Monday, 27 July 2009

Impressions from Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2009

...favourite sessions? George Pelecanos, David Simon. George was on his own Saturday morning in conversation with Simon Kernick. Not only is George a talented writer but he comes across as a good guy. His latest novel (which I reviewed for The Way Home, has fathers and sons at the heart of it. When he started to talk about his own father, he had to pause before his emotions got the better of him. Bless. Not a dry eye.

A surreal moment followed. I was in the bar at lunch time (drinking water, aye right) and reading one of George’s books. I looked up and there he was just in front of me with some mates.

After a half hour’s debate with myself I approached him for a signature and then did the whole flustered fan thing. Spot the numpty whose tongue has swollen in his mouth and all he can do is mumble “signature, please”. And here was me thinking I’d gotten over that kind of behaviour. Eventually I managed to string a sentence together and George told me how much he’d enjoyed visiting Glasgow (he recognised the accent) and the whisky gantry at Malmaison. Talented and with good taste, what can I say?

The session with George and David Simon was on the next day and was about their experiences on The Wire. Fascinating. I’m only on series 2 and they mentioned a character’s death in series 3. Someone I like. I’m gutted and trying not to show it. Here they talked about pleasing the viewer or being true to the story. A good lesson for wannabe screenwriters. In fact, the programme itself is. The attention to detail, the depth of the characterisation, the dialogue etc etc etc.

...Laura Lippman (Mrs David Simon) has an impressive ability to do press-ups while reciting the entire Marx Brothers’ movie list. The circumstances under which this became apparent are frankly, none of your beeswax.

....Chris at Crimesquad says he doesn’t watch The Wire. He pretended to be all offended at the language saying that nobody ever heard the word motherfucker on Miss Marple.

....Daniel Depp’s, Johnny’s brother is a crime writer. He was on stage talking about his new book. I’m betting he looks in the mirror every morning and shouts, “Bastard”. And I would only be a total bitch if I explained why. So this is me zipping my lips and throwing away the key. You had to be there.

...meeting up with the gang at was fantastic. Getting a press pass because of my work with them was also pretty cool. I enjoyed pulling it from my pocket and flashing it at, well everyone really.

...mingling and having blethers with the likes of Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay. Great writers and good people.

...the Saturday night quiz show was a laugh. The Crimesquad Squad came up with a respectable score. What let us down was the series of questions on pets in crime fiction, cos really, who gives a fuck?

...the session run by Simon Brett with a panel including Roger (RJ) Ellory and Christopher Brookmyre was another highlight. The panel were given an opporchancity to vent their collective spleen on issues that arose in crime fiction, like clichés etc. Simon was very naughty and tried to get the panel to mention those writers who annoyed them. To a man/ woman the panel refused to diss their fellow professionals. Good on ‘em, I say. There’s enough of that going on out there.

This brings me on to my Fanny of the Week Award which goes to David Cameron, Politician (ish) who noted to a reporter that he was going on holiday and taking a “really trashy novel”. Speculation was that said piece of “trash” was Patricia Cornwell’s latest. Cameron keeps a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s novels on his desk in Westminster apparently. Wot a fanny.

BTW, RJ Ellory is about to be launched in the States, so anyone reading this from that side of the pond, give yourself a treat and buy any of his books you can get your hands on.

Favourite stories/ comments from this session? Roger talking about a writer who’d been asked to provide a comment for the blurb on another writer’s new book. This new book writer had slagged off the other guy for years, but he was a big seller and his name on the cover of his first novel would help, so new book guy swallowed his pride and asked for a cover commendation. Revenge, however smells of violet and is as sweet as pie. The comment from slagged-off writer guy? “Of all the books I’ve read this year, this is one of them.”

Chris Brookmyre talking about the superior attitude of “literary” writers. He said that often when he is on a panel at a book event and one of these writers gets all precious about WRITING, he is filled with awe. As in - “Awefurfucksake, get your head out your arse.”

Love it.

