*Be warned that this post contains gratuitous pictures of food and Scottish scenery*
I’d been looking forward to this Crime Festival for a while now, it’s been on my radar and I’m delighted that I finally made it along to Grantown On Spey’s “Wee Crime Festival”. Organised by Marjory and her team in The Bookmark, this wee festival doesn’t half attract some of the big names in Scottish (and beyond!) Crime Fiction! What an outstanding weekend they put on!
It’s been a long time since I’ve been up to this neck of the woods and I forgot just how stunning the journey is! Views to die for! My travelling companion and fellow blogger for the weekend was Mary over at Liveanddeadly Don’t forget to check out Mary’s posts for her take on the weekend!
A wee stop at The House of Bruar for scones the size of my head and a coffee was a fabulous pit stop! I was amazed by the size of the place and definitely worth a wee visit for some shopping!
We drove a wee bit more and stopped just outside Grantown on Spey at the Muckrach Hotel for lunch. I’m not a huge meat eater but Mary raves about the steak pies and I was so glad that I went for her recommendation! Quite possibly the best steak pie I have ever had!
Next stop was my check in at Haus Alba, a brilliant wee B&B right in the centre of the High St. My room was huge and David and Beate, the owners, go out of their way to welcome you into their home. Even a wee dram in the room for whisky lovers! Breakfast was fab too! After my Friday #PieGate, I was so glad that I’d opted for the continental breakfast though! They do full Scottish or Continental breakfast and everything is freshly made to order! This place is well deserving of its top ratings on Trip Advisor!
I nipped round to The Bookmark to sort out events, oh my, all these beautiful books crammed into a stunning little bookshop, a must see if you are ever in the area!
I had a wee chill out reading before Mary and I headed down to The Pagoda for the first event of the festival, “Crime of Pie-son Pre Theatre Supper” which was a pie and a Prosecco. Now I was expecting a wee pie like you get at the football…but no it was a full pie with mash and peas! Seriously I think I may roll out of this place come Sunday! I had to give up halfway through, I was stuffed! I was way too embarrassed to take yet another pie picture but rest assured it was delicious!
The Pagoda is a fabulous events venue in the centre of the town, fully accessible with a bar and catering and hosts a number of community events. It was a great choice of venue for the “Dark NightsDarkDeeds” festival.
It was then time for the performance of the year, the critically acclaimed Carry on Sleuthing starring top Scottish Crime Writers, Douglas Skelton, Michael J Malone, Caro Ramsay, Neil Broadfoot and Alex Gray and John Cloughan too. Stunning performances or perhaps a stunned audience in the world premiere of their latest drama “The Mysterious Affair at Pyles” saw the Pagoda rock with laughter, kicking off the festival in style!
After a 4am rise for me and a long drive for Mary meant that it was a fairly early night, a wee rhubarb gin before heading off for some sleep before a full day on Saturday!
I woke up to a little bit of drizzle but a beautiful sky before breakfast to set me up for my day of crime!
Kicking off proceedings on Saturday morning we had Dead in the USA: Trump That! with Alexandra Sokoloff and Douglas Skelton chaired by Neil Broadfoot. Three fantastic authors meant that this was sure to be a lively discussion and I was not wrong!
Alexandra kicked off proceedings by suggesting that there was no greater crime and no greater evil than what’s happening in the White House right now and as artists there is a real need for authors to confront real crime and real evil in their writing. She started off writing horror before the Huntress series. With this series she wanted to address the evil done to women and children (and she has done this exceedingly well, it is a must read series!) At this point Neil Broadfoot’s four year old daughter who was in the audience, gave a round of applause, a poignant reminder of why this issue is so important. Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run is a new direction for him as he’s moved to the US for this novel after advice from Craig Robertson (he did suggest that Craig did not want the competition!) His New York is very much a cinematic version as opposed to the real NY although there is a natural affinity between Glasgow and NY. Douglas writes his main character as an American citizen which Alex thought was an extremely brave move. She is considering using Scotland as a location but will write an American character seeing the country from an outsiders perspective. Both authors talked about the influence of the big screen on their writing: Douglas is a huge film buff while Alex’s background is in screenwriting. She uses the same structure in novel writing as is used in screenwriting and it was a fascinating insight into her writing process. They talked about how a writer’s job is to put the movie inside the reader’s head and having read all their novels I can tell you they do a stellar job! When planning Alex knows very much what is going to happen before she writes while Douglas will take a sentence and run with it. He admitted when he wrote The Dead Don’t Boogie, the plot never actually came to him until around 40,000 words in! Both agreed that writers very much need to find the process that works for them and go with it. After all, we have two outstanding authors here who both arrive at the conclusion in very different ways which work for them.
The next panel, “Me and My Book, we have issues” featured Michael J Malone and Craig Robertson interviewed by Caro Ramsay. Introduced by Marjory as the “serious and academic” panel causing a look of shock from all three authors! When writing female characters, Craig takes guidance from Alex while Michael has a twin sister and growing up with her gives him an insight into the female perspective (and he always runs things by Bob the Labrador) Discussion over just how much of ourselves we give away online and the macabre pastime of collecting murderabilia. Mental health and the writer’s responsibility to get things right and portrayed in a sensitive manner were touched upon and Caro took the opportunity to berate Craig once again for his animal cruelty in one book! He did reassure the audience that this behaviour is not reflected in his own personal life! A fascinating panel which did cover some quite serious and topical issues but with Caro Ramsay’s unique blend of humour it didn’t become too intense and there were plenty of laughs as well as a confession from Craig Robertson about his future meat-eating habits leading to a debate as to whether or not black pudding constituted meat at all!
