I made it back from Scotland in one piece. Only two days after the hard-fought referendum that ended with Scots voting by a surprisingly large margin to stay British rather than become an independent nation, I went to Stirling for what has become one of the highlights of the crime aficionado’s Bloody Scotland, the third time the festival has been held and it’s clearly getting bigger and better every year.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Crowds of disgruntled Yes voters? As PG Wodehouse memorably said, “It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.” But I didn’t see any Scotsmen with grievances, just a few who were clearly disappointed and not necessarily gruntled, but who accepted with good grace that a democratic process had taken place. They weren’t happy with the result, but nobody was taking to the streets. Not yet, anyway.
What is plain is that the government in Westminster has made promises that it had better keep. Further devolution has been promised, and those who made those promises will find all hell let loose if they don’t keep their word. I know it’s difficult for a politician to honour an election pledge – it’s practically mentioned in the definition of a pre-election promise that it’s going to be forgotten within minutes. But if Westminster tries to diddle Chilly Jocko Land on this one, as they have tried to do often enough before, then there’ll be plenty of Scotsmen with grievances and precious few rays of sunshine.
But Bloody Scotland and the whole reason for venturing north of the border to start with. It was a magnificent couple of days, a bunch of crime writers, some keen and interested crime readers, a bar that stays open until the small hours; that’s a recipe for a good time.
There was a bunch of big names to start with, Peter May (who took the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year award), Ian Rankin, Kathy Reichs, Sophie Hannah, MC Beaton, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Denise Mina, Mark Billingham, Nele Neuhaus, ranging from hardboiled to creepy as hell to cosy, as well as a whole crowd of us less well known crime writers (including me) who all got a crack of the whip.
The panel with Michael Malone lobbing the questions at Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and me went down well. It was sold out to start with, which was definitely a good sign, and as nobody threw any bottles at us, we must have done all right.
Before that was a Dragon’s Den-style pitch an agent session. That was an eye-opener. Half a dozen yet-to-be-published writers, coincidentally all women, completed a three-minute pitch to a trio of hard-as-nails editors who have seen it all before and are no strangers to manuscripts that make their hearts sink. If I were a publisher, I’d have signed every one of them up on the spot, but I’m a soft-hearted fool at the best of times, not a hard-hearted editor.
The conclusion? Scotland has talent, plenty of talent.
The highlight? For some, anyway, was the friendly football match between Scottish and English crime writers in which England was hammered a humiliating 13-1. The man of the match was English goalkeeper Luca Veste, who was judged to have done an outstanding job in the net. Without his defensive skills the score might well have been closer to 30-1. Next year England might be better off challenging Scotland to something less energetic. Darts, maybe. Or cribbage.