I’m in a very packed pub and safe to say my fellow punters are, between them, responsible for more murders and dastardly deeds than the occupants of your average UK prison.
They may look normal enough, but jammed into the Golden Lion Hotel bar, centre of operations for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, are more infamous and influential names than you can shake a fully-loaded pistol at and more expertise in disposing of bodies than the mob.
Yet this is genteel Stirling, where crime tourists mingle with students and locals in the cosy coffee shops, after hiking up and down the cobbled inclines of the historic volcanic-stoned city overlooked by its medieval castle.
In the watering holes, restaurants and book shops, American, Australian and New Zealand accents mix with Londoners and Scots as authors chat to agents, publishers to would-be writers, fans to their idols – the only clue to the status of drinkers are the occasional displayed lanyards proclaiming ‘author’, ‘guest’ or ‘press’.
I’ve already spotted famous and upcoming names as I peruse a cocktail menu asking ‘What’s your poison?’ with options ranging from Blue Murder (Jose Cuervo Clasici, Blue Curacoa, lime and lemon juice and club soda in case you were wondering) not to mention The Thin Man-hatten, Reacher and Charlie Parker.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear this event is sponsored by Stirling gin. Writers, in the main, like a drink.
Authors Craig Robertson, Steve Cavanagh, Sarah Pinborough, Stuart Macbride, Liam McIIvanney, Luca Veste and more are all here.
I checked in my hotel alongside Brighton writer Peter James and I’ve spotted Val McDermid in the street.
When you think festival, you may think music, but it’s actually the darker side of tourism that is one of the-fastest-growing trends in the UK and it’s not surprising why.
We are a nation obsessed.
It doesn’t matter how many ‘nice’ stories the media produces, it’s the grim voyeurism of crime and conspiracy that tops the news agendas and correspondingly, in the past year, it is crime fiction that became the most popular genre in the UK – producing 18.7 million sales during 2017, a third consecutive year of growth.
This was a greater market share than general and literary fiction, although it didn’t make more money, according to Nielsen Bookscan’s annual report.
And despite the pretty even gender mix in this bar, it’s is women who are driving the boom in crime fiction and psychological thriller sales – a market last year valued at £117m.
One theory is that it is crime TV adaptations are fuelling this phenomenon, often available by convenient box-set and many written by women and starring strong female characters including JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series.
In Stirling festival-goers are treated to events kicked off by a gala evening, atmospheric torch-lit procession, an England v. Scotland authors football match (England prevailed 6:3) and the announcement of the McIIvanney prize – won this year by Liam Mcllvanney, son of William, for ‘The Quaker’ – published by Harper Collins.
It was a controversial decision in the light of possible accusations of favouritism but the right one, a judge later confided in the bar.
Val McDermid and Denise Mina are on Friday night’s bill, ahead of a weekend of huge names concluding in a highly inspiring audience with Irvine Welsh, who charms the audience with his particular un-PC brand of honesty about his life and career, admitting he would do it all again.
“It doesn’t matter what mess you get into – it’s still the best time of your life – my books are not about drugs they’re about youth,” he says to a packed Albert Halls venue.
He then waved off Stirling’s annual crime-writing event by admitting he’s not a crime writer before signing endless copies of his new book ‘Dead men’s trousers’ and a fair smattering of ‘Trainspotting’ with extreme good grace and selfies – his fans don’t care about genre because at this festival he’s a rock star.
But writing festivals, of which there are now many in the UK, are not merely about famous names or attracting tourists (although almost 10,000 Bloody Scotland tickets were sold in 2018 )
These are top-drawer networking events for the industry, with unpublished writers seeking representation, and likewise, agents hunting out future stars.
One event on the agenda at Bloody Scotland is ‘Pitch Perfect’ –a chance for a shortlist of eight unpublished authors to pitch their work to an industry panel – every year this event produces at least one published author.
Sticking to its national and international identity, in 2018 writers who pitched are from Australia and the US as well as, England, Scotland and Poland. The winner from two years ago is here too – Alison Belsham – wielding her published novel The Tattoo Thief and inspiring others with her success.
Meanwhile, the audience in the small church venue has been infiltrated by press and agents’ assistants wielding business cards.
This is an opportunity for would-be published writers to make a killing in more ways than one – proving crime does pay
Bob McDevitt, Bloody Scotland Festival Director, said:
‘The sun shone and the stars came out for another record-breaking Bloody Scotland. I’ve once again been overwhelmed by the tremendous good humour and bonhomie exuded by crime writers and readers. We brought nations together, discussed different genres, drank some gin, sung a few songs and even before the festival was over people were booking hotels and looking forward to next.’
Eight of the best UK crime writing festivals
- Morecambe and Vice, 29-30 September 2018, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Lancashire. Details: http://www.morecambecrimefest.co.uk/ Authors due to attend: Peter Robinson, Frances Brody, Elly Griffiths, Sarah Hilary, Mari Hannah
- Killer Women Crime Writing Festival, Camden, London, October 21 2018. Details: http://killerwomen.org/ Authors due to attend include: Elly Griffiths, Mark Billingham
- Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival, 8-10 March 2019, Belfast. Details: https://www.noireland.com/ Authors who attended in 2018: Benjamin Black (also known as John Banville), “Line of Duty” creator Jed Mercurio and Liz Nugent.
- CrimeFest 9-12 May 2019, Bristol http://www.crimefest.com/ Authors who have previously attended: Lee Child, Gunnar Staalsen, Jeffrey Deaver
- Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, 18-21 July 2019, Harrogate. https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/crime-writing-festival/ Authors who have previously attended: Martina Cole, Linwood Barclay, J.K.Rowling
- Noirwich, Norwich, next event 12-15 September 2019. Details: https://noirwich.co.uk/ Attended in 2018: Val McDermid, Nicci French, Paula Hawkins and John Benville/Benjamin Black
- Bloody Scotland, Stirling, next event 20-22 September 2019 https://bloodyscotland.com/ Attended in 2018: Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh, Denise Mina, Ian McBride, Peter James
- Capital Crime, London’s West End. New for 2019, 26 – 28 September . Details as they emerge: https://www.capitalcrime.org/