Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Bloody great times in Scotland

The torchlit parade from Stirling Castle heads through the town on Thursday night

Craig every second Tuesday. 

I hope you're all having a good day as you read this, not just because I wish good things for readers in general, but because it's actually my birthday - and I'd love for everyone to have a lovely day. 

Firstly, apologies for a wee absence. Quite a lot of tumult in August, ranging from broken laptops to heart-breaking family medical matters. The latter has been and is the toughest to deal with, but it was the former that for a few weeks put paid to my posting on Murder is Everywhere, as old accounts and new devices decided they weren't fans of each other. In better news, I have plenty of fun stuff to chat about today, birthday aside, as I spent recent days enjoying Bloody Scotland. 

Sunrise, from Stirling Castle on Friday

For those who haven't been before (those who have know), Bloody Scotland is one of the world's best festivals, held each year - 2020 aside, due to COVID - in Stirling, which is both one of the newest cities in the UK (having got city status twenty years ago for the Queen's golden jubilee) and one of the most historic places, being a former capital, a royal burgh, and the home of Robert the Bruce's castle, perched atop a craggy (Craig-y?) cliff of volcanic rock overlooking lush plains laced with rivers and small lochs where famed battles between the English and Scottish happened in centuries past.  

Well, actually, some of those battles still happen, on the football field at Bloody Scotland each year, where Scottish crime writers battle their English counterparts in a fight-to-the-(not)death for honour, glory, and a shiny trophy. It used to be that other nationalities attending Bloody Scotland were drafted into either side, but as the festival has grown and national pride is on the line, that's been kiboshed. 

(Plus it saves fights about who gets Norwegian virtuoso Thomas Enger in their squad.) This year a new field was tried, and in a high-scoring, hard-fought contest Scotland emerged victorious, 6-4. 

Not sure if this is the shot where Liverpool crime writer, Fun Lovin' Crime Writers bassist, and stalwart England keeper Luca Veste busted his pinkie 

But before the football on Saturday afternoon (as well as during and afterwards), there was a whole lot of bookish greatness across what was Bloody Scotland's 10th anniversary. Festivities commenced on Thursday evening in the historic Church of the Holy Rude, which dates back nearly 1,000 years. History seeps from the altars, stone walls, stained glass, and wooden ceiling. As hundreds gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Bloody Scotland and officially kickstart a wonderful weekend, we were standing in the space where an infant James VI was crowned King of Scotland in 1567.

Scottish crime writers Alex Gray and Lin Anderson, who helped establish Bloody Scotland a decade ago, with festival director Bob McDevitt in the Holy Rude. 

On the Thursday night, as well as seeing lots of old friends - and meeting some people in person for the first time who I'd only corresponded with online or via Zoom, eg US author Lisa Unger, which is always lovely - we got to enjoy the return of the famed torchlit parade from the front of Robert the Bruce's castle down through the historic streets of Stirling, to the Albert Halls where the prizes for Scottish crime novel of the year would be awarded: a debut category and the McIlvanney Prize for the Best Scottish Crime Novel of the Year (named after William McIlvanney, godfather of Tartan Noir).

Fancy seeing you here: running into US crime writer Lisa Unger
outside Stirling Castle as we prepared for the torchlit parade

After the excitement of trying not to trip and set ourselves alight during the torchlit parade, it was on to the prizes. Some outstanding books in the running this year, particularly the quartet shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize. I've been a past judge and judging chair of this award, but had no clue who might win this year out of THE HERETIC by Liam McIlvanney, THE SECOND CUT by Louise Welsh, A CORRUPTION OF BLOOD by Ambrose Parry, and MAY GOD FORGIVE by Alan Parks. 

Given the likes of 1979 by Val McDermid, THE DARK REMAINS by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin, and RIZZIO by Denise Mina - all superb books too - were also published in the past year or so, along with lots of other fabulous Scottish crime fiction, there's no doubt 'Tartan Noir' is in fine fettle.

Out of a strong field, WELCOME TO COOPER by Tariq Ashkanani (Debut of the Year) and MAY GOD FORGIVE by Alan Parks were revealed as this year's winners. Congratulations and celebrations. 

Alan Parks is revealed as the 2022 McIlvanney Prize winner

From there, the festival unfolded over the rest of that night and the next three days with dozens of amazing author panel discussions, plus fun events like Abir Mukherjee and Vaseem Khan's Night of a Million Games, and the Curly Coo extravaganza of music, craic, and whisky drinking. Of course, as anyone who's been to a crime writing festival knows, some of the best things happen away from the official programme - the catchups and meetings with authors and booklovers, the spontaneous meals, the great conversations, the random moments. Bloody Scotland was back in full force this year, celebrating its 10th anniversary with an extra day of events, and a full slate (eg last year's still-excellent festival didn't have the football, torchlit parade, Coo, or the welcome reception at the Holy Rude). 

It was a lot, in a good way. By Friday evening I'd felt like I'd already been part of a full festival weekend, and we still had the whole weekend itself to go. Huge bouquets to all involved, from director Bob McDevitt and the Festival Board who've steered the festival oh-so-well through its first decade of terrific events and significant growth, to all the volunteers, technicians, venue staff, and more. 

I'm grateful to feel like a wee part of the festival family, having been involved onstage for eight years in a row now, as well as being a past judge of the McIlvanney Prize. I'd highly recommend that any crime fiction lover puts Bloody Scotland on their to-do list (there's an online option for those who can't make it in person). With a weekend full of highlights, I could rave on for ages. So here's just a few wee pics.

Stoked to hang out with cool Aussie writer Emma Styles, who was 'spotlight' author before my first panel with Denise Mina, Elly Griffiths, and Imran Mahmood

Double-duty on Friday: in the evening I chaired 'Without a Trace' with
the fab Fiona Cummins, Alex Dahl, and Tim Weaver

Bestselling crime writers Martin Waites, CL Taylor, and Elly Griffiths showing
they're full of hot air as they try to win Vas and Abir's game show. 

One of many fab meals with fab people, this one a spontaneous late-night Italian
after a full Saturday of parkrun, panel watching, and other goodness. 

She'll be Write, Mate: a short-notice meet-up of Aussies and Kiwis at the historic
Nicky-Tams Bar and Bothy, originally opened in 1718

A lovely personal moment: a reader (Peter) saw me in the audience of an event and had a copy of our new anthology DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER for me to sign.
Chris Brookmyre, Mark Billingham, and Luca Veste had the crowd in stitches
with several bawdy songs at the Curly Coo 

I had the pleasure of 'closing down' the festival in the Albert Halls on Sunday,
the terrific trio of David Fennell, Liljs Sigurðardóttir, and Louise Welsh

Have you ever been to Stirling, for Bloody Scotland or otherwise? Are you a fan of crime writing festivals and meeting authors and readers? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

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. This one was used by Michael Bennett onstage at Bute on Sunday, so seems appropriate:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata! 

(What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people!)

With Ayo Onatade, chair of this year's McIlvanney Prize judges
and past judge of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (nice t-shirt Ayo!)


  1. Wasn't it fun? My first time, but certainly won't be my last!

  2. Hey Craig, We saw you chair two panels, fantastic job both times! Myself and my wife traveled from Canada for the festival and had such a great time. Hopefully we'll make it to another.

  3. Looks like such huge fun! Hope you're okay and happy belated birthday!