the first time today.


Stella Duffy commented that if he was published today it would be more likely to be a small publishers such as Serpents Tail, who publish her novels.

Val McDermid chipped in here that Canongate would be another likely publisher who would snap someone like Chandler up for an absolute bargain price.


As a writer who primarily uses LA as his backdrop, Connelly felt Chandler’s description of the area was incredibly accurate and he reads a section from Chandler’s The Little Sister every time he is about to start a new book as it sets him off in just the right frame of mind.

Stella Duffy then went on to read the very same section, which she had also selected as being a key piece of Chandler’s writing.

Connelly added that Chandler was expert in expressing the despair and hope for the place he lived in and that, for him, was the stuff that shined.


Val McDermid agreed, by stating that the love affair of Chandler’s life was with LA, to which Beverley Cousins asked if she thought his view of LA would have been affected by him living in Britain.

McDermid said that when you’re writing, you tend to be in a place you’ve chosen to be and that a bit of distance never hurts as “the spectator sees more of the game.”  She did go on, however, to say theta she felt that Chandler had a problem with his treatment of women in his novels and she went on to read a passage about blondes from The Long Goodbye.  It could be said that many male writers are still dealing with similar themes and attitudes, but rarely – if ever – do they do so in such a humorous way.


Sticking with Chandler’s depiction and use of women in his books, Michael Connelly mentioned the classic advice which Chandler gave, which was that if ever stuck in a novel or suffering with writer’s block, you should have a woman come through the door with a gun!

Chandler used this technique a lot, often bringing a female character in to turn events and, more often than not, to turn the tables on the men.

Connelly also said that the women in Chandler’s novels are bad because, almost without exception, they’ve been turned that way by the men and Duffy added to this that the sex in Chandler’s books always seems to turn nasty and is never good.


Connelly said the artistry of Chandler’s lines is something he’s always hoped for, hoping to one day write something as memorable as a piece of classic Chandler, such as:

“You’re big aren’t you?”

“I didn’t mean to be!”


Stella Duffy said that she felt that the character of Marlowe was so much more interesting because he got stuff wrong and also commented that she thought another key strength in the writing was that they are shorter books than a lot of today’s novels and yet they have so much more story in them.


Val McDermid added to this by recalling the ending of Farewell My Lovely, where the characters are seated around a large table in a scene you’d normally have in an Agatha Christie novel and one of the characters says that this must be where the detective will tie up all the loose ends and solve the crime.

To this, Marlowe quips “This isn’t that kind of story!”


The Q & A section kicked off with quite a surreal fantasy bidding war between several publishing houses in the room, each trying to convince us that they would pick up on someone has talented and unique as Chandler if presented with his work today and that they would give him a big advance.


Once all that had calmed down, Michael Connelly started to list the elements which would impair Chandler’s 2005 manuscript submission;  If he sent in a letter it would state that he was 50 years old and probably wouldn’t get round to writing his second book for about 6 years.  The others chipped in with the mention that he should also mention that he liked a good drink and that he realised that the name Raymond might not be the coolest name these days!


Stella Duffy said of the lack of sex, despite the high sexual tension throughout the books, that she had grown to like Marlowe and wanted him to have a good time.


To this, Michael Connelly said that Chandler probably though he should stay as the knight errant character from the first novel and carry on that way.  He added that he has his own character, Harry Bosch, have sex all over the place to avoid that problem.


And we ended with Val McDermid not knowing where this left her with her central character, the very impotent Tony Hill!



12.00 noon – Lunch Bite – A Historical Perspective.

Susanna Gregory, CJ Sansom, Edwin Thomas,

Jaqueline Winspear.

Chair: Peter Guttridge.


Although not a big fan of historical crime fiction, I was interested to hear why and how this group of authors create the worlds in which they write.


It was an interesting Q & A between Peter Guttridge and the assembled panel, starting with the question as to why they choose to write in the particular period they do.


Susanna Gregory, whose latest Matthew Bartholomew novel The Hand of Justice has recently been published in paperback by Time Warner, said that she wasn’t too sure why she’d chosen the period she writes in.  She did say that she’d always had an interest in the Black Death and setting her novels in such times meant she had the opportunity of getting rid of people she didn’t like in her novels, but being set in the 14th Century meant it would be a lot harder for them to identify themselves!


