Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Thankful for murderous minds

Hanging out with a motley and multinational crew at Harrogate in 2019: Nigerian author Leye Adenle, Professor Liam McIlvanney, Kiwi author Vanda Symon, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, myself, and Amer Anwar

Craig every second Tuesday.

Kia ora and gidday everyone.

So over the weekend there was an hesitant-yet-exciting 'return to normalcy' for the crime writing community with one of the world's leading crime fiction gatherings, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, taking place live and in person, after going fully online in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Many precautions were in place - social distancing, masks and more - despite the Tory government in the UK pronouncing 'Freedom Day' earlier this month (against most scientific advice and common sense) and removing most protective restrictions. 

Unfortunately I was unable to attend Harrogate this year, so watched on with some degree of FOMO as many old friends I haven't seen for a couple of years all gathered together and seemed to have a really wonderful time. It seems that while lots of precautions were taken (people being double vaxxed, distancing and masks, spacious outdoor tents for events, restrictions on entry etc) and the usual, famous Harrogate vibe couldn't crack on in full force, that for everyone who went this was a really amazing event. And a bright light at the end of a long tunnel of cancelled festivals, missed book launches, Zoom-only gatherings with fellow passionate crime writers and readers. 

I'm hesitantly hopeful that in the months to come we'll be able to gather a little more, cautiously of course. While I've thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful array of online events over the past 16 months (eg our recent 'Four Critics Four Continents' review of the year's best books, which is the kind of thing unlikely to happen pre-COVID), I really miss our crime and thriller writing tribe. It's a wonderful community overall, full of creative and generous people. I always come away from events feeling invigorated and inspired. And while I certainly appreciated them 'back then', and knew I was lucky to get to the many things I did (even though I missed a lot as a stay-at-home Dad too), I think all of us may now have an even greater appreciation for the good times we get to spend in person with good people.

What a wonderful honour - this overgrown kid from New Zealand got to chair an amazing panel of New York Times bestsellers and award-winning storytellers at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, in Toronto in October 2017. Kate White, myself, Kathy Reichs, Linwood Barclay, David Bell, and Michael Bracken

Nothing's guaranteed. None of the things that seem a usual, common part of our life will last forever, and they can be torn away unexpectedly. So in that vein, I thought I'd spend today's post just sharing my deep appreciation for the broad crime writing community and all the wonderful events, from book launches to crime panels at arts and books festivals to library events to a wide array of crime writing festivals and conventions big and small. I

I'm thankful I've got to meet and hang out with so many murderous minds. I've learned so much, had so many great conversations and 'remember for a lifetime' experiences. I'm a lucky guy. Kia ora rawa atu (thanks heaps). 

Here's a wee sprinkling, a photo essay of gratitude. 

Torchlit parade, Bloody Scotland, September 2019

So, let's start at the end, so to speak. I didn't know at the time of course, but Bloody Scotland in late September 2019 wasn't just my final book festival of an extraordinary year that kickstarted back with the first-ever Rotorua Noir in January (and included my first appearance onstage at Harrogate, great times at Newcastle Noir and Crimefest, and my first appearances at Noireland and Bute Noir, as well as getting to interview Val McDermid one-on-one on the big stage before a sold-out crowd at Edinburgh Book Festival) but would be my final festival for a long, long time. 

Here's the torchlit parade on the Friday night from historic Stirling Castle, with a front row including Denise Mina, David Baldacci, Manda Scott and 'Ambrose Parry' (Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman). I'd had the honour of walking alongside Liam McIlvanney, Denise Mina and Val McDermid at the front the year before - this time I'm tucked a row or two back (you can see my head between Denise and David). Fun times at a wonderful festival. 

Meeting the dashing Jeff Siger at Iceland Noir in late 2014

A really cool festival that I got to attend in 2014 is Iceland Noir, a wonderful smaller event that had a terrific vibe and some amazing people. It was the first time I met some of my fellow Murder is Everywhere writers, including Jeff Siger and Annamaria Alfieri. I also tried Hákarl (fermented/rotted shark), explored some of the volcanic landscapes, and had a fun chat with bestselling crime writer Peter James when we unexpectedly ran into each other while soaking in the geothermal wonders of the Blue Lagoon. I was hoping to return to Iceland Noir last year, but of course that didn't happen. One day again, it's a wonderful wee festival. Well worth a look when possible.

Fifteen minutes later, I was onstage, chairing a crime panel... 

While there's always lots to look forward to in a festival programme, things planned well in advance, some of the fun is the spontaneous events that occur, and live long in the memory. I may have taken that slightly too far at the Hamilton Garden Arts Festival back in February 2012, where I'd been asked to chair the crime writing panel (Kiwi crime novelists Paul Cleave, Ben Sanders, and Vanda Symon, true crime writer Scott Bainbridge). Relaxing with some frisbee beforehand, I threw a little hard, and high, for Vanda, who'd be tall if she were a hobbit. Paul's favourite frisbee that'd been thrown in several countries, slowly floating further and further into the lake. Oops. 

A quick dip, drying myself with the festival director's dog-hair-covered towel from the back of their station wagon, and we were away racing for what turned out to be a really fun panel. And a festival none of us would ever forget - I know, the others keep reminding me now and then, years later. Oh well. Fun times with great people. 

Chairing the 'Land Down Under' panel at Newcastle Noir in 2019

Hmm... you may be starting to think all I do at festivals is get up to hijinks. And yes, the frisbee and torchlit parades and thermal pools (not to mention the late-night conversations, midnight swims, backup singing for Fun Lovin' Crime Writers and other such things) are all tonnes of fun. But I do sometimes 'work', though can we really call it work when it's so much fun? I've been blessed to chair crime writing panels at many amazing festivals and crime conventions in a few countries. Here's one with some fellow Kiwis and Aussies at Newcastle Noir in May 2019: Vanda Symon, Nathan Blackwell, Rachel Amphlett, Helen Fitzgetald, and myself. It was raucous, full of laughter, sweary, tonnes of fun, and we gave out antipodean chocolate biscuits to the audience. What more could you want?

First of its kind: Rotorua Noir opened with a pohiri at Te Papaiouru marae in Ohinemutu

Having experienced so many wonderful crime writing festivals in the UK and beyond, I'd been keen for a while to create something like that for my home country, where there were often crime writing panels as part of big literary festivals, but there was nothing like Harrogate, Bloody Scotland, Iceland Noir, Crimefest, Noireland, Bouchercon, Newcastle Noir, Deal Noir,  Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic and all the other wonderful events specifically celebrating our wonderful crime & thriller genre, and bringing together the 'crime tribe' for a (long) weekend.

Once again, I was lucky, getting to join forces with fellow Kiwi Grant Nicol, who I'd also met at Iceland Noir in 2014 (Grant was living in Reykjavik then), to create Rotorua Noir, New Zealand's first-ever crime & thriller writing festival. We aimed for 'small but awesome', akin to Iceland Noir or Bute Noir etc, and it was brilliant. We sold out months in advance, and despite a few things going wrong on the weekend (authors getting sick and not being able to show up on the day, internet difficulties creating a very stressful afternoon for me ahead of the Saturday Night Quiz, etc), it went better than we ever could have hoped. We combined that wonderful 'crime tribe' vibe with Aotearoa stylings to create something I think everyone who attended will remember for a long time. 

A multi-national crew or mystery lovers: Sibylle (Germany, lives in USA), Craig (Kiwi lives in UK), Jacky (UK), Alan (Australia), Kati (Finland) and Kiwis Vanda Symon and Michael Bennett

It was a real privilege and honour to be able to share something like this with Kiwi authors and readers, and with several visiting guests from overseas (Finland, Iceland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Australia, the USA etc). 

And for those who've asked off and on since, yes, post-pandemic, Rotorua Noir will be back (I also didn't realise at the time that would be my last visit home for two and a half years and counting. Life turns unexpectedly). 

