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It’s been nearly a week since the Harrogate Crime Literature festival and I am still basking in the afterglow of the atomic event of last week : the creativity, wonderfully talented participants, the stunning beauty of Harrogate, the fun and inspiration, all packaged into the singularity that was the  Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. The sun may have set but the warmth is still there and I have to say, it was the most inspiring and wonderful arts/social event of its kind I’ve ever been too.

A lot has been written about the event in other blogs and I will certainly add my tuppence worth but one aspect that perhaps hasn’t been blogged all that much was the Creative Thursday event that was the optional-extra-bolt-on to the festival-proper. In short, it comprised two sets of workshops, a seminar on the do’s and don’t of manuscript submission and writing synopses and a heart stopping finale with the Dragon’s Pen where a number of unpublished writers had a chance to pitch their novel to a panel of veritable names from the British literary establishment in under two minutes flat.

I myself have written a crime/noir novel Black Champagne  for which I am trying to find an agent. I had spend the previous evening with my  wonderful friend Mary Hutchinson @maryhutchinson in a frantic almost pre-final exam panic of index card flurry and practicing our respective pitches to the stopwatch of my over-used iPhone. Mary had her’s done under the time whereas mine, well I had cut my pitch from 7 minutes to just under 4! Long way to go.

My midnight, I was at 3 minutes. I still had a minute to shave off. It was harder than writing the novel itself ! I had brought my 3 year old Acer notebook with me and I had forgotten that its battery becomes very hot during recharging but since I was flying from Belfast, I had to be conscious of space and luggage. (by the way, I had my jeans-belt tested for chemicals at Belfast International by a stern looking young fellow but that’s another story)

After 1am, I had my pitch nailed, or as close as I ever was to nail. I really didn’t prepare it well enough and I did make the mistake of leaving it to the last minute. I thought it would be easy to prepare a 2 minute pitch.


Advice to those to have this before them – prepare a pitch with military precision and allow ample time to do so. This is something you just cannot knock out over a capuccino or a glass of red.

Bed, sleep and breakfast and then the morning session. The festival took place at the Old Swan Hotel, in Harrogate, England. A very fine, gentile and very fitting  venue for not only a crime literature festival, but the biggest of its kind in Europe. The hotel was where Agatha Christie hid during her notorious, headline grabbing 10 day disappearence in 1926. The hotel wask known then as the Swan Hydropathic hotel.

The day started with registrations, name badges and milling around before the morning 2-hour intensive session hosted by Dreda Say Mitchell, a wonderful literary and arts figure from London and a regular contributer to the arts media as well as being a formidable crime writer too. The session was really a number of exercises in challenging ourselves to write creatively on the hop and in response to random and immediate stimuli such as a picture of a shoe or a combination of a random name, profession and location. We didnt have time to think and it proved that with a figurative gun held to our heads ( well, it was a crime festival after all), that we all were more than pleasantly pleased as punch over what we had written in such short spaces of time. Dreda was magnificent at facilitating, her teaching background was telling and she put us at our ease totally.

After lunch, there was a second workshop with Stuart MacBride & Allan Guthrie, both lumineries and fantastic crime writers from Scotland. Allan is also a part time literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates. The workshop entailed being given pieces of flawed writing and having to identify the flaws and discussing the why’s and wherefore’s etc. An examination/discussion in what makes a good scene in literature and then individual and group exercises.  The concepts of Closed Third person narrative point-of-view and filtering came as news to quite a few of us, including myself I must admit. This session was very useful to learn useful technical aspects of writing and for making our writing lean, clean and mean.

Then Dragon’s Pen

Names were chosen from a hat. Well, a figurative hat but from a recepticle of scrunched-up names. The panel was chaired by the warm, comedic and brilliant talented and successful crime writer Mark Billingham and the panel  comprised none other than Jane Gregory of Gregory and Company, Luigi Bonomi of Luigi Bonomi Associates, and two highly-esteemed publishers, Wayne Brookes of Macmillan and Selina Walker of Transworld Publishers.

I sat there, palms sweating, clutching my index cards like exam notes, hoping my name would be chosen. I have to tell you now, my name wasn’t chosen but I didn’t know this until the 90 minutes for the session was up. One by one, the lucky chosen few were called to ‘come on down’ as it were and get on their hind legs, in front a microphone and said panel, and seconds away… the 2 minutes started.

Some were successful at winning the panelists’ interest (there was no prize as such except to have at least one panelist ask to see an example chapter/synopsis of one’s novel). Other’s not so successful.

From what I remember from the dizzy heights of the anxious wait, crime agents/publishers insist on one’s novel having a dead body or several. This must be conveyed unequivocally from the get-go. Key turning points, characters and broad thematic brushstrokes must be clearly conveyed.

I was very disappointed not to have been chosen but I learnt a hell of a lot from what I witnessed in terms of what made a good pitch and what didn’t. This particular aspect will the subject of one of my blog entries in the very near future.

As for the rest of the evening and the festival, tune in for Part 2!……(coming to a good blog, near you! )

PS : I want to mention these wonderful people I met in Harrogate:

David Jackson – Crime Writer http://davidjacksonbooks.com/  Twitter @authordave

Mel Sherratt – Crime Writer http://highheelsandbookdeals.blogspot.com/ Twitter @writermels

Pam Reader  – book club host and warm witty lady to boot http://pamreader.blogspot.com/ Twitter @pamreader

Rebecca Bradley – Crime Writer http://lifeinclarity.blogspot.com/ Twitter  @rebbeccajbradley

Keith  B Walters – Great bloke, great blogger, and official blogger for the Harrogate Crime Festival http://booksandwriters.wordpress.com/ Twitter @keithbwalters

PS : I owe you lunch chum ! Next time it’s on me!

Mary Huchinson – my dear friend,  and wonderful Crime Writer http://thetangledwriter.blogspot.com  Twitter @maryhutchinson

Chris Longmuir – a published crime writer of novels such as Dead Wood, Nightwatcher, A Salt Splashed Candle and Dundee Book Prize winner http://www.chrislongmuir.com Twitter @chrislongmuir