Edwin Thomas, has his latest novel featuring Martin Jerrold – The Chains of Albion – out from Transworld publishers, said that he’d always been drawn to the Napoleonic War genre by the Hornblower series and others like Master & Commander.  He feels that the era gets him as close to modern day warfare as he should and still be able to get away with humour without causing any pain to anyone around.


Jaqueline Winspear, whose Maisie Dobbs books are set in the ‘20’s, simply likes to write about ordinary people in extraordinary times.  She admitted to not being a big fan of dates and detailed history and feels that her central character is the epitome of the type of character who would have been around in those times.


CJ Sansom, author of Dissolution and Dark Fire likes to set his ordinary middle-class characters in extraordinary or changing times, specifically within the Tudor period.

His hero is disillusioned with the ideologies of the time.

He has recently also written a new novel set in the ‘40’s concerning British spies in Spain.


As a general rule, all of the authors felt it okay to bend historical fact, with regards to dates and events, provided that the changes were acknowledged, taking the view that, despite the historical elements, they were in the business of writing fiction and not history books.



2.00pm – Alexander McCall Smith.


Confession time again, and this time it’s to say that I’ve never read an Alexander McCall Smith book – something that’s bound to change now, following his fantastic talk at this year’s festival.


As the hall filled, it became clear that a new audience had arrived to worship the creator of Mme Precious Ramotswe and her No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.


I was a little unsure as to what the next hour would hold, being billed as asking questions as to the role of philosophers in crime fiction.

Within minutes the answer was clear – this was going to be a very enjoyable hour in the company of one of the funniest writers I’ve ever heard address his audience.


Starting by advising us that he’d only speak for about half an hour, to give us the opportunity of planning when to sleep and when to leave, this was a thoroughly enjoyable talk, peppered with anecdotes and witty one-liners and Mr McCall Smith certainly has great timing – he had the audience in the palm of his hand.


If, when I read the first of Mr McCall’s novels, there is even 10% of the energy and humour I witnessed during his lecture I am in for a good time.



3.30pm – Writers in Translation.

Kjersti Scheen (Norway)

Gianrico Carofiglio (Italy)

Chaired by Laura Susijn.


So good was Gianrico Carofiglio’s talk and his clear enthusiasm for the genre, that his legal thriller sold out in the hotel bookstore at the after-event signing.

I’m sure that the event did nothing but favours for Kjersti Scheen as well, as both were very entertaining and clear in their conversations with Laura Susijn on stage.

Kjersti’s novel sounds hilarious, with her central character Margaret Moss getting into all kinds of scrapes, she clearly subscribes to the fact that people do make mistakes and it can be very entertaining to have a fallible crime-fighter central to the novel.


With local libraries running a “Passport to Murder” promotion of translated European crime fiction and the obvious push by some publishers to get their hands on the next Shape of Water or The Vanishing, I’d say the future looks bright for translated crime and in particular for these two authors.



5.00pm – Humour in Crime.

Liz Evans, Jasper Fforde, Stuart Pawson, Malcolm Pryce.

Chair: Peter Guttridge.


This was a humorous hour in the company of some of the best humorous crime fiction authors.

Malcolm Pryce writes what he calls Aberystwith Noir books.

Stuart Pawson puts humorous characters into fairly well-established crime themes.

Liz Evans sets her crime novels in Margate, but has never named the town in print for worry of being sued!

Jasper Fforde writes nursery rhyme based crime novels, the latest of which deals with the mystery of Humpty Dumpty’s fall!


Liz said that she stops at writing about any graphic elements within her work and Stuart agreed that he works in a similar way.

Mark has always strived to find a humorous slant to the actual killings in his books.

Jasper tries to treat the stories as real crime fiction, even including a pathology scene for his Humpty Dumpty book, where he went as far as to research impact damage from gunshots through eggs!


All four writers were in agreement that, once created, their characters tend to run the story themselves.


Mark made a good point that the PI novel gives a writer the best facility to write any crime story as it gives the opportunity for the writer to bring anyone in as a new client with their specific problem.


The assembled writers admitted that they rarely read crime fiction themselves, but all read general crime fiction and got most of their humour influences from television comedy.



6.00pm – HarperCollins Champagne reception


My thanks to all at HarperCollins, who very kindly invited me along to their drinks evening, giving me a great chance to meet with more of their authors.


I spent the majority of the time chatting with Michael Marshall (whose Blood of Angels has recently been published), newcomer Stuart MacBride (Cold Granite) and the lovely Alex Barclay (whose excellent Darkhouse I was reading each evening at the hotel once the bar had closed).


