Category Archives: News

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2013

I guess I’m just dim. This is the biggest crime writing festival in Europe – possibly, I heard claims, in the world – now in its tenth year ,and I have never heard of it! How come?

Better late than never, I guess.


I came to the event by a long and convoluted path, but I did get there.

As I said to my wife on my return – this was the second best weekend of my life. She asked what the first was, and of course it was the weekend we got married. Of course.

The event ran over three days, Friday to Sunday, but I also attended the Creative Workshop day on Thursday.

It started with a fantastic session from M.R. Hall and William Ryan on the core elements of a crime novel, with lots of interaction and great presentations. This is a distillation of a 2 day workshop run by them and the agent David Headley. They are running another workshop in October and I might sign up for that one as well.

The second session of the day was on Forensics – suitably gruesome, presented by a professional who has been both on the police and the forensic analysis side.

I almost didn’t attend the first afternoon session presented by a firm of Accountants but am glad I did, because I had no idea a writer can claim all the books they buy back against tax. How fantastic is that?

The penultimate session was by Henry Sutton on what we can learn from the greats of crime writing. Henry is a quiet, polite academic but he certainly knows his crime, including some surprising authors such as Lee Child as well as the more expected ones of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard.

Finally there was Dragon’s Pen, where prospective authors toss their name into a hat for the chance to pitch their novel to a panel of four professionals. This year these were the top UK agent Jane Gregory, Gordon Wise of Curtis Brown, Maria Rejt from Mantle and Jade Chandler from Little Brown. The panel was controlled – if it’s possible to use such a term – by Mark Billingham.

I was a little late getting there, had only just sat down when the first name was called out. And it was me! I’d done a little preparation, but not much, and in the rush I couldn’t find my notes and ended up walking to the mic and speaking for two minutes without any recollection whatsoever what I said.

Hmmm – I guess it was OK though, but if I ever do something like that again I’m going to prepare.

The rest of the weekend was a kind of alcohol and head-buzz whirl. I spoke to more authors than you could shake a stick at, shook Lee Child’s hand and said I admired his writing, then sat next to Ian Rankin for 45 minutes while he chatted to old friends who lived locally. I had my picture taken with Ian, but it’s possibly the worst picture of me ever so I’m not going to show it to anyone else.

Before I came away I went and booked for next year. Yes, I’m definitely coming back!

Chipping Norton – who’d have thought it!

I’m recently back from a fantastic weekend at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. I know, I know… so if you have no interest in writing you can zone out now, because this is all about writing and writers.

I started out booking a couple of workshops on Saturday, then found more I wanted to go to on Sunday so made a complete weekend of it. There was a great atmosphere, and what I loved was the way everyone, from well-known writers to mere mortals like me, simply rubbed shoulders, chatted and got on. Case in point…


Returning from a walk (I had three hours to kill between sessions) I sat and ate my sandwiches on a bench beneath a tree. Opposite was the Jaffe & Neal bookshop where a couple of my workshops were held, and on the right of the picture sipping tea and eating cake are Val McDermid, Stuart McBride and Mark Billingham – three of the UK’s leading crime writers. As I ate my chicken and salad on granary their conversation occasionally wafted over… “Yeah, I visited this coroner’s office, and you wouldn’t believe the things I saw there…”

So while enjoying a balmy afternoon tea in a pretty Cotswold town possibly the next gory thrillers were being discussed and planned.

And what did I learn, other than even people you consider famous are just people after all (although I think I already knew that)?

Well – I picked up some tips on how to improve my self-publishing, heard a talk by Peter James on his latest book, learned something about weaving historical research into a novel and finished off discovering how to create characters that jump off the page.

Now all I have to do is apply all this. My Spanish detective novel is now started. My vision is set. All I need now is time…




I’m going to come right out and say it. I’m a keyboard nut. Completely and utterly.
I blame my upbringing.

I started typing when I was 12. One of my earliest writing memories is of sitting outside in the garden – the sun was shining, because when you’re 12 the sun always shines – tapping away at an old portable typewriter. An Olivetti, I think. It belonged to my grandfather, who was typing up his Great War tales of derring do (which is a completely other topic I might post about sometime, because it’s worth hearing about).

Then some time later I bought my own typewriter. An old black Royal. I got it in a sale room, and probably paid no more than £1 for it. I never paid more than £1 for anything. I bought an amazing desk with a fold down lid made of solid oak for £1 which I used for 30 years.

So anyway, the point is that old Royal spoiled me. There was something about the sheer physical effort of pressing the keys and getting words down on paper that made the act of writing something different. I must have written 250,000 words on the Royal before I moved on to a portable and then, later, an electric typewriter. Eventually, and pretty soon after they came out, I bought an Amstrad computer.

However, something all these had in common was solid, clattery keyboards. That’s what I was used to. That’s what I associated with writing.

So… roll the clock forward to 2010, and I’ve been working with computers for 25 years and used keyboards of all kinds, but that was work, not creation. I would use whatever fell to hand (or finger).

But in 2010 I started writing again, and suddenly discovered that none of the keyboards I used was up to the job. There was a disconnect between my somatic memory and the physical act of writing. The keyboards weren’t the right size or shape or… well, feel!

I bought a MacBook, but the keyboard, while OK, wasn’t it.

I bought an Apple keyboard, and then an apple wireless keyboard, and still not it.
The keys were soft and squishy. They didn’t make a noise. And something about putting words on paper (sorry, I mean screen now, don’t I?) and what I use to perform the task didn’t sit right.

I bought keyboard after keyboard until I finally realized buying another one was plain stupid.

So I did some research, trawled the net finding out what the best keyboards were, and finally drove 25 miles down the road to Stroud to actually try one before committing myself (or being committed).

All of this is some kind of prelude to saying I went and bought a Filco keyboard.

Filco Keyboard

It doesn’t have a numeric keypad, because why in hell would a writer want a numeric keypad? They sell it in two models, defined by whether they contain brown or blue key actions (don’t ask). The brown keys (not the actual colour) don’t go click-click-click so if you work in an office you don’t drive everyone around you mad. The blue keys do go click-click-click, and suddenly I was in heaven. I had found the keyboard I lost when I got rid of my old Royal. Except now I don’t need to lift weights to press the keys down, but when I do press them they go click and clack.

Yes, it drives my family crazy if they can hear it, so I close the office door.
But the main thing is, I love this keyboard. Love it to pieces. It’s precise, professional, and it just feels right.

It cost ten times more than most other keyboards, but whatever the price it was worth it because I can type at least 30% faster than before, and I can type with my eyes closed because the keys fall in exactly the right place, and that noise… my God, the noise! I love it!