I’m not entirely sure how I got involved co-running the new Scarborough Book Festival, Books By The Beach. My big mouth, I expect. I’d been hosting events at the Library Service’s Literature Festival (note the distinction) in the town for years so when the Library decided it couldn’t carry on the local paper emailed me for a comment.
I thought I said something innocuous about what a shame it was. The headline in the Scarborough News a couple of days later blared: ‘Festival favourite host to save scrapped Festival’. That would be me, then.
I got together with Heather French, the librarian who had been programming the Literature Festival for the past seven years, to create Books By The Beach, the new festival. She worked really hard, off the clock, to put a programme together, whilst I took all the credit. Worked for me.
Scarborough has always got good audiences for crime writers. Mr Rankin, Ms McDermid, Ms Mina, Ms Welch and Mr McBride have all made the trip south from Scotland. Ms Ann Cleeves, Mr Peter James, Mr David Hewson, Mr Mark Billingham, Mr Simon Kernick, Mr Lee Child and many others have also been there.
But this was a new festival. We needed a crime writer who’d not been to Scarborough before. (Plus none of these writers were available. Except that the wonderful Mark Billingham is driving up especially to interview his mate, rock journo Mark Ellen, then driving straight back south again.)
Enter Jo Nesbo. Let me rephrase that: ENTER JO NESBO. The festival was running 24-27 April. I knew from Bethan Jones, Jo’s magnificent PR at his UK publisher, that he had his new novel, The Son, out in April. Any chance Jo could come to Scarborough? Sorry, Bethan said, he doesn’t get in until 28 April. Did I say the Festival ended 27 April, Bethan? My mistake. I meant 28th… or 29th… or – can we just do Nesbo Time?
Anyway, The Iceman Cometh. Jo was up for it (maybe it was an ancestral thing: the Vikings used to live in Scarborough and nearby Jorvik/York for a hundred years or so) so we had our top of the bill (and a longer festival).
We lined up some spy guys – Jim ‘Today’ Naughtie with his debut novel, Charles Cumming with his seventh and ex-head of Special Branch, Roger Pearce. We tried for Ben McIntyre and his book on Kim Philby but got slapped down pretty quickly.
(I’m not saying this is Ben but some people have long enough memories to recall that movie An American Werewolf in London and get frightened at the thought of going to Yorkshire. You can pitch All Creatures Great and Small as much as you want, they just see fog-shrouded moors with throat-ripping creatures waiting to pounce. Frankly, so do I, but then I’m from Lancashire, the land of milk and honey.)
We had Mark Lawson until he dropped out for ‘personal reasons’, which always sounds a bit odd so we got paranoid about that until he dropped out of everything for ‘personal reasons’ and then we hoped he was going to be okay. We even forgave him utterly that our brochure was at the printer and we had six hours to find someone else to take his place.
We’ve got two fine crime writers doing unusual things. (No, not together, scandal-mongers.) Lynn Shepherd (A Treacherous Likeness, Tom-All-Alone’s) is giving a talk at our Gothic literary dinner in the 1840s town hall about Dracula. (He landed in nearby Whitby when he came over from Transylvania.) Sherlock Holmes expert, David Stuart Davies, is telling ghost stories in the company of movie star Greta Scacchi (no less) in the town’s abandoned Victorian prison. Spooookie.
We’ve also got one-man crime and film encyclopaedia, Barry Forshaw, talking about British Gothic Cinema over lunch. (We’re prepared for unfinished meals.)
I’m running a crime-writing workshop in that very same prison. I’m planning to lock participants in the cells to write. (I’m funny that way – and isn’t that what public liability insurance was invented for?)
Check out the programme at www.booksbythebeach.co.ukwww.booksbythebeach.co.uk. Follow us on Twitter on @scarboroughbook. We’re on Facebook too. And come to see Jo and our other writers. (High speed trains to York then 40 minutes cross-country to the coast.) There are no werewolves in Yorkshire, I promise. Vampires, now, that’s something else again.