My first Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

26 August 2015

By Pan Macmillan

Rebecca Whitney

Since the day I got my book deal, Harrogate had come up in conversation as a festival to mark on my calendar, and as a newcomer to the Pan Macmillan stable, it was essential I attend. On the journey there, I suspected that most of the train was taken up by people also going to the festival. Laptops filled the tables, and I sensed the thrill of those future books as authors used the precious travel-time to polish their words. Snippets of conversations overheard on the way to the buffet car centred around book deals and twitter feeds. As we pulled in to Harrogate station, the train emptied, and my hunch that this was the festival train was confirmed. 

Theakstons Festival central is the Swan Hotel, and there I met up with fellow Harrogate/Pan Macmillan first-timers, Fiona Cummings, Debbie Howells and Michelle Davies. It was great to swap our book pitches and hear each others journeys to getting published. There are so many different paths towards a book deal, and it struck me that each one of us shared an element of elated surprise that we had made it though the process, but also that none of us had ever been willing to give up until we’d got there. 

One of the things I really enjoyed about Harrogate was how the panels were organised. The talks were single billed, and the queues snaking though the corridors were testament to how well they were attended. Val McDermid’s ‘New Blood’ panel was fascinating; as was ‘They do things differently there’, a discussion on crime in historical fiction with, among others, fellow Mantle author, William Ryan. There were many more events I’d have loved to attend, but there was the ever important job of catching up with other authors, publicists, agents and editors in the bar, as well as at the Pan Mac dinner, where it really did feel I was part of a large writerly family.

Rebecca Whitney's debut psychological thriller, The Liar's Chair, is out now. Follow Rebecca on Twitter, @RebeccaJWhitney

Fiona Cummins

Once upon a time there was a teenager who loved reading crime fiction and fantasised about having her own book deal.
The teenager grew into a woman, got married and had her own family. Through life, death and all the bits inbetween, she still loved to read (and write) those stories shot through with the darkest of threads.

When her husband bought her a ticket to the Harrogate crime writing festival for her 40th birthday, she daydreamed about the authors she might meet, and hoped a little bit of their magic might rub off on her.

And, like all good crime novels, hers turned out to be a story of redemption.

Three months before this year's festival, she signed her own two-book deal with Pan Macmillan.

The woman, of course, was me; the deal, for my debut crime novel Rattle

Now, I would be going to Harrogate not only as a fan, but a soon-to-be published writer.

As a former Daily Mirror showbiz journalist, I'm used to meeting celebrities, but coming face to face with my crime writing heroes rendered me a gibbering, star-struck wreck.

Everywhere I looked I saw the faces of writers who had lined my bookshelves for years – and they were a fantastically friendly bunch.

The bestselling husband-and-wife duo that is Nicci French were warm and welcoming, enthusiastically asking questions about my own book.

Pan Mac's very own superstar Peter James (I've read every one of his novels) was generous with his time and advice – and wrote me a personalised message in a proof of his new ghost story that I shall keep for always.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend. I went to almost all the panels (my favourite was New Blood), met fellow debut authors, queued to have my books signed by Val McDermid and Lee Child, enjoyed a BBQ at a country house hotel hosted by my publisher and drank my fill of Theakston's Old Peculier.

The ending of my own story is, as yet, unwritten, but I hope I'll be coming to this brilliant festival for many years to come.
Fiona Cummins' debut crime thriller, 
Rattle, will be released in early 2017. Follow Fiona on Twitter, @FionaAnnCummins

Michelle Davies

My 20-year career as an entertainment journalist for women’s magazines has seen me grace red carpets at film premieres, schmooze with music stars like Robbie Williams at the Brits and even landed me a walk-on part in an episode of Friends. Yet none of those experiences were anywhere near as nerve-wracking as attending my first Theakstons Crime Writing festival.

It was my first time at any writing festival and I had no idea what to expect. There’s nothing quite like being the new girl again to bring you out in a cold sweat! Everywhere I turned there was someone I admired, big-name authors like Peter James, Val McDermid, Belinda Bauer and Mark Billingham who I’ve looked up to for years and whose talent and longevity I can only dream of emulating. I was, I’ll admit, completely star-struck.

I also felt like a bit of a fraud for even being there. Yes, I was an about-to-be published author but talking to other authors with books already on sale made my publication date of 24 March 2016 seem like a long way away and the new girl nerves kicked in again.

Then came the moment when it all clicked into place and I realised my presence was justified. Standing on the lawn outside the Old Swan Hotel, I watched a group of festival attendees sifting through the goody bags that were being handed out. One of the women pulled a novel from the depths of hers to show her friends – and it was a copy of Gone Astray. It was the first time I’d seen anyone outside of my publishers or my family with my book in their hands and, naturally, I was beyond excited. Watching her read the blurb on the back with obvious interest then show it to her friend who did the same is a Harrogate memory I’ll always treasure.

Michelle Davies' debut novel, Gone Astray, is out now. Follow Michelle on Twitter, @MichelleBuckers 

Debbie Howells

I’m not known for my sense of direction.  As my family will tell you, I’m shockingly bad at navigating.  It’s only a short walk from the Hotel du Vin, where I was staying, to the Old Swan, where I’d arranged to meet fellow Pan Maccers Rebecca Whitney, Michelle Davies and Fiona Cummins. Even so, I wasn’t taking chances.

As I looked around, a couple walked past me.  Did they happen to know where the Old Swan was, I asked?  Luckily they did.  It so happened they were walking that way themselves.  Would I like to walk with them?

As we made our way there, it became apparent that they were there for the same reason as I was - as probably most of Harrogate was that week.  He introduced himself as Peter.  It was at this point I started to get an awkward feeling that just maybe I should have known who he was.

He was Peter James, and his beautiful companion was his then fiancĂ©e (now wife) Lara. They actually live just a few miles from me in West Sussex.  Odd – or maybe not – that we meet in Harrogate!

That was just the start.  It was my first crime writing festival and the two days I was there flew past, attending panels, meeting other authors,  (would just like to say that crime writers are the friendliest bunch) and taking a quick detour to the shops to check out WH Smith, to see The Bones of You on the shelves for the first time – I’d travelled up to Harrogate on publication day!

The highlight? Probably the Pan Mac barbecue in the stunning setting of Rudding Park, which Juliet, my agent, also came to, a great evening where I met more authors.  I’d like to say a huge thank you to Pan Macmillan. Roll on next year…  

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells is out now. Follow Debbie on Twitter, @debbie__howells

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