Harrogate Happenings

Yesterday afternoon, I returned from my annual trip to Harrogate for the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival, the event where 100s of crime writers, bloggers, authors, industry professionals and many, many readers converge at The Old Swan hotel (of Agatha Christie disappearance fame…) for a weekend of talks, parties, drinks, books, scandals and hangovers. As usual, the festival was excellent fun – and even the rain didn’t stop play 🙂

Great things…

  • The Pimms-in-A-Tin tent… genius
  • Promoting my new book The Deaths of December at the Hodder drinks party, which included pulling crackers and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to a lot of bemused faces (and keeping my reindeer antlers on all night afterwards)
  • Reading my short story ‘The Chair’ while my fellow Slice Girls A.K. Benedict and Steph Broadribb duct taped author Neil White to a chair at The Blues Bar (thanks to Zoe Sharp for the torch!)
  • The Slice Girls performance afterwards (as part of fringe event Noir At The Bar)
  • The Dark Side panel on Friday, featuring Clare Donoghue, Elly Griffiths (this year’s fab festival chair), Simon Toyne, Lesley Thomson & James Oswald – chatting about supernatural elements in crime and why we should all read it
  • Chocolate cake and Prosecco at the Bonnier drinks party
  • Hanging out with lots of really cool people and laughing very much at lots of unrepeatable and ridiculous thing (…laughing at Katerina Diamond telling me to stop laughing so much)
  • Ed’s highanus
  • Danny not being dead

Annoying things…

  • Not getting a burger because it started to piss down with rain and they had to close it down before everything blew away
  • Not spending enough time with some people (and not seeing others at all…)
  • My agent not being there
  • Rain
  • Forgetting to buy Farrah’s fudge
  • Rod Reynolds*

Sad things…

  • Thinking about the beautiful Helen Cadbury, who had planned to be there and will always be missed 💔

Some pics below, mostly stolen from others. Thanks to the organisers for a fantastic event, my publishers for spoiling me with a lovely meal and showering me with praise, the cleaner at The Cairn for giving me extra biscuits, and all the lovely people who kept me entertained. Roll on 2018!!

*Not really 🙂

Harrogate Happenings 2014

The setting... tents at The Old Swan

The setting… tents at The Old Swan

In 2009, I went to Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival (aka ‘Harrogate’), for the first time. I didn’t have a blog, hence no record exists of what I got up to there (probably for the best…) What I do remember is that I was quite shy about approaching people, but I did meet my future agent, Phil Patterson, and future best-selling superstar author, James Oswald…

I returned in 2012, when I was writing a lot of short stories and attempting to finish a novel. I wrote about it here. Last year, I had just signed a contract with my agent and was buzzing about that – by then I had met loads of readers and writers on twitter and I wrote about it here.

This year, I went having just signed a deal for my debut novel, BLACK WOOD, and it was such a fantastic experience for me being congratulated by so many of the readers, writers and bloggers that I now consider friends… One of the big things that happened this year was when several people came up and introduced themselves to ME (rather than the other way around)… it made me feel very loved 🙂

As usual, the whole thing passed in a blur of words and drinks and laughter – just to reconfirm that crime writers and readers are some of the friendliest and most supportive people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I can’t do a shout-out this year, because there were just SO many people, and I don’t want to miss anyone out. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with some of the people that I only saw for fleeting moments, and that I completely missed seeing some people all together… but that’s what it’s like at the crime community’s biggest love-fest, and I wouldn’t expect it any other way 🙂

Memories of the festival include: the opening awards party where one of my favourite authors, Belinda Bauer, won the best novel award… lots of interesting panels… BEER… Val McDermid interviewing JK Rowling… meeting lots of new people and catching up with old friends… RAIN… a new fancy beer tent and some giant chairs… THUNDERBOLTS AND LIGHTNING… loads of great book recommendations – including The Girl on The Train (which I was lucky enough to get a SIGNED proof copy of and can’t wait to read)… us not winning the quiz again… some late night acoustic guitar… BEER… lots of random chat and lots of laughter…a marriage proposal during audience question time (yes – she said yes!)… and just for a change, nothing controversial happened and everyone was cheery, even when it RAINED (did I mention that it rained?)…

As promised, I got more than one photo this year, so here’s a little slideshow that sums up just a fraction of what went on in what has been unanimously described as ‘the best one yet’. Well done to Steve Mosby and the whole team for organising a memorable event 🙂

