Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Breakfast at the Swallow St George was, I discovered, much better than breakfast at the Old Swan.* There was heaps of it, too. Fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereal, full fry-up of bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs, tomatoes and beans (and mushrooms too, for those that like that sort of thing). Toast as well, and cold meats for the continental types. Perhaps the only thing lacking was croissants, and since they're French, this was perhaps for the best. It took a while to convince the waitress that I didn’t want tea or coffee, but her English was a lot better than my Polish, so I won’t complain.

I was all ready to head out for the Old Swan and the first of the morning sessions when my phone rang – mum wishing me a happy birthday. It’s just as well that she did, otherwise I might have forgotten. But it meant I missed the first morning session with Martina Cole. She got her own back on me later by suggesting that I was John Rickard’s brother. Mind you, she didn’t say older brother, so maybe I should take it as a compliment.

The streets of Harrogate were slightly damp as I made my over to the Old Swan, but the air was still sweltering. It thought about raining, but never quite made up its mind until later, when everyone was outside thinking about lunch. Most folks dashed back indoors, but Sandra and I stayed out, her muttering things about living in Vancouver and this being just a light shower, me muttering things about living in Wales and this being a little bracing dampness in the air. At least this time I had my clothes on.

Mindful that there was likely to be drinking later on, I suggested lunch. Vincent, Sandra and I headed off into town, ending up at TGI Friday’s of all places. Milkshakes and Buffalo Wings. Mmmmm. Mind you, have you ever seen a buffalo fly? Then again, their wings are quite small, so maybe they cut them off at birth or something.

PD James was talking to Frances Fyfield in the afternoon, but I opted to sit outside and chat. She may be the grande dame of crime writing and all that, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of being in the main hall with four hundred other sweaty people and no air. And I've never read any of her books either. Mind you, I'd never even heard of some of the authors there with long-running series to their names, and hadn't read anything by, amongst others, Simon Kernick, George Pelecanos, Jeffery Deaver,** Val McDermid (sorry, Val - they're on my tbr list, honest), Louise Welsh, John Harvey...

All of which begs the question, what was I doing there? Well, like Vincent, I sort of allowed myself to be dragged into it by a group of people kind enough to comment here. I've known Stuart for ages, of course, but I was intrigued to know what some of the other deranged people looked like. And since I'm planning on writing a crime novel of sorts, it seemed like a good place to go to pick up a few tips.***

At some point in the afternoon, Mr Stuart reappeared from whatever it was he had been doing. No doubt he’ll try to pretend it was edits, edits, edits, but I know for a fact at one point he was singing the praises of RD Wingfield to ITV 3. And fulsomely too, I’ve no doubt. Fresh from such histrionics, he presented me with a splendid birthday present in the form of a wind-up, plastic toy racing turbo snail (as seen posing to the right).**** More to the point, he presented this to me in front of many great and good people, all of whom wished me many happy returns, some of whom offered me many drinks. We then played ‘guess how old I am’, which Alex Barclay won, at least in my mind, by putting me under thirty. Did I mention how nice she is? And a great writer too, I'm sure, but she has to be added to the list. Shame on me for not going straight to the festival bookshop and buying copies of everything. I meant to, honest.

There were publisher parties on Saturday evening, but not everyone had been invited, so John Rickards, Kevin Wignall, Agent Phil and I all headed off to the local Thai restaurant for a bite to eat before the serious drinking started. Sadly this was booked solid, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Harrogate eatery on a Saturday in July. So we wandered off into town, alternately getting rained on or steaming gently as we dried off. Eventually John, who had been there before, lead us to an Italian place, where I bravely had the seafood risotto. Kevin dominated the conversation, as he does tend to do, though Agent Phil gave him a good run for his money, especially when it came to quotes from obscure old movies. I learned both that Alex Barclay was a pseudonym, and what her real name was, but I’m not sure whether or not my leg was being pulled at the time, so I won’t repeat it here.

Service wasn't a slow as in the legendary Italian restaurant, where customers have been known to eat their napkins dipped in olive oil to stave of the hunger pangs. But it was slow enough that I missed the George Pelecanos session. Perhaps this was just as well, since I hadn't bought his book even though it was available at the festival ahead of publication. We were all back in time for the quiz, though.

Over the course of the weekend, odd alliances had been formed for the quiz. Unlikely people would come up and ask Stuart if he wanted to be on their team, or double-check with John that he hadn't agreed to help out anyone else. I felt like the lumpkin at school - the last one to be picked when the teams are being chosen. Nobody knew who I was, or at least that was my reasoning. I'm not that awkward, uncoordinated kid anymore,***** so I didn't let my lack of popularity upset me too much. As it happened, Sandra very kindly let me be on her team. Apart from knowing the theme tune to The Professionals, I added very little to our score, but we didn't come last (thanks, mainly, to Steve Mosby).

After the quiz, won by the team John Rickards had attached himself to, sneaky wee fellow that he is, it was once more to the bar. Vincent having bailed out at this point, he missed the sight of many hard-boiled crime fiction writers downing beer and wine like their lives depended on it. After my Thursday experience, I took it a bit easy and managed to strike up interesting conversations with a few people who might possibly be useful in the future, should a career in this business ever look more than a pipe-dream. Sadly, due to my complete inability to remember names - they vanish from my head the instant they are said - I can't remember who most of them are.

Aware that my brain was starting to fuddle, and knowing that I had to be sober enough to drive come Sunday lunchtime, I sidled off at around four in the morning, leaving Sandra deep in conversation with a dotcom millionaire, and Stuart nursing a purloined bottle of Theakstons OP. There was no staggering involved; my head was clear enough to have a short conversation with Richard (though not clear enough to remember his surname) as we both walked down the road in search of our beds.

Despite it having rained, and the air being pleasantly cool on the streets of Harrogate, the third floor of the Swallow St George was still as hot as a Scotsman's private parts on a warm day. Someone had also swallowed rather too much St George, as I was greeted by the welcoming gift of a patch of fresh vomit on the carpet not far from my door.

* not that I ever broke my fast at the Old Swan, but enough people had complained to me about it that I had a fair idea what was involved. And more importantly what wasn’t.
** though I have seen the movie of The Bone Collector. Or bits of it at least.
*** which, as it happened, I didn't. Mainly because most of the time was spent talking about anything but crime writing. Ah well.
You wind it up, put it on the floor and off it goes, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. Now all I need to do is find someone else who has one and we can have wacky snail races. Whoot, whoot!
I'm an awkward uncoordinated adult


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Wow - it's like someone else writing my diary!

I'm glad you were on our team. I'm just disappointed they made the other table move. What the hell? What the fuck was so special about that table that the Scooby Doos had to sit somewhere else?

Ever heard of a reserved sign?

All we wanted to do was sit and joke around and hang out with the full gang. That just blew that they we couldn't.

But we still had fun. Not sure the team that marked us liked our "Haven't a fucking clue" answers, though.

July 27, 2006 3:19 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

I don't mind people taking these things seriously, Sandra, as long as they don't mind me taking the piss. Sadly it doesn't often work that way. I did wonder what had happened to the other half of the crowd, but like most things, it passed me by.

July 27, 2006 4:05 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

What happened was that they had to give up that table to a specific team. And it just seemed silly to me. There were tons of tables, this wasn't a team involved in the event or a team of authors or anything - why not sit elsewhere? But they were made to move.

I don't care if people want to take the quiz seriously. I already knew I'd be hopeless. I was going to heckle, but Ian Rankin was doing such a great job...

July 27, 2006 8:00 pm  

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