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Saturday 4 December 2021

Bloody Scotland 2021

by Angela Crowther

The list of contributors at this year’s Bloody Scotland reads like a roll call of crime royalty;
Paula Hawkins,
Val McDermid,
Kathy Reichs,
Karin Slaughter,
Lee Child,
Jo Nesbo and
Ian Rankin

were just a few of the authors who popped up in Stirling or who appeared from various exotic locations around the globe.  They were watched by 16,000 people from thirty countries. Thanks to modern technology; tickets that gave access to almost all the events; and a wonderful website that was easy to use, viewers were able to watch all the presentations they wanted to see both during the festival that ran from the 17th to 19th September and then right up until the 30th September.

Friday morning got off to a flying start with two masterclasses.
The first was  Liam McIlvanney.
Speaking from his home in New Zealand, Liam provided us with clear guidelines on the most important points to consider when  plotting a
crime novel.

In the second masterclass ES Thompson told us how to select, administer, and where to find our poison of choice. She seems like a lovely lady, but I’m not too sure about having dinner with her – not that I’ve been invited.  The classes were followed by an industry panel comprising an agent, a commissioning editor, and a publisher who gave opinions on a range of questions such as:
What trends are they currently seeing? 
A. Everything from cosy, to post -apocalyptic dystopian drama. 

Is the police procedural on the way out?
A. No.

How close to real life should a crime novel be? 
A. It should be sufficiently realistic to be believable

The masterclass keynote address was given by Steve Cavanagh.
Some of his first words were that we should enjoy our writing. He thinks Stephen King’s On Writing is the best reading for would-be-writers along withPatricia Highsmith’s Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. 
He encouraged writers to subvert expectations, and said that although readers like to be frightened, they still need to be able to identify with thecharacters and theexperiences they undergo. Steve and Stephen King (in a later presentation) were both very keen on Lee Child’s books.

With over a hundred authors being interviewed either as solo artists, chatting to each other in pairs or appearing on panels, it is impossible to highlight them all. 

 With panels Forensic Investigations; Secrets and Spies; Slow Burning Secrets; and A Brother and Child Reunion that included participants:

Lin Anderson, Elly Griffiths, Mick Heron,
Lisa Jewel
and Andrew Child

The topics for discussion were generally clear – or as clear as they are ever likely to be when people who routinely thrive on deception as a part of their output start chatting.  The same applied to other panels with titles like:
Shocking Twists and Big Reveals; Searching for A Home; and Pitch-Black Humour.  On the other hand, it was impossible to predict who, or what, might materialise during the marathon 3-4 hours of The A-Z of Crime that involved 26 authors -or rather 25 plus Mystery Man X – dipping in and out for long enough to discuss their latest books whilst also being questioned on a range of issues by a series of chair-people.

One presentation I particularly enjoyed was The Body Politic when Alan Johnson and Robert Peston were questioned by Sarah Smith. Johnson’s The Late Train to Gypsy Hill has echoes of the incident involving the
Russian, Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in a London hotel, whilst Robert Peston’s The
Whistleblower features an antihero who is the editor of a political paper that might just resemble The Financial Times. With the participants extensive experience in the worlds of politics and journalism you gained the impression that, when it comes to the murky connections between politicians and journalists, the truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Another novel presentation was Alex Gray’s New Crimes. Out of the huge numbers of books that publishers sent her she had selected just four to question their authors about. Two books were set in the present and two in the relatively recent past i.e, 1930 and 1959.  Her criteria for selecting the books were that she remembered the story after she’d read it; that they were well written; that they had a good story with a good setting. One of the questions she put to the authors was why they had chosen to write crime books when the market is full. My impression from the answers was that crime novelists can write about anything they want and that - rather like the criminals they portray - they don’t have to worry about the rules.

One of the innovations from Bloody Scotland was  Crime in the Spotlight.  This gave emerging writers the chance to describe the main thrust of their first book and to do a short reading from it immediately before some of the main events. This year, 17 brave new authors, dubbed ‘the spot-lighters’ appeared on stage for three minutes and opened for names like Stephen King, Karin Slaughter and the Child brothers. The standard of their work was outstandingly good.

I have nothing but praise for Bloody Scotland.  It was good-fun; run extremely professionally; and provided a huge window on the scope and excellence of what is available in the genre. I would thoroughly recommend anyone with an interest in Crime Fiction to attend it next year, either in person or online. Indeed, the hybrid event has been so successful this year that it has been extended for an extra day, from the

15th to the 18th of September in 2022.

There is plenty of information available on line for those who would like to learn more about it. 

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