A few weeks back I blogged about the Edinburgh Festival (take a look here if – heaven forfend – you missed it) and last weekend I had the pleasure of attending another of Scotland’s annual festivals: Bloody Scotland.
Now, this is not a festival of moaning as the name might suggest (eg “It’s raining again: bloody Scotland”; or “Failed to qualify again: bloody Scotland” etc). It’s Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, which takes place every year in September in the city of Stirling. 2017 was its 6th year and I’ve been coming since year one: although for some reason which I can’t for the life of me fathom, I didn’t go last year – so this year I decided to do it properly and go for almost the full weekend and make a “thing” of it (finances permitting – I restricted myself to just a few events to be “sensible” after over-spending at the feckin Fringe, natch – humph). Grown Up Boyfriend
was dragged along came along willingly too, despite the fact that – unlike myself – he is not a fan of crime fiction (weirdo); although he’s happy to sit in the events and hear the authors’ patter.
At this point I should probably point out that I am a HUGE fan of crime fiction. I absolutely love it. I love reading stories about nasty bastards, grizzled cops who “godammit don’t play by the rules”, as well as amateur sleuths and investigative journalists – and all the gory murders that go along with all of that. I’m especially a fan of crime fiction by Scottish writers: there are SO MANY OF THEM! Scotland, of course, has a phenomenal literary history – but its array of writers working in the “crime” genre these days is crazy! Readers who aren’t too familiar with crime fiction will at the very least be aware of Ian Rankin, who is pretty much the “godfather” of modern Scottish crime writing and it was probably his novels that started me off on crime (just read that back and it sounds like Rankin’s work started me off being a criminal – but you know what I mean…). Living in Edinburgh just makes reading his novels – which are set here – even more of a joy, as I love immersing myself in the settings and places that I know so well. Then I discovered the utterly marvellous Stuart MacBride (sadly, not able to attend Bloody Scotland this year, but I saw his event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August and he was as witty and urbane as ever). Then I found Lin Anderson who has now become a firm favourite of mine (and she also just seems so awfie NICE when I see her at events! Plus, she is one of the founders of Bloody Scotland, so hats off to her!). I could go on and on (and on) about all the Scottish crime writers I like, but I’ll get back to Bloody Scotland…
So, we arrived on Friday evening and checked into the Southfield B&B which was really rather good! Nice, friendly welcome, great big room and *awesome* breakfasts that filled me up so much that (drum roll..) I DID NOT EAT LUNCH! This minor miracle is definitely worthy of inclusion here. It was also dead handy, being a very short stroll from the Albert Halls, where many of the weekend’s events took place.
The whole shebang started with a posh opening ceremony at Stirling Castle, at which the winner of the annual McIlvanney prize (named after the sadly missed Scottish writer William McIlvanney) was announced. This year, it was Denise Mina who won for her novel The Long Drop. Haven’t read it yet, though I hear very good things. Congrats to her! By coincidence, a couple of weeks back, I was in the Scottish National Portriat Gallery and came across a wonderful portrait of Ms Mina:
After the opening, there was the torchlight procession from the castle down the hill to the Albert Halls. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking things had all gone a bit Wicker Man at this point (“Oh God! Oh JESUS CHRIST!!”) but the happy faces of crime fiction fans and writers alike showed that it was all good clean (non-satan-worshipping) fun:
We watched the procession go past, then headed off to the Albert Halls for our first event: Ian Rankin being interviewed by fellow crime writer Mark Billingham about “30 Years of Rebus” (Rebus is Rankin’s most famous creation – a moody, droll, now retired Edinburgh detective). This was pretty much my dream event: not only do I love Ian Rankin’s books but I am a massive fan of Mark Billingham’s work too – plus, he’s also a thoroughly funny bloke (he tells the BEST stories: if you ever meet me in a pub, ask me to tell you the one he tells about the son of Kirk Douglas – fucking hilarious…), so I knew he’d be a great interviewer:
It was, as expected, a top hour: Mr Rankin is always really open and honest about his work and – even though he’s probably said the same things again and again – he never seems bored by talking about the same stuff. There was a real air of celebration about the event and it was a great start to our weekend:
A few drinkies in the Curly Coo (top pub!) and it was back to the B&B.
