And so it came to pass that my favourite crime fiction event of the year took place towards the end of July. Sadly, this year proved to be only a fleeting visit for me, but what fun! It was great to meet up with old friends and new, chat, gossip, give out some cake, and do the quiz! I took my camera, as instructed by @MarDixon on twitter, carried it in my handbag at all times, and then forgot to use it (sorry). But fear not, for I have trawled the international world webnet thingy to bring you anything I can muster to prove the fun. Let’s start with the second night, the Friday, before I’d even left the house.
The first shock of the weekend came when I received a tweet telling me I was on a certain quiz team. Oh dear, how would I manage this? Someone had already emailed saying ‘Let’s organise a table for the quiz’ but neither of us had got around to anything remotely substantial on this objective. I had approached an author, tentatively, as he was surely an expert on the golden age of crime fiction – mine and many’s black hole in knowledge. Suddenly, I found myself purloined/recruited/applied to a quiz team that did quite well two years ago, beating my team by one point only. What was this girl to do to avoid offending anyone? (And get the best chance of being on the winning team?)
With a train leaving the station at 04:57 on Saturday morning, I could only contemplate no rest for the intending-to-be-wicked that evening: bed was not an option as I could sleep on the train later (apply more than a landslide of irony here, as I am totally crap at this). In addition to packing my few things, I baked three cakes. While this was going on, a certain Rachel Rayner of Harper Collins (@thecrimedesk) was being led astray – or so she claimed later – by crime authors James Twining and Stephanie Merritt (writing as S J Parris). All I can say is that Rachel appears to have been the perfect fit for the victim outside the hotel and I’m sure that all the amateur detectives would have been grateful to find a body. They need something to keep their brains ticking over after all. But they had to keep their mere memories alive in the end as Rachel went off, with a few others, to the cream of Harrogate’s night clubs for some clothed dancing and jaw-dropping observation opportunities. Yes, not associated with the festival I am told, someone was dancing topless near a pole. Summed up in 140 characters on twitter, @SamEades said ‘baps out’ in her tweet. (And it wasn’t her, before you let your imagination run away with you…)
Having had zero minutes of sleep on the trains (3 in all and with 2 transfers), I managed to arrive half an hour early at Harrogate, dumped my things at the B&B and trundled down to the festival hotel with books for signing and the packed cakes. I caught up with a load of people for very brief chats – such is the nature of such festivals – but was so pleased for the opportunity. I think I startled Belinda Bauer (pictured) more than once, poor thing. I was hoping to have a quick word and the first occasion arose when she passed me to do a book signing. I shrieked out ‘Oh, it’s Belinda Bauer’. I suspect I sounded like one of those overawed girlies who flocked to Heathrow in the 1970s for the arrival of David Cassidy and the Osmonds. Later, her PR, @BenWillisUK introduced me and I announced ‘Oh, you live in X, don’t you?’ This led to the inevitable ‘How do you know that?’, to which I could respond with ease, ‘It was in the Western Mail’. Anyway, we had a lovely quick chat and all the potential ‘small world’ links were investigated.
Later, after having a rushed pizza with a friend, it was back to the hotel for the Tweetup but no one seemed to be in the right spot at the right time. We did achieve 3 out of 4 organisers in the same place at one time: myself, @BenWillisUK and @TOK09. But this wasn’t the same level of statistical success as Whiskas has claimed for cats preferring its offerings (9 out of 10). One then simply moved on and the other left to change into their ‘lucky shirt’ for the quiz – no, I am not kidding you – if it’s not confidence, it’s belief and ‘anything goes’ and downright superstition for the Harrogate crime quiz.
I got to meet someone I’d been talking to on twitter for some time: Jacqueline Remmers, who is an editor at Luitingh and known on twitter as @jackiesfeet. She recorded her meetings in pictures focusing on feet, or rather her own feet meeting the feet of others. I thought she was showing me one of her pics when she sidled up to me, iphone in hand, but no: she was away again very quickly announcing that my feet were now on twitter. Having had nothing near the description of a pedicure for quite some time, Jackie tweeted that my feet were photogenic. Luckily, it’s one of those pics that doesn’t highlight the truly dreadful bits: I am the one in Birkenstocks on the left. Make your own minds up!
I had what can only be described as a lovely, naughty chat with @cathbore before the quiz. She had me on the edge of my seat on Saturday (and Sunday morning for that matter) for conversation alone! No surprises then that she had all four dragons interested in her pitch and wanting to read more during the Thursday Creative Day’s Dragons’ Pen opportunity. Congratulations to Cath!
Quiz team negotiations were ongoing during Saturday and while ‘Let’s organise a table’ fell off the map, my golden age brainbox suddenly organised a team onto which I was invited. This team involved the recruitment of a walking human crime fiction encyclopaedia so I was doomed when I professed loyalty to my recruiting tribe. We ended up sitting next to one another: the team that eventually came second (them), called ‘the BP Complaints Department’ and us, the team that was ‘What Happens in Harrogate Stays in Harrogate’. Mainly Dutch, we were actually four oranges, an English rose (Claire Morris from Gregory & Co), and moi, a Welsh dragon. Because I arrived with a multitude of writing implements, I was declared scribe before I’d even sat down. Because I still had control over the pens in my hands, I assumed the role of marker when marking commenced. So I got to mark the team that came second and the team I could have been in…
My team did averagely, I think? Perhaps above averagely, (I hope)? Whatever, we had great fun. Cagney & Lacey will never be the same again. In the music round we had TV crime series theme tunes played by bagpipes with the tempo changed. There was one catchy little number and my lasting memory will be the bobbing heads of @ErikHeidemann and @TOK09 as they continued to sing/hum it, determined to remember what it was because they knew it. I have no doubt that they did and, yes it was Cagney and Lacey. (I also have no doubt that one or both of these boys may have started watching it in short trousers.)
The night then moved on to more socialising at the hotel – and my great thanks to all for my never-ending supply of drinks on that Saturday evening/night. I don’t think I went to the bar once.
In a brief visit to the venue hotel on the Sunday morning, the Waterstone’s staff loved my cake and remembered its reputation from the previous year – as did others, I found. Yeay! The hotel manager did not like the fact that I left the last pieces of cake on the table in reception, as I’d promised my Dutch team I would, and so they were binned at my request.
So, tail between my legs, albeit briefly, I wended my way back to Wales on the train. It was not soon before I missed my friends there in Harrogate & in the interwebby ether, after thinking of the wasted cake I wished to endow…
With this being a fleeting visit, my conversations were short or non-existent, so my apologies to anyone who wanted to catch up with me, who didn’t. I will be in touch by email in the near future.
Any rumours you may have heard about a return of the festival next year to the Old Swan are erroneous. I spoke to Sharon Cavanar (@sharoncanavar) on the weekend and it’s all up for grabs in 2011, re the festival venue. With my professional hat on: it is indeed time for a tender, methinks. Value for money in the years of increasing competition and financial austerity is paramount. The Crown has done very well and their service is second to none in many ways, but their bar is expensive and often understaffed. I have been quietly critical of this festival in the past, but congratulations to Sharon Cavanar and the team on a well-organised festival that has grown over the years and met its customer base. More please!
As for me: I am left with fond memories, as usual, as well as a well-stoked competitive spirit and a warm glow. If you want to be in next year’s winning quiz team, please apply now. The candidates for the perfect team mix and with exemplary knowledge will be interviewed during the course of the year, for a final lead-up swot session in the 5 months before the quiz, if successful. And, er… it is very likely that I will not be in it. Well, stone the crows, I could be at Betty’s for buns – still not done yet.
Thanks all, for a lovely, albeit brief weekend.