Shetland Noir was a hoot; three full days of panels, seminars and interviews capped by a party, a ceilidh and a quiz. It was only the second time the event had been staged, the most northerly of British crime writing festivals. The venue was the Mareel arts centre, slap on the waterfront at Lerwick where otters popped their heads from the water to see what the excitement was about. It was adjacent to the museum, so scored another plus for me, and the travelling delegates took time to explore the islands. Mixing dramatic scenery, wildlife and plentiful archaeology added to the value of the trip as Shetland is not the easiest place to get to. The last point was emphasised when my luggage did not arrive at the same time as me, and headliner Richard Osman ‘s plane was cancelled so he was interviewed by fellow headliner Martin Edwards by video link instead.
‘Shetland’ author Anne Cleeves and Shetland-based mystery writer Marsali Taylor organised a varied selection of authors, mixing headliners with local writers and faces not often seen. I read Marsali’s Death in Shetland Waters to get me in the mood for the conference.
The ‘Old Bones’ panel was in fact the first I had ever appeared on at a crime writing event since the appearance of Shadow in the Corn 30 years ago. It was a great pleasure to be introduced by Shetland archaeologist Dr Val Turner, even more as she had found two of the original Severn House Jeffrey Flint hardbacks for me to sign. Sharing the stage was Lin Anderson, whose occult-themed The Special Dead I read this month and found genuinely gripping. Completing our investigative quorum was B K Bryce, ‘Babs’, who writes mysteries based in prehistoric Orkney. The subjects under discussion ranged from how archaeology was presented in novels to the challenges of setting crime books on islands.
Crime writer speed dating added a novel and cheerfully chaotic element to the festival. Pairs of authors had two minutes apiece to pitch their latest book to a table of punters before whizzing on to the next. I was paired with Wendy Jones Nakashini who writes as Leah O’Hara, so I heard her pitch Japan – based detective stories eight times in half an hour. By the end she probably also knew my spiel on Blackshirt Masquerade by heart. We chased Trevor Wood and Louise Mangos around the hall from table to table; not only did Louise bring bookmarks but she also distributed Swiss chocolates to the eager crime fans.
Those fans mixed freely with the writers over the three days of talks and three evenings of wine-fuelled fun; ‘The Murder Sisters’ from Germany mingled with participants from Canada, Australia and the US. Verena Main Rose from Level best Books and I seized the chance to have a good discussion about the release of Blackshirt Conspiracy later this year.
Shetland Library threw themselves into the mood with a dramatic display of crime books and produced a cheeky series of ‘Wanted’ posters for the authors. Once a writer had popped into the library they marked up the poster as ‘apprehended’, and no-shows were ‘still at large’.
It was all very enjoyable, so many thanks to Marsali, Anne and Shetland Arts for staging the event. You can find more pictures and stories from Shetland Noir on my author facebook page and Twitter feed @jasonthriller.
Featured image: Looking down on Scalloway and its castle during a tour of the islands.