Crime fiction fans gear up for Newcastle Noir festival

Doug Johnstone. Pic Neil Hanna
Doug Johnstone. Pic Neil Hanna
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Writers travel from across the world for this ever-popular event, writes Louise Fairbairn

Murder is being openly discussed in the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there’s chatter on social media… But of course there is no body, no blood, only the buzz of anticipation as the crime fiction community prepares for the annual Newcastle Noir festival.

This bank holiday weekend around 80 authors will take part in panels focusing on psychological thrillers to historical crime and everything in between. It’s a smaller festival than some, but its calibre is shown in how far authors are willing to travel to appear – four writers are taking to the stage for a panel on Australia and New Zealand noir this year.

The festival is the brainchild of director Jacky Collins, and it has grown steadily over the past few years, though its low ticket prices and air of informality remain. It moves to the Newcastle City Library this year, allowing the festival to expand and to reach a wider audience.

The contingent from Down Under will not be alone in travelling long distances. Dr Collins – who by day is a senior lecturer at Northumbria University – says: “Since it began, Newcastle Noir has always sought to bring together local, national and international authors. Fostering this international aspect of the festival is one of our top priorities.”

Queen of Iceland Noir Yrsa Sigurdardóttir leads the Nordic/Scandi Noir contingent; also represented are Germany, Finland and France, plus there is a panel sponsored by the British Council featuring three Romanian writers, and flying the Stars and Stripes is Alexandra Sokoloff, who divides her time between California and Scotland.

There are strong UK voices too, with panels highlighting writers from Newcastle, Northumberland, Yorkshire and Wales, appearances by 2019 Theakstons longlisted Matt Wesolowski and Mick Herron, and the headline event with CWA Dagger winner Mari Hannah. Dr Collins says: “We are keen to provide a platform for crime writers whose work we think should be publicised to a wider audience. Crime fiction lovers have voracious appetites and we’d like to offer them some new crime stories to tempt the noir-loving palate.”

The Tartan Noir contingent is always given a warm welcome too. Dr Collins says: “There has been a strong bond from the outset with Scottish authors that continues to be strengthened, not only by regular appearances at the festival, but also through our frequent contact at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh.” (NATB has a simple format: writers read from their work to crime fiction fans in a bar; there are chills and laughs aplenty. There is a free NATB event the night before Newcastle Noir, with Scots author Neil Broadfoot among the line-up.)

Crossing the Border with crime in mind this year are Edinburgh’s Doug Johnstone, author of Crash Land and Fault Lines, who will be talking about his tenth novel, Breakers. Michael J Malone, creator of several heart-wrenching psychological thrillers, including After He Died, shares a stage with Craig Robertson, whose Narey & Winter Glasgow police series goes from strength to strength, including a McIlvanney Prize nod last year for The Photographer.Alison Belsham, a recent graduate from Bloody Scotland’s Pitch Perfect strand, joins the New Kid In Town panel in Newcastle to discuss The Tattoo Thief.

Another writer early in their career is Alan Parks, who will be talking about February’s Son, set in 1970s Glasgow. On the same panel is Dunbar-based Nigel Bird, the author of several novels and short story collections, including the Southsiders series. Meanwhile, Margaret Kirk will be making the journey from the Highlands to talk about her Inverness-set DI Lukas Mahler books. Finally, Madeleine Black’s memoir Unbroken details how she came to terms with being raped as a teenager and her determination to speak up for survivors of crime. She joins Sokoloff on a panel sure to stir the emotions.

And if that isn’t enough, new to the festival this year is the Lindisfarne Prize for a debut author, to be awarded on Friday night. Sponsored by LJ Ross, creator of the popular DCI Ryan series, Dr Collins calls it “an exciting initiative to foster crime writing in the region”. There are also writing workshops, crime-themed walking tours of the city from The Book Trail, and even a cabaret night and a silent disco. Lovers of crime fiction will be spoilt for choice.

Newcastle Noir is at Newcastle City Library from Friday 3 to Sunday 5 May. For information, visit https://newcastlenoir.co.uk/

NATB Edinburgh returns to the Canon’s Gait on Thursday 30 May from 7pm

Doug Johnstone’s Breakers will be reviewed in The Scotsman Magazine on Saturday 11 May