Sunday, March 10, 2019

Crime & Publishment 2019

Zoë Sharp

At one time, the only way couples under the age of twenty-one, who’d been denied permission by their parents to marry, could tie the knot was to elope over the border from England into Scotland. Gretna, located just into Scotland, became the famous place for such couples to marry. The Mill Forge at Kirkpatrick Fleming, just two miles from Gretna itself, has become a favourite among favourites.


Today, though, it has another claim to fame. Over this weekend (March 8-10) it hosted the seventh annual Crime & Publishment crime writing course. Much information, fun, and it seemed, pink gin, was had by all!


Crime & Publishment (which is a bit of an inspired name for it) is organised at the Mill Forge by crime thriller author Graham Smith, who’s written 13 books in the DI Harry Evans, the Jake Boulder, and the DC Beth Young series. Graham also taught Crime Writing 101, as well as The Road to Publication, and took part in the 1-2-1 Surgeries on Saturday afternoon.

This is the second time Graham has invited me to the event to talk to attendees, this time on Getting Your Fight Scenes Right, which I extended to include a bit of info on common gun errors and car chases as well.

Graham played my crash-test dummy for the practical demonstration of some of the self-defence techniques, which he did without complaint, bless him. So, armed with a rubber knife, an old table fork and a magic marker, I showed the groups how their characters could get away from nasty situations and generally defeat the bad guys. It was entertaining while, I hope, also providing useful information.

While I was teaching half the attendees, Caro Ramsay, who happens to be an osteopath as well as the author of nine crime thrillers, was teaching the other half the ins and outs of Breaking Bones for Fun.

The following day, Doug Johnstone, Scottish crime author whose tenth novel will be out in May, talked on Creating Everyman for Everyone. Also, literary agent, Mark Stanton, known universally as Stan, from The North Agency, talked on Perfecting Your Pitch. Prior to being at The North, Stan worked for Canongate Press and the Jenny Brown Literary Agency. He also took part in the 1-2-1 Surgeries on Saturday afternoon and did the pitch sessions on Sunday morning.

I had the opportunity to sit in on Stan’s session, which was very interesting. He said he reads as much of the sample as holds his interest, then reads the synopsis to make sure it doesn’t take a weird left turn halfway through the plot. He particularly mentioned From Dusk Till Dawn, which starts as a classic heist movie, then takes a sharp sideways turn into a vampire movie halfway through.

When it came to writing the synopsis, which varies in word length from one page to 3000 words, depending on the agent involved, he reckoned that it was better to go for the one-pager, as it would fit most occasions. All it has to do is lay out the main arc of the story, without sub-plots, not even the names of all the characters. The kind of synopsis The North Agency is looking for, Stan told us, is a one- or two-line breakdown of chapters and the bare bones of what happens next in the story. An agent is looking for peace of mind, he said, that what they’ve read is representative. And he would want to know the ending, or spoiler alert in bold, if it’s a big twist ending as with Agatha Christie’s THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. And any sample of the book should be of the length the agency requests and must be the beginning of the novel, not bits from the middle.


Perhaps most surprisingly, Stan recommended brevity almost in the extreme for the covering letter or email, and provided some examples of what not to write unless amusing the agent is your intention.

As I write this blog, only the final pitch sessions with Stan on Sunday morning remain and then Crime & Publishment will be over for another year. With great camaraderie and good-humoured nights in the bar, it’s become a highlight of the calendar. Ten previous attendees have signed publishing contracts so far, often with the major houses. And although Graham tries to ring the changes with a lot of the instructors, there are some attendees who come back year after year. I can entirely understand why.


This week’s Word of the Week is opperchancity, which I had no idea was even a word until assured of that fact by Graham. It is a relatively new addition to the dictionary and is a cross between chance and opportunity, particularly meaning the kind of opportunity that happens once in a lifetime.

Upcoming Events

May 9-12
CRIMEFEST INTERNATIONAL CRIME FICTION CONVENTION—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol
Friday, May 10, 13:40-14:30Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We LiveCandy DenmanPaul GitshamCara HunterAmanda RobsonZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)Saturday, May 11, 11:20-12:10Ten Year Stretch: The CrimeFest Short Story AnthologyPeter GuttridgeCaro RamsayZoë SharpMichael Stanley (Stan Trollip), Kate Ellis (Participating Moderator)Sunday, May 12, 09:30-10:20The Indie AlternativeBeate BoekerAdam CroftBarry FaulknerLynn FlorkiewiczZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)

And, just in:


13 comments:

  1. Sounds like you had way too much fun. Wait, I take that back...you deserve to have way too much fun, so continue to enjoy! Can't wait to catch you doing your thing at CrimeFest, with or without a magic marker.

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    1. Thanks, Jef, although it seemed to be my trick with the table fork that really worried everyone...

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  2. I would love to see this demo 😀 any chance to catch it anywhere on the internet?

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    1. I may have to do a YouTube video at some point...

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    1. It's enormous fun, Stan, and packed full of useful info.

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  4. I want to see YouTubes of all of Charlie's tricks. Even the one with the horse. PLEASE.

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    1. I'll have to find a suitable crash-test dummy and a cameraman, Annamaria. Hmm, thinks...

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  5. Seeing Zoë take a guy out with a fork and a magic marker would definitely rate as an opporchancity!

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  6. I'd like to offer my sincere thanks to Zoe for this wonderful write-up and her generosity of spirit throughout Crime and Publishment. Most of all, I'm grateful she pulled her punches while using me as a crash test dummy.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Graham. I had a great time and was glad to have the oppertunity to help. It's all about Pay It Forwards.

      And I was trying to be very gentle, although maybe Alan heard otherwise, hence his reason for vanishing as my substitute crash-test dummy for the afternoon session!

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    2. He was dealing with his teenage son - the one in Missouri- hence we both forgot about the c and p as we were too busy looking at the time difference for facetiming. 😉 bloody kids.

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