Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bloody Scotland Could Have Been Bloodier, by Chris Longmuir

It was the day after the Scottish referendum when half of Scotland had been sorely disappointed, while the other half rejoiced, and I was off to Bloody Scotland at Stirling. I’ve been there before, but I wondered if this year it would be bloodier than ever.

Bloody Scotland in case you’ve never heard of it is a crime writing convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. It’s a fabulous event attended by many of the better known, and a smattering of the lesser known, crime writers, and a massive choice of events with over fifty authors giving talks and interviews. The convention is spread over three days, and this year it was from Friday 19th to Sunday 21st September (the voting on the referendum was on the 18th September).

As well as the speakers there was a masterclass on crime writing, a cinema presentation aptly named, Bloody Cinema, in the Old Town Jail, a courtroom drama in Stirling Sheriff Court, Medieval Murder in Stirling Castle, and a gala dinner where the Deanston Crime Book of the Year Award was made to the winning author.

A lively event with Christopher Brookmyre and Denise Mina
The weekend started off with a blast. The first two events had the audience engaged as soon as they started. While waiting for Denise Mina who, we were told, was probably going to arrive on her bicycle, Christopher Brookmyre opened the first one by reading a short story that was, by turns, fantastic, horrific, and extremely funny. This was followed by a conversation with Denise Mina which turned into a humorous and informative pairing.

Stuart Macbride turned Mark Billingham and the audience into zombies
It did make me wonder how the next event would fare following on from this one. I needn’t have worried. The double act that was Stuart Macbride and Mark Billingham provided more hilarity as insults were thrown at each other, and at one point Stuart convinced Mark, as well as most of the audience, that they were zombies, while he read his children’s story Skeleton Bob. Stuart also had Mark mystified by his use of the Doric, particularly when he described his recent award as the world’s stovies champion. His attempt to describe stovies, combined with Mark’s misinterpretations, was hilarious. (Stovies is a Scottish dish comprising onions, meat and potatoes, cooked in beef dripping)

Saturday was packed with events. Three choices for every time slot, so it was difficult to choose. I am highly involved in the digital revolution, so I started off with Digital Detectives, a panel with Allan Guthrie and Ed James, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. Allan and Ed described the career choices which led them into digital publishing with both of them approaching it from a different angle. Allan started out traditionally while Ed was entering traditional publishing following his success in the ebook market. Likewise, Alexandra had come to ebooks following a Hollywood script writing career followed by success in traditional publishing.

I took a break after that despite a full programme of events to choose from. This gave me a chance to wander round Albert Halls where I met up with some friends and after lunch and a gossip with them, I headed for an event I had been looking forward to, Alex Gray and Caro Ramsay, ably chaired by Gordon Brown - the writer not the politician. The readings and subsequent panel conversation were so fascinating I made a mental note to shuffle both writers’ books to the top of my ‘to be read’ mountain.

Alanna Knight interviewing Peter May
The next event was chaired by a writer much loved by all, Alanna Knight, and in the hot seat was Peter May, a crime writer with a long list of books to his credit. I remember being hooked on his Chinese crime novels quite a few years ago. They talked about his new book Entry Island, and another mental note was made. That ‘to be read mountain’ was increasing at an alarming rate.

On my exit from the Albert Halls I was astonished at the length of the queue for the next event. But why that should have surprised me I don’t know, because the event was Kathy Reichs in conversation with Ian Rankin, both of them top writers in their genre. The talk was about books and forensics, and was fascinating.

Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs in conversation

A packed Saturday finished off with the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award dinner in the Colessio Hotel. There were ten short listed authors and the winner was Peter May with Entry Island. I was on a table that included Alex Gray and Dirk Robertson as well as readers and it was a good mix. The meal was good, the drink was flowing, and the chat was great. The evening came to an end all too soon, and I left the hotel clutching my gifted copy of Peter May’s, Entry Island, and the new Alex Gray book, The Bird that did not Sing, which she presented to everyone on her table.

Volunteer dusting for fingerprints
The final event I attended was Lin Anderson and Return to the Scene (RS2) – Forensic Fact Meets Forensic Fiction. This was an information packed session as well as an audience interactive one. Volunteers from the audience donned the white forensic suits and tested for fingerprints. Meanwhile the panel discussion ranged between fingerprints and DNA, with input from a forensic examiner, and a fingerprint expert who had previously served in the police force as a crime scene officer. The forensic examiner, Laura Fairley of Return to the Scene (RS2 – innovative crime scene recreation technology) displayed how this computer software worked to allow various professionals to examine crime scenes without the need to be present. Not only was the software able to scan crime scenes, it also had a body map element which produced a 3D model of a human body on the computer screen which could examine for internal damage as well as external. It was fascinating to see the body go through various layers of transparency right down to the bare skeleton. The body mapping was particularly useful in court cases in order to present injuries a victim has received to the jury. Fascinating stuff.

Bloody Scotland was a brilliant weekend, and the only blood in evidence was the fictional stuff – thank goodness. I sampled various panels, but also missed quite a few, and my biggest difficulty was in choosing which event to attend with a choice of three for every time slot. But that’s a good excuse to return next year, although no doubt I’ll still have the same problem.

If you want to check out Bloody Scotland, you’ll find it here

Chris Longmuir


Dennis Hamley said...

Wonderful, Chris. I love long but concentrated and alcohol fuelled events like that but I haven't been to anything like that since 2008. I must look out for one relevant to me. Crime writing, I suppose, would be semi-relevant to me.

Lydia Bennet said...

sounds great fun Chris, interesting to see the digital side of publishing is getting into the crime festivals more these days.

Chris Longmuir said...

Yes, digital publishing is making its presence felt. There was an Indie panel at Crimefest this year as well. Not sure how much progress it's making at the Harrogate Crime Festival though. They seem to stick to more traditional publishers and authors! It's one of the reasons that influenced my decision to give Harrogate a miss in 2015!

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks for the terrific post...and the intro to 'Stovies'--which sound much more appealing than haggis.