Ah, Aberdeen, it has been far too long! I love the Granite Noir Festival because it is intelligently programmed and offers a huge amount for both adults and children over the course of 4 days.
I’m going to give you a flavour of the Festival and of the sessions I attended, but make no mistake, this is a fantastic festival covering many aspects of crime and publishing.
The festival proper stared on Thursday, but I arrived on the Wednesday to have a chance to have dinner with the lovely Karen Sullivan and author Antti Tuomainen. If you’re ever looking to have a special dinner, I can highly recommend The Silver Darling.
WE ALL GO INTO THE DARK
On the Thursday, my first session was with author and journalist Francisco Garcia, ably chaired by author and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove. Francisco’s book, We All Go Into the Dark, is an examination of the mythology that has surrounded the infamous Bible John case and interrogates our obsession with ‘solving’ historic crimes.
By reading all the books associated with the Bible John case, examining the archives of newspapers at the time and speaking to many of those involved in the case, Garcia pursues the virulent modern myth of a serial killer who was never captured. He has focussed on why this story has captured the imagination and become so mythologised in the way that it did.
Garcia talked about how much of this story has become fictionalised through speculation and the use of novelistic imagination to tell the story of Bible John and how we came to view a serial killer, if indeed he was such, as an anti-hero. How the killing of three women, Patricia Docker, Jemima MacDonald and Helen Puttock spawned a legend that has never quite lost its grip on the popular imagination of Glasgow, or Scotland as a whole.
The killings provoked the country’s largest ever manhunt, and countless words, suspects, books, documentaries, earnest speculation, pub theorising and bouts of urban myth-making. Everyone in Scotland, it seems, had a Bible John story. But how much was fact and how much fiction and guesswork?
The book sets these murders in the context of the changing nature of Glasgow. A city in flux, on the cusp of change. New housing estates were springing up, high rise flats and a new, modern serial killer. This was the time of Charles Manson and the emergence of a new breed, the serial killer.
Garcia talks about a fatally flawed police investigation, about the over-reliance of one – the only- eye witness and how the detective leading the case became consumed by it.
The murders, too, took place as scientific policing was coming into its own, at the cusp of science and DNA testing. But when Police re-opened the case in the early 1990’s to see how forensic science might add something new to the information, they found that evidence storage was poor and any DNA evidence was too badly degraded to help provide answers.
So did the serial killer Bible John really exist? Garcia himself is not sure that he did, but as he says, myth is always going to be stranger than reality.
Coorie in with Scandinavian Crime Friends
This session with Lina Bengtsdotter and Antti Tuomainen was chaired by Dr Noir herself, the inimitable Jacky Collins.
First though we heard a cracking reading from local author in the spotlight, Gillian Duff, reading from her manuscript, Act of Betrayal, giving us a rip roaring, fast-paced reading to start off the proceedings.
Lina is the author of the DI Charlie Lager series and her book, For The Lost deals with a missing nine month old child called Beatrice. Lina sets her books in the somewhat claustrophobic town of Gullspång in central Sweden, where Lina Bengtsdotter was brought up. Lina teaches psychology and uses that knowledge to inform her books. The issue of missing children is close to her own experience as she remembers too clearly when a girl went missing and was never found.
Psychology is the strength of Lina Bengtsdotter’s writing. She is all about the psychology and depth of her characters, wanting the reader to understand what motivates them and why they are driven to act as they do.
Her character, Charlie is something of a stereotypical Scandinavian detective. Hard drinking, indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners this is a detective with hallmarks you recognise well. But Charlie is a woman and a damn fine detective; one who has suffered her fair share of sexism in and out of the force and who has secrets of her own that she has left behind in Gullspang. Lina’s character, Charlie Lager is messy, but then, says Lina, so is she!
Antti Tuomainen is Finnish and his most recent writing has turned from the very dark to crimes which weave darkness and humour together to create a unique blend of impactful and compelling Crime Fiction.
Antti doesn’t really think of himself as being in in the usual tradition of Scandinavia Noir. His own influences come from American Noir and from writers such as Ian Rankin in the UK. His most recent trilogy of which we have currently got two books – The Rabbit Factor – soon to be a major movie starring Steve Carrell – and The Moose Factor sprang from an idea he had while. Watching the news and thinking what a crazy place the world is. What if, he thought, there was still someone left who thought logic and reason mattered, what if they were the centre of that persons world. And so Henry Kosinken, insurance mathematician came into being. It is the collusion of Henry’s view of the world with his inheritance of an adventure park that creates a brilliantly dark and comedic scenario where Henry finds out what chaos really means. How he handles it is what creates the tension.
Both authors talked about their writing habits. Lina can on,y write for about two hours a day and then she’s done. Antti writes for much longer, but says it can take him a day to write a page and a year to write a book. He loves to create worlds – a universe in its own bubble which is what the adventure park setting offers.
He knew he said, that The Rabbit Factor wasn’t going to be a stand-alone when he was 15 to 20 pages from the end and knew that his character’s story wasn’t yet finished.
THE FUN LOVIN’ CRIME WRITERS
Oh my goodness I have missed this crew so much. This was an unmissable session and each of these fantastic musicians was on terrific form. With some new material, to add to the mix, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone and Luca Veste stormed it. THE audience were up on their feet dancing from the early stages.
The repertoire was a fantastic mix with some tremendous added theatricals. Their rendition of ABBA’s SOS with Val doing a full blown Agnetha Fältskog complete with flowing blonde tresses, the night was certainly one to remember. If you can get along to see them, you really should.