News & Reviews

Bloody Scotland – Bloody Brilliant!

15th Sept 2017

Last weekend, we took our annual trip to Stirling to attend the Bloody Scotland festival. For those of you who have never been, it’s Bloody great. A bunch of us (hereafter known as the CrimeFanGirls) have been going for 5 years now (give or take) and every year the festival gets bigger and better.

The CrimeFanGirls festival usually starts on the Thursday night. We took the opportunity to have a drink in the Golden Lion before going for food, reveling in the peace and quiet which would be shattered the next day with the arrival of the crime-seeking hordes. The Golden Lion is the mother-ship of Bloody Scotland, and the place to satellite if you’re on the lookout for your favourite writers as well as agents and publishers.

The festival started proper on the Friday night. This year it started at Stirling castle with a Gala and the presentation of the McIlvanney prize, won last year by Christopher Brookmyre. The writers were piped into the Great Hall with great aplomb, and we were treated to some speeches from the movers and shakers who make the festival possible – It was difficult to hear some of the speeches, not just due to a slightly dodgy sound system, but also to the rather inebriated lady and her family next to us passing loud, drunken comments – maybe they thought they were in an unusually criminal episode of Gogglebox?

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The winner of the prize was the fabulous Denise Mina for her book ‘The Long Drop’ – based on the real life case of Peter Manuel. If you haven’t yet read it, do. It’s a fascinating book, well written and gripping, and a worthy winner of the prize.

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The next part of the evening was the torchlight procession from the castle into the town. We were all handed a fire-stick – cue about 200 people muttering ‘use the force Luke’ while bashing their light sabres together.

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The procession itself was fantastic, and brought out a lot of the locals, possibly worried about  what a mass of crime writers and their fans might get up to while armed with blazing sticks.

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The procession led us down to The Albert Halls, ready to welcome Ian Rankin talk about 30 years of Rebus with Mark Billingham.

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After being thoroughly entertained by Ian and Mark, we had a panel show  – Never Mind the Buzzcops – a quiz chaired by Craig Robertson where we all got to guess the theme tune and match the childhood photo to the crimewriter – lots of fun.

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Then came a gig from the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers a.k.a. musical Doug Johnstone, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Val McDermid. I was too knackered to stay for that, but I was reliably informed that they were fabulous – and having heard Val McDermid sing before, I can well believe it.

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Saturday was taken up with going to see various crimewriters – The festival has three events for every time slot, so you’ll always find something to your taste. My first event was the lovely Alex Grey (one of the founders of Bloody Scotland, along with Lin Anderson) chatting to Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPM and Detective Superintendant Duncan Sloan about how realistic crime books are compared to the real thing. The consensus seemed to be that perhaps sometimes they aren’t very, but then who would want to read about hours of paperwork and the nit picky minutiae that makes up the real day to day work of the police? What’s more important is that the characters and how they deal with their jobs and the everyday traumas are accurate, and Alex definitely passes the test on that one.

I’ve seen Val McDiarmid many times, but it never stops me going to see her again, and her event on 30 years in the business of crime (yes! Another 30 year one!) did not disappoint. Erudite and entertaining, if you haven’t yet discovered her work (surely not?) then you really have to.

Taking a break for some fresh (damp and drizzly) air, The Scotland – England football match was next, with a mix of crime writers and others (The very brave Karen Sullivan from Orenda books played for England) battling it out on the field. Last year Scotland were truly trounced, but I’m pleased to say that this year we won 6-3.

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In the afternoon I went to see The Dark Lands. Ragnar Jónasson, Thomas Enger and Lin Anderson discussed their books set in Iceland, The Cairngorms, and Norway. There is something about books set in dark, cold places that just works for me. I’m a huge fan of Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series and can’t wait to read his latest. Atmospheric and compulsive reading, you can feel the chill prickling your skin as you read them. Lin Anderson’s new book moves from the Cairngorms to Norway, and if it’s anything like her previous books, it will keep you gripped from the first page. I’ve never read any of Thomas Enger’s books before, but I will now. As well as being an author, Thomas also plays the piano. Beautiful. Find him on You Tube – and watch this space for a review of his latest book in the next few weeks.

To finish the day, Anne Cleeves took us on a trip to Shetland to meet Douglas Henshall, who plays Jimmy Perez in the BBC series of her books. It was a really interesting session, and Anne has such a down to earth approach to her writing and the difference between the books and the TV series. Very much looking forward to the new series starting soon, but also sad to learn that the next Shetland book will be the last.

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Saturday night was Crime at the Coo. Well, what can I say? The Curly Coo is a small pub in Stirling, and for the last few years has been taken over for Bloody Scotland. Various crimewriters entertained us with storytelling, music and singing. And one of our own CrimeFanGirls gave us a poem. I won’t go into detail. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Sunday was a blur for me. I was taking part in Pitch Perfect – where eight hopefuls are shortlisted to pitch their novel on the basis on 100 word blurb. I was delighted to be chosen, and the event itself was an amazing experience. The other successful pitchers were a friendly mix of people, all with great ideas, and I suspect that many of them will be published authors in the not too distant future. I didn’t win, but the experience was fantastic, and I was very happy with the feedback I got. It has given me a kick up the backside, and I’ve spent the last few days since getting back working on my poor neglected novel.

After the pitch, I stayed behind to listen to The Graduates – Three writers who have taken part in pitch perfect before and are now published – Joseph Knox, Steph Broadribb and Matt Wesolowski. They were very inspiring – so much so that I bought all their books, and will be reviewing them here in the not too distant future. I also met last year’s winner, Alison Belsham (well, actually we met in the Curly Coo, as you do). Her book ‘The Tattoo thief’ is being published next year, and sounds amazing. Something to keep an eye out for!

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I finished the weekend with Christopher Brookmyre – or Chris, as his new, more serious persona is now 😉 always a good bet – his stand up is as good as his books. All in all, a great weekend. The dates for next year are already up on the website – You should go. You really should.

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Thanks to the fabulous Judith Williams for letting me use her photos!