I’m sure I speak for all of the “fans” at the festival in saying a big thank you to all of the writers present who were, without exception, very generous with their time throughout the event.


8.00pm – Michael Connelly.

Interviewed by Mark Lawson.


Another great event, another packed house as US guest of honour, Michael Connelly, took to the stage with Mark Lawson to discuss his career and his wonderful character LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch.


He revealed that he first became interested in crime writing due to a combination of things that happened fairly early on in his life.

Aged 16, he was a dish-washer at a banqueting hall and driving home one night he saw a man running and then disposing of something wrapped in a shirt into a bush.

After stopping to investigate and finding a gun, Connelly called his father and the police to the scene and then spent the night looking at police line-ups to try and identify the man, who had attempted a car-jacking earlier that evening.


Later he became a journalist/crime reporter and became very interested in Detective work, particularly that of Homicide cops, but realised that it was too long a career to get to where he would want to be.  He realised, however, that he could do all of the things he’d have wanted to do in that career by writing about it rather than living it.


He then started working with two notebooks; one physical one for his journalist work and the one in his head for the novel ideas.

“I stupidly thought if something was good I won’t forget it.  And I’ve forgotten a lot of good stuff!”  He joked.


He covered the police through his journalism work for seven years and has seen a lot of major events unfold.  He even knew some of the cops who appeared on the infamous Rodney King videotape.


Aged 30, he moved to Los Angeles, with a strong background already formed by reading Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald novels.

Before he was 32 he was writing The Black Echo – the first novel to feature Harry Bosch.


He got himself relocated to LA after growing up in Philadelphia and Florida by getting together his article clip collection and sending it to the LA papers, having decided to change his life.


The central character was originally going to be called Pierce (with no first name) as a nod to Raymond Chandler, who had written that investigators need to “pierce” all areas of an investigation.

He decided on “Bosch” as paintings by the original owner of the name were essentially of a world gone wrong and he saw LA as a modern garden of earthly delights.


He doesn’t see himself as squeamish of the graphic elements in crime novels, mainly due to his crime reporting background.

He feels that he learned the valuable lesson with his novel The Poet, that imagination can be far stronger than anything on the page.  There are no children killed in the novel – the events have taken place before the start of the book – and yet he received letters from readers claiming to have been shocked at the killing scenes.


It takes Connelly about 11 months to write each Harry Bosch book, and he selects the first person narrative for his PI books to follow the old tradition of authors before him.


His latest Bosch novel, The Closers, is based on a real situation of bringing back former LAPD Detectives to work on and close old cases and he was sent a complete set of the relevant LAPD forms which Harry Bosch would have to complete in order to be accepted back to the team.


In the Q & A section, he was asked about the Clint Eastwood directed film version of his novel Blood Work, which has been criticised for the plot changes and most significantly the change of the villain from that in the novel.

Connelly stated that he had been given the option to withdraw from the film adaptation, but decided to continue so as to get a film version of his work out there.

When the final shooting script arrived with him, he expressed his concerns but it was too late to make the changes or to tell Jeff Daniels he was now only going to be the goofy sidekick, rather than the goofy sidekick and the killer.

He described the film as a great experience and, even with hindsight, would do the same again.

Connelly did write a script treatment for The Black Echo about ten years ago, with Harrison Ford attached for the first three Bosch movies, but nothing ever came of it.  He did say that he has a face in mind for Harry Bosch when he is writing, but it’s not of any known actor.


Fans of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole novels may have found his detective appear in one of Connelly’s novels.  Apparently, when reading a Crais novel, he discovered that Cole must live on the same street as Bosch so, after liasing with Crais, they put each other’s characters in a brief cameo (unnamed) as they pass in the street.


The Harry Bosch novels are a finite series. He will be 55 this year and can retire after 30 years service on 80% retirement pay, so why would he risk his life each day for just 20% more?

Connelly has five years to make a decision on what to do with Bosch and commented that he could go back in time and write about when he was a patrolman starting out in the force.


The “Tunnel” theme is a metaphor which comes up throughout the Bosch novels and Connelly said that he hopes that Harry is heading towards the light.  His friend’s father was a tunnel rat in Vietnam and grew a big beard to cover scarring on his face – refusing to ever tell what had happened to him – and this was clearly an influence on the first Bosch book, The Black Echo, in which Bosch’s past as a tunnel rat is revealed.


