Bob McDevitt: Book festival goes from strength to strength

BLOODY Scotland book festival aims to punch above its weight, writes Bob McDevitt

The Scottish Crime Book of the Year will be renamed The McIlvanney Prize from this year on. Picture: TSPL

Now in its fifth year, Bloody Scotland was the brainchild of a group of Scottish crime writers (and one literary agent) who felt that there was room in the festival calendar in Scotland for one dedicated to crime writing. They were certainly right, as the audience reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and the festival has grown every year.

Scotland definitely punches above its weight in terms of the number of world-class crime writers it has produced, with names like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina and the godfather of them all, William McIlvanney. The 2016 festival will be the first to take place since his death, and in addition to dedicating the festival to his memory, the Scottish Crime Book of the Year will be renamed The McIlvanney Prize from this year on.

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The festival takes place over an action-packed weekend in September across a range of venues in Stirling from the intimate Curly Coo pub, to the cavernous Albert Halls. Many people stay the whole weekend and the town is really taken over by a tremendous atmosphere.

Some big names looking to fill the Albert Halls this year include the aforementioned McDermid, Brookmyre and Rankin, alongside husband and wife writing duo Nicci French, Martina Cole, Peter Robinson, Stuart MacBride and the unstoppable MC Beaton, now in her eighties, who with two new books to promote will be in conversation with Fred MacAuley.

Along with an opportunity for readers to listen to and meet their crime writing idols, the festival also provides a chance to discover what’s new and there is a tradition of featuring a number of debut and emerging writers throughout the programme. Further to that, a strand entitled Pitch Perfect allows unpublished writers to pitch their novels to a panel of agents and publishers. We have already seen four writers secure publishing deals on the back of these sessions.

The uninitiated might expect that the festival features only cosy detective novels, police procedurals and serial killer thrillers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This year they will also find sessions on sex and the internet, a memoir of a reformed criminals, a session on how to be a reliable witness, and a frank and topical discussion on end-of-life planning. There is even, believe it or not, a Country and Western gig as best-selling writer Mark Billingham teams up with My Darling Clementine for their unique show The Other Half.

Another new addition this year is an Escape Room which will take over a unit in Stirling’s Thistles shopping centre where participants must solve a puzzle (developed with Val McDermid) to secure their release.

It’s often said that crime writers are some of the nicest, most well-adjusted people you could hope to meet, as they exorcise their darker demons through their work. It’s definitely true that there is a great sense of fraternity that pervades the festival, and away from the literary sessions this can be found in the late night lock-ins in the pub, or on the football pitch for the annual Scotland vs England writers match.

The festival has a new title sponsor this year in Bookdonors, a social enterprise based in the Borders, and receives support from Stirling Council and Creative Scotland to ensure delivery of this very special event. There is no shortage of book festivals in Scotland, well over 50 annually and Bloody Scotland is determined to add a memorable weekend to the tally.

• Bob McDevitt is the interim director of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival