Scottish crime writers go equipped for Tartan Noir Border invasion

Val McDermid is one of the guests at Newcastle Noir. Picture: David Empson/REX/Shutterstock
Val McDermid is one of the guests at Newcastle Noir. Picture: David Empson/REX/Shutterstock
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On the first bank holiday in May, a new cross-Border invasion will take place – but instead of angry warriors waving swords, the force will be made up of authors, heading to north-east England for the annual Newcastle Noir crime writing festival.

The links between the north of England and Scotland go back centuries, and although this event is only in its fourth year, it has continued and built on that connection, with previous Tartan Noir attendees including Craig Robertson, Lin Anderson, Douglas Skelton and Denise Mina.

Aberdeen-based author Stuart MacBride launches this year’s festival on Friday 4 May, and bringing it to a close on Sunday 6 May will be Fife’s “Queen of Crime” Val McDermid and friends in the guise of covers band The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers.

In between, about a dozen Scottish or Scotland-based authors will be among nearly 60 writers taking part in panels focusing on various aspects of the genre. There is also a specific New Voices in Tartan Noir panel, chaired by Ann Landmann, events manager for Blackwells bookshop in Edinburgh, plus In Conversation events with established authors talking about their work in depth, including McDermid and Shetland creator Ann Cleeves.

Based at Newcastle’s Literary & Philosophical Society, Britain’s largest independent library outside London, the festival is the brainchild of founder and director Jacky Collins, who visited the inaugural Iceland Noir festival in Reykjavik and decided that the north of England needed its own version. After a one-day taster in 2014 proved successful, in May 2015 Newcastle Noir was officially born. The event has grown steadily since then, spawning its own fringe series of free events ahead of the official launch, and even a Murderous Newcastle walking tour featuring sites of both historical and fictional crimes.

Dr Collins, who by day is a senior lecturer at Northumbria University, says: “Newcastle Noir was established with a view to promoting top-class crime writing in the region and as a celebration of this intriguing and increasingly diverse genre. We are especially eager to welcome writers from further afield in order to give avid crime readers from the region the opportunity to hear and meet these authors.”

The Tartan Noir crowd may not be travelling as many miles as some authors, but they do bring diverse settings with them, from the (often rain-lashed) Aberdeen of MacBride’s Logan MacRae series to Abir Mukherjee’s examination of Anglo-Indian history to Jackie McLean, who moves from Dundee to the Syrian border in Shadows, all the way to Chris Brookmyre’s Places In The Darkness, which is set on a space station.

Dr Collins – who also hosts Edinburgh’s occasional Noir At The Bar nights, where crime writers, budding authors and fans gather to hear readings and discuss books – adds: “The geographical proximity of Scotland might account for the number of Scottish authors that have appeared at Newcastle Noir over the years. However, the truth is Geordie crime readers love Tartan Noir with its gritty realism and its wonderfully flawed anti-heroes.”

Among those bringing grit, flaws and intrigue from various parts of Scotland to the genteel surroundings of the Lit & Phil are Michael J Malone, whose latest psychological thriller House of Spines twists his protagonist’s reality around him; Sandra Ireland, discussing her second novel, Gothic tale Bone Deep, and Claire MacLeary, whose McIlvanney Prize long-listed debut Cross Purpose was followed earlier this year by Burnout, examining violence against women.

Elsewhere, Doug Johnstone will talk about his forthcoming novel Fault Lines, which envisages an Edinburgh rocked by daily tremors after a new volcano erupts in the Firth of Forth; Tana Collins discusses her Inspector Jim Carruthers novels, set in the East Neuk of Fife, and Ian Skewis brings his intense debut thriller A Murder Of Crows.

A recent survey by literary data firm Neilsen Bookscan revealed that sales of crime fiction have risen 19 per cent between 2015 and 2017, whereas general and literary fiction has dropped 16 per cent over the same period – a staggering 18.7 million crime and thriller novels were sold last year. This will come as no surprise to crime fiction fans, who – aided by enthusiastic publishers such as Contraband, Polygon and Orenda – are discovering great new writers from Scotland and further afield every month, and have their love of the genre celebrated in a host of festivals from the well-established Theakston’s in Harrogate (co-founded by McDermid) to our own Bloody Scotland in Stirling, and Newcastle Noir.

The genre’s popularity continues to grow – as Dr Collins says: “Long may our love of noir flourish on both sides of the River Tweed!”

Newcastle Noir runs from Friday 4 to Sunday 6 May at the Lit & Phil. For more information, visit: newcastlenoir.blogspot.co.uk; for tickets, www.litandphil.org.uk/whats-on/ or call 0191-232 0192