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Theakston’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival by Laurence O’Bryan Irish author of The Istanbul Puzzle

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Laurence O'Bryan

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This year’s festival is the 10th annual crime writers event in the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. The festival has grown in that time to the point where a new venue had been required and many of the luminaries of the global publishing business attend.

Our own inspirational John Connolly was on the short list for the crime novel of the year award. He gave a wonderful acceptance speech before Denise Mina won for the haunting, The End of the Wasp Season. Colin Dexter, the creator of Morse, won the outstanding contribution to crime award and gave a witty acceptance speech. He is in his eighties.

I attended events over the four days of the festival including one where John Connolly was entertainingly interviewed by Mark Billingham. John wittily led a panel of US authors discussing their work later. I also attended events on the cross over between sci-fi and crime genres, a heated discussion on the growth of ebooks, an interview with Peter James, a discussion on whether women crime writers are deadlier than the male, and an event with Neil Cross, the inventor of Luther, the award winning new BBC crime series.

This is a festival that attracts both crime writers, over 100 were in attendance I heard, publishing industry people and readers. There were over 12,000 registered visiters in total. Each event on the schedule had almost 500 people in the audience. The location was The Old Swan hotel in Harrogate, the place where Agatha Christie famously disappeared to in the 1920’s. The hotel reminded me of the Shelbourne in Dublin, though some of its public spaces are, if anything, larger.

One of the highlights, for me, was seeing John Connolly in his element, being mobbed where ever he went. The queue for his book signing snaked endlessly. I attended a Hodder reception on Friday evening where Books to Die For, (watch writing.ie for more on this) an exciting soon-to-be-released collection of essays by 120 authors on the best mystery novel, edited by Declan Burke and John, was heavily promoted with excerpts on every table.

On Saturday morning Peter James gave a wonderful talk about his career and how his close collaboration with a serving detective helped him write his Roy Grace novels.

He also spoke about his belief in the supernatural, backing it up with the facts that mediums have located a kidnap victim’s body and found a murder suspect, to his knowledge. The next Roy Grace novel, Dead Time, will be out June 2013.

Author Jilliane Hoffman, a one time Miami prosecutor, described how real violence often exceeds the worst fictional violence. Jacqui Rose, author of Taken, a big hit this year from the same publishing stable as I’m from, Avon Harper Collins, described writing a novel in three months, and winning a publishing deal for similar novels which will require her to produce two a year! She is very relaxed about that! I was so envious of her ability to turn out sharp, popular novels with a wonderful theme in such a short space of time I almost fell of my chair.

Later, I spoke to Stephen Leather, the e publishing sensation, at length. Apparently he lived for many years on Duke Street in Dublin, only leaving recently for Thailand as a result of the reduction in the artist’s tax exemption. I think the Irish Department of Finance shot themselves in the foot with the most recent reduction in that area.

My conversation with Stephen, an articulate and amusing man with incendiary views about the publishing business, was a highlight of the festival for me, and many others as the discussion was heated! Not only did he advise me on sticking to traditional publishing for some books, but also to write as much as possible, to create novellas of 40-50,000 words and to sell them as ebooks, but he also invited me to visit him in Bangkok!

On Sunday I listened to Jo (pronounced something like Juuei!) Nesbo talking about his writing life and how his father had fought for the Germans and his mother for the Norwegian resistance. When asked what rock star he would like to be during a lively q&a, he joked that he already was one – he’s living in Italy these days. More movies are coming out based on his stories, but he has little involvement in that process.

The event was closed by Mark Billingam who was the chair of the festival. Val McDermid will chair it next year when it will be held July 18-21, 2013. It’s well worth a visit for crime writers and crime fans, with unique opportunities to get close to your writing heroes.

Above, 2012 Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writers Festival Programming Chair Mark Billingham and the Programming Committee l-r: Jane Gregory, Martyn Waites, Mark Billingham, David Shelley and NJ Cooper.

Going to Harrogate was particularly useful to me as a first time novelist. Listening to the long established writers with 5, 10 or 20 novels under their belts reinforced for me, the idea that writing is a long term career.

It is unlikely that a first novel will do very well, so even once you are published it is essential to have long term objectives. Mine is to have 7 novels published and to speak at Harrogate in the years to come.

Harrogate was also useful to me as I met a number of writers, both new and well established, and I learned some important lessons: write faster, don’t obsess, find a meaningful niche, being among my personal lessons from the weekend.

I have been to a number of writers’ craft festivals in the UK, Ireland and the US in the past few years and the networking opportunities presented at festivals were worth every penny. Events like this allow you to meet people you would normally never get to meet – top selling authors, editors, agents. And writing is like everything else. Who you know is important. It’s not everything, but it can help you get where you want to go.

About the author

(c) Laurence O’Bryan
Laurence O’Bryan had a remarkable trip to publication – find out more in 133 Rejections to Get Published. Find out too his 7 Most Useful Books on Writing (he’s read a lot!)
His book The Istanbul Puzzle is out with Harper Collins Avon imprint, and has been described as

‘This stylish conspiracy thriller is a Turkish delight…combines plenty of stirring action with fascinating historical detail about a city and a country [Laurence] quite obviously loves.’ Irish Independent

‘A brisk plot…which draws the reader into a conspiratorial rapport…He’s come late to fiction, clearly he means to enjoy it.’ Telegraph

Find out more about Laurence at his blog:www.lpobryan.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @lpobryan
  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
  • www.designforwriters.com

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