The start of Bloody Scotland was such a blast, I was on a high as I began Day 2.
My love of new writing combines perfectly with the Bloody Scotland ethos, so it was obvious that I was always going to be at the Debut novel panel. I had seen each of these panelists before, in different places, but it was great to see them all together talking about their books.
Each author talked a bit about their books and then Gordon asked them why they had chosen crime fiction as the vehicle for their ideas? Claire Askew`said she thought it was the best genre to explore what it means to be a human being. Gareth Halliday’s starting point was that he wanted to write a mystery novel. His dad is a huge fan of mysteries and the paranormal, so he grew up surrounded by unexplained mysteries. Allan Martin reckons that what you write depends on what you read. . He’s a fan of Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios which combines the criminal and the political (a lot of that about at the moment in our real lives). Michael McKenzie loves to read and to watch detective thrillers. He opted for an amateur detective because they offer fewer constraints than a police procedural. He loves the idea of placing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
The panel discussed tone of voice, settings and research as well as sweating the small stuff. They talked honestly about the editing process and the importance of having an editor who really ‘gets’ your book.
I have at least two of these books on my TBR pile which I must get round to asap!
My second panel was entitled The Pen Name is Mightier than the Sword, a nice piece of word play. David Hosp, Stuart Neville and Jonathan Freedland appeared in the guise respectively of Jack Flynn, Haylen Beck and Sam Bourne, chaired by The Sunday Times Karen Robinson.
The panel began by discussing how and why they had chosen names other than their own to write under. Stuart Neville’s name is an amalgam of Van Halen and Jeff Beck, in line with his musical preferences. For Stuart, a new name offered a freedom from expectation. His previous books have been set in Belfast but as Haylen Beck his first two thrillers have been set in the United States where has has been able to take advantage of a very different wilderness setting that offers space and distance.
David Hosp has written a number of books under his own name but his new book, Blood in the Water, takes things in a new, non-legal direction and is a thriller set in Boston in the gritty world of mob bosses, con artists and gangs, where allegiances are formed with law enforcement and criminals just as easily as they are broken.
Joanathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist has written thrillers under his own name, but his agent thought that his was ‘a pointy headed name for a writer on a pointy headed newspaper’. He was on his way to a meeting with a new, interested publisher, desperately trying to think of a new name when he saw a bus advert for a new film. Combining that with his son’s first name gave him Sam Bourne.
The panel discussed which comes first, plot or characters. For Stuart, characters drive plot. Jonathan starts with a ‘What if’ question. David Hosp’s latest book was going to be a Scott Finn book until this other character appeared as a client and was way more interesting. So Cormack O’Connell was now the protagonist and the book became his and Hosp built a book around him.
The panel was really fascinating and a bit of time was spent looking at some of the prescient themes in the Sam Bourne novels. One question to Jonathan drove straight at the heart of a pressing question. Jonathan’s Sam Bourne book To Kill the President hasn’t been published in the States, because publishers are actually nervous about it in these times.Isn’t that censorship, asked an audience member and that I hope, has given Jonathan Freedland some serious pause for thought, as he hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before.
New Nordic Horizons was my next panel. I could listen to Kjell Ola Dahl and Thomas Enger all day and this time they were joined by Sif Sigmasdottir under the expert eye of Jacky Collins.
Sif is an Icelander who set up a publishing company to redress a gender imbalance in which 2/3 of books published in Iceland were written by men, so she formed her company to publish translated fiction by women. She subsequently sold that company and is now living in London and working as a journalist and writer.
Kjell’s latest book, The Courier is a historical crime fiction novel about the Norwegian resistance in WW2. His previous novels have been police procedurals set around a group of detectives, with different ones taking the lead in different novels.
Thomas Enger had so many ideas for new books while he was writing his Henning Juul series that he was a bit relieved when he did finish his 5 book series. He found it great to be able to build up new characters from the beginning again. Thomas’ new book Inborn was conceived as a two version book, one for young ydults and one for adults. Published as a Y/A book in Norway, his publisher at Orenda Books felt that the two strands could be merged and that’s how it has been published here.
Sif’s book The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake is set in the Y/A world with young voices because, she says, it is an exciting world. Her book has been inspired by real events – especially the work of Carole Cadwallader on Cambridge Analytica and Rose McGown on the #MeToo movement and she wanted to write about social media and the contrast between good and bad therein.
Kjell discussed the fact that modern Norwegian politics were formed by the impact of WW2 and the Norwegian holocaust. He is a history nerd and his book is firmly based on real historical incidents with his fictional characters also inspired by real people.
Thomas Enger set Inborn in a small place because he wanted to show the impact of an investigation in a small town where everyone thinks they know who is guilty. Thomas grew up in just such a small village where stories passed from person to person altering and growing in the process.
Thomas also discussed his collaboration with Jorn Lier Horst who had reached out to him with an idea for collaborating on a TV series, but that process of getting a TV series of the ground is so slow, they decided just to write a book themselves. The plan had been for Jorn to write the policeman and Thomas the crimes, but in the end it simply didnt work like that.
Talking about writing for a Y/A audience, one of the differences, Sif says is that though she doesn’t censor herself when she is writing, her editor does afterwards. She says one of the joys is that you can write everything or anything. One of her dreams is of a utopian world where books don’t have labels or rules.
One of my highlights is Craig Robertson’s Quiz and this year he excelled himself. Richard Osman, Mark Billingham, Susi Holliday and Cally Taylor joined Steve Cavanagh, Luca Veste, Denise Mina and Chris Brookmyre to battle it out in a two team format, with Lin Anderson keeping score.
It was great fun and Craig’s face app questions were hilarious!