...overhearing an English couple (just before a 9am session – what’s that all about?) talking about a Scottish crime writer they’d met who was a teetotal vegetarian. A teetotal Scotsman, questioned the wife in a shocked soprano. Have you ever met a teetotal Scotsman? We don’t all conform to the cliché, I slurred huffily while spraying a mouthful of Stella Artois all over her face. Well, it was 9 PM somewhere in the world, right?

...talking to an inebriated Irish writer (a Dubliner more than happy to conform to his own set of clichés) at the bar on Saturday night about Glasgow Celtic and the one and only time he took his wife to see the ‘tic. It was at Tynecastle in Edinburgh and behind him a group of fans had climbed on to the top of a wall and were pissing over the other side. Needless to say his missus was in no rush to get back. He looked right past me the next morning and had no clue he’d even been talking to me – and there was me thinking we’d bonded. Bastard.

BTW, please don’t be thinking we did nothing but booze all weekend. Two bar staff at any one time serving hundreds of thirsty crime readers and writers at the bar? Don’t think so.

...meeting a commissioning editor from one of the big publishing houses who has had my novels for a year now. She apologised for half an hour and then told me she was still very much interested in my work. She was very impressed and felt I was an accomplished writer. The compliments were welcome, but amount to less than a hill of beans until an answer is forthcoming. She was lovely though. Someone I could work with. Her issue is the amount of Scottish based fiction they are about to release over the coming year. Not the first time my nationality has led to a London publisher thinking twice. Whassat all about? Is Scottish Crime Fiction a genre into itself and nobody told me? Basically, the book is good enough, but I need to emigrate. Not going to happen. Still, there IS hope. Watch this space.

...meeting a commissioning editor from another large publishing house who Roger Ellory did a good job on of selling my virtues (as a writer, cheeky) at 3am. Happily, the next day at noon this editor still remembered me and is keen to read my stuff. Watch this space as well.

So this is me feeling cautiously optimistic. This is my year, right?


  1. Great post Michael - made me laugh loads :o) I went to Pelecanos' event when he came to Glasgow and he IS a lovely guy. I'm also on season 2 of The Wire and now I'm intrigued. Not surprised (given events from season 1, she says vaguely). By the way, the teetotal vegetarian is Sunshine Al Guthrie. Again, it was good to meet you. Next time you're going to an event in Glasgow let me know!

  2. Oh, and PS, fingers crossed on the commissioning editor front!

  3. Cheers, Donna. I hope Sunshine Al does the business for you too. Then one day you and me, on the podium at Harrogate - how cool/ terrifying would that be?

  4. Brilliant, Michael, it sounds fab! And it's FANTASTIC that you've had some positive stuff from editors... you'd better keep me informed or I'll have to kick your heid.

    Have to say though that I'm with David Cameron - there's good popular fiction and trashy shite popular fiction - P Cornwell used to write the former but for many books now she has been churning out the latter. I so hate successful writers who think they got there because their readers are stupid

  5. Michael, all good news!! don't forget me when you're famous!

  6. Excellent Michael - next best thing to actually going there. The whole conference pithily distilled. (Yes, I did mean pithily - it's not a jeu de mots.) Now all it needs is for that editor to realise what some of us have been saying for a while - your books should be out there.

  7. My fingers are crossed for you (well, figuratively... it's hard to write with my fingers twisted like that). I hope there will soon be more good news to share.

  8. Bill, I find I'm quite partial to the odd jeu de mots. The odd bon mot slips in there as well. As for my books being out there - from your fingers to god's eyes. Kinda.
    Careann, yeah - don't type with crossed fingers. or eyes for that matter.
    Thea, no matter how swollen my head gets I won't forget you.

  9. Glad you got some positive feedback on your work, Michael, and enjoyed your 'networking'.

    With Scotland in your veins, where could a man emigrate and be happy?

    You'll be published right there at home - soon - if your blog is an indication of your wit and originality.

  10. about the Scotland thing? true. And soon, please soon! And thanks for your support, Marley.