Bloody Scotland Crime-writing Festival, Stirling, 11-13 September 2015

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Report by Linda Boa

After arriving somewhat later than planned in Stirling, all I wanted to do was find the lovely guesthouse I was staying in and catch some sleep. So on Saturday, I made my way to my first panel of the day, which was Belinda Bauer and Denise Mina, chaired by the witty and knowledgeable Len Wenner. These three will be old hands on the festival circuit, but for me, at my first book festival, it was fascinating.

Belinda talked about her latest novel, The Shut Eye, which is one of the few of her works I haven’t yet read. It’s about a boy who disappears, and all that remains of him are the footprints he made the last time he left the house, which were preserved in wet concrete. The mother makes it her mission to preserve these, polishing them daily, while the father buries himself in his work. They are both wracked by guilt, but there seems to be no leads until a psychic or medium inserts him/herself into the investigation – but are they for real?

Denise Mina © Eoin Carey

Denise’s latest in her DI Alex Morrow series, Blood Salt Water, which is the fifth in this series, I have read and can thoroughly recommend. It’s set in Helensburgh, and begins with a woman being shot. Then another woman Police Scotland are meant to be watching for the Met, who suspect she’s involved in a million dollar scam, disappears, leaving her children behind, which is utterly out of character. But does she know the game is up and has gone into hiding, or has something more sinister occurred? And who is the murdered woman? Does she have any connection to the missing Roxana? Later in the book a fire occurs, killing a single father and his young daughter. Helensburgh’s obviously a town with a lot of secrets…

The panel discussed the snobbery attached to genre fiction, particularly crime, and Belinda said that, “Literary fiction is privileged people having their feelings hurt” – I’ve no idea if this is a quote from elsewhere, but it’s hard to disagree with. Lee Child’s comments that he could do what Ian McEwan could do, but not vice versa, were mentioned too. Belinda and Denise both confessed they loved true crime, and Belinda said she didn’t read fiction at all. Her advice to prospective authors was, ‘Never bore your reader’. They both stressed the importance of pace, and correctly judging the release of information to keep the reader invested in solving the crime. Denise also said that the motivation of your instigator has to be believable.

Nordic Noir © Eoin Carey

Next up, after a wee refreshment in the hotel bar, where it was great to put names to faces, particularly those of the bloggers, it was Nordic Noir: Gunnar Staalesen, Johan Theorin and Ragnar Jonasson. I reviewed Ragnar’s excellent debut, Snowblind ), and I have Gunnar’s latest novel, We Shall Inherit The Wind, which I plan to read shortly. His books feature a PI, Varg Veum (Varg meaning “wolf” in Norwegian.) This book features the topical and contentious subject of windfarms, and two families who end up at loggerheads, one pro, one anti. It’s easy to see that Gunnar’s a bit of a legend in Norwegian crime fiction. Johan Theorin is an author whose books I’ve often been tempted by (particularly The Asylum), but I do plan to make an effort to read his latest, The Quarry. Excepting The Asylum, all his books are set on the Swedish island of Oland, and have ‘haunting supernatural’ overtones. Oland is a popular summer destination, and in these months the population can swell from 15,000 to 200,000. Our Scandinavian gents had some fascinating facts about books and their countries: apparently Sweden has the largest number of books translated into English, probably due to Henning Mankell blazing the trail. Iceland and Norway have more readers per capita than any other countries in Europe. They also spoke of the huge influence television series like The BridgeThe Killing and Arne Dahl have had in getting people from all over the world interested in reading Nordic Noir. It was an interesting hour, and, inevitably, I left with a few titles I plan on getting hold of, just as soon as the TBR pile decreases a tad!

“The Slice Girls at the Coo – Kati Hiekkapelto, Elizabeth Preston” © Eoin Carey

Saturday night was when the posh people went to the dinner, to see the winner of the Deanstons Bloody Scotland Crime Book Of The Year. Craig Russell’s The Ghosts Of Altona triumphed over what I thought was a very strong shortlist. Meanwhile us hoi polloi headed down to the Curly Coo, where Craig Robertson took excellent control of proceedings as the MC, and we were entertained by Val McDermid, Doug Johnstone, Chris Brookmyre and Steve Cavanagh – forgive me if I’ve forgotten anyone. Then the star turn, The Slice Girls appeared, on the bar, and did an excellent rendition of The Cell Block Tango, from Chicago. They really were superb.

