How to get ahead in publishing
My friend, Scottish blogger Sharon Bairden from Chapter In My Life has blogged about the first session with Orenda Books publisher, Karen Sullivan and some other fab elements of Granite Noir here. Please do go and read. It was a packed house and a fascinating session that was much appreciated by everyone who attended.
Publish and Perish
Then it was on to a session with three writers who had all written crime fiction set in the literary world. But first we heard from local author Jo Gilbert.
Jo is a noir author and performance poet and she blew me away with her reading. I think because I could immediately identify with it, it felt like an intensely personal piece and I loved it. I would love to read more of her work and I’m pretty sure she’s someone to look out for.
In a panel moderated beautifully by Sarah Ward, Louise Hutcheson, Lucy Atkins and Sarah Stovell discussed their books The Paper Cell, about plagiarism and the consequences; The Night Visitor, about a high flying academic author with a secret, and Exquisite, about the devastating consequences of a fractured friendship between an older and a younger woman writer.
The authors discussed the themes of reputation – how important a good name is and what happens when you lose it. The publishing world is not an easy one and is unforgiving in reputational terms. What happens when you become famous and that fame is threatened – what would you do to stop that threat? The authors were writing about ambition in both professional and personal lives and the lengths to which people will go either to protect themselves or to achieve their goals. A fascinating discussion and books worth seeking out.
Page and Screen
Then I went on to hear Matt (M.J.) Arlidge and Stefan Ahnhem. I had the good fortune to meet Stefan earlier in the day and though I didn’t know his books, I was really impressed with the discussion of his work and so I have picked up the first in the Stockholm set Fabien Risk series. Matt is, of course, best known to readers for his Helen Grace series, starting with Eeny Meeny. He has worked on East Enders, Monarch of the Glen (he got to blow up Richard Briers) and more recently, Silent Witness.
Stefan is best known for his work on adaptations of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, has worked on adapting Karin Fossum’s work and a TV series of his own novels is in development.
Both discussed making the transition from screen to books and the differences in approach. Apart from many thousands more words, Stefan felt that on screen you take a much more fly on the wall approach whereas with prose the point of view is filtered through the characters.
Matt loves to write in short chapters so as to grab the reader’s attention and give them adrenalin filled moments. He likened Eeny Meeny to Big Brother taken to extremes. He loves the Steig Larsson Millennium trilogy because for the first time he was reading about a protagonist in Lisbeth Salander who is more interesting than the bad guy!
Stefan used to write comedy for TV but wanted to move into suspense, which is why he went to Denmark to work on a Karin Fossum adaptation. He starts writing without a plan or plot, preferring to first find and write his characters and knowing their music playlist is often the way he begins.
Familiar Faces, Fantastic Books
The final Saturday panel was Hugh Fraser and Robert Dawes in conversation with Craig Sisterson. First we heard from local author Frank Dodd who read his piece in the Doric and it was a great listen.
Hugh Fraser and Robert Dawes are both well-known actors with distinguished theatre, film and TV careers. Hugh Fraser is of course best known for his portrayal of Captain Hastings in the ITV Poirot series with David Suchet.
Quite what the long line of sweet old ladies lining up to get their books signed at the launch of his first book, Harm, made of Hugh’s protagonist, Rena Walker, a lesbian contract killer and his liberal use of profane language in the first few pages is anyone’s guess! Hugh’s other two books are titled Threat and Malice.
As a writer, Robert Daws co-created the long running BBC Radio detective series, Trueman and Riley. His two plays, Out To Lunch and Paris were produced at the New End Theatre Hampstead. He is also currently developing a comedy drama for television, entitled Out Of Hand. The Rock and The Poisoned Rock are books 1 & 2 in the gripping crime thriller series about the investigations of detectives Tamara Sullivan and Gus Broderick on the island of Gibraltar.
Both actors are also musicians and they had a fantastic discussion about how the skills utilised in acting – observation, inspiration, and creation are the same skills that need to be applied in writing. It was a real pleasure to hear them chat, and in particular to hear Hugh talk about his time in the 50’s and 60’s and how much he loved the hippie generation.
You might think that the final day of Granite Noir would be a winding down, but far from it! There were even more great writers chats to come. This is a festival that delivers in spades for a crime and thriller audience.
Petrifying Psychological Noir
The admirable Sarah Ward began the day with a discussion about psychological thrillers. Torquil Damhaug is a qualified psychiatrist and author of the acclaimed Oslo Crime series. Louise Voss has been writing psychological thrillers for many years, some in conjunction with Mark Edwards, though interestingly she said she had never read any thrillers until she started working with Mark.
Torquil was always interested in psychology in fiction, he cited Edgar Allan Poe as an interesting example. He finds irrationality fascinating and is particularly interested in formative experiences that shape people’s lives and the illusion of control in those lives. His novels are set in the Oslo universe, with no single main protagonist.
Louise enjoys subverting readers’ expectations and likes her books to have a clear ending of punishment and redemption without ambivalence. Her books are more domestic noir, about a more subtle evil, and she finds the idea of writing serial killers discomforting and disturbing. When she writes with Mark Edwards, he always writes those sections.
