Last year I took a bit of a gamble. As I already had to go to Scotland to do some preparatory work on my departmental budget for 2017, I decided to make a proper week of it and stayed up in Scotland so that I could attend the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival. From the very first evening, I knew I had made the perfect choice and as the weekend went on, I knew that, come hell or high water, I’d be back again.
I knew this because I’d booked the hotel for 2017 before I’d even left Stirling.
After much arm twisting (read a single text message) I had managed to persuade my sister to join me and last Friday morning, armed only with suitcase, a few empty bags and a takeaway crap in a bap for breakfast we set off for Stirling.
Now regular followers of my blog will recall that I suffer from more than a little paranoia and neurosis when it comes to attending festivals. I don’t not go, but as a total introvert and overtly shy person (when not hiding behind my computer screen at least) there is nothing worse for me than a facing room full of people, all of whom seem to already know each other, laughing, joking and generally celebrating all things bookish. For regular visitors to these things it’s a chance to catch up with old friends. For me – it’s a nightmare.
Bloody Scotland is totally different. Set across three venues in Stirling, it is entirely possible to attend this event without feeling either claustrophobic or excluded. There is no pressure to socialise, and yet every opportunity to do so. It feels like there are more people there for the simple fact of listening to the authors, as much as they are to schmooze with them. And yet, if you are so inclined, the opportunity to schmooze is there. It is a truly reader friendly festival and about as relaxed as they come. I’m not saying that other book festivals are not friendly (they are) or relaxed (they are), but for someone like me, not having everything in one venue just makes it feel easier somehow. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it is an entirely different atmosphere. A lot less intense.
It is no less bloody brilliant.
What a weekend we had. If you are in any doubt about attending festivals then I would encourage you to make the pilgrimage north to Stirling in September. I very much doubt you will be disappointed. There is a packed agenda across the two and a half days, Saturday and Sunday packing in up to three panels in each time slot. The most taxing thing you need to do all weekend is decide on which ones to attend.
Not being drinkers, Mandie and I went a little mad on the old panels, attending all three events on Friday night, six panels each on Saturday and three on Sunday afternoon. Because I was on the blog tour for the Bloody Scotland book, I got one of these:
I didn’t really need to use it much as I’d booked tickets in advance, but it’s a wonderful souvenir and reminder of a cracking weekend.
First up on Friday night was a truly unique and wonderful event. After attending the Gala Opening, held for the first time at Stirling Castle, in which Denise Mina was awarded the McIlvanney Prize for her novel The Long Drop, we threw caution to the wind and joined everyone heading down the hill in the first torchlight procession in honour of Ian Rankin’s 30 years of Rebus.
It was absolutely incredible (and a little scary) heading down the hills and cobbled streets from the castle to the Albert Halls for the panel with Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham. Now I say scary because I was walking next to Mandie who can trip over a shadow, so the idea of hills, cobbles and a three foot long wooden stick coated in paraffin wax and set alight… Well, it’s enough to make even a tough man cower. We survived though and after completing the ‘dip and tip’ manoeuvre with the torch, we headed into the Albert Halls for the first panel.
After an entertaining hour spent in the company of Messrs Rankin and Billingham, listening as they talked all things Rebus, Ian Rankin’s 30 years in the business, the highs the lows and hitting the suspects list, we trundled back to the front of The Albert Halls to queue for the last event of the evening – Never Mind The Buzzcops in which two quiz teams, captained by Mark Billingham and Val McDermid, with Craig Robertson as quizmaster, tried to out gun each other with their knowledge of all things crime – from theme tunes to baby photos.
To me the quiz was one of the highlights of the 2016 festival and this was no different. Mark’s team won by the narrowest of margins but a win is a win right? (Same couldn’t be said for the football team he captained, but that’s someone else’s story.) When all the quiz fun was over we hung around for the very last treat of an already incredible opening evening – The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. Playing an array of songs from rock to country, and rounding off the night with The Proclaimers 500 Miles, this was an event to remember. Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid and Chris Brookmyre showcased their musical talent and natural rhythm (or lack thereof in Val McDermid’s case, but she does do a mean train impression) and wowed the crowds, getting them dancing in the aisles. Frustrated rock stars possibly, brilliantly entertaining they most certainly are.
After the excitement of Friday night, Saturday morning was a far more sedate start. After breakfast our first panel of the day was Queens of Grip Lit with C.L. Taylor, Sarah Pinborough and Clare Mackintosh. Here they talked about everything from domestically mundane tasks, to implausible or unnecessary twists, and the need to up the ante in their next book.
Next up was Craig Sisterson in conversation with Val McDermid. As always with Val, a thoroughly entertaining and frank discussion about her 30 years of writing. They talked through her whole career from the Lindsay Gordon series which she described as ‘Agatha Christie with a radical, feminist, lesbian plot’ to the Hill and Jordan series which was conceived while driving down the M6 past the Lake District.
The third panel of the day saw me and Mandie part ways. Mandie when to Watching the Detectives featuring MJ Arlidge and Robert Thorogood, and I went to the New Crimes panel, chaired by Alex Gray and featuring Felicia Yap, Mark Hill, Ian Skewis and Rob Ewing. It was great to hear about how all of the writers approach the task of writing, both plotters and pantsers represented here, and where the inspiration for their novels came from. Rather more disturbingly, Rob Ewing shared his thoughts on the most effective virus for wiping out a population of people. Least said, as they say…
Meeting back up with Mandie, we next attended The Dark Lands featuring Lin Anderson, Ragnar Jonasson and Thomas Enger. As well as discussing their fiction, all set in cold, dark climates, reflecting on how this affects mood, setting and even writing style, we were also treated to a musical performance by Thomas Enger, who played the lullaby which his character, Henning Juul, created for his young son. I’d seen a video on line but nothing compares to seeing it played live. Absolutely beautiful and moving music, and completely a wonderful panel to boot.
