I had a lovely day out yesterday at the Festival of Words in Beverley, East Yorkshire. My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, and I had bought tickets for ‘Murder Day’ which involved 5 x different sessions, all with authors of crime.
Session 1 was with author Martin Edwards, interviewed by local author, Nick Quantrill. He spoke about the golden age of crime, which is the era between the two world wars during which Agatha Christie wrote. It was a really fascinating insight into the popularity of this genre and the influence it has had on writers since.
During the break, we grabbed a drink and I treated myself to something I’ve never tried before: a chocolate scone. I posted on Instagram that it was surprisingly nice and my younger brother made me laugh by asking why it was surprising: chocolate good, scone good!
A discussion panel was the set-up for Session 2 with Nick hosting. Jess Kidd, Chris Simms and debut-novelist Amanda Mason talked about their gothic thrillers and each read an excerpt from their books. It was interesting hearing the very different writing voices.
Prolific writer, Kate Ellis, spoke alone for Session 3, taking the audience through the inspiration behind her 23-strong DI Wesley Peterson series and her other novels.
We had a break after that and went to the cafe library for a spot of lunch, joining another author friend, Sylvia Broady.
After lunch, Session 4 was the one I’d been really looking forward to: The Art of Forensics. Author Margaret Murphy hosted a discussion with Anne Cleeves and Helen Pepper. Ann Cleeves writes the books which were made into the TV series Vera and Shetland. I confess I haven’t read any of her books but I absolutely love Vera; brilliant series. She’s started a new series based in Devon which has been optioned for TV so I treated myself to a signed copy of the first in the series. Helen is a former CSI from Co Durham and now trains police recruits in forensics. She advises both Anne and Margaret on the forensic elements of their books and is the advisor on the TV series Vera.
It was a brilliant discussion. When I’ve written my books, I’ve reached out to experts via social media or explored websites/blogs to check out information relevant to my storylines but I’ve never thought about an author working with an expert on more of a consultative basis like this, yet it absolutely makes sense, particularly for something so important and specialist like forensics. The discussion was also very funny. Ann was very down to earth, admitting that she avoids doing anything that seems like hard work – for example writing the scripts for the TV series of Vera – because she really just enjoys sitting in her jogging pants and “making up stories”. Helen was exceptionally funny too and I bet she’s fascinating and fun to work with.
We had another hour’s gap before the final session so nipped into town. There’s a Paperchase in Beverley so I treated myself to a bear desk pad and post-it notes from a lovely new range there.
Poor Sharon had been battling with illness all day and was wiped out so she headed home and I attended Session 5 on my own. There was a change of venue from the Memorial Hall to The Art Gallery and the final speaker was Cath Staincliffe, interviewed by Nick again. Cath had written several books before she hit her big break with the TV series Blue Murder starring Caroline Quentin. I loved that series. Whereas Ann Cleeves wrote the Vera books ahead of the TV series, Cath had created a character ready to write a book and it became a script first. It was therefore really interesting to hear how she then retrospectively wrote the books. She was then asked to write the prequel novels to the popular series Scott & Bailey so she talked about those too, as well as writing for radio.
I’ve been to a few talks over the years as part of Scarborough Literature Festival which later became Books by the Beach but I’ve never been to another venue or attended a full day of events. I thoroughly enjoyed my Murder Day and hearing from so many crime writers. It’s not my genre but it’s always fascinating to hear from other authors, whatever they might write.
As I was listening to the authors speaking I found myself wondering if, one day, I might be the one up there. It’s my absolute dream to be a guest author on Scarborough’s Books by the Beach festival but I’m under no illusion around my ability to draw a crowd so it would be many years yet – if at all – before that might happen. Still, it’s good to have dreams.
The other thing I thought about was how much I’d have loved to throw question after question at the authors about their writing day, their publication journey, and a whole host of other questions that are of interest to me as a writer but probably wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the readers in the audience. There weren’t many questions asked of Cath at the end session so I did sneak one in about whether she had any traditions or superstitions. She talked about writing long hand, always on the same type of paper, with the same type of pen. I wanted to explore more but could easily have monopolised the conversation for ages if I had!
Thank you to all the authors for their input and to the organisers for such a fabulous day.