My Theakston Old Peculier Writing Festival, Harrogate 18-21 July 2019 @TheakstonsCrime

Can’t believe it’s been a year since the last one, but clearly it has. Now on my third year, this is starting to look like an annual fixture – and why not, it just keeps getting better and better. This year offered another stellar line up for crime aficionados and the weather was reasonably kind for the most part (Friday was wet) which allowed for plenty of socialising on the lawn or in the beer tent. As each year passes, the social side becomes much easier for me, as I’m now getting to stalk, know far more people, whether they be authors, bloggers or other readers. It’s always lovely to chat to total strangers who feel like friends by the end of the festival and this year was no exception so if you’re reading here’s a shout out to Teresa, Nigel and Val.

This year was a first for OH who came with me. As he reads far more books than I do now and is also a crime lover I thought it would be an opportunity for him to see first hand why I love it so much. I think to be honest, he may have been a bit shell shocked at first, but he was thrown in at the deep end with a fairly early start on Friday. As the pace settled a little he got into his stride, chatting with several of my previous ‘festival’ friends that I introduced him too as well as going to a signing event I couldn’t make and generally getting a feel for the way things worked. When we left on Sunday he felt he’d enjoyed it, but didn’t think he’d do it again. By Monday after a proper meal (meals can get a bit hit and miss at Harrogate)  and a decent nights sleep he’d changed his mind, so Harrogate 2020 is definitely on the cards.

But back to this year, I went with my friend Sheila, who is now on her second year, and Linda who was also attending for the first time. We arrived mid afternoon (OH was coming later after work) and first port of call was the B&B to ditch the luggage. I was staying in my now regular haunt and was joined on the journey by Heike. I met Heike in my first year, at breakfast, in the B&B – she comes over from Berlin for the festival. When we arrived at Leeds station and made for the Harrogate platform, this year (as last) Heike was the first person I saw!

Sadly no Noir in the Bar, to kick the festival off this year so it was a leisurely stroll from our respective B&Bs into town for something to eat. That done it was up to The Old Swan and Harrogate 2019 had officially begun. What follows is a flavour of my festival, I realised afterwards no pics of the OH, my friends or other bloggers but I have the pictures and the memories in my head and that’s what counts.

So here’s a taste of  my Harrogate this year.


Two Crime Writers and a Microphone Podcast Live! (9.30am – 11am)


Two Crime Writers and a Microphone otherwise known as Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste played the ‘Justice a Minute’ gameshow. This live podcast was enabled with the help of a panel of assembled guest authors who were either team Val (McDermid) or team Mark (Billingham). Val’s team comprised Mason Cross, Steph Marland and Paul Finch, while Mark’s included Marnie Riches, AN Other and Adrian Mckinty (sincere apologies to the author whose name I never caught). The panel were very competitive which was unfortunate for Craig Robertson, who had the unenviable task of adjudicating – and needless to say there was plenty of hesitation, repetition and deviation, plus a few expletives!! It was a great fun start to the day.

Discover The Wreckage by Robin Morgan-Bentley (1.00pm – 1.20pm)

Robin was signing proof copies of his book which is not due until Feb 2020.

One fatal crash. Two colliding worlds. Three wrecked lives.

Ben is driving on the motorway, on his usual commute to the school where he works.

A day like any other…

Except for one man who, in a final despairing act, jumps in front of Ben’s car, turning the teacher’s world upside down in a single horrifying instant…

Wracked with guilt and desperate to clear his conscience, he develops a friendship with Alice, the dead man’s wife, and her 7-year-old son Max.

But as he tries to escape the trauma of the wreckage, could he go too far in trying to make amends?

How would you cope, knowing you’d caused someone’s death? And are the dynamics of this friendship exactly what they seem?

Desert Island Crime(2.00pm – 2.55pm)


Crime writers Mari Hannah, Emma Kavanagh, Tim MacGabhann, Chris McGeorge and Oscar du Muriel discuss their desert island books – the ones they couldn’t live without if they were stranded in the ocean. Hosted by Isabel Ashdown, author of Little Sister.

At this point I should be reporting what their chosen books were, except I didn’t think to write them all down. From memory, Mari chose Black Echo by Michael Connolly, Emma opted for The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien and Oscar opted for a science fiction compilation which I think was The Complete Robot by Isaac Asimov sadly I can’t remember the others.

Crime Girl Gang Podcast Live!(3.30pm – 4.45pm)


Crime Girl Gang investigates – Niki Mackay, Elle Croft and Victoria Selman discuss the famous Old Swan Agatha Christie disappearance on their live podcast with some special guests.

Was Agatha’s disappearance a publicity stunt, a case of amnesia or a way of getting back at her philandering husband (she did sign into The Swan using the name of his mistress)? As Agatha refused to talk about and never divulged the truth I suppose we’ll never know, but it was fun to speculate.

