Friday 20 September
Every year, it seems, Bloody Scotland just gets better and better. This year’s was a hugely enjoyable and informative blast of crime fiction, starting with the awarding of the McIlvanney Prize for the Best Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.
Even the weather was glorious for the first two days of the festival, providing a balmy evening for the first event. Held in the fabulous, atmospheric Church of the Holy Rude, it was a delight to hear Claire Askew declared winner of the Debut Novel Prize for her book, All the Hidden Truths. Claire is a poet, novelist and the current Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh.
Claire’s prize was presented to her by Richard Osman, whose own debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club comes out next year.
Then it was on to the McIlvanney Prize. Followers of my blog will know that my Book of the Year is Doug Johnstone’s Breakers, which was one of the four shortlisted books alongside Manda Scott’s A Treachery of Spies, Ambrose Parry’s The Way of All Flesh and Denise Mina’s Conviction.
I was sorry not to see it win, but the shortlist was very strong and when a kilted David Baldacci announced that the winner of the 2019 McIlvanney Prize was Manda Scott for A Treachery of Spies, Manda Scott generously announced that she wished to share the £1,000 prize equally with all of the finalists .
It is only the second time in its 8-year history that the prize has been won by a woman. The panel of judges which included Guardian journalist Alison Flood; Chair of Publishing Scotland, James Crawford and former Head of Programmes at Channel 4, Stuart Cosgrove, described A Treachery of Spies as:
‘A powerful, complex and remarkable espionage thriller: a present-day murder links back to Resistance France. An intricately plotted novel which keeps the reader guessing right to the end.’
Both Claire and Manda, along with her co-winners, accompanied David Baldacci at the head of the torchlit procession from Stirling Castle to his event at the Albert Halls.
After the procession, it was straight into the Albert Halls to hear direct from David Baldacci, interviewed by James Crawford. Now, I had no idea what to expect from David Baldacci. I enjoy his books, and loved his last one, One Good Deed, with his new character, Aloysius Archer, but I can tell you that if you are heading to Capital Crime this weekend, you are in for a huge treat.
Before we heard from David Baldacci, we were treated to a reading from Crime in the Spotlight author, Judith O’Reilly, reading from her thriller, Killing State.
Then it straight was onto David Baldacci. You just knew he was fabulous when he was asked by James Crawford if he had enjoyed the torchlight procession and he replied “I just wish we had been heading to the White House”
He talked about his influences from Raymond Chandler, where the atmosphere is a character to his earliest crime reads which were Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. He started with Conan Doyle’s The Speckled Band and remembers thinking to himself; “Oh I hope there are more of these”. With the Christie books he started with Jane Marple and moved onto The Little Belgian. He says Doyle is the best craftsman and Christie is the queen of plotting.
David Baldacci often has trouble sleeping when he’s doing a promotional tour and that’s when he had the idea for One Good Deed. He thought it was a novella and that he would probably release it as an e-book. But he got immersed in it and within three months was writing really fast. He knew he said, that when at 60 pages he was onto Chapter 5, that this was going to be a full length book.
Baldacci is a pantster. Until he gets 10 pages into a book he doesn’t know what his characters are capable of. One Good Deed is set in 1949 so he used clothes, methods of transportation and references to the film starts of the day like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth to create the right atmosphere.
The town of Poca, where the book is set is, he says, a bit like purgatory; a place where you make a choice about whether you are good or bad. Baldacci wanted to raise issues of recidivism and also the #metoo movement into One Good Deed. America, he says, locks up more people than any other major country. More than China, and more than Russdia and that really shocks him.
He believes that because he has a voice, he should use it and he takes it on as a responsibility. He follows what is going on in the world. “We have Donald Trump, he says. How can I not speak up about things?”
Baldacci and his wife have created a literacy foundation, the Wish You Well Foundation . “Literacy matters”, he says passionately, “because it’s really the bastion, the foundation, for democracy. If you can’t read, you can’t think. Reading and thinking go hand in hand, and if you can’t think and come up with your own ideas and your own opinions on important issues, how can you be a working participant in democracy? You can’t. And all of a sudden, your opinions are not your own, your opinions are spoon-fed to you by others, and after a while we are all marching in lockstep, and it devolves very rapidly into something that none of us would want.”
“We have a divided Congress and that means that people are actively working to stop things happening. When it doesn’t work, people get fed up and that’s why someone powerful coming along and saying ‘I alone can save you’, gets you Trump. Democracy is important and informed voting matters.”
1n 1996, he tells, there were raucous debates and people on the streets in opposition to the idea of putting a statue of Virginia born tennis player Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue, amidst a sea of statues of white Confederate Generals. So he knows there’s a lot of work to be done and references a quote from Mark Twain: travel destroys bigotry.
On writing he admits that like a lot of writers there are times when he has to struggle through. Write, he says, what you would like to know about. Be passionate and interested in what you are writing about. He spent 10 years writing short stories for which there is no market, but it was a great way to hone his craft. There is he says, no place to hide in a short story. You can’t cruise.
It was a fascinating discussion and David Baldacci is an immensely likeable man. A great start to an already awesome Bloody Scotland. And for fans, Aloysius Archer will be back!
You’d think that would do it for one evening, but no – how could I possible miss the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone live podcast special? Obviously, I couldn’t! You’ll be able to hear this hilarious hour very soon, so you won’t need me to tell you about it. The participants over whom Luca Veste and Steve Cavanagh were presiding comprised, Caroline Kepnes, Chris Brookmyre, Mark Billingham, Helen Fitzgerald, Richard Osman and the lovely Abir Mukherjee (who announced that he had come dressed as Justin Trudeau !)
Just look out for the bad sex discussions when you are listening….