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Oxford Literary Festival #OLF19

Oxford, a city of spires, stepped in literary history – Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Colin Dexter’s Morse, Philip Pullman – it has a crop of authors to pick from, who’ve studied there, live there or simply pass through and feel inspired to write about this majestic place.

And so, of course, we must have a Literary Festival to add credence. A week-long list of events centered around the colleges and buildings so loved and highly esteemed in this beautiful city.

I booked my tickets online, once they went on sale. I chose carefully, mainly picking the authors I have previously enjoyed reading and of course because of the genre of Crime Thriller that I enjoy.

Wednesday 3rd April – Cara Hunter – Lincoln College – hosted by Peter Gutteridge

I’ve read Cara’s other 2 books and love them – Close to Home and In The Dark – are both based in Oxford and follow DI Adam Fawley though various investigations.

Today’s event was the launch of Cara’s third novel – No Way Out – and it was wonderful to hear Cara speak about how she was unsure on her first draft of the book whether DI Fawley should be male or female – uncertain wether or call Fawley – Chris or Alex – as both are unisex and never wrote he or she – this became quite complicated to maintain, so she plumped for Adam and DI Adam Fawley was born.

Cara also wasn’t too sure about basing her novels in Oxford, as she thought the public may have had a bit too much exposure to the gleaming spires, but she, into it and she’s very happy about this as Oxford is such a diverse and vibrant place, with small villages around the city and this is how the intersections and city becomes alive and where stories are created.

Cara Says some of the best stories right now are being made for TV – Line of Duty and Broachurch – she loves both, but because crime readers are so sophisticated in the way of Police Procedural now, it means she needs a real life DI who has actual crime scene knowledge to help her with these areas of her writing. And spent time with Fire officers for research for No Way Out, “you can’t just write it and hope no-one notices you’ve made it all up these days”.

Cara is just finishing her 4th book titled All The Rageand this should be published next year 2020. And the good news is, Cara has a 5 book contract, so theres at least 1 more after that to follow – Yay!

Peter Gutteridge talks to Cara Hunter – Lincoln College

Thursday 4th April – Bodian – Divinity school room – Ruth Hogan & Hannah Beckerman in conversation with Lucy Atkins

Lucy Atkins, Ruth Hogan and Hannah Beckerman in the beautiful Divinity school Room

Families – who’d have them – turns out we all do and often not by choice. Some 19% of the population have fallen out with family – 12 Million in the UK have estranged family members, some though choice and others because of long-standing arguments stemming from parents/grandparents – you name it, its going on, more than you’d realise. And Hannah Beckerman has researched this greatly – before writing her highly acclaimed 2nd novel If Only I could Tell You

The world is full of secrets, repressed secrets, some that die with the passing of relatives, which we are glad of. Hannah herself was estranged from her father for 18 years, by choice. So she is very well versed in how to write in this way. Ruth also fell out with her sister and they didn’t speak for many years, they do again now and their mother tried to reconcile them but gave up and let them get on with it. Having spent years battling for Ruth and her sister to have an education and better choices than she did.

Some of the subjects they cover in both their books are from personal experience and this makes researching information easier – “you have to write what you know and its truly impossible to express this if you don’t know your subject first hand” the pain and depths of emotion reached and the hurt it can cause.

Ruth Hogan has published 3 novels – The Keeper of Lost Things, Sally Red Shoes and her new book Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel – Flamingo shoes not included

“Life isnt smooth, there are bumps and jagged edges, impact and fall out and this needs to be written about also, its nice to have a happy ending, but rarely does it work out like that, life moves forward, but not always in a positive way.”

Ruth has an amazing selection of shoes – I’ve met her before in some red beauties

Lucy Atkins also has 3 books published – The Missing One, The Other Child and The Night Visitor

Saturday 6th April 2019 – Val McDermid talks to Nicolette Jones – A Life of Crime at the Sheldonian Theatre

Nicolette Jones and Val McDermid – The Queen of Tartan Noir

“A Celebration of Crime”

The Queen of Tartan Noir – Author of 36 renowned crime novels, 4 works of fiction and a children’s book – Co-Founder of the Harrogate Crime Festival, award winner – I could go on. Val dismissed the title of Queen of Crime Fiction, opting for The Gobby Shop Steward of Crime.

Val is an alumni of St Hilda’s college, having studied there in the 60’s – once she learned to speak English – as no one understood her Scottish drawl, she was fine and enjoyed her time there greatly. Leading her to an early career in journalism, she starting writing on Mondays – they were always quiet, she would write from 2-7pm and then head home with her mind whirring full of ideas for the next stint the week after. Her first 4 books were written in this way and took 2 years to write. Nowadays she has to write it down when she thinks of it, as she seems to retain far more information of a useless nature.

Again, (like Cara) she speaks of how the place you write about must be a feature, so people can imagine or if they have been there it gives a sense of place. A place is a feature, with a team of dedicated detectives – they can be created and altered, but a place must be authentic. Some are real and some are fictional, but perhaps based on somewhere Val has visited.

“Getting the Characters is key, the readers have to believe”

Some of Val’s characters it’s upon celebrities, how the rush of fame has an impact on them, their lives, what drives people and what that might drive them too if it was all taken away – leads to great stories.

Val writes during January – March and should be writing now, but she likes doing the public stuff, to get out and meet people. She was brought up to have a party piece and joined the debating society at college, so an edge of entertainment has always been part of her life. And told a very amusing tale of how she used to ‘borrow’ her Mothers library card and say she was ill and could she get her a book out – as children were not allowed in the adult section – Val had read all the P.D. James in no time.

Val believes that genres have changed so much since she started writing, shes always been lucky enough to be able to write what she wanted, shes never been constrained to write a certain story, like other authors have been and have fallen along the way as they haven’t been able to write their own stories down. Scandinavian Noir has been around long before Stig Larrson, writers now don’t get the chance to learn their trade and grow, if you make it to 3 good books you wouldn’t get a 4th, you need a hit to make it now and publishers have more ways of getting books noticed.

The roof in the Sheldonian, stunning.

Women writers seem to be pushing boundaries, getting to the forefront more, we were brought up to be devious and manipulative, use subtle means. Whereas Boys were taught to be more direct, more aggressive ask for more. We are more creative, cunning and indirect, writing complex mysteries, men write linear plots.

Crime fiction is being taken more seriously now, its a big seller, people want a resulution, a start, middle and an ending. A conclusion is required.

Right now Val is writing the next Tony Hill / Carol Jordan installment – currently titled – “How The Dead Speak” with another Karen Pirie to be penned next year, she doesn’t like to write two books in a row about the same characters.

And talking of titles, she likes to start with a title that expressed what the book is about. And has had to change the title she originally wanted, due to it not fitting on the cover. The Grave Tattoo – she wanted to name it Bounty – but it was thought this would cause confusion. Its still called Bounty on her computer though.

Val and I at her book signing after her talk – a little awe struck.

All in all some amazing events were held over the week, thank you to the organisers, volunteers and of course Blackwells Bookshops, whos marquee was an Aladdin cave of wonder – I know I left with bags of books over the 3 days I attended – but I dont mind at all, because you can never have too many books.

@CaraHunterBooks @ruthmariehogan @hannahbeckerman @lucyatkins @valmcdermid #Crime #Thriller #Oxford #OLF19 @Blackwelloxford

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