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Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival: A Microcosm Of Machiavellian Merriment

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | The Lighter Side

Tara Sparling

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In less than two weeks, the writing.ie team and I will be Ryanairing off in no style whatsoever to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, Yorkshire. I was there last year, and I still even remember some of it, despite the disgraceful amount of fun I had.

Writing.ie will be live tweeting as much as possible, so that readers sadly unable to attend can get some of the flavour, wisdom and entertainment which characterises this festival of books.

And let me tell you – I’m so excited about this trip, I could just kill someone!

…IN A BOOK, for God’s sake. I would never kill someone in real life. Not even for research purposes. Honestly, the way you people think sometimes.

For those who haven’t heard about it, this festival is a major international event in the calendar of crime fiction lovers everywhere. It’s a festival for everyone, but most especially for readers. The place will be crawling with writers, granted; both famous and infamous, with top billing this year going to superstars such as Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Arne Dahl and Kathy Reichs – but where this festival absolutely slaughters (sorry) is in terms of the relaxed bonhomie between all lovers of violence and mayhem.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival: A Microcosm Of Machiavellian MerrimentThere is a seat for everyone, be they readers, new scribes on the block, or established behemoths with a queue to their signing table which is so long, it stretches, somewhat conveniently, all the way back to the bar counter.

Because there really is something quite special about Harrogate. All the events take place in the Old Swan Hotel (which cannot be mentioned without reference to Agatha Christie, who holed up there during her famous disappearance for 11 days in the 1920s), which means that the whole event is centralised into one genial, open garden.

Therefore when people spill out of some event at which they heard a favourite author speak of the inspiration behind a character which keeps them awake (either deliciously or chillingly) at night, they frequently take to wandering around on the lawn, the hotel, or in one of the many gardens outside. They might be waiting for another event a bit later; they might be finished for the day. The festival continues to heave enticingly around them, in pockets of smiling faces, speaking jovially of murder and gaslighting.

There is only one place to go: there is no better venue to be. And so people are frequently open to a friendly chat with whomever is standing opposite them, through no fault of their own, and people therefore often find themselves speaking about the relative merits of Centigrade versus Fahrenheit, to someone they belatedly realise wrote that book they loved when the weather was colder.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival: A Microcosm Of Machiavellian MerrimentI’ve been to plenty of literary festivals which are enjoyable, informative and entertaining, where you exit an event and hover by the bookshop table, only to find that everyone is rushing off somewhere else, either because they have another event to attend in another venue, or because they have to go home and empty the washing machine. It’s not the same. It’s the self-contained village atmosphere which makes Harrogate so wonderfully peculiar – truly no pun intended.

For four glorious days, you’re all in it together, before you once again disperse into the daily grind of non-fiction. Everyone is there for the same reason you are, because they are crime fiction fans, readers and writers, come together to celebrate the world’s most popular genre. It’s a music festival for book lovers, but without the abject horror of Portaloos.

I am looking forward to seeing many amazing authors speak in Harrogate; but what I’m looking forward to most of all is that mixed wash of friends not yet met, clustering under a canopy of sunshine or canvas, with a bag of books slung over one shoulder, another three novels held under one oxter, yet another snugly nestled into the waistband of their trousers; a glassful of something cold in one hand, the other waving, shaking or leafing through another story. It’s the most wonderful atmosphere, as though you might be stepping into a book. And you’d kill for that, wouldn’t you?

The 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place in the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate from 20-23 July. Details and tickets here.

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