Debut novelist Col Bury, tells Life Of Crime, all about his footballing prowess, the accidental nature of this years Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, and the experience of Harrogate as a newly published author.
Harrogate – or ‘Ha-aargh-ogate’ – was different this year for a number of reasons. It was my fourth one and first as a novelist, and my thoughts were on the inaugural North v South football match as much as crime. It was lovely to see friends old and new, including readers, reviewers, writers and members of the ever-growing Facebook book clubs, including Tracy, Helen, Sumaira and Louise (sorry, if I missed anyone). Even so, it was the first time I’d attended without bumping into larger than life characters, such as Simon Kernick, Kevin Wignall, Chris Simmons and Ali Karim, and I have to say that I did miss them. It was also both strange and thrilling to be actually signing books myself.
Having booked to see too many panels previously, I only attended two this year, since most of the action and fun is at the bar area. There was definitely something in the air mingling with the customary alcohol-fuelled breath. People were falling over and bumping into things, resulting in injuries galore. Call me a detective, but I suspect choices and amounts of beverages consumed played a part. However, several injuries occurred in more sober moments.
To protect the dignity of those concerned I won’t be naming names, but I know a quite brilliant female crime writer fell down stairs, plus an agent tripped over and injured her face, so I suppose she ‘got her cut’ (sorry). Another writer banged her leg on a wonky glass table in her room, but I guess Shit Happens! 😉 An avid reader/reviewer/blogger, who is no stranger to this blog, hurt her foot and ended up on crutches.
If that wasn’t enough, there were two fractures, a few twisted ankles and lots of knocks and aching limbs from the footy match, during which I was kneed in the ‘groin’ by an agent (it was a damn accurate shot – pic of bruise to follow – joke), which the crowd found much funnier than I. Perhaps I shouldn’t have pitched on the pitch, but talk about a tough negotiator. During the post-match celebrations, Howard Linskey remarked: “That agent certainly got his 15% of you, Col!” When Howard scored his second goal I shouted, “Howard, do the Penguin,” and waddled over to congratulate him, evoking more laughter from the crowd.
Nonetheless revenge, as they say, is sweet. When a certain ‘pleasantly plump’ Mancunian scored his hat-trick goal, the North’s sixth, Jay Stringer commented: “You ran past everyone, including Billingham (the ref) and each member of the crowd, before scoring.”
Apologies if this write-up is leaning toward the footy (it is, I know), but to be invited on stage by Mark Billingham – along with victorious Northern teammates, Graham Smith, Nick Quantrill, Howard Linskey, Craig Robertson, Luca Veste, Vincent Holland-Keen and Dan Stewart – and then be presented with the cup by Val McDermid, was quite a moment! I must say commiserations to the South, particularly James Law, Ian Ayris, Tim Weaver and Darren Laws (and Chris Ewan a bit – LOL), who were great sports.
Back to the actual writing festival! Having read and enjoyed Lee Child’s novels immensely, I booked two events involving him. The first one on the Friday was ‘Yorkshire Pride’ chaired by my good friend and Caffeine Nights stablemate, Nick Quantrill. Nick did an excellent job BTW, involving all the panel equally; namely, Peter Robinson, Steve Mosby, Frances Brody and Lee Child, the latter who quickly addressed his tenuous Yorkshire links, pointing out that his Granny lived up the road and he went to Sheffield Uni. It was arguably not quite as lively as I anticipated, though enjoyable all the same. Peter Robinson chatting about DCI Banks was particularly interesting, as he’s another author I admire and haven’t heard speak before. The inevitable Tom Cruise / Reacher question arose amid a plethora of rolled eyes and groans, with Child seemingly having had little say in the casting and just, like any writer would be, happy his character had hit the big screen.
The only other panel I attended was just after the footy and the room was stifling, plus I was nursing a bruised groin, so stood up outside the patio doors at the back with a pint. Rory Bremner was funny, as expected, and expertly allowed Child plenty of room to fully answer the questions. I picked up a couple of nuggets, one from Child: “Don’t write what you know, write what you want to write and let your writing have its own heartbeat.” The other from Bremner: “John Bird said, ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’.”
Anyway, apart from the footy – have I mentioned that? – the other personal highlight was meeting legendary New York agent Nat Sobel, who kindly took Tony Schumacher and I to dinner. Even though he didn’t sell the earlier version of my debut, we got mighty close, gleaning lots of praise, but no cigar. Nonetheless, if it wasn’t for Nat, I doubt very much the new improved version of My Kind of Justice would have been written, let alone published. Somewhat aptly, just as I was driving away from the hotel to return home, as fate would have it, I saw Nat again, strolling along Kings Road. He said to me, “I won’t give up on you, Col, if you don’t give up on me.”
As always, it was a memorable and invaluable experience, with too many laughs and wonderful people to mention here. Roll on next year!