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Inspiration from crime writing festival

By Spalding Today Columnist

You know your Sunday morning is becoming surreal when you're listening to the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, discuss football, reading habits and murder with the Scottish queen of crime fiction, Val McDermid.

This was our second visit to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival held at the Old Swan hotel in Harrogate. It was a weekend full of intrigue and inspiration as some of the biggest names in crime fiction entertained readers and plied them with proof copies of their new works. James Patterson, Jo Nesbo, Erin Kelly and Ian Rankin were just some of the big guns invited this year.

Another Sunday highlight was television writer Jed Mercurio, whose recent programmes, Line of Duty and Bodyguard, have had the nation on permanent tenterhooks. Interviewed by BBC Breakfast host, Steph McGovern, we learned much about the mechanics and research for his writing, but no hints were given as to the identity of the elusive 'H'.

The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (14117273)
The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate (14117273)

The subject of TV adaptations came up several times during the panel sessions. Some authors, such as James Patterson, see the original books and their screen equivalents as totally separate entities. Others, like M.C. Beaton, are frustrated at changes that are made to their characters: she hated what they did to her beloved Hamish Macbeth. Stuart MacBride, however, is so protective of his books, that he has so far refused permission for his stories to be adapted because of the radical changes that would have occurred.

What else did I learn from this weekend of crime? Apparently writers can do whatever they like to humans in their novels but heaven forbid if they harm an animal.

When Harlan Coben was asked about the process of writing his books, he was keen not to ruin the magic. "It's a bit like a sausage," he said. "You might like the final outcome but you don't really want to know what goes into it."

Val McDermid and Nicola Sturgeon (14117276)
Val McDermid and Nicola Sturgeon (14117276)

Like other authors, he was adamant that writing had to be tackled like a proper job. If he was a plumber, he explained, he couldn't throw his hands in the air and exclaim, "Today, I just can't do pipes!"

It was fascinating to hear from the authors on the Emerald Noir panel discuss their very real concerns over Brexit; Brian McGilloway explaining how the Irish border is both physical and psychological for the people on both sides.

I loved Jeffery Deaver's explanation of the rhythm of a book being similar to a symphony. "You wouldn't have three adagios in a row." There are movements, a crescendo and a coda of reconciliation at the end.

Trish Burgess (14117278)
Trish Burgess (14117278)

It was interesting to note that many crime fiction authors began their careers as journalists or lawyers. This gives them either a gift for writing to deadlines or a knowledge of the law. I was particularly interested, however, in authors whose partners are in the medical profession. Chris Brookmyre's wife is an anaesthetist; Harlan Coben's wife a paediatrician.

I have a retired GP at home with some time on his hands. Maybe we could work on a little collaboration...

You can read Trish's blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk


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