At the scene of the crime in Harrogate…

IN my head I play the guitar like Richard Thompson and have the literary skills of Kate Atkinson or Graham Greene. I sell as many books as Lee Child, can bake the buns off Paul Hollywood and write a blog which is read by more readers than Polly Toynbee and Kelvin MacKenzie combined (now there’s an ideologically odd combination).

Sadly, the inside of my head is not a place much concerned with reality.

So I can half-play a few Thompson songs, I write like me, I’ve sold a few books in America and readers of this blog number more in the faithful few, a congregation of kind souls indeed. But I do bake a mean loaf of bread.

Writing is usually on my mind in some way or other. More so today as I have just returned from my annual visit to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

I listened to many talks and met many people, including the five crime writers I have interviewed for the Yorkshire Post: Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Frances Brody, Nick Quaintrill and Helen Cadbury.

This festival is always popular and always enjoyable, although I do have one cavil: who ordered those bloody awful chairs? They were uncomfortable and so close together that your knee risked becoming intimate with the behinds of the people sitting in the row in front.

Small moan over, there was much to savour as usual. Mark Billingham did a warm and lively interview with Linwood Barclay, who was very amusing and had one main piece of advice: your book needs a hook. Once you have that, everything else sorts itself out in the end.

In a session on the role of real-life cases, the perhaps unexpected star of this panel was the Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir, a civil engineer who is billed as Iceland’s answer to Stieg Larsson. You always come away wanting to read someone new and she goes onto the list.

A domestic suspense panel featured Paula Hawkins, author of super-hit The Girl On The Train, which has not yet been read by the man on the ledge. But I have read Clare Mackintosh’s hit debut I Let You Go, which was crowed this year’s crime novel of the year. Julia Crouch chaired a lively and interesting session.

Good sessions followed on the legacy of crime’s golden age, with amusing interjections from Simon Brett – and more names to add to the list. I have read Frances Brody but not Ann Granger, Catriona McPherson or Ruth Ware. The following session dwelt on the science of catching a killer.

I was the man on the train by the time the comedian Susan Calman interviewed Val McDermid, which was a shame as that sounds like an inspired combination. Val, incidentally, was honoured this year for a lifetime achievement award.

Yesterday’s sessions opened with Mark Lawson, always good value, interviewing Jeffery Deaver, who was illuminating, thoughtful and a real gent. His main piece of advice was that you had to plan, plan and plan – worrying to those of us who do not (although in a different session, Alex Marwood said that she did not plan beyond a signpost or two). Shamefully, I have yet to read Deaver so he goes onto the list too.

Also yesterday, the veteran ITV reporter turned author Gerald Seymour gave a charming turn, McDermid introduced four new writers for her New Blood session (always popular that one), and the prolific and ever charming NJ Cooper chaired a session on Murder Out of Africa, which provided more names for the list, including Deon Meyer, who writes in Afrikaans before being translated into English (and 27 other languages).

My last session was France Noir – Le Roman Policier, chaired by Barry Forshaw, which offered another name to the list: the Frenchman Pierre Lemaitre. Incidentally, much of that session reached the audience, or the non-French speaking members of it, through an interpreter.

I didn’t see everything because you can’t, but I did learn a lot. Now I am off to think up a hook like Linwood Barclay and plot like the charming devil who is Jeffery Deaver.

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