The third panel of the day was Authors and Their Lives of Crime with Stuart MacBride and Neil Broadfoot interviewed by Douglas Skelton. Douglas had to give up on Stuart’s list of awards and nominations in his introduction as there are so many however the one he holds deafest is that of World Stovies Champion in 2014 (the full recipe can be found on his website) Neil divulged some of his dark thought processes, you all thought he was watching the Bloody Scotland football match but oh no, he was imagining decapitating victims and dumping them in the vicinity which led to his latest novel! They talked about themes in crime fiction where you see periods with very similar topics being covered and Stuart explained that this was to do with morphic resonance- writers are all absorbing the same news, information and influences which then plays out in the genre. Crime fiction very much reflects the society we live in and for a sense of place and time you won’t get any better than crime fiction, they are indeed snapshots of time. Both authors talked about the pros and cons of writing a series as well as their own writing processes. Perhaps my favourite element of this panel was Stuart’s fascinating insight into the world of A.A Milne and his observation on Eeyore and who the character was based on. His conclusion is that basically, Eeyore is a dick!
The last panel of the day was The Series Crime Unit with Alex Gray, Thomas Enger and Caro Ramsay interviewed by Craig Robertson and not Craig Russell! I’m sure Marjory mixed up the names on purpose! Alex has just published the 15th in the Lorimer series and she told the audience that this was inspired by a real death which initially appeared to be straightforward until the post-mortem identified something suspicious; this led her to consider how appearances can often mask the reality of the situation. This book also covers human trafficking and the panel discussed the terrifying statistics in relation to this horrific crime. Thomas talked about his Henning Juul series, of which the 5th and final one has just been published. The titles of the novels perhaps highlight what a dark and twisted mind lies behind that calm and serene exterior of his! Caro relishes the fact that as a part-time crime writer and an osteopath by day she gets paid twice to hurt people! Her Anderson and Costello series has seen the 10th novel, The Sideman, just published. They discussed labels such as tartan and Scandi Noir as useful “marketing” tools but perhaps a little restrictive and somewhat twee in relation to the tartan element. The writing process of each writer is very different and Caro believes that anyone who plans to the degree that some writers do need urgent assistance! Grantown-on-Spey is proving very popular amongst the authors for potential location and they explained that being a writer is a constant, they are always looking for locations, sayings and people, they never stop! So be warned the next time you are sharing that juicy little titbit or gossip on the bus – who is behind you noting it all down!
Crime and Dine Dinner was the Saturday night highlight and what a highlight it was! I had the pleasure of Thomas Enger and Neil Broadfoot for starters, Michael J Malone for the main course and Stuart MacBride and Craig Robertson for dessert! A criminally delicious feast indeed! From Thomas’s body dump sites in the woods of Grantown-on-Spey to Michael’s delightful Yorkshire accent rounded off nicely with some Charles Manson “hair recipes’ courtesy of Craig and Stuart, what more could a crime lover ask for!
Too quickly, Sunday had arrived and for the last event of the weekend, it was The Morning After The Crime Before in the Golf Club with bacon rolls and coffee before the Killer Women panel with Helen Forbes, Margaret Kirk and Sandra Ireland being interviewed by Michael J Malone.
Helen is a former editor, veterinary nurse and lawyer in social welfare law: Sandra was a correspondent for her local newspaper before completing her MLit at Dundee University, while Margaret Kirk describes herself as a chocoholic and mad cat lady who won the Good Housekeeping Debut Novel Award in 2016 for Shadow Man.
Helen’s novels (In the Shadow of the Hill and Madness Lies) are based in Inverness and are more of a whydunnit as opposed to a whodunnit with a fairly strong social commentary running through them. Sandra’s latest novel (Bone Deep) combines gothic traditions with folklore: she was a tour guide in the Barry mill in Angus and she thought this was the perfect setting for her novels. Margaret describes Shadow Man as NorthCoast 500 with bodies!
The three writers discussed the likeability of characters in writing and each agreed that it is not necessarily important that the reader “likes” a character but they must engage in some level with them, writers can’t just write a “bad guy” without showing all facets of their character. They talked about the location and in particular how the Highlands are a rich location full of inspiration for crime writers, we have so many remote and beautiful locations in which we can murder and dump people! Would make for an interesting alternative tourist guide!
In terms of their writing process, each author is different and it is very much about finding what works for you. From writing out the synopsis followed by a chapter plan to writing 75% of the book before beginning to plan to approaching each book differently, it is clear that there is no one correct way to do it!
And sadly we ran out of time! The weekend was over! I have to say that this was a brilliant weekend and a must for crime fiction lovers! Small and intimate it is the perfect chance to hear some of the best in the business talk about their work and to have the chance to chat with them over dinner or drinks and with the “cultural thrills” of the theatre courtesy of Douglas Skelton and his cast what more could you ask for!
A huge thank you must go to Marjory, owner of the bookmark, her team, her family and friends who support the weekend, all the staff and volunteers involved and the team at the Pagoda. And of course to all the authors for the fantastic panels and entertainment. We could not have asked for a more hospitable warm Highland welcome and I for one shall be back! Slàinte and here’s to The Wee Crime Festival 2019!