What I Did Before My Holidays

From 19 – 22 July, I was at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, appearing on the New Blood Panel. It was a great honour to be chosen (by Val McDermid, no less!) to speak alongside SJ Watson (whose book Before I go to Sleep is deservedly taking the world by storm), Gordon Ferris (of the gritty Truth Dare Kill) and Melanie McGrath, (of the marvellous White Heat).

(Ahhhh. A gorge on brackets, normally as forbidden as carbs on the Dukan Diet)

WHAT A WEEKEND! For anyone who has not had the pleasure, I urge you to go next year. It’s small, perfectly formed, with a stunning programme of panels of interest to anyone who reads and/or writes any sort of fiction. One of the unique things about Harrogate is that you end up in the bar, sharing G&Ts with people like Howard Marks, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Jenni Murray, Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah until the very small wee hours or beyond. As well as all the stars, you have the chance to meet up with readers, bloggers, publishers, agents and fledgling authors like myself, all of whom are bound together by their passion for books and reading.

My publishers Headline did me proud, putting me up in a lovely hotel and taking me out for two slap up meals with incredibly interesting folks. Including the utterly charming Duncan Campbell, who I had the pleasure of sitting next to on the Friday night supper.

Now, I’ve always said I hate public speaking.

So I lay abed (alone, I hasten to add!) on Saturday morning trying to coffee away my hangover, wanting to do anything other than my midday panel. I was SO NERVOUS. I thought perhaps if I just drifted off to sleep, then no one would notice that I hadn’t turned up and I would just quietly slip away in the afternoon..

But NO! the old pro in me girded her loins, stepped into her new shoes and frock (any excuse) and tottered up to the Old Swan Hotel to be met by my minder/publicist, Sam Eades, who escorted me to the green room, where I was introduced to Val and my co-panellists. Val instantly put us all at ease. She is incredibly warm, down to earth and very, very funny. We were fixed up with Madonna style little mics that sat across our cheeks (a bit tricky in specs, but there you go), and walked the long walk down the gangways through the audience, which was packed with over 500 people. My knees were, I am sure, audible.

But the minute we were up there, I got this incredible feeling of warmth from the audience – and it wasn’t just down to there being no air conditioning on a hot July morning. And the minute I got going, I felt completely at home. My nightmare of forgetting what I am saying in the middle of saying it didn’t happen. The voice in my head shouting (with disbelief) ‘YOU ARE A NEWLY PUBLISHED AUTHOR ON A STAGE IN FRONT OF 500 PEOPLE BEING INTERVIEWED BY VAL MCDERMID’ failed to stop me listening to what I, or anyone else, was saying. It all went pretty well, I think. I actually had a lot of fun up there.

A nice little touch from the great tech people at the festival was the playout music: I’d just gone on a bit about how Nick Cave‘s gorgeous album The Boatman’s Call had inspired Cuckoo, and there was the Brighton/Antipodean songster’s finest on the speakers as we walked out.

Our signing session went very well afterwards – over an hour, and, with a slight advantage to SJ (though not as much as I had gloomily feared – ie SJ 3000:me 0) we all put our names on about an equal amount of books. That’s the great Harrogate audience for you.

Next year’s festival is 19-22 July 2012, again at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate – the place where Agatha Christie turned up after her mysterious disappearance in December 1926. Book your accommodation now!

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