A criminally good Christmas meal

Last night it was the Crime & Publishment annual Christmas meal, held at the Mill Forge hotel in Gretna Green (home of the crime writing course that spawned it). Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that most years, I’ve planned on going, and most years, I’ve missed it, thanks to various combinations of snow, road closures, floods and flu. Last year for the first time Other Half and I went along and thoroughly enjoyed it, and this year we were determined to repeat the experience.

And in spite of Storm Deirdre’s worst efforts, we made it again, much to the amazement of our friends who made various witty remarks about it not being Christmas if I actually turned up. Thanks for that, I’ll see you afterwards…!

Once again it was a lovely event. Around 40 writers, other halves and miscellaneous sundries turned up for drinks, chat, a super four-course meal (delicious braised gammon for me as a change from all the turkey), more chat, a round-up of our writing news, and yet more chat. I don’t think I stopped talking for more than 30 seconds at a time all evening, and that was only to chew. Great company, fascinating people, and a really lovely event.

I can only say thanks to Graham Smith and the team for organising it so flawlessly. And hope for good weather and no lurgies next time round so I can startle everyone and get there three years in a row!

Crime and Publishment 2018

This weekend was the sixth annual Crime and Publishment crime writing weekend, held as ever at the Mill Forge Hotel just north of Gretna Green.

As you might expect, the hotel is normally a wedding venue, but for one weekend a year they put aside the champagne and glitter and break out the pen and paper – and gore! – instead. The course lasts for two and a half days, with a wide range of speakers and subjects, this year covering everything from research to making your characters believable to how to succeed on social media. Not only do you learn heaps, but it’s also lots of fun.

This year was my fifth in succession (I didn’t find out about it until the second year) and I loved it just as much as ever. It’s always nice to meet up with so many old friends (some have been going even longer than I have) and this time there were lots of new faces as well, all of them friendly and all just as passionate about writing as the rest of us. And then on the Sunday we all get the opportunity to pitch to a well-respected figure in the industry, be it publisher or agent. This year was the turn of Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books, who spoke entertainingly but passionately about the business of publishing, and of supporting authors throughout their careers.

For me the highlight was probably Michael J Malone’s session on building character, which made me realise that the main character in my current work-in-progress needed some serious attention. Not quite to the point of re-writing the whole ruddy book, but better to realise at this stage than after it’s been submitted somewhere. I spent half an hour on Saturday morning scribbling ideas and nearly missed the start of the first session!

A new feature this year was an unofficial book-swap, where we took along crime novels we’d finished with, to swap around for free. I took a couple that had been cluttering up my shelves – and came home with four more, which wasn’t quite the point…

Next year’s programme looks equally interesting, so I’ll almost certainly be heading back to Gretna for another dose.

The weather wasn’t especially kind, but here’s a couple of photos of the hotel and grounds, showing the pretty landscaping and wonderful attention to detail for couples getting married (and perhaps for hiding the odd dead body or two…!)



Second helpings

Friday found me travelling north to Gretna Green again, for the first follow-up session to the great ‘Crime & Publishment’ writing course I attended there a few weeks ago.

It was held at the very same hotel, the Mill Forge, and six of us managed to juggle commitments and journey times to get there. And a fantastic time we had too. Drinks at the bar, dinner, then back to the bar, and all the time we talked several hind legs off several donkeys on everything from character names to the Harrogate festival and back again.

It’s a fair way to go for an evening so I stopped over at the hotel (hardly a hardship…) and was delighted I’d made the effort as it was brilliant catching up with folk again. Chatting to other writers, especially ones on such a similar wavelength, always seems very inspirational (even if it does mean having to change some rather silly character names in my latest work-in-progress!) and I’m hoping to make the next session, some time in the summer, as well.

Brilliant weekend

This weekend was the Crime and Publishment writing course at The Mill Forge hotel in Gretna Green – and as previously mentioned, I went.

It was exhausting, nerve-wracking, occasionally terrifying, and, er, did I mention exhausting; but it was also tremendous fun and very rewarding. The hotel was comfortable (and spotlessly clean) and the owner, Graham Smith, had organised everything down to the last dot and cross so it all ran really smoothly. The other people on the course were amazingly friendly and very, very passionate about their craft – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met such an enthusiastic bunch of writers before. There were about twenty of us all told, with the majority attending the whole weekend and one or two slipping in and out each day, and many of us are already talking about meeting up again in the months ahead.

The talks were excellent. All four main sessions were run by people with tons of relevant experience – three published authors (Zoe Sharp, Chris Ewan and Michael Malone) and one publisher (Darren Laws from Caffeine Nights Publishing). All four really knew their stuff and were able to make their particular subjects both informative, and great fun. My own favourite was the Dicing With Dialogue session with Michael Malone, partly because I love writing dialogue anyway and partly because the examples used to illustrate it were hilarious. Check out overheard.com sometime – I can guarantee you’ll spill your coffee.

On the Sunday morning we all had the opportunity to pitch our work to Darren, and in my case I’m delighted to report that he went off with my submission package tucked under one arm, and even promised to read it. He may not like it, of course, but it still had me dancing on about three feet of air.

Most of all the sheer fun, chat and togetherness was what made the weekend. Nobody was left sitting in a corner (not even me). We all seemed to have similar interests, at least in writing terms, and spent many a happy hour over breakfast or dinner discussing the voices in our heads, the best way to reach a man’s heart (past the third rib? or the fifth? I forget…) and the disposal of the odd body, without anyone thinking us strange.

The only fly in the ointment was the travel. Gretna is a little isolated and the only way for me to get there was by train. Although I’m relatively local (the far north of England, by definition, is quite close to Scotland) the journey was a nightmare with late trains, missed connections, and a wild taxi ride across the border which cost a whopping £30. Mercifully, on the way back Zoe Sharp offered me a lift, and the two of us buzzed happily back down the motorway, crammed with all our luggage, books, paperwork, coats, scarves, and a teddy in a bag (mine) into a very small sports car. It made for a lively (if squashed) end to a brilliant weekend.

There’s already talk of next year’s event and I’m seriously considering putting my name down for it. And eternally grateful to both Graham Smith, and the wonders of Facebook, for finding out about it in the first place.

Running off to Gretna…

…but not to get married.

crime_punishInstead, I’ve booked a place on the Crime and Publishment weekend writing course at the Mill Forge Hotel. The course runs from 7-9 March and includes workshops with published crime writers on topics as wide-ranging as turning an idea into a plot, using your location as a character in its own right, creating realistic dialogue, and pitching your work to a publisher. And on the Sunday, there’s a chance to do just that with the CEO of Caffeine Nights Publishing, an independent British company specialising in crime and noir.

It all sounds really exciting and I can hardly wait!