He described The Poet as his least favourite writing experience as he was essentially writing about himself as the character of the burned-out journalist.


His favourite own novel is The Last Coyote, which he describes as the story Harry Bosch was made for.

Harry was born to work that case and Michael Connelly was born to write that book.


9.00pm – Orion Books Champagne Reception for Michael Connelly.


Following on from Michael Connelly’s great on-stage interview and then a brief signing session in the bookstore, he was guest of honour at a champagne reception by his publishers.


My thanks to Orion Books for inviting me along and giving me yet more opportunity to discuss the festival (which everyone had nothing but praise for) with other authors present.



10.00pm – Late Night Show

The Harrogate Crime Pub Quiz

Hosted by Val McDermid, Mark Billingham.


Everyone was back in the bar for the final evening’s entertainment, assembling into teams of six or less for the chance to win sets of the lovely Penguin editions of Raymond Chandler novels and an overnight stay in York.

To the blazing opening to Pulp Fiction, our hosts Mark Billingham and Val McDermid rushed to the stage and danced their way to a sitting position to great applause.

Mark, decked out in classic tuxedo and Val in an inspired spider-web dress, complete with spider headgear, set the tone for what was an absolutely hilarious hour of crime and comedy.


With standard question rounds, a musical round of crime television themes and even a photo round of the backs of famous crime writer’s heads to guess, this was all great stuff.


Disputes abound of course; everything from the fact that Orion Books seemed to have two extra people on their team, several were accused of using mobile phones, and Simon Kernick disputing whether a photo was the back of his own head or not!  The whole thing was criminal and I wouldn’t have missed it.

Thanks to the two ladies on my team, whilst I think of it, who saved me from being announced as the losing team.  So, now to swot up for next year!


This being the last big event of the festival, the announcement was made that, from next year, Mark Billingham will be in charge of the planning of the events, with Val McDermid stepping down from the role she has been so great at for three years now.


And so it was time for all to retire to the bar to continue the conversations of all things crime-fiction related into the small hours.



Sunday 24th July 


10.00am – Where do they go wrong?

Procedure & Forensics.


I’m feeling a similar sadness now in writing up the last event I attended as actually being there, putting my case in the car, checking out of my room and walking into the main hall for the last time this year.


Crime writer Kathy Reichs was added as a late edition event, due to start at 11.30am but, as I didn’t have a ticket for that, this 10am Procedure Forensics talk was my last event to see in what was a fantastic four days.


Like many of the events this year, events in London had encroached into the conversation, but probably none more so than on this occasion.

The key speaker, who normally holds the lecture together, is Detective Sergeant Callum Sutherland but, as a senior crime scene manager, he had been requested to be in London for the bombing crime scene work.


His colleagues did an admirable job, however, and each of their three areas could easily have been expanded to an hour each.  News that Kathy Reichs was now going to start on stage at 11am and not half past, meant they were under even more pressure to finish on time!


Dr Roger Berrett deals with fire and toxicology.

Shirley Marshall is  toxicology expert who specialises in blood patterns and her husband, Angus Marshall is a computer “geek” whose specialist area is forensic computer science.


Having covered their own areas in some detail, unfortunately left little time for specific cases where crime writers have gotten things wrong in their books – which I think we were all looking forward to hearing.  There was of course some reluctance on their part to name and shame writers who could well be sitting in the hall.

A couple of general classic examples were cited, however, such as the fact that any white fibres ever uncovered in a television show and put under a microscope would, in fact, disappear and that a cigarette thrown into a pool of petrol would not explode, it would go out.


Like many of the events this year, this one would have benefited by being split perhaps into two separate events with two people on each panel as there was just so much to be said and so much to learn.



Summing up:


So – there it was.  Harrogate 2005 – a festival which will remain in memory for a long long time to come.


A superb venue, great events, great planning and scheduling, the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet and some great books to be read.


It’s hard to think of anything to add in terms of making the event any better for next year or future years as I think the team of Theakston’s, Harrogate Crime Writing Festival Organisers, Ottakar’s, Cedar Court Hotel and all of the publishers and writers got it so right, and I’m sure the attendance figures will reflect this fact.


I, like many who attended I’m sure, have already beaten friends and family into submission with tales of just how great the event was and what books they should read now.  If everyone else has done the same, the festival will need to grow and grow to accommodate its growing army of crime fiction fans.


Thanks to all concerned, keep the message board alive on the web-site


and here’s to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2006.

See you there



Keith B Walters

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