Cornwell Internet spent the end of last week at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. We saw it as an opportunity to meet members of the Crime Writers’ Association who were travelling from all over the country for the Festival, an excuse to get together with clients from the north of England, and a chance to cheer on Mike Jecks, whose novel The Death Ship of Dartmouth was in comtention for the Novel of the Year award. Coincidence being what it is, the first person we saw – she pulled up alongside us before we had even reached the conference venue, as we were walking down from our B & B – was the client whose home is probably closest to our own, Sheila Quigley! So we arrived at the Crown Hotel in style, in Sheila’s splendid 4X4. Our plan was not to attend panels, but to hang around the foyer (and bar!) where we could hope to meet people, but we had bought tickets for the awards ceremony, and the party which followed it. The ceremony took the form of a panel of the six shortlisted authors (chosen by a public vote from the longlist), chaired by Natasha Cooper: Christopher Brookmyre was stylish in a black kilt, but Stephen Booth stole the show with his confessions of a goat breeder (he admitted that one reader had written to point out to him that in his seven books to date, no-one ever had sex except the goats!).
Michael Jecks did not win the Novel of the Year award: as he predicted in his Newsletter – “I rather anticipate a contemporary story winning…” – the prize went to Allan Guthrie for Two Way Split. But there was a degree of reflected glory for Mike, and for the CWA: Two Way Split made its first public appearance in 2001, when it was a runner up in the CWA’s Debut Dagger Award, the competition for unpublished novelists which has a great track record in spotting the best-sellers of the future. And as it happens, the CWA member who organised the contest in 2001 was Mike Jecks.
Off to the party, at which Simon Theakston himself was behind the bar – I’d love to be able to report that he pulled a pint for me, but no, he had assistants to do that! A surprise treat was getting to talk to John Baker, who was not attending the festival, but had come from York for the party: in all we caught up with five of the seven Squaddies: in addition to John Baker, Ann Cleeves, accompanied by the group of Americans with whom she was about to take the Queen Mary to New York – she promises to try to post to her diary from mid-Atlantic; Martin Edwards, playing a slightly anxious mother duck to his group of Americans; Margaret Murphy very briefly, as she had had a difficult drive over; and Cath Staincliffe, a particular pleasure as we have fewer opportunities to meet.
On Sunday morning, we were back at our post in the hotel lobby, which enabled us to arrange an interview with Allan Guthrie. Among the things he told us were: that the title under which the early draft of Two Way Split was entered for the Debut Dagger, Blithe Psychopaths, has been the working title of all his novels to date, but that his publisher won’t allow him to use it; the he grew up in Orkney, and reads the crime column in The Orcadian in amazement at how little crime there is there (“Vandalism could have caused serious injury” turns out to refer to a plant pot being moved onto the pavement); that he is a fan of the hard-boiled American crime writers of the 1930s and 1950s (and that Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, like François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black, was based on a Cornell Woolrich story); and that his latest book is a novella for reluctant adult readers, an exercise which he found very instructive, since he tries to write in the voice of his characters who are precisely the people at whom these books are aimed.
Then, for a treat, lunch at the Loch Fyne fish restaurant, coffee back at the Crown where we ran into Sarah from the Yorkshire Post, who is in charge of their series of “OutLoud” podcasts by authors; I’d already encountered this feature, since Nicholas Rhea‘s daughter Tricia had recorded a piece about her book, Benedict’s Brother; now Sarah was waiting for the participants in a round table discussion from the festival – including Sheila Quigley! And that’s where we came in…