I’ve been busy lately, polishing up a TOP SECRET PROJECT, so this post about last month’s Granite Noir festival is a little late.
Granite Noir is Aberdeen’s yearly crime writing festival, and in 2020 featured appearances from genre legends Ian Rankin, Stuart McBride, Ambrose Parry (pen name of Chris Brookmyre and Dr Marisa Haetzman), Denise Mina, and many more.
A particularly excellent feature of the festival – one that’s being adopted by many others – is ‘Locals in the Limelight’, which gives emerging authors living in the north-east the chance to read at the beginning of an event, as well as a free showcase for anyone wanting to catch all the performances.
I was lucky enough to be selected this year and headed into the city on Saturday 22nd to get stuck in.
First up was the showcase at the central library, which was both a good way to work out the nerves and a fantastic opportunity to meet and listen to other local authors. The breadth of stories, from contemporary tales set in back streets of Aberdeen to historical and psychological pieces, demonstrated the local scene is in robust health – if tales of beatings, stabbings, and sex-crazed torturers can be described as healthy.
After getting a quick lunch while still wearing my ‘author’ lanyard (I’m a lanyard person now, I never take it off, ever) I headed to The Lemon Tree to do the opening performance for ‘Also Known As’, a discussion featuring Sarah Lotz and C.M. Ewan, chaired by Dr Noir (AKA Dr Jacky Collins).
All three were lovely and kind – I’m a big fan of Sarah Lotz’s Everest ghost story The White Road and found myself a little bit star struck and, therefore, blabbing like an idiot. (When Sarah signed my copy of her new book, Missing Person, I told her about my friend who was working in a charity bookshop when Iain Banks died and was told to pull all the signed Banks novels out of the window display to reprice. Thinking about it now, I really hope she didn’t get the impression I’m waiting for her to die to sell on the book for more money.)
The event itself was funny and interesting, especially for budding authors, as Ewan and Lotz related their paths to publication.
Chris Ewan’s story of getting a publishing deal a week before his birthday, after promising his wife he’d quit writing if still unpublished at 30 years old, struck a real chord with me as I also sold my first novel in the run up to my thirtieth last year (more info on this soon!). Chris had won Susan Hill’s novel competition which is, of course, a much bigger deal but the small similarity still made me smile.
Sarah’s anecdotes, from her time living homeless on the streets of Paris to waking up to four armed men standing around her bed during a home invasion, were candid and shocking but told with self-deprecating humour.
For my part, I read an excerpt from my short story Sherry Sherry, first published in Hardboiled by Dead Guns Press, available here. (I also sang, in the style of Neil Diamond, in front of a room full of people, all of whom had paid money to be there.)
In the evening, I went to see Stuart McBride interview Ben Aaronovitch about his fantasy crime series Rivers of London and writing for Dr Who, then on to see stand-up comic Phil Jupitus chat to Scottish crime royalty Ian Rankin, where each picked five books they would want with them if shipwrecked on an island.
Among the recommendations, from French existentialist crime to Charles Dickens, was White Jazz by James Ellroy – selected by Rankin – which I found really interesting as I myself have always considered it to be, not my favourite Ellroy novel, but the one that most completely and purely encapsulates his style.
Rankin explained the book – the final episode of Ellroy’s first LA Quartet – is a little unloved, even by the author himself who considers it something of a failure, but that its clipped, machine-gun style prose (I’d liken it to reading through a reporter’s short hand notebook), grand scope, and use of real historical figures among its cast opened Rankin’s eyes to new possibilities and reinvigorated him, resulting in 1997’s Black & Blue, where Rebus takes on a copycat of the infamous real-life serial killer, Bible John.
Reading through the LA Quartet from start to finish, you can see the Ellroy style emerge as each book becomes more stripped back, more lean, more insular and reliant on its own internal language, the rat-a-tat dialogue of mid-20th century LA and cop/gangster slang. White Jazz is its final distillation, and I can understand why it may seem too heady for readers who come at it without picking up any of the previous books first, but those who persevere will discover a real diamond.
Sorry, I digress, the point of all this is it was an excellent weekend. I had a blast, went to some brilliant events, and met some wonderful authors. With things being the way they are now, it’s sadly unlikely I’ll get to another event soon but I’m already looking forward to next year.
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