Harrogate Crime Festival/Knocking other writers
In 1926, Agatha Christie, who was 36 years old at the time, disappeared. Her car was found abandoned and hanging over the edge of a chalk pit. A manhunt ensued, and to make a long story short, she was found in Harrogate, at the Swan Hotel. She'd checked in under the name of her husband's mistress. I saw the Swan Hotel while there, by the way. Harrogate is like that - it has all the modern amenities, but the buildings are ageless. For the last five years it's been the spot for the very popular crime festival. This was my first year attending, and I was honored to have been chosen for a panel.
I arrived on Thursday night, and spent some initial time wandering around, then went for a dinner with some Hodder folk and authors. I met author Katherine Howell, and author Kathryn Fox, both from Aussie land. Two great gals, and we laughed our way through dinner. Following dinner, I went to the opening night party. I spent the rest of the evening chatting and drinking and collapsed into my bed around 1 am. I awoke on Friday feeling a little bit the worse for wear, but shook it off and took a walk around the town. It's a beautiful place, and there was a light drizzle. Someone was watering the flowers placed around the tops of the lightposts, and so the water was falling from the bunches of flowers onto the cobblestone. Everything was very green. Here's a photo:
I arrived back refreshed. I had an interview in the afternoon, and spent more time wandering around. I got to meet a lot of different people. I want to say here that I'm not going to try and list everyone. I will say some names, but if you're not here, please don't be insulted... it was just a blur of days.
I met Mark Billingham, who is a very nice guy. I met Simon Kernick who did me the great honor of telling me he's actually read and enjoyed my books. I met David Hewson again (we'd met in NYC) who was to be moderating my panel the next day. I also met Meg Gardiner, who now lives in London but comes from Southern California. I went later to the Peter Robinson party (21 years since his first Inspector Banks novel) and met the man himself, who was a very nice gentleman. I also got to meet Frank Schatzing (The Swarm) and a few others. Afterwards was another dinner, which I had resolved to remain sober at, being that I had a panel the next day. I met the charming Dreda Say Mitchell and partner, and had more laughs with Kathryn Fox. The evening after was spent roaming the hotel and meeting some more writers. I have to say, this is one of the things I really enjoyed about Harrogate. It was a very relaxed setting, with lots of opportunities to sit and talk. My kind of show.
The next day I woke up very early for two reasons: my panel was to be that day and I was in a mild panic about that, and I wanted to see Jeffery Deaver's talk, which started at 9 am. I went and saw Mr. Deaver speak. He was very good. He started a diary when he first began getting published, and he read various excerpts from it that spanned the years. Very funny. He also shared a lot about how he does his writing. He spends, per his talk, about 8 months outlining a book and 4 months writing it. Wow. As a fan of his books, it was food for thought for me as a writer. I don't see myself spending 8 months outlining... but I could do with a little more planning.
Not long after came the moment of truth - the dreaded panel! The subject was tech, and how it both has and has not affected crime writing, and where we think it will go from here. I was on the panel with Natasha Cooper, Kathryn Fox, and Peter Lovesey, and it was a hoot! We managed to get some serious points in, but the high point of the panel was Kathryn (who is an MD) demonstrating how to do an autopsy on Gromit the dog. Suffice to say, it went well, and I had people coming up throughout the day to say they'd enjoyed it. So - thanks to David Hewson and the other panelists. Afterwards was a book signing and I got to sign quite a few books, which was great.
After the panel, all the pressure was off. I spent some more time writing,, and then it was time for dinner with Hodder staff and other authors. Jeff Deaver was there, and I got to talk to him for a bit. Very nice guy. Very accessible. Which brings me, for a moment of aside, to the other part of this post: Knocking other writers.
One of the things I've noticed since starting to really make the rounds of the festivals, and meeting other authors, is just how generally nice and accessible the 'big name' writers are in this community. It surprised me to a degree, coming from the often less than inviting environment of Hollywood in California. There are nice actors, of course, but the prima donna ratio is very, very low in the author community. Everyone has been welcoming when I've introduced myself, and has never seem put off that a lowlier man on the totem pole has introduced himself and demanded a little time. I think,in many ways, that's unique. I have had only two instances where authors have said something less than nice about my writing (they'll remain unnamed). Now that I've made the rounds, and met so many other authors, I've dismissed their open criticism as an anomaly. I'm not saying authors never dislike the writing of other authors. I'm saying that the classy ones tend to keep that to themselves, and that the classy ones seem to comprise 99% of this group. In this community, I'm happy to say, we don't spend a lot of time cutting each other up professionally. Personally, well... there have been some cat/dogfights at times, but again, it's rare.
The point? Well, I guess the first point is that I'm pleased and honored to be a part of such a relatively sane and classy group. The second is that I've resolved to keep my own trap shut about the writing of others. If I don't have something nice to say, I'll say nothing at all. The third is a small thanks to those big-name authors who've set this example.
And it's advice for those who want to be published or are trying to be. Play nice. The person you chop up today you might be meeting at a convention tomorrow! :)
The dinner finished, and I spent the remainder of the evening at the bar in the Crown Hotel, drinking and enjoying good conversation. Kim Mackay from Borders was a constant companion. I also met Colin Cotterill, a fellow author who is living in Thailand. The guys from crimesquad (whom I'd met earlier) came by. I met my publisher from the Netherlands, and Mr. Simon Kernick once again. David Hewson gave away Gromit to a lucky fan. I shook hands with the amazonian Chelsea Cain. The wine flowed late into the night and early into the morning, and a good time was had by all.
All in all, it was a hell of a great time. My apologies to anyone I failed to mention and should have. My thanks to everyone who made my first trip to Harrogate so worthwhile.