On Sunday I returned home after spending three days at the Theakstons Crime Festival in Harrogate. I had never been to the festival before, but I knew that there would be a number of big authors there and that some fascinating panels and discussions were planned. That's literally all I knew. I hoped to be amused, educated and entertained, and to come home feeling that it was money well spent.
Well, I can tell you that it was much, much better than that.
What made it special were the people. There were no cliques, no elitism, no friction. Everyone got on with everyone else. Big names rubbed shoulders and downed alcohol with the littler fish. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the luminaries were doing everything they could to encourage newly published and aspiring authors. Special mention must go to Mark Billingham, who could almost invariably be found at the 'front of house', welcoming people and having coffee with them. I chatted to him several times during the festival, and although I am a fan of his work anyway, I came away feeling that he is such a nice guy.
The talks and panels were excellent. Val McDermid was hilarious and Lee Child gave a highly entertaining performance in the Room 101 session. I particularly enjoyed listening to Dennis Lehane at the end of festival. He was refreshingly honest and frank, but also such a cool customer. Since he's a hero of mine, I joined a long queue to get him to sign some books, and he congratulated me on my debut novel and wished me good luck. I got a similar reception from Tess Gerritsen and David Baldacci in their book signings too.
On the Friday evening the Pan Macmillan team took a number of us out to dinner at the very posh venue of Rudding Park. I sat between Jeremy Trevathan, Fiction Publisher for Pan Mac, and Philippa McEwan, my publicist. They made for fantastic company, as did everyone else at the table (how often do you get to have dinner with David Baldacci?). Following champagne and a wonderful meal, we were transported back to the bar of the Old Swan, and the party continued. The whole weekend was as fast paced as that: I hardly slept, because even when I managed to get back to my hotel room in the wee small hours, my mind was racing too much for me to relax.
Philippa, my publicist, was brilliant. She introduced me to lots of important people in the business and the media. At one point she whisked me in to meet the manager of the Waterstones store that had been set up in the hotel. I had noticed on the previous day that copies of my book were on the shelves, even though I wasn't on any of the panels. It was pleasing enough when Kirsty, the manager, told me that they were selling well, but then it got better. I was invited to sign the remaining copies, they were stickered appropriately, and within an hour they were all sold!
I have to say that the organization of the whole event was fantastic. The logistics of such a huge festival must have been horrendous, but to me as a punter it seemed to run like clockwork. Sessions ran perfectly to time, stragglers were only allowed in at appropriate junctures, and the audio-visuals were spot on. There were also nice gaps between sessions in which we could grab a much-needed cuppa and some fresh air, and the lunches were superb. All of this in the remarkable setting of the Old Swan Hotel, and the fact that Agatha Christie was once found staying there after her mysterious disappearance only added to the atmosphere.
I must give a mention to Twitter here. As a social media tool, Twitter did its job excellently. I arrived at the festival feeling that I already knew some people, and when we finally met up I was not disappointed. The rapport was immediate, and I left having established friendships that I know will last a long time.
So that was my weekend. Exhausting, but also electrifying and inspiring. I can't wait to go back next year.