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CRIME FICTION FINEST GATHER FOR FESTIVAL ; When a North crime writing festival started out 10 years ago, author Val McDermid had to persuade friends...

July 21, 2013


CRIME FICTION FINEST GATHER FOR FESTIVAL ; When a North crime writing festival started out 10 years ago, author Val McDermid had to persuade friends to come along. Now international industry stars are desperate to attend. LISA HUTCHINSON found out more about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

IT was 10 years ago that fiction writer Val McDermid was plotting to persuade her pals to attend a new crime writers' festival to give it a kick start.

Now it's an open and shut case that has grown into the biggest crime writing festival in Europe and one that the most renowned writers in the world are lining up to take part.

Dubbed the Oscars of the writers' events, the cream of the crop are flocking to the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate for the four day Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

And, in between Val writing her next masterpiece, she is ringing around the globe to book the best out there.

Lee Child, whose first novel, Killing Floor, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, is one of the highlights this year. He first attended four years ago, liked it so much that he jetted in from America to make another appearance this year. This time he agreed to be interviewed by North comedienne Sarah Millican.

Originally from Coventry he became a Hollywood success story having sold more than 50m books, in 40 languages, after creating a hero for our time, Jack Reacher.

"At first I used to twist the arms of friends to come to the festival. Now it is so popular I'm beating them off with a stick," says Val, who lives in Alnmouth, Northumberland, and is chair of the festival.

Val is proud that the annual occasion has become a haven for like -minded people.

She added: "The festival is in its 10th year and writers from an establish genre to those writing their debut book come along.

"We get thousands, we have writers from Australia, South Africa, Germany, Scandinavia, USA, they come from all over the world to be here."

Since Val's first book, Report for Murder, in 1984, she has sold more than 10m copies of 26 crime novels and the ITV series Wire in the Blood was based on her books. Her work has won a string of awards, including an LA Times book prize and the CWA Dagger.

Co-founder Val had a vision to make the festival one to be proud of. She moved it away from convention, adding cabaret, comedy and the opening hours of the hotel bar.

Val, 57, said: "I was even booking people two years ago for this festival.

I know how busy writers' diaries get so I have to book them well in advance."

Today is the last day of the event, with the 2013 line-up the best yet. Other special guests included Charlaine Harris - a New York Times best-selling author who has been writing mysteries for 30 years, Peter James - international best-selling British writer of crime fiction, William McIlvanney - Scottish writer of novels, short stories and poetry, Kate Atkinson - author of nine novels, and Ian Rankin - Scottish crime writer, best known for his Inspector Rebus books.

Ruth Rendell, with more than 70 books under her belt and a Labour life peerage, was also a very special guest.

Star of Vera, Brenda Blethyn, was there to take an in depth look at both the books and the TV series, with Ann Cleeves and the show's producers and screen writers.

Each year the festival gets bigger and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award has become crime writing's most wanted accolade.

The award, run in partnership with WHSmith, was created to celebrate the very best to those penning crime and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback over the previous 12 months.

And, as well as the prestige, the winning author receives a well- deserved cash prize of Pounds 3,000 and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

Val added: "This is an event where the writers mix with readers and publishers.

"We all rub shoulders at the Old Swan and get into great conversation as well as have a few drinks.

"It has come so far since we started 10 years ago and this festival has proved how popular it is now. It is the hot ticket."

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