Writing crime in Harrogate

Theakstons“Harrogate” – that’s what the regulars call the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. After three days, I call it exhausting, energising, exhilarating. It was my second conference in July and I took the travelling easy. No point killing yourself before you get to Murder Central for the weekend!

With David Penny

With fellow scribe David Penny

As a newbie, I was made very welcome, especially by my writing friend from the Alliance of Independent Authors, David Penny and his wife Megan. David’s a “Friend” of the festival and knows everything and everybody.

I was also delighted to share a good part of Friday with Carole Blake  from Blake Friedmann (BFLA) which represents me for ancillary rights and to renew my acquaintance with Isobel Dixon from BFLA. They were responsible for whisking me off to be filmed doing a short interview masterminded by Lara James for Peter James’s video channel. Juno knows what my hair looked liked; I just hope I didn’t burble.

Northanger cover and signedOn the Thursday afternoon before the festival proper, I made my way to the Oxfam Bookshop where Val McDermid was scheduled to appear. Imagine how delighted I was to bump into her and her partner Jo Cox when I was panting up the hill on the way there. Both were charming; I just hope I wasn’t too fan-girly. It was an excellent hour  in the company of book people and Val signed a copy of her Austen rewrite Northanger Abbey for me. What a start to the weekend!

Milling and lurking was the flavour of the weekend. The warm weather, grassy slopes, flags, fairy lights and dramatic marquees on the lawn in front of The Old Swan made a perfect ambiance for meeting virtual friends in the flesh. I was delighted to greet writers Effie Meryl, Jo Derrick, Mari Hannah, Louise Mangos and Nic Ford, plus Juliet Pickering from BFLA who had clinched the Audible deal for me. Of course, I made new friends over the weekend – that’s what festivals and conferences are about

Gerald Seymour

Gerald Seymour in full flow

Celebs surrounded us and mixed freely; chats with NJ Cooper, Peter James, Steve Mowsby, Alix Gray (Bloody Scotland).

Susan Calman and Val McDermid

Susan Calman and Val McDermid

If I had to pick out the best sessions I’d include the “Val and Sue show” (more properly Susan Calman in conversation with Val McDermid), Mari Hannah’s Book Club featuring P D James’s  “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman”, the masterly Gerald Seymour raconteur extraordinaire and the political thriller panel especially Frank  Gardener. Martina Cole (interviewed by Peter James) just made us shriek with laughter.

But the festival is about fans and pretty dedicated they are too. I had some lovely conversations, especially over meals and in queues. Confessing to be a thriller writer, I was pressed for information about my own work and handed out a number of Roma Nova cards.

So, tired and happy, I trudged my way home to France. Would I recommend this festival? Undoubtedly. Book up soon for next year.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA. The fifth in the series, INSURRECTIO, was published in April 2016.

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