Realising that my 'photo essay' is becoming more wordy than I intended as I reflect in gratitude, a few quick hits: 

Strangers on a train - bumping into Laura Lippman as we disembarked, after I'd been reading Laura Lippman from London to Harrogate in 2016 with no idea she was a few seats behind me.

As delightful as our first meeting on the train was, this is one of Laura's favourite photos. We decided to use the 'big green chair' when I interviewed Laura, and thereafter it became a thing. I conducted several author interviews there in 2016, 2018, and 2019

After chairing panels on lots of assorted topics (legal thrillers, screen crime, European crime, etc) and author mixtures, and doing some cool one-on-one onstage sessions too, it was a real privilege to get to showcase Aussie & Kiwi crime writers a bit at several UK festivals in 2018 and 2019, including here at Harrogate: me, Vanda Symon, Jane Harper, Christian White, Stella Duffy

In recent years the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers band has become a welcome fixture at UK crime writing festivals, and they've dragged a host of people onstage for backing vocals. At Bloody Scotland in 2018 it was my turn along with Stella Duffy, Simone Buchholz, and Lilja Sigurdardottir, among others. 

A criminally inclined crew at the London premiere of season 1 of Bosch: Ali Karim, Michael Connelly, Ayo Onatade, Mike Stotter, and myself. 

Early days: onstage at the Christchurch Writers Festival in 2012 following a crime debate event then the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award to Neil Cross (Graham Beattie, Paul Cleave, myself, Neil, Ben Sanders, Ruth Todd, Michael Robotham, and Vanda Symon) 

Playing with fire: with Val McDermid, Liam McIlvanney, and Denise Mina at Bloody Scotland in 2018

Barely scratches the surface, but I think that'll do. It's strange times we're living through, where so much is unavailable to us, yet at the same time I'm finding myself profoundly grateful for many things, and perhaps even more appreciative for some of  the things - like crime festivals and book events - that I've been blessed to experience and enjoy over my years. An interest turned passion that's opened so many doors and brought me so much. I hope I've given plenty too, and will keep working to do so. 

Thanks for reading. Sorry if it got a little indulgent today. I'm just feeling reflective and oh-so-grateful after all the updates from friends and fellow crime-lovers at Harrogate over the weekend. 

What are some of your favourite memories or stories from crime and mystery events? 

Until next time. Ka kite anō.

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 
Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I'll be ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life.

He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu
(Unlike a canoe rope, a human bond cannot be severed)


  1. Thanks, Craig, for reminding us that these glorious festivals and conferences are what bind together the unique camaraderie of our mystery community. I'm looking forward jumping back in, starting with Bouchercon 2021 in New Orleans

  2. I'm looking forward to getting back to the festivals, Craig. Thanks for this timely reminder of just how much fun they all were.

  3. You cut a fine figure of a man in a Kilt!

  4. Thanks Craig, I saw you introduce Ben Saunder's at Takapuna Library years ago now.... my fond memory and an unexpected 'boon' from the lockdown was (apart from getting up very early) actually being able to see and hear Zoë read from her book. I love reading the blog posts though it is challenging sometimes not actually being able to be there at events and with 'online' making it possible I was so grateful.

    It's one thing to read an author's work, it's another experience to hear them read their own work.

    Best wishes from NZ

  5. darn, how did that apostrophe get in there... thanks to the crew of MiE for such literary entertainment by the way

  6. Thanks for the trip down memory lane and here’s to lots of new happy festival memories in the future! (“She’d be tall if she was a hobbit 🤣)

  7. Thanks for the memories of Rotorua Noir, was a fantastic weekend, so it was nice to revisit it through your article. I’m rapt that it may happen again but am pragmatic to know that it may not be for a while yet. 😊

    1. Thanks for coming along Julie. It was quite a special thing - felt it at the time, and has become even more special in hindsight given we haven't been able to repeat it (Yet) due to COVID etc. One day :)