No rest for the wicked at Harrogate’s crime writing festival!

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Colin Dexter
Harrogate Crime Writing Festival - Colin Dexter

Harrogate has one of the lowest crime rates in Britain, yet hosts the biggest gathering of crime writers and readers in Europe, writes Berni Crosthwaite.

The tenth Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival rolled into town with some of the biggest names in the genre. By the opening night 12,000 event tickets had already been sold, and throughout the weekend The Old Swan Hotel pulsated with fervent fans.

Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse, kicked off the first festival in 2003, and this year, received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction, and The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina won the Crime Novel of the Year Award, both presented by Simon Theakston.

In a packed programme, interviews with top authors such as Jo Nesbo and Harlan Coben were interspersed with panels that ranged from the art of translation to the Golden Age of crime fiction.

Discussions were always lively, even controversial. Talking about morality, American writer Gregg Hurwitz contended that crime writers bear “no responsibility.” NJ Cooper told a shocked audience that “dead women sell books, dead men don’t.”

But do live women write graphic violence? Jilliane Hoffman stated that she didn’t actually go into detail. “Women have terrifying imaginations. They fill in the blanks and do a far better job than me.”

However, Amanda Kyle Williams said with relish, “Scaring you is my job and I enjoy it.”

The changing face of publishing exercised many writers. More e-books than hard copies are now sold, and though some authors have benefited, others worry about the cheapness of e-books, the speed of digital publishing and the implications for quality control, and piracy.

But there was plenty of humour too. Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson, author of the DI Banks series, staged a ‘late night lock-in’ and riffed on the changes they’ve seen during their writing careers. Despite doing careful research, both admitted to making mistakes. Robinson had characters discussing the conquest of Everest in January 1953, but Hilary didn’t scale the mountain until June.

David Quantick chaired a chaotic hilarious session about crime/fantasy crossover books. Charles Stross made one controversial point: “We live in a world of dizzying technological change, but many popular crime writers are in their 50s and not really up to date, so much crime fiction reflects the world of ten or 15 years ago.”

After the final event programming chairman, Mark Billingham, thanked writers and readers alike for making the festival such a joyous occasion. As BBC pundit Mark Lawson had said in his introduction on Thursday night, “This is not just a conference, it’s a celebration of crime fiction.”