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…!)



Bad Samaritan

badsamaritanI’ve just finished reading ‘Bad Samaritan’ by Michael J Malone and absolutely loved it.  You can see my full review of the book over at Goodreads; as I say there, it’s been a very long time since I read any book so quickly because I just couldn’t put it down.

If you like your fiction dark and slightly challenging you’ll definitely like this one.  I certainly did!

Fun with dialogue

As I mentioned yesterday, the Dicing with Dialogue session was probably my favourite of the whole weekend (although in the face of some strong opposition). One of the fun things we had to do was pick a topic from a list and write our own dialogue-based scene leading on from it. Tutor Michael Malone gave us the choice of four scenarios, or a whole sheet of hilarious examples from websites like, featuring various gaffes and foot-in-mouth moments from around the world. I chose one of the latter, which just seemed like a gift:

Overheard, Primark in Hammersmith this evening, young woman on mobile phone, in a serious and mildly irritated tone: “So who are you gonna pimp me to?”

And here’s my take on that, in pretty much the state it was when I read it out:

Chrissie tapped one magenta fingernail against the clothes rail. So much for her afternoon of retail therapy, even if it was just Primark. “So, who are you gonna pimp me to?”

Morgan sounded muffled, as though he had his phone crammed between shoulder and chin. Probably perming some old dear’s hair even as he spoke. “Look, it’s just for one night, babe. You just go in and…”

“Yeah, but he could be a fucking axe murderer for all I know. What did Steve say about him again?”

“Just that he’s okay. It’s a business thing, babe, that’s all. Just one night. It’ll be fine.”

“Do I at least get to know his fucking name?”

“Steve said something like Darren. Or do I mean Darius?”

“You mean you don’t even know?” She blew her gum out and popped it with her tongue. “Well, screw that. I am not fucking around with some complete stranger if I don’t even know his name.”

“Hang on.” Faint scrabbling noises echoed down the phone. “I had a Post-It note… Where’s that gone? Ah. Got it. It’s Dario. Dario Carrera. And he’s rich, babe. Owns a football club in San Marino, Steve said.”

She moved her gum to the other cheek. “Like I care about fucking football. I’ll do it, Morgan, but this is the last time. You can get someone besides your sister to do your dirty work next time.”

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 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.