For readers and authors, Harrogate is the main event in the literary calendar. Crime Scene finds out why it’s the genre’s biggest festival.
Authors Mark Billingham and Peter James on their festival experiences.
The festival is our big annual social meeting, it’s our trade fair, it’s the place you have to be if you write crime fiction for a living,” Mark Billingham tells Crime Scene. “And it seems to get better every year – it’s a cracking festival.” He’s been a mainstay of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival for years – and he’s a former winner of its prize for best novel.
This year was a sell-out, with over 14,000 individual tickets shifted over the four-day festival – and big queues in the signing tent. When they weren’t basking in the Yorkshire sun, festivalgoers could attend panels featuring authors including Martina Cole, Tess Gerritsen, Paula Hawkins, Jeffery Deaver, Val Mcdermid and Peter Robinson. There were rising stars on the New Blood panel, a French contingent including Pierre Lemaitre, and a focus on African crime fiction.
Crime Scene catches up with Peter James as he’s taking a quick break from his responsibilities as programming chair. “It’s been a huge amount of
work, but I’m really loving it,” he says. “I think as authors we tend to spend a lot of our year in our caves and are occasionally let out. I’ve been to pretty well every literary and crime writing festival in the world over the last 15 years and this is the best. You’re actually going to mingle with fans, have a drink with them. It all takes place under one roof, plus there’s only one panel at a time, so everyone goes to it.”
There was special recognition this year for Mcdermid, who received the award for outstanding contribution to crime fiction. “She’s done so much for the genre,” says James. “I think she’s done a lot to change the perception of crime fiction.” James also admits to being a little jealous of Clare Mackintosh’s debut, I Let You Go, which won the Theakston award for crime novel of the year. “It’s probably about once in five years you get a book where you go ‘Fuck, I wish I’d written that’,” says James.
While he has to prepare for his panel interview with Martina Cole, Billingham is busy enjoying the social side of Harrogate. Having won the secret poker game and hosted the quiz, he’s getting ready for the annual crime writers’ football match. “As long as you have those events alongside the serious discussions about violence or cosy crime or Scandinavian crime, I think that’s the secret to a successful festival,” he says.
Tickets are already selling fast for Harrogate’s 2017 festival, which takes place on 20 to 23 July.
Peter James discusses the role of real-life cases with his friend and advisor, former Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett.
Peter James at the Dead Goodreader Awards.