Back up to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, for the Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival, a small town with an incredibly well-attended (around 12,000 tickets sold) annual celebration of murder and mayhem, helmed by the indefatigable Mark Billlingham, who did an amazing job once again.
If you wanted to find one of the most ‘English’ towns in the country, Harrogate would be a good place to head for (It’s where Agatha Christie famously vanished to – check out the movie ‘Agatha’). The first thing that strikes you is the fact that it is a rich emerald green, thanks to something called The Stray, a swathe of stunning woodland that passes right through the centre of the town. There are floral displays everywhere, Union Jacks, sturdy stone houses wreathed in roses and lavender, a giant jewel-studded crown in the centre of a roundabout, senior couples who know the value of proper overcoats, high-end kitchen shops, and flowers, flowers everywhere.
This is small-C conservative heartland, middle-class, middle-aged and well-read, a town where ‘Happy Hour’ means taking an afternoon nap. But you get intelligent, searching questions in the Q&As, and big writers from all over the world. Last time I met up with the creator of ‘Dexter’, Jeff Lindsay. This time I hung out with Val McDermid, SJ Bolton, Stuart McBride, Deon Meyer, Ben Aaronovitch and many others for a liver-punishing couple of days. As always, publishers were keen to share their ideas and knowledge with writers over an ale.
Finally it was off to brave the permanent queue outside Betty’s Tea Room for the best Welsh Rarebit in the world, made with chopped shallots, ale, bacon and cheese. Awesome. Thanks, everyone – and especially to Lynsey, my PR, who has the scary ability to read minds.