A few months ago I bought a ticket to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, the world’s biggest event of its kind.
Actually, it was my husband and brother who paid for it as a 40th birthday present. As a freelance journalist with two young children, it was difficult to justify the expense, even though I’d been desperate to go for years.
At the time, I had an agent but no publishing deal. It didn’t matter. I would soak up the atmosphere and perhaps catch a glimpse of my crime writing heroes – Nicci French; Peter James; Val McDermid; Lee Child. Perhaps some of their magic would rub off on me. And something rather magical did happen. Except it happened before I’d so much as sipped my first pint of ale. In April, I was offered a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan for my début crime thriller RATTLE. By happy coincidence, my new publishers are sponsors of the festival, which began in 2003, and so instead of heading to Harrogate alone, I would know a couple of faces in the crowd.
Before I’d signed my contract, when I’d been mulling over whether I should spend a few hundred quid on indulging my passion or paying the electricity bill, I’d asked one of the organisers if it would be strange to come by myself. Would I look like a stalker from one of novels I loved to read? Would everyone else know each other while I’d be ordering dinner for one? No, she assured me, it’s a very friendly festival. You’ll be fine.
I was dubious, to be honest. But I wanted to go. So I swallowed my nerves and boarded the train.
At Harrogate station, I bumped into the writer Rebecca Whitney (The Liar’s Chair), also represented by my agency Conville and Walsh. Within minutes of walking into The Old Swan – a deliciously apt venue since Agatha Christie spent 11 days hiding here under the name of her husband’s mistress in 1926, sparking a nationwide police hunt – I’d spotted Clare Mackintosh, who wrote I Let You Go, one of the biggest crime débuts of the year.
That was just the beginning. Dinner on the first night was with three writers I’d bumped into, including fellow Pan Mac-er Debbie Howells (The Bones of You). I met crime fans, agents, literary scouts, publishing chiefs, and the authors, oh, the authors. Bestseller Peter James was warm and generous with his advice, the supremely talented husband-and-wife duo Nicci French enthusiastically asked questions about my novel. Stav Sherez, Mari Hannah, David Mark…they all made me feel like I was part of a brilliant new gang.
And so, it’s true what that they say about crime writers. Despite the dark threads running through their fiction, they’re a super friendly bunch. They also like tequila. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip.
Fiona Cummins is a former Daily Mirror journalist. Her crime thriller RATTLE will be published by Pan Macmillan in early 2017.