Monday, 27 July 2009

Harrogate: hellhole of murder and vengeance!

So there I was, standing in the Gents at the Crown Hotel Harrogate, when two blokes came in and took up their positions to my right. One of them said to the other, ‘When did you know you were going to murder me?’ To which the other said, ‘Just before it happened.’

The men in question were Mark Billingham, who had just been the victim of a murder staged for the benefit of diners at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and his supposed killer Martyn Waites. In actual fact, I probably had a better motive for murder than Martyn, since Billingham had two days earlier beaten me and 12 other writers) to the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award. Sadly, I was unable to be there to plaster an embittered, insincere smile on my face and applaud vigorously as he took the prize. In fact, I had to fight hard to prize the engraved glass tankard, handed out to all the nominees, from the grasp of Transworld editorial director Selina Walker, who had collected it on my behalf and was, I strongly suspected, thinking of keeping it as a handy ornament, pencil holder or, indeed beer-mug.

Harrogate is my favourite of all the festivals to which crimewriters traipse off, in the hopes of getting a bit of publicity, flogging and signing a book or two (or thousand, if you’re Lee Child and pull queues like the Harrods sales to your signings), or simply getting extraordinarily drunk.

I actually fail miserably on all three scores wherever I go. Quite apart from anything else, I’m not nearly a heavy enough drinker and I like to get to bed early, to give myself the maximum amount of time in which to lie awake, doped out of my mind on some form of prescription hypnotic, yet unable to get to sleep. At American festivals, like Thrillerfest or Bouchercon (the biggest of them all, even if it has the strangest name), matters are made even worse by catastrophic jetlag.

But anyway, Harrogate is at least in the same time-zone, it is hugely enlivened by the humour and relentless piss-taking so common among British writers but so absent from Americans (when on public panels, at least: they’re funny enough in private), and it has the big advantage that only one event or panel takes place at a time. So audiences number in the hundreds, not the tens, and everyone ends up being able to join in the post-event bar-chats because they’ve all been to the same things.

Also, Harrogate is now free of the legendary Norwegian sex-pest, an over-ardent fan who harassed women at previous events until grabbed by the throat, shoved up against a wall and told to desist by James Twining, one evening last year. Female scribes are still swooning about it, and Twining, to this day. Damn him!

Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to Bloodsport, the online short story I wrote about last week, in which Samuel Carver hunts down the Prime Minister and strikes down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger (as the saying goes). Well, it ran into a little hitch. Some people weren’t entirely happy with the concept. On the other hand, other people absolutely love it. So it will be published, one way or another … and soon.

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