The 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate

Sarah Hilary, Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award winner.with Simon Theakston

Sarah Hilary, Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award winner.with Simon Theakston - Credit: Fenris Oswin

Stars from the world of crime writing come together for a festival weekend. Words by Ann Chapman

Comedy isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to the subject of murder. But at the 13th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – the world’s biggest celebration of the genre – there were a few killer jokes. Three headline comedians attended at the star-studded annual event in Agatha Christie’s old haunt, The Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate.

Eddie Izzard appeared in a flurry of red lipstick and heels, dangling a designer handbag, as attendees rushed to take selfies. Izzard was in conversation with author, Mark Billingham. The pair met before either had gone on to major success when they were both struggling stand-ups 25 years ago on the comedy club circuit. Izzard went on to global fame, now as a straight actor in the TV series, Hannibal. As Izzard arrived at the hotel a journalist asked him if he liked crime. He deadpanned: ‘Not doing it no, I think that just really destroys a political career. Reading about it, yes, doing it, less so.’

Satirist Rory Bremner expertly dissected the global phenomenon of Lee Child, the author behind the Jack Reacher series which sells a book somewhere in the world every four seconds. As well as a voracious writer (there are now 20 Jack Reacher novels) Child revealed he also reads a book every day – 365 books a year. He confirmed a second movie starring Tom Cruise as Reacher was in the pipeline.

Fred MacAulay interviewed special guest MC Beaton. The Scottish comedian and presenter unveiled Beaton’s remarkable career as a journalist on Fleet Street and for Murdoch in America, before moving to Scotland where her husband reared a flock of black sheep. It was there she was inspired to create Hamish Macbeth, before a move to the Cotswolds spawned Agatha Raisin – which has just been commissioned for a full TV series with Sky starring Ashley Jensen.

There were many panel and special guest events including Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Arnaldur Indridason, Lisa Gardner, Sara Paretsky and Ann Widdecombe and the BAFTA winning TV writer Paul Abbott. In a candid interview with BBC Breakfast presenter, and fan, Stephanie McGovern, Abbott inspired Val McDermid to tweet that he made her feel ‘like a total slacker’.

The writer of Shameless, State of Play, Cracker and the more recent, No Offence, explained he had seven different writing projects on the go – here and in the United States - including a second series of State of Play. Abbott, who was diagnosed with bipolar, said that his brain was like the lotto balls juggling around in the air, and writing helped to put them in order.

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He spoke openly about his difficult up-bringing (the inspiration behind Shameless). Abbott was deserted by both parents, raped at the age of 11 and attempted suicide twice before the age of 16. A man who has come through the worst, he giggled on stage, shared stories he said he shouldn’t tell, and oozed charm and humanity.

The festival was programmed this year by Vera author, Ann Cleeves, who brought actress Brenda Blethyn to the festival, glamour personified with her Vera raincoat and hat left firmly on set.

Readers were keen to find out more about the forthcoming and controversial fourth Stieg Larsson Millennium book by Swedish journalist David Lagercrantz. Secrecy prior to the launch on August 27th was one of the most fiercely guarded in literary history. The late Larsson’s original Swedish editor Eva Gedin kept the secret but did tell the audience all proceeds of the book, which will probably run into many millions of pounds, will go to Expo, the radical anti-racist magazine that Larsson gave his life to.

Next year’s event has already been announced, hosted from July 21st-24th at the Old Swan Hotel with programming chair, best selling murder mystery writer Peter James. Special guests confirmed include Luther writer, Neil Cross, Gerald Seymour, Linwood Barclay and Tess Gerritsen.