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What happens at Harrogate Crime Festival? Our Fiction Agent Elizabeth Counsell explains…


Our Fiction Agent Elizabeth Counsell breaks down her time at 2023’s Theakston Crime Festival

Last week, I made my way to Harrogate for the annual Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. The highlight of the year for crime fiction fans, this year was a particularly special programme as it celebrated the festival’s 20th anniversary. With the highest number of tickets ever sold, it certainly didn’t disappoint, and a fantastic time was had by the public, authors, agents and editors alike.

On my first day, after checking out some of the local bookshops in town, I headed down to the Old Swan Hotel for the first event of the weekend, Creative Thursday – a unique opportunity for aspiring authors to learn from some industry giants.

A thrilling ‘Dragon’s Pen’ session saw some daring budding authors pitch their novels to a panel of publishing experts in two minutes or less. What could’ve been a deadly game ended in success for many and you could feel inspiration bubbling in the room, especially after a few words from 2023 Festival Chair, Vaseem Khan. From a locked room thriller in Vienna to a murderous husband and wife duo, it was the perfect way to get started.

It was good to see some of Northbank’s fabulous authors, Christie Newport and Marion Todd, discussing all things crime and suspense – with a quick Jane Austen interlude just for good measure – as well as the scary goings-on in Marion’s hotel (check her out on Twitter @MarionETodd to learn all about the terrifying Harrogate #Soapgate…)

On Friday morning, I was on the front row for a talk by another queen of crime, Val McDermid. Val spoke about the inspiration behind her novels, the high points of her long and prestigious career, and whetted appetites for the evening, where she would be taking to the stage to play some killer tunes with the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers band.

After the session, it was over to the Old Swan bar for a few hours chatting with some brilliant authors and editors. Thiswas a fantastic opportunity to network before the next session, titled ‘Law and Disorder’. The fascinating panel, comprising Neil Lancaster, Cara Hunter, Jane Casey, Nadine Matheson and Graham Bartlett, posed the question: does the end justify the means when police officers cross the line? It made for a brilliant event, and the perfect treat for all Line of Duty fans.

I had time for one last event before heading to the train station, and what better way to end my trip than by watching two literary giants in conversation – Lisa Jewell and Ruth Ware. These global bestsellers discussed their latest novels, before considering all the ways their work pushes the boundaries of the genre. Needless to say, I left the festival with a suitcase full of books, notes and plans, feeling well and truly inspired. A fantastic few days.

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