Aberdeen’s crime writing festival was back for its second year last weekend, with a great lineup of events. I attended some with my workmates on the Sunday.
First up, Ann Cleeves, writer of the Shetland and Vera series, both of which have also become very successful TV shows. The session also featured Dr James Grieve, a Professor of Forensic Pathology at the University of Aberdeen, and obliging consultant to crime writers. It was really interesting hearing tidbits like how Ann first travelled to Shetland and worked as a cook on Fairisle, which is why her character Jimmy is from there; and how the character Vera wasn’t even originally part of the first book – she appeared when Ann got to a point where someone just had to burst through a door to move things along!
Ann said she doesn’t try to write things like police procedure exactly as they are in real life, as hard work makes for tedious reading, but she feels it’s important not to get things too wrong. Likewise experts like James are happy to contribute their time discussing technical points with writers and film makers to ensure entertainment can also educate, and at the least doesn’t leave people with unrealistic expectations.
I’ve followed the Shetland series on TV but not read any of her books, so I bought the first Vera book – The Crow Trap. When I went to get it signed I said I’d love to visit Shetland sometime, especially for Jamieson’s yarn, to which the esteemed Ann Cleeves herself said “Ah you’re a knitter. You must go to Shetland Wool Week!”
Next it was a session with authors Johana Gustawsson and Clare Carson, whose books travel between time periods and explore how actions and events of the past reach far into the future. Johana’s story, Block 46, moves between a murder in present-day Sweden and London, and the horrors of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Clare’s Orkney-based series goes between the 80s and the Cold War, unravelling how a spy’s work impacts upon his family, from the point of view of his daughter.
Both authors have personal connections to their stories; Johanna’s grandfather was a survivor of Buchenwald and Clare’s father was an undercover policeman. Both were really engaging and interesting to listen to, and would’ve chatted for hours with each fan if they’d been able to!
The final event was with Stuart Turton and Felicia Yap. Both are debut novelists whose stories revolve around memory and identity. Felicia’s book Yesterday is set in a world where people have only one or two days of short term memory (everyone relies on ‘i-diaries’ to record the events of each day), so how do you go about dealing with and solving a murder? I had already read this book and enjoyed it, so it was lovely to hear more about it’s origins and about the author (who also happens to be Malaysian).
Stuart’s book, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is a murder mystery very much in the style of Agatha Christie, but where the investigator relives the murder each night through a different guest. Stuart described it as Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie (I love it!). He revealed that he’d wanted to write an Agatha Christie novel since childhood, and this seemed the only way to do something different with the plot that Agatha Christie hadn’t done already!
Both authors were a little nervous – still getting used to their ‘writer’ status and speaking at events – but their warmth, humour, and pleasant natures (as well as some amusing idiosyncrasies) came across well, and it was a fun session.
Very well done to the organisers – it was a great event. It’s such a treat to have these authors in Aberdeen, and I’m very much looking forward to the next Granite Noir.
Happy World Book Day!