What is a gathering of Scottish crime writers known as “Bloody Scotland?” Well, you were in Stirling, an hour’s drive from Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh, home of the larger-than-life William Wallace and gateway to the Highlands. No Australian accents, a la Mel Gibson, were in attendance, but there were American, Icelandic, Scottish (not surprisingly), and quite a few others in between, geographically speaking.
The Icelandic contingent left a huge impression me, for reasons I will expand on later.
A rumour spread that Andy Murray was going to come, but we didn’t need the presence of the recent U.S. Open winner to make the event a thing of great literary richness. It was certainly well worth my dash to Scotland, across the Atlantic in a nice, comfy chair, in long metal tube going 600 miles per hour. Few clouds appeared and little rain. Once I had recovered from the shock of Scotland without cloud and rain, I was able to feast on the offerings from some stellar crime writers. What a banquet it was.
The actual event ran from September 14-16, but the week preceding saw fantastic workshops, lectures, and presentations in and around the Stirling area, all building to a full day of crime writing masterclasses held in conjunction with the University of Stirling. The festival kicked off proper with a welcome on the first evening from the organisers, crime writers Alex Gray and Lin Anderson. They painted the backdrop to the audience of their motivation for creating Scotland’s first crime writing festival, mainly that there’s wasn’t one, up to now. Ian Rankin gave a keynote speech on crime writing, which meant that anyone who didn’t know previously was now aware that this man is a master of both the written and the spoken word. I could listen to him all day. That knowledge of the genre, mixed with a wit as sharp as a Highlander’s broken tooth, was a taste of things to come. He gave a very appropriate and fitting tribute to a man considered by many the Don of crime writing in Scotland, William McIlvanney, who himself had everyone talking about his magical presentation on the second day of the Festival. The cream of Scottish crime also includes writers like Denise Mina, Peter May, Chris Brookmyre, and Val McDermid. So many others are well on their way to being just as creamy and fantastic creators of crime writing with a real sense of Scottish place, voice, and character. Far too many to mention, so check out the website and see what you missed, if you didn’t come! Put it in your diary, for there will surely be another next year and the one after that and so on.
When I’d arrived in Stirling, I knew exactly where to go, as there were chalk outlines of bodies on the sidewalks welcoming all to Bloody Scotland, even pointing the right direction! The events saw many complete sell-outs with no tickets left for love nor money. Crime writer Gordon Brown, in addition to being one of the organisers of the festival, hosted one such event where you needed people like the ones who heave travellers in the subway trains to make sure the doors closed. That session, with the title Fresh Blood, was that popular. John Gordon Sinclair talked about his debut novel Seventy times Seven and Anna Smith, Sara Sheridan, and Frank Muir discussed journalistic backgrounds, postwar Britain, and St. Andrews in turn, each element representing influences in their own work. I was, of course busy, too.
I made an appearance as a non-speaking waiter at the presentation on the first evening. I played it for laughs, as instructed. I heard something from the audience. It may actually have been a strangled gasp of disbelief that I didn’t actually spill any of the prop wine. The second day saw me accompany Alex Gray, on guitar, when I successfully managed to avoid overshadowing her magnificent voice with my wretched plucking, as she set the scene at the workshop “A Song of Death” given by Alanna Knight, V.M. Whitworth, and Clio Gray. It explored storytelling and its link to ballads, spanning centuries right up to the Victorian era. I also gave some readings from some of the finalists for the Glengoyne Short Stories Competition. I can’t have done too badly as I am still here, in one piece, unless they are plotting to bump me off. It was an honour to read them. So many left an impression with me. The opportunity to have conversations with some of the writers and the people who attended, some coming from as far as America. Their skill with words coupled with their intelligence was wonderful. It requires a lot of emotional intelligence to write crime thrillers where the characters actually come to life. The discussions during the weekend touched upon every topic you could imagine. If I thought I knew, however, everything that would really leave a mark, I was wrong.
After an event, I walked towards the festival centre to be greeted by the Icelandic contingent. They had brought offerings from Iceland. A sheep’s head and a bowl of shark meat. I was very intrigued and asked if there were other delicacies I was unaware of. January and February, I was told with a gleeful smile, are the season of the testicles. The two months when traditionally there was nothing else to eat in Iceland. I have long been planning a visit. I shall eventually go, but probably later in the Spring, or maybe the Fall!
Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.