Then it was on to the Big Event. I was lucky enough to get ticket to Ian Rankin being interviewed by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I’ve been fortunate in seeing Nicola interview Abir Mukherjee and Val McDermid, so was determined not to miss out on this one, not least because the two are known to spar on Twitter rather often, so we were all wondering whether this would be a night of sparks and flashes.
But first we had the opportunity to hear from the fabulous Noelle Holten, whose book, Dead Inside, Ian Rankin later described as ‘staggeringly good’. Noelle was participating in Crime in the Spotlight and later got the chance to sign her books alongside Ian Rankin. How cool is that?
Nicola began by asking Ian Rankin if his 22nd Rebus novel, published this year, was intended as a series? Ian replied that he didn’t even think of himself as a crime writer when he started. He was trying to write the great Scottish novel which would come, he thought, somewhere between the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Jekyll and Hide. He didn’t read crime fiction and this idea had just popped into his head. In fact, when his first book was published, he went looking for it in the Literature section of Thins and weas disappointed not to find it there, but in the crime section. He remembers going to his Director of Studies, who at the time was Allan Massie, and saying to him that he had written a crime novel ‘by mistake’.
He revealed that he almost bumped Rebus off in the first draft and confirmed that he was very glad he hadn’t followed through on that! Ian went on to say that he wanted to write about Edinburgh as well as politics and social issues, so crime was the perfect vehicle for that.
The pair discussed Ian’s rise to success and how it didn’t really happen until book 8, Black and Blue, which, I an says, felt like a big book. But even then his publisher didn’t think so until it won the CWA Gold Dagger. He’s sorry he made Rebus 40 when he started writing him, though his age has now opened up different opportunities.
How much of Ian is in Rebus, the FM asked? we have the same background, I an responded but the difference is that Rebus left school at 15. Rebus is more negative and cynical than his author, too.
Nicola suggested that around 10 years ago there was a point when she thought Rebus might be eased out and Siobhan Clarke come in and take over. Ian said that he had not yet ever found Siobhan’s story, so he brought in Malcolm Fox. Now the challenge is for Rebus to inveigle his way into an investigation.
Will there ever be the right story for Siobhan, Nicola queried? Why not, Ian replied. Siobhan was happy when Rebus retired because she felt she was in his shadow. So asked the FM, is not being able to find her story anything to do with being a male crime writer trying to write a strong woman? Ian respoinded by saying that when he started writing he did not feel confident writing strong female characters. He has grown in confidence as he has learned how many policewomen like her. He wondered out loud whether he should have made her less of a loner, which prompted a plea from the FM not to let her have a relationship with Malcolm Fox – and I am was quick to reassure her that was not on the cards. He doesn’t really like writing about relationships, he says.
When I an starts a book he has no idea who is going to end up alive or dead. He just starts and goes where the story tells him to go.
The pair chatted through music and creativity, research, Edinburgh as a character, publishing in Scotland in rude health and the stage play Ian is writing about Rebus, as well as his next book which is a fresh edit and reissue of a book, Westwinds that he wrote over 20 years ago. There’s a new Rebus coming too, with delivery due next June.
This was a graceful, good humoured panel with Ian Rankin paying tribute to the importance of the FM being a reader and saying how good it was to have her actively promoting reading and books. There was one moment of gentle sparring over the role and composition of Police Scotland when the FM had to gently remind Ian who was the interviewer and who the interviewee, but it was clear from he outset that both had agreed to make this a discussion for the audience and that shone through.
A fabulous, well informed and truly interesting discussion.
My final day at Bloody Scotland (sob) started with the always exciting Pitch Perfect panel. This is the panel where new unpublished authors get to pitch their story ideas to a panel of industry professionals. Many of them have gone on to secure book deals, including C.O.Vollmer. Alison Belsham, Joseph Knox and Matt Wesolowski, so its a huge deal to be picked and an even bigger deal to win.
This years panel comprised Orion editor Emad Akhtar, Blackthorn Books’ Holly Domney, Mark Stanton (Stan) literary agent and Karen Robinson, Times Crime Club editor, with Agent Jenny Brown in the Chair.
There were a number of excellent pitches, but the panel decided that the winner was be Suzy Aspley, and I have to say I am in total agreement. Her pitch for One for Sorrow, was chilling and perfect and this is going to be a book I have to read!
My next panel was A Mirror to Society, with Paul Burston, William Shaw and Sarah Hilary, chaired by Laura Jones and looking at the way each reader chooses to weave current social issues into their books. They discussed the necessity of light touch approach, of not lecturing the reader or hectoring, but rather reflecting what’s going on and using their fiction as a way of highlighting some of the ways that society is getting it wrong.
I love each of their books so this one was just a warm burst of delight from three great authors with real issues at the heart of their writing.
Then I sneaked away for a bite of lunch and a breather with a few of the always very special #TeamOrenda family, before returning for my last panel of the day.
This panel was entitled All in the Dysfunctional Family and the key word here is dysfunctional. Iain Maitland, Doug Johnstone and Michael Malone should have been discussing their books under the watchful eye of moderator Douglas Skelton, but Douglas never stood a chance. Iain Maitland took the panel and turned it into a surreal discussion about, among other things, the size of his head. (you had to be there and yes, it is huge).
This was, however the perfect panel on which to end a festival that has been full of fun, friendship and laughter as well as masses of criminally good behaviour.
As ever, for every panel I went to, there were at least two others I could have been at, so do please read other blogs to get a flavour of that. I met old friends and made some new ones (I’m looking at you, Claire) and had a complete blast.
Thank you, Bloody Scotland, bring on next year! xx
Note: This is part 2 of my Bloody Scotland report. Part one may be found here.