Festival season by Quentin Bates

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It feels like festival season is coming around. It’s part of the job, as well as part of the fun.

This year I have a small festival in Newcastle, in the north-east of England, the petite but muscular Newcastle Noir, which is taking place right at the beginning of May at Newcastle’s magnificent Lit & Phil library – and the Reality Check’s Barbara Nadel is also taking part in that one.

I went to the first Newcastle Noir last year and it was a slightly odd experience. The last time I had been to the banks of the Tyne had been more than twenty years before, then as a half-seasick crewman on a trawler where we spent four days sitting out a winter storm of the kind the North Sea regularly coughs up.

In the twenty year gap between visits, all the rough old dockside pubs had gone, the betting shops had disappeared and in their place were wine bars and bistros. Even the Fishermen’s Mission had become a trendy Italian eaterie. How times change.

Then there’s Crimefest, and I owe my association with the Reality Check to a chance encounter in the bar with this page’s blogger emeritus Colin Cotterill, who said that a friend of his was running a blog and was looking for contributors, if I was interested. So thanks for that, Colin. I owe you a drink.

In fact, Crimefest in Bristol can be exhausting and it’s a whole load of fun. Writers, readers, publishers, critics, bloggers and many others rub shoulders, share meals, listen to the panels, and all the rest of it. Oh, and there’s some drinking goes on as well. In fact, there’s quite a lot of that. Crime writers are a convivial bunch and they like to enjoy themselves, sometimes well into the night and they can keep the bar busy until the hotel’s breakfast shift are turning up.

This is my fourth (I think) time at Crimefest, and I’ve managed to go from a Billy No-Mates who knew nobody to moderating a panel this year. It’s something suitably chilly, Crime at the Borders of the Arctic, with Clare Carson, Kati Hiekkapelto, Craig Robertson and Nordic crime fiction royalty Gunnar Staalesen. Clare’s debut novel is set in Orkney, Kati is from Finland and sets her fiction there, Craig has written a novel set in the Faroe Islands and Gunnar’s books are set in his home town of Bergen on the wet and windy west coast of Norway, so we’re all on the borders of the Arctic and the cold north Atlantic.

Crimefest is four days, and this year the highlight for many of us with Nordic links will be the appearance of Maj Sjöwall, the godmother of Nordic crime fiction and one of the co-authors of the ten Martin Beck novels written in the 60s and 70s.

Then there’s Harrogate and Bloody Scotland, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to get to either of those.Later in the year there’s Shetland Noir, which I have a link to as it’s being held in association with my own little festival, Iceland Noir which is taking a break this year as Shetland takes our November slot. However, we’ll be back in Reykjavík in November 2016.

There are a lot of these things going on. In fact, there are a great many crime fiction gatherings around the world. There are huge events in Germany and the US, KrimiFest and Bouchercon. There’s the prestigious Quais du Polar in France, plus numerous smaller ones. There are festivals in Denmark, Norway and Holland, and I hear of more springing up in ever more exotic locations. The Bahamas, maybe, or Tahiti?

There’s a wide variety to choose from and if you wanted to and could afford it, it wouldn’t be a problem to spend half of each year going from festival to festival.

But it’s worth going to a few of these events. They’re remarkably friendly and relaxed gatherings, and crime writers are a thoroughly amiable bunch who are normally happy to chat, answer questions, sign a book or two and chew the fat well into the night over a drink or three.

I’d love to go to more of these things, but there are only so many spare days in the year, and if I went to any more, my body clock would go totally haywire and I’d probably get even less writing done. So just these three this year, and maybe more next year, assuming I’ve found the time to finish another book between now and then, and hoping I get an invitation to the Tahiti International Crime Fiction Festival.

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