Orion Crime Proof Party (5.00pm – 6.00pm)

A rather manic affair with the edict 2 books only and  wait for the opening speech.

I never heard a speech and it became a bit of a free for all that was all over by 5:15pm

The Dead Good Reader Awards 2019

This was a very brief foray into the tent as this started at 6pm and I had a ticket to the special Ian Rankin event at 6:30pm. So time to pick up my goody bag, whizz round the stalls but sadly miss the results. But thankfully I could catch up online.

The Nosy Parker Award for Best Amateur Detective

Winner: The Suspect by Fiona Barton


A Clean Canvas by Elizabeth Mundy

The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson

Red Snow by Will Dean

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C J Tudor

The Jury’s Out Award for Most Gripping Courtroom Drama

best courtroom dramasWinner: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh


Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Marked For Death by Tony Kent

No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

The Dish Served Cold Award for Best Revenge Thriller

toxic relationships in fictionWinner: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

Do No Harm by L V Hay

Final Betrayal by Patricia Gibney

Marked For Death by Tony Kent

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

The Puppet Show by M W Craven

Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

The Cancel All Plans Award for the Book You Can’t Put Down

best books out in NovemberWinner: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent


The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson

Her Name Was Rose by Claire Allan

The Night Olivia Fell by Christina Mcdonald

The Passengers by John Marrs

Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

Sleep by C L Taylor

The Cat and Mouse Award for Most Elusive Villain

Winner: Last of the Magpies by Mark Edwards


Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown

Do No Harm by L V Hay

The Infirmary by L J Ross

Last of the Magpies by Mark Edwards

The Rumour by Lesley Kara

Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

The Dead Good Recommends Award for Most Recommended Book

Winner: The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths


The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Now You See Her by Heidi Perks

The Passengers by John Marrs

Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

Sleep by C L Taylor

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

One Night with Ian Rankin (6.30pm – 7.15pm)

Ian Rankin in conversation with Adrian McKinty a special intimate event to close Orion Crime’s Incident Room.

Black Out (8pm-8.30pm)

An event organised by Blackthorn Publishers. A night cap with the King of the Village mystery, Simon Brett. An evening (well half an hour) of cozy crime by candlenight.


Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers’ Gig (10pm-11:15pm)

Fresh from their appearance at Glastonbury the FLCW were raring to go with their set of killer tunes. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing them before (they are exceedingly good) they are Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone and the indomitable Val McDermid on vocals. On this occasion they were joined by a couple of special guests.

And breath!! Friday was incredibly busy and I was shattered by the time I got back to the B&on. This year, the Orion Incident Room events were all on one day rather than spread across the festival and that played a big part in making today so hectic.


A relaxed start to the day which began with catching up in the beer tent and the bar.

This was followed by a visit to The Mercer Art Gallery for an exhibition of  William Powell Frith, The People’s Painter


A rare exhibition of the works of William Powell Frith (1819-1909), whose great panoramas of Victorian life made him the most popular painter of his time.

Marking the  bicentenary of Frith’s birth at Aldfield near Harrogate, the exhibition draws together some 70 paintings and prints from major national collections, including Tate Britain, the Royal Academy, the Royal Collection, the V&A and the Mercer Art Gallery’s own extensive archive. There are also several – previously unseen – works of art loaned from private collections and descendants of the artist.

That tasty, and unexpected little treat was followed by another one, afternoon tea at The Harrogate Tea Rooms for Sheila’s birthday on the Sunday. The Tea Rooms have their own criminal claim to fame as it is a favourite haunt of Malcom Hollingdrake’s DCI Bennett.

A saunter back to The Old Swan was intended to see us visit the HQ Proof Party open between 3pm – 5pm. As I understand it, it was chaos and the tent was emptied in 9 minutes!! It has been likened by several people who actually managed to be there to watching a plaque of locusts. This is no surprise after the events of the previous day at the Orion Proof party, although at least the Orion event had been ticketed.

Going forward I think publishers seriously need to think about how they market and ticket these events. The 2 events promoted by Blackthorn promised goody bags and prizes these also inevitably attracted large numbers. These latter two were not ticketed, yet were intended to accommodate only 30 people!! Despite this the events were heavily being pushed by flyers throughout the day. Small spaces and heavy marketing are not a good mix if you want to avoid disappointed punters. Similarly the Orion and HQ Proof events. The latter really needed to be ticketed and not a free for all (which can happen at a ticketed event too). My suggestion would be either ticket all events (this can still be done on the day and at least you can control numbers). Once people arrive with tickets, you issue say 2 tokens. The book stalls can promote the books by means of having the authors at hand and posters/info but don’t pile the books on the table. Let people decide which books they want, then exchange their tokens for books that are behind the table. Sad that such measures are needed but there clearly needs to be some measure of control to make it safe and fairer for all.

Having a bit of extra time to kill, it was inevitably back to the beer tent for more chatting and socialising before the main event of the night.