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As always, I came back exhausted, but inspired to write – and next year, I’ll return to The Old Swan as a published author… I don’t think that’s really sunk in yet, but as you can imagine – I can’t wait 🙂

The 'Write' Place

Having the right place to write is the only way you’re ever going to get anything written, right? Wrong…

So where do you write? At a desk? On the train? In the airing cupboard? This week’s guest post comes from the luxury writing environment of Keith B Walters, where we find out that it’s really not that simple…

My daughter just came into the room before I finished typing that title – which in many ways illustrates just how difficult I find it with a young family to find the right place (not mention the right time) to write. Okay, so it’s nearly 10pm on a Sunday night and she should be in bed ready for school tomorrow – but the downfall of snow has put paid to that theory this particular evening. She did, however, have to open a door to find me. After many years of moving my working and writing space around my home, I have settled in half of our dining room to give me room, and that much welcomed door I mentioned.

For me, setting up places to work in and around my home has got to have been the biggest form of procrastination I have ever entered into, and I don’t even want to think about the hours lost making working spaces that could have been spent writing.

I’ve always made spaces to write, to draw, or to paint – whatever the current project is and at all stages of my life. When I lived with my parents I had a large semi-circular desk top made to fill the bay window of my room – at that time I was into movie special effects and horror fiction writing, so the large desk top was often filled with all manner of horrible projects at various stages – making many wonder just how I slept in that room.

When the current Mrs W and I moved into our first flat, I earmarked the spare bedroom, with a flat-pack Ikea desk set-up which served for my day job (as a Sales Manager I have been home-based for many years) and my then horror fanzine writing in the evenings and weekends.

I soon discovered that the small room wasn’t really big enough though, and so installed a loft ladder and made a makeshift den in the loft space above our kitchen table where I could type stories and reviews on an old Amstrad 9512 computer (Lord Sugar would have been impressed).

And then it was the move to our house where (in the thirteen years we have been living here) I would guess I have had about seven areas of working. I set up a small Argos desk in one of the alcoves of the living room – too noisy when the children came along and then a desk in the dining room (where it was often too cold to work). A few years back we had the loft converted to give us extra space and I adjusted the plans to give a small office space on the landing between the staircases just enough for a desk and chair (oh, and my bookcases) and I was happy there for quite some time – but then I outgrew that too. And, always at the back of my mind was that I needed somewhere to hide away, to lock out all distractions, all noise (if possible) – then, and only then (I foolishly thought) the magic would happen and I would finally write THAT novel.

My dear Nan left me some money when she passed away and that, I decided, was the time to do what I had always wanted, which was to build a special place, a shed at the end of the garden, a place just for me, for my books and for my writing. The shed was ordered and, over the course of a weekend and with help from my Dad, was built and decorated – noticeboards, electricity, a small desk and chair, a rug (because it really ties the room together – Lebowski fans) and then I was good to go!

Keith's Writing Shed

Well, that was the plan….but then it rained, it rained a lot. And then the kids wanted help with homework after school and started to go to bed later and, before I knew it, it was always after 9pm before I could even contemplate skulking up the garden path in the dark and the wet and the with a laptop under my arm to start anything and, did I mention, I was tired?

And so, although my lovely little writing shed is there, and I do intend to get a lot of use out of it someday, for now I have remained inside – returned to the dining room, another new desk (a nice one from Staples this time with one tower of drawers for work related stuff and the other for writing stuff), and I close the door when I want to get things done.

All that said, and despite the fact that I write mainly here, in this one place, I have come to terms that, in order to get things done, I am having to be much more flexible with my writing space. I now carry a notebook at all times at work, I write whilst on trains, I tap on an ipad if I get ideas in bed, tape them or record them on my phone if out and without paper for any reason. I use coffee breaks when out at work to split between half working on work emails and then some time to write some notes on whatever my current project is.

I kick myself often when I see professional writers’ working spaces on television shows or in magazines – they are rarely the huge and expensive looking book-lined offices you might expect and that has helped me realise that the ‘write’ place is just the place that’s right for you and it’s the words and the work that matter, wherever you can get them down.

***

About Keith

Keith B Walters has been dabbling with horror and crime fiction for some years, mainly writing about other people’s writing until recently; although he’s always tried to get some of his own work done when time permits.  He initially interviewed horror authors and actors, before branching into ‘a life more crime’ – inspired in a big way by a Crime Writing Masterclass run by Minette Walters (no relation) and Mark Billingham several years ago at the London Book Fair.  A keen blogger, he has attended recordings of the TV Book Club, the launch of World Book Night and, for the last two years, has been ‘Blogger in Residence’ at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He has stories in two collections: Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales and Off the Record 2: At the Movies.

