If You’ve never been to one, literary festivals sound grand, intellectual events where writers parade their cleverness, readers their erudition, publicists their phones to snap their charges, while fans shamelessly stalk their heroes. If that’s your idea of a festival, you haven’t been to Bloody Scotland, the magnificent International Crime Writing Festival, held last weekend in Stirling.
Bloody Scotland kicks off with a torchlight procession from Stirling Castle ramparts, this year led by a be-kilted David Baldacci. Stirling is a magically medieval, atmospheric place. Real Games of Thrones have been here, warriors have walked its streets, murderers haunt its bastions: the Earl of Douglas stabbed 26 times was hurled from a ledge… It’s all imaginable after midnight in the cobbled streets and shadow-swathed alleyways up to the castle on the rock overlooking vast swathes of central Scotland. Stirling gives no quarter to modern convenience. Travel up the hill in a little eco-friendly tourist train, but if you must take a car, you’ll be forced into a singular twisted one way-system. The shops and main venues are all within walking distances; there’s a gin distillery sponsor. Everywhere there are smiling black T-shirted volunteers. The world and its troubles fade into the distance, although writers being altruistic thinkers, there was a spirited climate change event. The 2019 winner of the prestigious McIlvanney Prize was Manda Scott for A Treachery of Spies (‘smart, sophisticated, fiercely suspenseful’ according to Lee Child) and the Crime Debut Novel Prize-winner was Claire Askew for All The Hidden Truths. In the spirit of cooperation that typified the weekend, Manda opted to share her prize with the other short-listed authors, seeking to emphasise the cooperation we need to combat global warming.
This was a festival of loving life and thinking and storytelling and about what is right and what is not. I’ve travelled the breadth of the globe in my long years on it and not seen so many happy animated chatting groups of people anywhere since the Glasgow Garden Festival. No one should be pretentious and disdainful of ‘genre’ crime writing. These readers and writers smiling, spilling onto the pavements in the sunshine from the cafes and bars, talking books, swapping stories, giving tips for publishing or good books they’ve read, great events they’d attended, all made me think as an anthropologist- celebrating crime writing is good for you. Does reading about the dark side of humanity make us appreciate more the joy of society?
I met Spaniards, Americans, Australians, an old schoolfriend, a former colleague, old patients. How fantastic is the Golden Lion Hotel hub, with its crime tape entrance, chalked-out body, What’s your Poison Cocktails, and Murder on the Menu graphics. I was amused by the sponsorship of The Faculty of Advocates (grandees of Scots Law whose livelihoods depend on crime) and delighted by sponsor Waterstones Books (who sold out my book at the signing!) A nice touch were the freebies, especially the authors’ Stirling Gin and Tunnocks chocolate (both sponsors). We had films in the spooky Tolbooth prison, competitions, ceilidhs, a Scotland-England author football match (sadly Scotland lost), a play staged in the Sheriff court, a food trail and amazing bars like sponsor Curly Coo.
But it is about books. I was thrilled to be one of the Crime Spotlight Authors who opened for the main speakers. I read an extract from my sixties novel Not the Life Imagined about bodies, blood and bacon before Professor Angela Gallop discussed her riveting memoir of forensic science investigating notorious crimes. A thousand thanks to the organisers, especially Gordon Brown and Bob McDevitt and sponsors. I was told past Spotlighter Graeme Macrae Burnett was short-listed for a Booker… but I can die happy after my minute in the spotlight! If I’m spared, I’ll be there next year. See you.
Glasgow born Anne Pettigrew was a Greenock GP for 31 years and a light-hearted medical columnist in The Herald and medical press. A Glasgow graduate of 1974, she also has an Anthropology Masters from Oxford.