It’s hard to put into words how I felt walking through the doors of the Old Swan on the morning of 'Creative Thursday' for my panel: The Road to Publication – Success Stories. I was nervous, yes. Not the gut-wrenching unease I’d experienced the first time I walked into a court cell to face a man sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. That was really scary, although in reality he was a perfectly reasonable and rather sad individual who seemed more nervous of me than I was of him. No, when I followed my fellow panellists into the room, I felt happy, like a bride arriving at a wedding reception. I was among friends. This was my opportunity to celebrate a long relationship with Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, a time to welcome the guests and lift a glass afterwards.
Appearing with me on the panel were Mark Edwards, Louise Voss and our respective editors, Wayne Brookes of Pan Macmillan and Kate Bradley of Harper Collins. The event explored different routes to publication. It was well received and over all too quickly. So many writers approached me afterwards, I was punchy by teatime. But it was clear from what they had to say that the discussion had inspired them to finish that all important work in progress, to share their writing with others, before deciding on their own route to publication.
A drinks reception on Thursday night gave me the chance to catch up with fellow Blake Friedmann authors - Peter James, Claire McGowan and David Mark. I also got to meet the cream of South African crime fiction, Margie Orford and Deon Meyer. Then it was back to the frenzy of the Old Swan for one of the highlights of the weekend, celebrating the wonderful work of Colin Dexter at the Festival Opening Party.
We were also celebrating festival itself, it's tenth anniversary to be precise, and boy did it live up the hype. The panels were lively, the audiences appreciative, the atmosphere, for the most part, like that of a big noisy party without music. Such was the buzz around the festival, the hashtag TopCrime2012 began trending on twitter before it even got started.
On Friday night, I was whisked off on a bus to Rudding Park for the annual Macmillan Dinner. I glanced at the mantelpiece on the way in where books were displayed last year, disappointed not to see them lined up. Then I noticed that they were actually on the table itself. One orange cover drew my eye. Can't think why . . .
I was surrounded by men as I took my seat: David Jackson, Ryan David Jahn on my left, Kerry Wilkinson on my right, and the man himself directly opposite, the inimitable and very entertaining Peter James.
Next morning, he was 'Special Guest' in conversation with Paul Blezard. Sharon Canavar, the festival's director, either has no soul scheduling them at 9am or she's a very astute women! I think I know which.
A day of panel discussions and book signings followed, before it was time to host a table at the Festival Dinner. An Anne Cleeves' murder mystery kept us thoroughly entertained. My dinner guests, a mix of readers and writers, were great company and more intuitive than I when deciding upon the culprit to a very gruesome murder. I did point out that I usually know whodunnit before I put pen to paper!
I'd just like to applaude Theakstons Old Peculier who sponsor the festival, Sharon, Erica and all the staff who made it happen; also the wonderful staff of Waterstones who ran the bookshop all weekend - Thank you everyone - my book sold out!
I know many who attended 'Creative Thursday' went home buoyed by the experience and keen to come back, because they told me so, including those brave enough to put themselves forward for Dragon's Pen. I've already booked my accommodation for 2013 and hope to see even more of you there next year. But do spare a thought for the chap on the right, an unfortunate victim I came across outside the Old Swan.
I'm afraid he was, shall we say, beyond help by then. He looked a bit dodgy to me, so I stepped back and let the professionals take over. Didn't want to contaminate the scene now, did I? Between you an me, the pathologist said his liver was completely pickled! At Harrogate! Can you believe that?
If you were a witness to the crime, do the decent thing and call the law. If you know him, even better. The first person to tweet or email the answer will win a signed copy of The Murder Wall.