After rolling out of the B&B following the scoffing of one of their breakfasts the size of a small country, we took a wee jaunt out of Stirling to Bannockburn, as we didn’t have an event til 2pm. I reckon I’ll probably blog about our visit to Bannockburn in full another time as it was flipping great, but – for now – just a wee pic will suffice:
Back to Stirling, and a wee stroll up the Back Walk towards the castle – fantastic views across the valley to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national park:
A quick pint at the Portcullis (another great pub – and a special mention that a pint of Tennent’s there is only £3.10! Bravo!) and then it was time for the Event Of The Weekend: the annual Scotland versus England crime writers’ football match! You can keep your Champions’ League. You can keep your Olympic Games. You can keep your under-14s inter-school competitions. THIS is where the excitement is! Each year, friends become foes, families are torn apart (not really…) as a few brave souls represent their countries for pride and glory. Well, in actual fact, a few (mainly a bit unfit) crime writers play some poor quality footie for an hour, much to the delight and joy of the assembled crowd. This year, it was made even more joyful by the fact that Stirling Gin had a stall and were serving delicious Bloody Scotland gin cocktails. Scotland were ably captained by Ian Rankin and England by Mark Billingham. To be fair, the Scotland team would be up against it in trade description terms: they had at least two ringers from other parts of the world, including Ragnar Jonasson and Thomas Enger (crime writers from Iceland and Norway respectively) – so they were stretching the definition of “Scotland” a bit – but we’ll let them off, since both Mr Jonasson and Mr Enger were two of the best players! GUB took some stonking pics:
This was such a fun hour – the sun shone (apart from one tiny wee shower) and the fact that “ScotIceNorland” HUMPED England 6-3 – well that was just the icing on the cake. I also took a few (crap) pics – I did like this one of the (losing) England team on the side lines, with Mr Billingham looking properly in a pure huff:
Straight after the footie, it was down to the Golden Lion hotel for an hour with the afore-mentioned Messers Jonasson and Enger, alongside Bloody Scotland stalwart, the wonderful Lin Anderson:
This was a fascinating chat, mainly about the settings each author uses in their books. I am ashamed to say that I had not read anything by either Jonasson or Enger but – a week on – this has been rectified!* I broke the rule I’d set myself of buying NO books at Bloody Scotland this year (I have too many already that I have to read!) and bought the first in each of their current series (along with the next Lin Anderson one I have to read) – and was privileged to meet each author when they signed them for me:
It was nice to have a wee chat with Thomas Enger about the footie – I have to say, he looked knackered! 🙂
*(Incidentally, Enger’s first novel Burned is *superb* – couldn’t put it down and Jonasson’s first – Snowblind – is my current read and it was a significant struggle to stop reading it to write this blog post instead! Highly recommend both.)
A quick dinner pit stop, then back to the Albert Halls for Anne Cleeves in conversation alongside the wonderful Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This was a bit different as I have actually never read the Shetland series of novels by Ms Cleeves, though I *absolutely love* the tv series based on them, which stars Henshall. This event was kind of about both, so thought it was worth a shout. Happily, it was as entertaining as I expected – and the books have now been added to an ever-growing list of “must reads” (ffs, there aren’t enough hours!).
Our last event was Two Crime Writers and a Microphone which was a live recording of the podcast of the same name. I have NO IDEA how this had passed me by, but I had never heard of this podcast (I’ve since downloaded it and it’s great). This edition was with Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and Eva Dolan – hosted by Luca Veste (the England goalie from earlier in the day who performed admirably) and Steve Cavanagh – the “two crime writers” from the podcast title (ably assisted by Stuart Neville). This was a proper hoot! My favourite moments were when they shared their worst online reviews and when they made their thoughts on Donald Trump abundantly clear! Then Christopher Brookmyre (another brilliant Scottish crime writer) asked a question which brought up the old argument of crime fiction not being seen as having “literary merit”. What an utter load of feckin bollocks that is. And, to be fair, that was the general consensus! A brilliant, fun event – I am sure that the amount of beer being consumed may have helped build the mood!
This really was just a joyous weekend. The organisers of Bloody Scotland have just Got It Right: it’s growing year on year, but it still retains an intimacy and chumminess that larger festivals just don’t have. The writers are approachable and friendly, and just happily hang out with everyone else. And it attracts writers from all over the world! Big names to newbies. The volunteers and staff are helpful and smiley – and it’s so clear that everyone is just mad about crime writing. Stirling is a superb venue: a small but characterful city in the centre of everything and it’s always been a favourite place of mine (I grew up half way between Stirling and Glasgow, so spent a lot of time in Stirling as I was growing up). And the fact that the sun shone was a welcome bonus.
I have been neglecting my reading of late: things have got in the way (work, telly, this & that) but Bloody Scotland reminded me of the satisfaction I get from discovering new books and authors – especially in the crime fiction genre. I came back with a huge list of authors I need to explore and I can’t wait to get properly stuck in. This festival is one that Scotland should be immensely proud of: I hope it continues to go from strength to strength – and I’ll be there every year.
Might even pluck up the courage to ask a question next year 😉