You can find him online at his two blogs:

Keith has recently released two short story collections:

  • DEADLINE: Seven stories featuring his character Detective Inspector George Haven
  • GOOD FOR ONE FARE:  a collection of crime, supernatural and horror tales

And also a children’s book called Neverville

You can also find him on twitter @keithbwalters 

10 things I learned at Harrogate

People who follow me on Twitter will no doubt have noticed the recent tweets about the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Festival, which was held this weekend at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (where Agatha Christie was discovered after famously going missing in 1926) . I attended it once before in 2009, but this time was very different for me as I approached it in a slightly different way, this time knowing a bit more about what to expect. I still can’t believe how many fabulous people I met – authors, readers, reviewers, agents, publishers – all of whom were amazingly nice people, and who firmly confirmed my belief that crime writers are just *the best* gang to be a part of. My hope is that one day I’ll be able to reply to the standard question ‘So, are you a writer?’ with ‘Yes, my first book has just been published, actually.’ One day…

In the meantime, here are 10 random things that I learned:

  1. You will never manage to talk to everyone and do everything and you will come back and read others’ accounts and wonder if you attended the same festival. This is normal.
  2. You will regret not talking to people that you wanted to as much as you are pleased to have met the ones you did. The people you follow and enjoy chatting to on twitter really are as much (if not more) fun in real life.  Don’t be scared of your idols. They will be more than happy to chat.
  3. Do the Saturday night quiz. It’s a great laugh and you will not be as bad as you think (it is hard though!)
  4. Don’t try to attend all the talks and panel sessions. You just won’t. Your brain can’t cope and it’s very hot in there. Plus you will mainly be outside in the garden chatting and drinking.
  5. However, you must also take time out from the drinking. Go to the Turkish Baths. Very good for a hangover. Or go to Betty’s Tea Rooms. Preferably do both.
  6. Back to the drinking though – book early and stay in the Old Swan if your mission is to stay very, very late at the bar. Also pop down to The Old Bell for a pint if you get sick of all the book talk 😉
  7. Listen to advice from those who’ve been where you are now. John Connolly said that a bigger and better idea will always come to you as you write, but never stop writing your current piece – if you don’t finish, and you keep doing this, you will *never* finish anything. Antonio Hill told me to write every day but have the weekends off – you need discipline but you also need a break. The consensus amongst most authors is: just write it. The first draft is meant to be shit. It’s the re-writing that will turn it into a novel. Don’t rush. There will be plenty of time for deadlines when you find a publisher.
  8. Make sure you attend the most talked about panel of the weekend (ok, you need the benefit of hindsight for this, but I am very glad to have been at the eBook talk, now affectionately known as ‘Tossergate’. You can read about it here and here). All I can describe it as is ‘cringe-worthy’.
  9. Go to the book signings. I was delighted when after the Luther panel, I bought Neil Cross’ ‘Holloway Falls’ (as I already had ‘The Calling’) and he told me that this is his favourite of his own books and that the main character was the pre-cursor to Luther. It was also a massive highlight to meet Michael Smiley and ask him what the hell the ending of Kill List was all about (he just laughed and said ‘everyone asks that’  and signed my book from ‘Benny & Gal’.  I am still none the wiser.)
  10. Take a massive suitcase. You will come back with more books and Harrogate souvenirs than ever thought possible.

And finally (Ok, this is #11 but it needs it’s own section…) – make sure you buy a raffle ticket at the box office… I bought a strip of 5, and to my extreme disbelief, I won a terrific prize… Imagine the surreal moment as I had my number called out, then had to make my way to the stage (from the back of the room) past hundreds of people at tightly squashed tables, all of whom were staring at me and clapping excitedly as my face glowed like a belisha beacon, while Val McDermid and Mark Billingham ‘gently’ harassed me from the stage to ‘hurry up’… and when I got there I found out that I will be featured as a character in a Peter James novel! Oh. My. God! I also won a huge box of books and a gorgeous hamper from Theakstons… and as a result of all this, one of my favourite crime authors, Peter James – the first person I followed on twitter – is now following me back and has tweeted me several times. I am still in shock.

So now it’s time to up my game and get my novel finished. This weekend really made me realise that all authors have been where I am, and the reason they are published now is that they never gave up. It also made me realise more than ever that I want to be part of their gang 🙂

Roll on Theakstons Crime 2013.