Torquil talked about living with his characters and in particular how living in the head of a character that lacks empathy is very hard. He is also interested in the banality of evil and how a system can create evil deeds without bad intent. The treatment of refugees is one he would cite as an example, the making of weapons of war another. Both authors books sound really interesting and I’m gearing up to read them all.
When Bygones aren’t Bygones
Then it was on to another fantastic panel. Johanna Gustawsson whose debut novel, Block 46 was such a huge success, and Clare Carson, author of The Dark Isle, set in Orkney have both written books about family history and family secrets. Block 46 brings writer Alexis Castells, and profiler Emily Roy together in a bid to uncover a killer. Both women are determined, driven by past demons, and nothing will stop them in the pursuit of the truth. Both books have strong elements of the past in them. In Clare’s case, she is writing about the impact of spying on families; on what happens to a family when a daughter has a father who is a secret agent and what her childhood was like growing up with secrets but not understanding at the time what she was involved in. Clare’s own father was an undercover policeman and she often had no idea what he was involved in.
Johanna was thinking about the origins of evil and what history can teach us about that when she wrote Block 46. Johanna’s grandfather had been a war hero who organised the liberation of Buchenwald and she spoke very movingly about how he would scream out in German every night. She wanted to know and understand more and her father gave her a manuscript of those years in Buchenwald which was more horrifying than any violence she could imagine. In particular she realised that she had no idea of the daily lives of people in a concentration camp.
Johanna found writing Block 46 cathartic; she was able to blend some of that knowledge into her fiction.
The common theme from both authors was that who we are is in part what our parents were and that is a fascinating area to explore. For me, this was an outstanding panel discussion.
The Write Investigator
My last panel of the festival (though not the last panel (!)) was Will Dean and James Oswald, two terrific writers and two very nice people. Poor Will was suffering from the aftermath of food poisoning, though you’d never have known it from his panel. His book, Dark Pines, recently launched to critical acclaim. His protagonist Tuva Moodison is a deaf reporter on a local paper in a very small town in the depths of a forest setting. This is somewhat of a problem for Tuva who is terrified of nature. Will wanted to write about the inherently creepy nature of small town secrets; of lies and grudgea and a place where everyone thinks they know everyone else’s business. Tuva came to Will as a fully formed character, complete with hearing aids, as he said “like a thunderbolt”.
He was though very concerned to do his character justice and to show that her hearing loss is a part of who she is and did his research to make sure he got it right.
James Oswald’s move into crime from fantasy fiction came at the suggestion of his long term friend, Stuart McBride. Stuart, who is a talented artist had been illustrating some of James fantasy graphic novels and had suggested to James that he should make the move into crime writing. Inspector McLean had started life as a support character in one of James’ comic stories where a ghost was wandering the streets. He sees ghosts and demons as a reflection of the evil in society and enjoys the challenge of writing about where logic meets the irrational and then working out how to deal with that. When James starts to write a Tony McLean book, he has to have that first vivid scene in his head and his story will develop from there. His focus is on characters and he likes to immerse himself in their world as soon as possible after he starts writing. He’s particularly interested in the telling detail; the one small thing that can tell you a lot about a character.
Interestingly, neither author has a picture in their head of what their main protagonist looks like. In Will’s case that’s because he doesn’t want to look too hard….
So many great panels, so little time.
There was another panel session following this with Stuart Turton, author of the fabulously inventive The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and the delightful Felicia Yap, whose book Yesterday also has a unique premise, but I was by that time preparing for the excellent and brutal questioning of Russell D McLean in the Criminal Mastermind Quiz. Fortunately I was able to catch up with both Felicia and Stuart later on.
Words and Music Scandi Style – an evening with Thomas Enger
Chaired by the Festival’s own Lesley Anne Rose, Thomas gave us an inspiring hour of truly beautiful music and chat, interspersed with a reading from his new book Killed. Thomas’ compositions are both haunting and emotive and it was an opportunity to sit back and bathe in the calm and composed atmosphere created by a truly multi- talented man.
NOIR AT THE BAR
I can’t finish this blog without telling you how fabulous Noir at the Bar was. Such a multiplicity of talent in the one room. Of particular note was Felicia Yap’s stunning ballroom dancing with her fiancé, Alex; Johanna Gustawson’s rendition of Incy Wincey Spider; Lilja Sigurdardottir’s Icelandic drinking song and Stuart Turton’s tour de force reading of some of his novel in a wide Geordie accent. It was hilarious!
It was a really brilliant way to end a terrific festival weekend. I can’t thank the organisers including Lee Randall, Lesley Ann Rose and all the friendly and helpful staff enough for all their hard work and help. You can be sure I will be back.
I’m sorry I didn’t have time to do more, but there were activities for children, exhibitions, a walking tour and all sorts of other delights from Poisoned Tea parties to Poisoned Cocktails – and of course the specially brewed Granite Noir ale. Plus Ann Cleeves, Chris Brookmyre and more.
And of course I came home with a haul of mainly signed books!
Put next year’s Granite Noir in your diaries now – it’s worth every moment.
GRANITE NOIR will be held from 24th February – 26th February 2019. If you want to take a more in depth look at any or all of the panels, please do check out Granite Noir TV here.