Crime fiction authors and bloggers are doing such an excellent job of letting people know what went on at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2011, so I've decided to come at it from a different angle altogether.
There are many words I could use to describe the festival but the one that springs to mind as I sit down to write this post is: INCLUSIVE. I know I'm not alone in thinking that. Many writer friends have said the same thing. But was it always so?
Before you all log off, I'm not about to knock the festival. On the contrary, the point I'm making is that it is what you make it. Either you engage with others or you stand on the sidelines and miss the opportunity. A few years ago, I did just that.
I attended my first festival on the advice of NJ Cooper after a chance meeting at the Hexham Book Festival. I arrived in Harrogate nervous, alone, and knowing very little about the industry I wanted to be part of. Big mistake when you're suddenly in a room full of book enthusiasts, authors, agents, publishers and bloggers.
That year, the festival was held at The Old Swan. For me it began on Creative Thursday, a day of seminars and workshops led by some of the big names in crime fiction. Those of us who'd signed up were asked to submit a paragraph of Opening Lines for a session chaired by Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. Not quite Dragons' Pen, but daunting enough back then . . .
I was so excited when my opening lines were singled out by Val for special mention, even more so when she read them out to wannabe writers from across the globe. But when the festival ended, I was painfully aware that I hadn't really made the most of the opportunities on offer. I'd been a spectator, rather than a participant. I could've left Harrogate disappointed and disillusioned but something amazing happened that year too . . .
I met an author who'd just been signed by a big agency and had a two book deal in the bag. I remember thinking that if I worked really hard I might achieve the same thing in a few years. By 2010, I had an agent and went to the festival hell bent on talking to anyone who'd shown an interest in my work. One editor I spoke to just happened to have my manuscript on his desk at the time. He is now my editor, I have my three book deal, and I'm about to embark on the next leg of my journey to publication.
Very soon, I'll be the one engaging with the reading public, facing a barrage of question about why I'm driven to write, what kind of stories interest me, how many hours a day I devote to the craft of writing, how I plan and structure my novels. And I damn well better know the answers.
Those of us unused to making public appearances fear them. It's only natural. Stella Duffy and I had a brief conversation about this last year. She turned to me and said: You'll be fine. It's all about them now, not you. More good advice from a perfect stranger. You see a pattern developing here?
Last weekend, our favourite authors wowed us with their stories, made us laugh, answered our questions. Not just the stars of the festival, like Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen, but many authors I'd never even heard of.
As a debut author, I was particularly interested in the New Blood panel. Listening to them speak, it struck me how entertaining, professional and, above all, enthusiastic they all were. They each had something new to say about the genre of crime fiction and it made we want to buy their books. It was hard to imagine any of them having had a bumpy ride getting there, although I bet they all did.
This year I actually shook hands with Dennis Lehane and Martina Cole - you don't get any bigger than that! - and on Friday I attended my first Macmillan dinner at Rudding Park. I was sitting at one end of a very long table, a glass of champagne in my hand, pinching myself because David Baldacci was sitting at the other. I had the most amazing time.
I'm no longer the person standing on the outside looking in. The Crime Writing Festival has played a huge role in getting me this far. So a big thank you to everyone involved in making it such a huge success. Who knows? Next year I may even be in a position to give something back.