Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Harrogate) 2014

The very lovely Vic Watson, who provides proofreading and copywriting services over at ElementaryVWatson was a newcomer to this years Theakstons Crime Festival and as such it was a delight to ask her for her insight into the whole weekend’s celebrations. Here she provides LifeOfCri.Me with her newbies guide to Harrogate…


Top Tips for Harrogate Virgins

Two weeks ago, I returned from Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. For years, I have read on Twitter and Facebook about the exploits at the Old Swan Hotel and this year, I finally managed to go myself. As I knew plenty of people who were going, thanks to book launches, social media and other literary festivals, I decided to go it alone and not ask anyone to go with me. Whether you fancy being a lone wolf or going in a couple (or a group), if you’ve never been to the festival before, these tips may come in handy.

A much need break in the sunshine

Prior to going, mention it on social media. That way people know to keep an eye out for you. A picture of yourself on these sites can also help in this situation (you know, rather than having a picture of a giraffe, for example). Because I’d been banging on about going to Harrogate for so long on Facebook, lots of people obviously knew I was going and therefore people recognised me when I pitched up. I had the pleasure of spending time with the lovely Jo on Opening Night, which was great. Over the course of the weekend, I caught up with lots of people thanks to the power of Facebook and Twitter – I got to re-meet Howard Linskey and Eileen Wharton as well as meeting Martyn Lewis and Ricki Thomas among others for the first time.

Don’t be scared. Although I knew plenty of people there, I felt a bit awkward because I’d gone on my own. However, I met so many people and they were all really friendly. Everyone is there either because they write or read crime fiction, or are involved in the industry somehow therefore you should be able to find something to chat about. Over the course of the weekend, I met so many new people – as well as seeing plenty of familiar faces like Luca Veste, Pete Sortwell and Eva Dolan – and we talked about books: it was heaven.

Be approachable. People are friendly but they may not approach you or chat to you if you’re doing the acid stare. I know it can be difficult at first but a smile can go a long way.

Make friends. It’s really lovely striking up conversations over lunch or at the bar. Waiting for a panel to start is another great time to talk to people. I found it incredible just how many people I managed to chat to over those few days. However, don’t beat yourself up if there are people you don’t see at all / don’t get the opportunity to speak to / speak to less than you hoped you would – there is so much going on and so many people that, sadly, there really isn’t enough time. As Graham Smith so eloquently put it ‘It needs to be a week… but my liver can barely manage the weekend!’

Swap details with people. You might never see them again, or maybe you will see them next year, but some of the people I met have folk they meet up with every year – whether at Harrogate or throughout the year. It means if you want to go again, you should see some friendly faces on your arrival. Social networks and email make keeping in touch very easy.

If you’re friends on social media, say hello. The first person I met at The Old Swan was Sarah Hilary, a friend I’d never met in person before but Tweet regularly. Sarah – author of Someone Else’s Skin – greeted me like an old friend and that immediately put me at ease. Mari Hannah, writer of the DCI Kate Daniels books, who I’ve met many times before is another person who made me feel really welcome on that first night.

It’s ok to fangirl (or boy)! If there’s a writer (or person) at the festival that you really admire, or has inspired you in some way, tell them – they will be happy to hear it. I know this year Mel Sherratt told Olivia Colman (of Broadchurch fame) that she’d been a big inspiration to her when writing strong female characters. Tony Parsons seemed pretty happy when I told him I’d read all of his books since Man and Boy (yes, we all have our guilty secrets).

Take plenty of space. I went from Newcastle on the train to Harrogate this year. That was fine until I started buying books, and being given books (yes, they give you books, and a goodie bag). On the return leg, I ended up trailing a suitcase bursting at the seams as well as carrying several rather full tote bags. So, the advice on this one? Ensure you have a case with plenty of room when you arrive in Harrogate or maybe invest in a rucksack. Or take your car.

Take several changes of clothes. It might seem that you will only need one outfit per day but, whether rain or shine, it gets pretty darn hot in Harrogate in July. Luckily, being the diva I am, I’d taken two outfits per day (which explains the full suitcase) but it meant that I could have at least two showers a day and have nice, clean clothes to wear afterwards. Again, the panels can get quite heated (in more ways than one) so you may want to take your summer outfits to avoid melting as much as possible.

Enjoying the fun at Dead Good Live

Get involved. Play the games, do the quiz, ask a question during a panel and talk to people. The panels are great as they factor in ten to fifteen minutes towards the end to allow for audience questions so if you have a burning question, stick your hand up. Although I didn’t have a quiz team initially, I met up with some great ladies who I joined forces with. Oh, and John Harvey joined us for part of the quiz too. Saturday afternoon in the tent was great fun as there were book events where Advance Review Copies (AKA ARCs) were given away as well as playing games with Dead Good Books. Yes, this photo was taken as part of those games.

Make the most of it! When will you get the opportunity to be in such close proximity to these top writers, agents and fans of crime fiction? Well, next year, hopefully but – you know – carpe diem and all that. Some people I met over the weekend had made arrangements to chat to agents, others were really excited about meeting one writer in particular, others were just thrilled to be there. I fell into the latter category. Trust me on this, when you arrive on Thursday, Sunday seems like a million miles away but the next thing you know you’re on your way home again – don’t spend the journey home wondering why you didn’t speak to so and so.

Ann Cleeves takes over from Steve Mosby as programming chair for the 2015 festival which will take place at The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, from the 16 – 19th July 2015. Special Guests already confirmed include M.C.BeatonArnaldur Indridason, and Sara Paretsky. Full weekend packages are available to book now, call 01423 562303, e-mail or visit their website

One thought on “Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Harrogate) 2014

  1. Don’t forget the dates for 2015 are 16-19th July – also early booking is recommended as the event is the weekend between the Yorkshire Show (130,000 people) and Gift Fair which is 10,000 people so early booking is key.


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