Time to split up again, Mandie heading to the From Cops to Robbers panel and me heading to watch Craig Sisterson interviewing Mason Cross and Craig Russell. A really interesting hour spent looking at two writers from not only very different settings but also very different time periods. Examining how they create time and place from a landscape which is not their own natural habitat, it did nothing to help my ever growing TBR list. Even better, just before the panel we were treated to a Crime in the Spotlight session, created to highlight just some of the rising stars in crime fiction. This time it was the turn of Lloyd Otis, whose new debut novel Deadlands is released in October.
After a quick bite to eat (the first time we’d remembered to eat and drink since just after breakfast – whoops) we both headed back to The Golden Lion for the final panel of the evening, Two Crime Writers and a Microphone – featuring hosts Luca Veste and Steve Cavanagh, and guests Mark Billingham, Eva Dolan and Ian Rankin, with Stuart Neville providing the soundtrack live. Due to laws of libel, and this being a mostly family friendly blog, I can’t repeat a lot of what was said, however I can tell you it was hilarious, occasionally close to the knuckle, and a brilliant way to end the evening. If you’ve ever listened to one of the podcasts then imagine that live and uncensored. Yeah. Like that.
Sunday was a far more sedate affair. A morning spent drinking coffee, reading and completing a little blogmin, as our first panel wasn’t scheduled until 2pm. Then it was time for Social Issues or Serial Killers with Craig Robertson, Eva Dolan and Mark Billingham. Examining the ideas of whether evil truly exists, the place for and popularity of serial killers in crime fiction, and their own novels which come with a high sense of social justice, this was an absolutely cracking session with three authors who are never afraid to speak their minds. If you’ve not read them yet, you really must.
Nesx up was An Inspector Faro Mystery – The Vanishing Vagrant. Possibly not quite award winning acting, but still highly entertaining, it has to be said that the accents left a lot of be desired. There was a guest turn from actress Harley Jane Kozak, but as good as she was she was nonetheless upstaged by Gordon Brown‘s Liverpudlian (? – who knows) accent, and Douglas Skelton‘s top class turn as Inspector Faro, stepping deftly into the shoes vacated by last year’s star, Stuart MacBride.
Rounding off the whole weekend in style, we decided to head to Four Blokes in search of a plot. The dream writing team of Neil Broadfoot, Gordon Brown, Douglas Skelton and Mark Leggatt recreated their writing partnership magic, penning their next masterpiece, Stewart MacBride and Tatty Peeler, while wearing the ‘tea cosy of inspiration’ and answering questions from the audience on the art of writing. Absolutely hilarious.
Nice hat Gordon!
It was a great weekend meeting old friends and new. It was wonderful to finally meet Jackie Baldwin, Mary Picken and Kelly Lacey. I saw Jackie perform her Crime in the Spotlight segment last year and it was lovely to finally say an official hello.
If you are in any doubt about whether or not to attend next year, which by the way is from the 21st to 23rd September, then here are a few words from festival newbie Mandie to try and persuade you.
Thoughts from a Bloody Scotland first timer.
So this year I went to my very first Bloody Scotland event. If I am honest it was my first real experience of a Crime Writer’s festival. I went to the Killer Women event last year in London but that in no way prepared me for the weekend that lay ahead.
As a newbie the first big trauma you get is trying to work out what you want to see.. thankfully I had Jen to help guide me a bit as the first thought is to do something from every session… My advice is don’t – not unless you really want to see specific authors that are on in the session. You will drive yourself nuts flitting from one event to another. On the Saturday, when we paused at about 5pm we realised we had not really had anything to eat or drink since early that morning.
My other bit of advice is go to some of the fun events on offer (always at the end of the day). They are a good way to unwind and to be honest is probably when you see the authors at their most relaxed. I have never laughed so much as I did at the Inspector Faro play on Sunday, but the authors trying to put together a story between them, whilst wearing a tea cosy of inspiration was hysterical.
I think one of my favourite sessions was “From Cops to Robbers”. There I got to listen to 3 former police officers talk about their experiences and what got them writing. It was interesting to hear about their different experiences in the force.
My advice is – if you have not been to one before – go, they are a blast.
All that remains to be said is thank you to every one involved in creating, hosting and participating in Bloody Scotland. It is an amazing weekend and I can’t wait to return to Stirling next year.
A Bloody Giveaway
Now I will admit that I am a bit of a tool, but a generous one, so one of you lucky folk will get to benefit from my toolishness right now. Being an avid reader of crime fiction, and loving all things Scottish, I had a hard copy of Bloody Scotland on order from Amazon from the minute I found out it was being released. I also ordered it on Kindle because I prefer to read that way. As I was on the blog tour, the organisers of Bloody Scotland kindly sent me a hard copy of the book. I forgot to cancel my order with Amazon (to be fair I forgot I even had it on order still so…)
As I am a lovely lady (apparently) I am going to give that brand new copy of Bloody Scotland away to one of you lucky folk. As I am so very, very lovely (apparently) I am also giving away a beautiful Heather Gems bookmark, a Hailin’ Coo notebook and a bar of Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier Milk Chocolate which believe me is very lush. Open to entrants from UK and Europe, all you need to do is follow the link and do one of three things: follow Jen Med’s on Twitter, follow Jen Med’s Facebook page, or comment below with the answer to the question asked in the link.