Harlan Coben & Ian Rankin 8.30pm


Master of the suburban thriller, Harlan Coben makes readers fall in love with Myron Bolitar, a hapless former basketball star who solves mysteries. His twisty standalones cemented his status in bestsellerdom. With over 70 million books in print worldwide, Harlan is the perennial #1 New York Times author of 30 novels. He’s also shaping the streaming schedules with Netflix’s Safe. His next Netflix collaboration will star Hobbit actor Richard Armitage in The Stranger. Coben’s latest standalone, Run Away, is acclaimed as a ‘bombshell-laden thriller’.

Ian Rankin created the iconic John Rebus, one of the genre’s most enduring detectives, just over 30 years ago. With two series on TV (starring John Hannah and Ken Stott), his latest Rebus novel (the 22nd), In a House of Lies, entered the bestseller charts at #1. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and received an OBE for services to literature.

A great ‘in conversation’ followed by the inevitable queue to get books signed. No sign of the ticket holders first and non event individuals being made to wait. Not sure if this was the case at other signings, but I’d have thought this was a fairly popular event that would have merited such constraints if they were being undertaken.


Ahhh the last day of another brilliant festival and just one event for me.

Val McDermid & Nicola Sturgeon in conversation. 10:30am


Val McDermid has been publishing acclaimed crime fiction for over 30 years. An international bestseller, her books have been translated into 40 different languages and sold over 16 million copies worldwide. She’s won many accolades, including the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction. She’s written four award-winning series, including the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan novels, adapted for TV as Wire In the Blood. Other work includes non-fiction, short stories, a children’s picture book, writing dramas for radio and the stage, and captaining a winning University Challenge team. My Scotland is an account of the places in her homeland she has chosen to write about in her books, and what they mean to her.

Nicola Sturgeon joined the SNP at 16. Five years later she became Scotland’s youngest parliamentary candidate and in 2014 was elected SNP Leader. She is the first female First Minister of Scotland. A dynamic campaigner, this year she was appointed as the first global advocate for the UN’s #HeForShe campaign, advancing gender equality. An enthusiastic reader, Nicola views books as one of life’s great pleasures. She regularly shares her recommendations on social media on a Saturday night and is an avid supporter of libraries. She’s also become a regular interviewer of writers at book festivals. She has contributed the foreword to My Scotland.

So there you have it, what I did in Harrogate. Oooh nearly forgot to reveal my Harrogate Book Haul – described more fully in my monthly book haul post.

What, there’s something else I’ve forgotten? Of course there is, my annual Harrogate Hall of Fame, my happy memories of friends, authors and a First Minister (before the restraining orders flood in). So that rounds it up for another year. A great festival, great memories, as many untaken photo’s as taken and I’ve already booked for next year!!

As an addenda – for Five on Friday enthusiasts I did my bit and persuaded quite a few authors to take part. I was delighted to successfully recruit some of my favourites, some established (but new to me) authors and some (new to everybody) debut authors. So some exciting criminal Fridays to look forward too!


    • Thanks Kelly. I’d love to do Bloody Scotland, not least because we both went to University in Stirling. The problem is we can only take holidays at certain times of the year because of work and BS falls at the wrong time, but one day …


  1. Great to read your experiences Jill , some of which I shared . I can only echo your enthusiasm for this festival and whilst I am lucky enough to have attended for the first time with you, Sheila and Vince it’s the sort of festival that I would have felt comfortable attending on my own. Whilst I am an avid crime fiction fan I have come away with so many more authors and books to read that were new to me. I too have already booked for next year. Can’t wait.

    On Mon, Jul 29, 2019 at 7:08 AM Jill’s Book Cafe wrote:

    > Jill’s Book Cafe posted: “Can’t believe it’s been a year since the last > one, but clearly it has. Now on my third year, this is starting to look > like an annual fixture – and why not, it just keeps getting better and > better. This year offered another stellar line up for crime aficio” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really pleased that you enjoyed it, glad you’re now a convert. Harrogate 2020 here we come. We didn’t do that picture in front of The Old Swan though did we – definitely next year!


  2. Wow, sounds like you had an amazing time! I went to one of the first ones, years ago, and never been back, but would love to, someday. L x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great write-up, Jill. Good to see you (and Vince) there. I haven’t started the Mari Hannah book he bought yet, but I’ll let you know what I thought when I get to it.
    I was at the HQ free-for-all, and your comments reflect it accurately. Some good suggestions there.
    We’ll see you at Harrogate again next year, but hopefully before then as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Graham. I hadn’t realised you’d been to the HQ debacle. I suspect they’ll be doing things differently next year (if they do it all). Hoping to be at the Stoke meet up in October so will catch you both then.


      • I wasn’t planning to, but Louise was supposed to be doing some book signings there and told me to pop in and see her again. I don’t think it turned out how she was expecting either!
        If you make it to Stoke, we’ll be there!

        Liked by 1 person

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