Harrogate: shouldn't I be having fun?

Peter James
Opinion - Children Friday, 24th July 2009

For his second bulletin from Britain's biggest crime festival, Peter James pastes on his (slightly tired) Happy Loser smile Official Day One of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival and, the saying goes, went the day badly for yours truly. It started with a blinding hangover - thank you Geoff Duffield, whom I bumped into on Wednesday night by chance and ended up getting wrecked with as we toasted my new deal with Pan Macmillan, and then toasted it again. And then again. Well, you can't stay in the Hotel du Vin and not drink, can you? I think we made a good dent in their cellars... and if you fancy a nice vintage Armganac - wait a few days before visiting and give them a chance to restock... Then the day got even worse when I got a phone call telling me we have an invasion of ghastly Travellers (I'm using the polite word) adjoining my home in Sussex. Then it got a little worse still with a snarky Facebook message from Tom Rob Smith, who didn't like what I blogged about him and about the interesting jacket and shoes he wore collecting his award at the fabulous Thrillerfest Awards in NY last week.


Then I went to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year awards, for which I was shortlisted along with a formidable array of other writers. And guess what, my day got even worse still! I didn't win.... I'm starting to get very good at not winning awards. In the past two years I've managed not to win the Richard and Judy Crime Thriller of the Year, the ITV 3 Crime Thriller of the Year, the French Grand Prix de Litterature Policier, the CWA Dagger in the Library and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, twice! Just as well I had remembered to pack my 'Happy Loser Smile' along with my toothbrush for the trip up here...
Oscar Wilde famously said that 'a cigarette is the most perfect thing, for it always leaves one unsatisfied' He could have said the same about being on a shortlist of 14 authors - 13 of them were always going to be unsatisfied!
The awards ceremony kicked off this 7th annual Festival - chaired this year by crime writer Laura Wilson and sponsored by Theakstons and by ASDA. With 8,000 advance tickets sold, this was, Simon Theakston said in his opening address, the biggest crime writing festival in Europe. The awards were hosted by a brilliantly funny Mark Lawson, who related the (true) story that he and I had recently bumped into each other buying milk at 7am in our local Sainsbury in Westbourne Grove, and he bemoaned that because of the massive success of my books my carrier bags had more in them than his!
Mark interviewed each of the authors (apart from Ian Rankin and Tom Cain, who were unable to come), including Lee Child, a writer who is as gracious and charming as he is successful; Stuart MacBride, who delivered a spookily realistic impression of Edgar Allan Poe; Val McDermid, who good-naturedly but pointedly took the festival to task for shortage of female writers on the shortlist. Last year, she said, there were seven shortlisted authors, and only one was a woman - Stef Penney (she won!). This year there were 14, and only two were women - herself and the very witty Mo Hayder...!
However, this year the blokes prevailed - and the award went to the blokiest of them all, Mark Billingham, formerly a stand-up comedian in working men's clubs. Mark says he prefers to write novels, because people aren't inclined to throw things at you.... Unless of course you win prizes.