Sunday had a slightly later start, which I’m sure pleased a few people – I heard tell of a few pale faces. My first panel was Dear Mean Place – Talking Glasgow, which had originally been meant to include William McIlvanney. I’d been meant to interview him for the Bloody Scotland Blog Tour, but though we spoke on the phone a couple of times, he hadn’t been well and told me he wouldn’t be attending. I’m sure you all join with me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery. Instead, to pay homage to ‘the Clark Gable of Scottish noir’, Lin Anderson and Craig Robertson both selected favourite passages from his books – Lin selecting the end of Laidlaw, and Craig the beginning of The Papers Of Tony Veitch – the one that begins, ‘It was Friday night in Glasgow, the city of the stare…’.

Craig Robertson and Lin Anderson at Dear Mean Place – Talking Glasgow © Eoin Carey

They also spoke about their latest novels (I’ve reviewed Lin’s – another blatant plug – here), and Craig’s sounds really fascinating – it’s about people who explore underneath the city; for example, he read from the beginning of the book about a guy who’s tracing the source of the Molendinar burn, which runs under Glasgow. He comes across another explorer who he assumes has got himself into a tight spot, and tries to help – only to discover that they are dead. What a fantastic opening! Both authors spoke of how they used the city, its buildings, and the odd ‘characters’ you come across in the city – the random people you meet at bus stops who tell you their life story; that’s Glasgow, and it’s manna for an author – I lived there for 16 years, saw these things all the time. (Pity I never actually sat down and wrote that book…or maybe not, actually…!). Lin Anderson has a dry, wicked sense of humour – I think she’d be great company over a couple of drinks.

Next it seemed everyone I knew, apart from John Dingwall of the Daily Record, had disappeared up to the football. Not me – I was sticking around for Sophie Hannah, who spoke to Alex Gray about her latest standalone, A Game For All The Family [reviewed here]. She was so good, and so amusing, I came straight home and read the book, which hitherto I’d been avoiding as people were saying things like, ‘You don’t really know what the hell is going on for two thirds of it,’ which to be honest wasn’t really selling it to me. But Sophie explained it’s about compulsive liars, and how they will say black is white rather than admit they were wrong. However, in the book it takes a little time to discover just who the compulsive liar is… She’s obviously done many of these events, but she comes across as great fun and totally normal. Who’d have guessed she had a mind so devious? There’s another Culver Valley book in the pipeline, so Charlie and Simon fans need not worry. She also hinted at another project, which made me wonder about the possibility of a further Poirot book…?

Philip Kerr and Ian Rankin © Eoin Carey

The final event was the one I was most excited about – two of my favourite Scottish authors, each interviewing the other for 20 minutes, then 20 minutes questions (I could live without filling up time with people’s questions. I think I heard one that interested me all weekend. I want to hear my favourite authors speak. Sorry if that’s brutal, but it’s true.) Ian Rankin and Philip Kerr, the big guns, were in town (cue cowboy music…).

Ian was here to talk about Even Dogs In The Wild, his next Rebus, which us mere mortals can’t get our grubby hands on until November. He didn’t speak about the plot of the book, but spoke of how he felt ‘different’ growing up in working class Fife, as he didn’t want to get a manual job, like the rest of the males in his family, but felt happier in his world of books (I’m sure a lot of us can relate to that!). They also spoke of the dark and light side to Edinburgh, talking of Burke and Hare, the Old Town and the New Town, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which was apparently to be set in Edinburgh, until Stevenson’s wife insisted he set it further afield, hence London.) Philip Kerr was ostensibly here to promote Hand Of God, his new Scott Manson football thriller, but, of course, they spoke about Bernie Gunther, and how he’s a man who will do anything he has to in order to survive in Nazi Germany. Kerr admitted he kept wanting to retire him, but pressure from readers brings him back, so the boredom he’s frightened of setting in with the public seems a far way off. He also mentioned that his wife, Jane Thynne, who’s a talented novelist in her own right, finds it irritating just how easy Philip finds it to write, while she struggles (which sounds far more like most authors I know!).

At the end of that, I hared off to the station, urgently needing to catch the train to Glasgow which would join with my connection home – if I missed it, it would mean an overnighter in Glasgow! Luckily, a lovely girl called Gillian from Stirling Waterstones got me a Philip Kerr I didn’t have, and an Ian Rankin bookplate for Even Dogs In The Wild – signed, with my name on them (which was above and beyond!) and sent it up to my local branch. As for Bloody Scotland, I’ll definitely be back next year – in fact, I’ve already booked my accommodation. Might see you there…?

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Linda Boa blogs as crimeworm