Fiction & Drama
Lisa Rookes on the inspiration behind The Gallows Tree
Last month I made the journey up to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which is held every year in Agatha Christie’s old haunt, the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. With a packed-out programme featuring big names in the world of crime writing and reading (hello, Nicola Sturgeon), it’s an unmissable event for agents, editors and authors.
With a busy weekend ahead, I decided to kick things off by attending a panel about pace in crime novels. Steve Cavanagh, newly crowned winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, joined bestselling crime authors Rachel Abbott, Shari Lapena, JS Monroe and panel chair Mark Lawson on stage. They talked about the holy grail of crime writing – the unputdownable novel – and how a well-placed cliff-hanger can keep fans reading through the night. They also discussed how they look out for pace during the structural editing process. For some, this includes colour-coding their chapters using a traffic light system, with green for a relatively sedate chapter, amber for mounting tension, and red for scenes of high drama, which usually involves a character (or two) meeting a grisly end.
After a fascinating Q&A session, I headed over to the Festival Papakata tent to have a go at solving a crime myself. I teamed up with some editors to inspect the crime scene featured in Cara Hunter’s latest DI Adam Fawley novel, All the Rage. We looked for clues in the missing student’s bedroom, inspected witness statements and close friends’ Facebook pages, and studied coach timetables to unravel the events of that fateful night at an Oxford summer ball. Although we eventually solved the mystery with the help of some very patient police officers, I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon…
The Northbank dinner
After that, there was plenty of time to meet editor friends in the bar and catch up with our wonderful Northbank authors, Marion Todd and Rebecca Bradley. That evening, I had the pleasure of hosting a dinner with Marion and Rebecca, literary scouts, and editors from some of the UK’s top publishing houses. We ate fabulous Italian food, drank wonderful wine and enjoyed lively discussions about crime novels (what else?), the publishing world, cheesy Netflix rom-coms, Love Island and more. The hours flew by, but eventually we headed back to the Old Swan to meet up with other editors and authors, and continued the fun into the early hours.
The morning after
The crime festival stretches over four full days, but many people choose to go up for one or two. With a train back to London booked for the early afternoon, I spent the morning back at the Old Swan. Queues snaked around the hallways of the hotel as readers tried to get their hands on proof copies of upcoming novels, and the bar and shop areas were still very active, with equally long lines for author signing sessions. After a few more happy hours of talking to editors and meeting published and emerging authors, I headed out towards the train station, stopping first to admire the fire engine parked in the driveway, inside which debut author Will Shindler was signing copies of his thriller, The Burning Men, in true Harrogate style.