Ann Evans 

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Workshop with Think Forensic

Some of the world’s top crime writers descended on Agatha Christie’s old Harrogate haunt recently. Ann Evans  reports on the highlights of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival.



It was a meeting of some of the world’s greatest criminal minds, as top crime authors converged on Harrogate in July.


The 4-day annual Theakston Old Peculier Crime Festival, enjoying it’s 13th year, brought together the cream of the crop in crime writing, along with fans, fledgling writers, publishers, agents and a host of people involved in crime – books that is!


The Festival took place at the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, the very same hotel where Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie hid herself away for 11 days back in 1926. The mystery of her disappearance puzzled the world, until she was identified as a guest booked in at the hotel as a Mrs Teresa Neele from Cape Town.

This author, Ann Evans meets Lee Child

The atmospheric Old Swan Hotel has been the perfect location for the festival for the last 13 years and as always, attracted some of the biggest names on the crime scene: Lee Child, Ian Ranking, Kathy Reichs, Stuart MacBride, Joseph Finder, Peter May, Arne Dahl, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid,  Brenda Blethyn, Robson Green, James Runcie, and many others who gave talks, took part in panels and Q&A sessions, signed books and made themselves available to chat to fans and other writers.


The Crime Festival also showcased a unique exhibition by HarperCollins and the Agatha Christie Trust which featured the Christie archive, including original artwork, letters, photographs, First Editions and key pieces from her family collection previously unseen by the public. The exhibition was part of the HarperCollins 200th anniversary.


As well as being the world’s biggest celebration of the genre, The Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Festival has also earned a reputation for being the friendliest of events with its ‘no barriers’ approach so guests and visitors can happily mingle in the hotel bar, the papakata tents and in the bookshop marquee. And there certainly was a relaxed atmosphere as people met up with old friends and made new ones over the four days.

Award for Chris Brookmyre from Simon Theakston

For visitors arriving on the Thursday, there was a day-long writing workshop, Creative Thursday, with author and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, Louise Welsh and Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing and Director of the new Crime Fiction MA at UEA, Henry Sutton, with a chance for aspiring crime writers to pitch to top agents and editors.


That evening came the highlight of the Festival with the announcement of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2017. Chris Brookmyre scooped this award for his novel Black Widow, published by Hachette UK. The Award is considered one of the most coveted crime writing prizes in the country.


Chris Brookmyre said: “I’m really quite taken aback. I’ve been shortlisted three times before for this award, always the bridesmaid, today I get to walk up the aisle. A book is not just the work of the author behind it. I’d like to thank my editor, Ed Wood, for his calibre and daring that made a good book greater. I’m mainly just very proud.”

Award for Lee Child from Simon Theakston

Chris beat off stiff competition from the shortlist of six, whittled down from a longlist of 18 crime novels published by British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2017. He was presented the award by title sponsor Simon Theakston and broadcaster Mark Lawson at the opening night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. He collected a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved oak beer cask made by Theakston Old Peculier. The 2017 Award is run in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith, and The Mail on Sunday.


A special presentation was also made to Lee Child – the winner of the eighth Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. Lee Child joins Val McDermid, Sara Paretsky, Lynda La Plante, Ruth Rendell, PD James, Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill as recipients of the Award.


Lee Child said: “It’s an honour – probably undeserved – to be placed in the same category as the previous recipients of this prize.  In particular I would like to thank Simon Theakston for his generous and visionary support of the genre.”


Child has been dubbed a ‘billion-dollar brand’ for his blockbuster Jack Reacher series, adapted to film by Tom Cruise.

Visitors and guest at Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Fest

Title sponsor and executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “We’re particularly delighted to be honouring Lee Child. He is nothing short of a phenomenon. The Jack Reacher series tops bestseller lists worldwide, with a staggering 100 million books sold.  Lee is very deserving of this accolade, and will have his rightful place in a pantheon of legendary crime authors who have achieved this honour to date.”


Another Festival highlight took place on the Friday evening when comic Sarah Millican hosted a chat show style event with authors Lee Child, Val McDermit and Mark Billingham. The result was an hilarious evening as Sarah Millican asked questions of the panel, that lesser mortals would not dared to have asked!


The whole programme was chaired by Elly Griffiths, who also hosted a special author dinner murder mystery on the Saturday evening, ‘Digging up the Past’ with help from Francis Pryor of Time Team fame and other authors. A delicious meal with wine was accompanied by a ‘whodunnit’ murder enactment with diners and their own celebrity author trying to solve the mystery.

Visitors view Agatha Christie exhibition

Without a doubt it was a fabulous festival, and I personally can’t wait for next year’s.


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