From Thursday 18th July to Sunday 21st July the delightful spa town of Harrogate was swarmed by crime authors, fans, and publishing people. As if in celebration of the festival’s 10th anniversary, the sun was shining, and naturally everyone was bemoaning the heat and the lack of air con while desperately devouring ice creams and cold drinks (certainly no shortage of the latter!). The programming committee and organisers deserve a hearty round of applause for another superb array of panels and an all-round fantastic weekend. Hard to believe it’s over for another year…
Snippets from a few of the panels I attended:
Friday 10pm, Fleming Fans:
Charles Cumming chairing Jonathan Freedland (Sam Bourne), JJ Connolly, Gregg Hurwitz and David Marks
A collective swoon from the audience as the men walked in to take their places on stage, suavely attired in black tie. Charles opened the panel with the line, ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.’ What followed was a lively, entertaining discussion about Fleming’s writing, and the importance of Bond as a character (and possibly as a national treasure). I won’t rehash the entire conversation, though the panel was asked whether they thought there would ever be a female Bond. The general consensus was yes, but that it could only work if it made sense in terms of the story, and was not just a politically-correct gesture. Jonathan Freedland let us in on his theory that the next Bond will be Idris Elba – no complaints here!
Saturday 3.30pm, South of the Equator:
Paul Johnston chairing Lauren Beukes, Michael Robotham, Helen Fitzgerald and MD Villiers
In fact none of the authors on this panel set their latest novels in their country of residence. So one of the points discussed was the idea that you can actually have a stronger sense of a place when you’re away from that place – and that might come from a strong emotional connection to your homeland.
Lauren chose to set The Shining Girls in Chicago rather than South Africa because she didn’t want it to become an apartheid novel. And in her research, she was struck by the violence, corruption, and racism to be found in Chicago’s history. It brought home to her the idea of the universality of issues – as she realised that South Africa does not necessarily have claim to the worst examples of human behaviour.
Sunday 10am, Slaughtering the Sacred Cows:
Mark Lawson chairing Stuart MacBride, Catriona McPherson, MC Scott, and Cathi Unsworth.
Mark kicked off this panel by deciphering the intriguing title and asking the question, ‘Are there strict rules & structures in crime fiction and should you abide by them or break them?’.
Stuart, for one, said he never pays attention to the rules, except for when he was writing Birthdays for the Dead, where he followed the structure of a Shakespearean tragedy.
However, there is a balancing act to be aware of, for if you completely explode all reader expectations, you’re at risk of losing the market. Luckily, seeing as this was an early Sunday morning event, there was much hilarity and joking amongst the panellists, particularly when they got on to the topic of their worst ever Amazon reviews…