A Survival Guide to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival
The Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate is a stand out moment in a crime fan’s year. It’s one of the best festivals there is, covering classic crime such as Ian Fleming’s James Bond to brand new talent in the ‘New Blood’ event.
For a first time attendee it can be a little bit overwhelming – so who better to talk us through this year’s festival than the authors and fans that make it so special.
We’re kicking off with a festival survival guide from none other than festival supporter Simon Kernick:
The Harrogate Crime-writing Festival is something of an eye-opener to the uninitiated. First off, it’s the crowds. Harrogate is the biggest festival of its kind in Europe and is open to the general public, so you get plenty of local people coming in to listen to their favourite authors, but also plenty of hardcore crime buffs. These are the people who come back year after year, many from overseas, to socialise and share their love of reading crime. The panels regularly get as many as five hundred people in the audience and, because of this, the festival attracts some great authors. There are always at least a half dozen big names each year – ones as diverse as Lee Child and PD James – but also plenty of new and up-and-coming authors to discover. So my advice to any newbies is get to as many panels as you can. Unlike a lot of festivals, you don’t get more than one panel running at the same time, so as a punter you can see everyone you want to, and they run all day from 9 am to 8 pm, so you’re not going to get bored!
But, to really get the whole Harrogate experience, you need to immerse yourself in the whole thing, and that means spending time in the hotel bar. It’s the focal point of all the activity and is crowded pretty much all day long (although the more sensible people stick to coffee and afternoon tea before 6 pm). All the attendees are very friendly and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with them, especially as you all have at least one major thing in common. You’ll also see plenty of authors milling about, even those not actually doing any panels. For us writers, Harrogate is almost like an AGM. It’s a place we can get together, catch up on gossip, and yes, talk to the readers. So don’t be shy. If you’ve got a book that needs signing, or just fancy a chat, feel free to collar your favourite writer and tell them what you think of their work (although try and be nice about it!).
So hopefully, by now you’ll have seen plenty of panels, made a load of new friends, and be feeling pretty confident about things.
Which means it’s time for the Big Quiz on the Saturday night. In many ways, this is the highlight of the festival. Everyone gets involved. Teams of up to ten people are allowed and past winners who’ve had their hands on the coveted trophy include David Simon, creator of hit series The Wire, and Radio 4’s Mark Lawson. If you want to join this hall of fame get yourself on a good team. Amazingly, this just involves asking. We’re a friendly bunch at Harrogate and everyone will want to make you feel as welcome as possible. My advice is to join a team of fellow readers because this is a quiz about crime-writing, and the people who know the most about the subject tend to be the readers. The quiz is a real hoot. Hosted by celebrity quizmasters Mark Billingham and Val MacDermid, it lasts well into the early hours of the morning.
And if you’ve still got energy after that, head back to the bar and drink and talk the night away with whoever’s left. There’s always a hardy few and the last stragglers tend to leave about 6am, long after daylight’s arrived.
By that time, I reckon you’ll be ready to go home. If not, you’ve got a lot more stamina than me!
A big thank you to Simon Kernick for taking the time to give us his Harrogate tips! Watch out for upcoming articles on Harrogate from N J Cooper, Chris Simmons, Kate Atkinson and many more!