Guide to Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

HarrogateLogoIn just a few short weeks I’ll board a plane, then another plane, then a train, and finally an automobile that will deliver me to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, affectionately known in crime fiction circles as Harrogate (which is actually the name of the town where it’s held).

A note about the name: You might not be familiar with Theakston, unless you’re a beer aficionado and/or a fan of NCIS. Theakston is a brewery based in Harrogate, and Old Peculier (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) is one of their beers. I’ve seen their CEO at the festival a couple of times now, and I have to tell you, the company seems to love the event as much as readers do. They really are a fantastic sponsor.

Because us crime fiction readers like to know the 5 Ws of just about everything, here’s a primer on Harrogate…

Who attends?

The list of author attendees is here. Some of the names will be less familiar to Americans, and much of the glory of Harrogate is in discovering new-to-you authors. The bulk of attendees, though, are readers, and mingling and chatting with fellow lovers of crime fiction is a joy. It’s worth noting, too, that some authors come just for the fun, and aren’t listed on the official roster. You never know who you’ll bump in to!

Click here for a Twitter list of authors (and others) who will be at Harrogate.

What is it?

As the name suggests, it’s a festival that celebrates crime fiction, those who read it and those who write it.

The Old Swan

The Old Swan

Where is it?

Harrogate, England (here’s a map). It’s in Yorkshire in northern England, about 20 minutes’ drive from Leeds.

The festival events are held at the Old Swan Hotel, which has a proud crime fiction history. To wit:

In December 1926 the author Agatha Christie suddenly disappeared from her home. She was missing for a total of eleven days, during which the police conducted a major manhunt, and there was speculation that she had committed suicide. The disappearance even drew other crime writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers into the search, Conan Doyle’s interest in the occult prompting to take one of Christie’s gloves to a medium. After about ten days (having checked into the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the assumed name Mrs. Teresa Neele) she was recognised by one of the banjo players at the hotel. (Wikipedia)

When is it?

Usually the third weekend in July (so this year, from July 17-20). It begins on Thursday evening and ends mid-day on Sunday. During the day on Thursday, there are workshops for writers as well.

Why would I go all that way?

Because it’s worth it. The atmosphere at Harrogate is quite special, with authors mingling between panels and more fascinating conversations than you can shake a stick at.

And in addition to the awesome festival, Harrogate is a lovely town and has Betty’s Café Tea Rooms. Until you’ve had a cream tea at Betty’s, you haven’t really lived.

How do I attend? How do tickets work?

Unlike many American book events, there is only one panel at a time at Harrogate. There are also evening events each night. You can buy a Rover ticket, which gets you in to everything, or you can get individual tickets for specific events.

There is a wide range of accommodation available in Harrogate, from guest houses and B&Bs to hotels.

Getting to Harrogate is easy…once you know how. Harrogate doesn’t have an airport; Leeds is the closest, about a 20-minute cab ride away. You can fly into another UK airport—London and Manchester are the easiest from the US—and then either fly to Leeds or take the train to Harrogate. Or, if you’re adventurous, you can always rent a car and drive from wherever you fly in to (although I’m told driving from London isn’t advisable; you’re better off taking the train).

If you’re a last-minute travel planner, it’s worth noting that it’s not too late to attend this year!

old-peculier-crime-novel-of-the-yearCrime Novel of the Year

At the festival’s opening ceremonies on Thursday night, the winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award is announced.

The long list of nominees comprises a fantastic reading list. Most of the books on this year’s list are available (or soon will be) in the US…the two that are not are noted with an asterisk (and can still be easily ordered via Book Depository or Amazon UK). Also, books published with different titles here are noted:

  • Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer*
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
  • Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton (published in the US as Lost)
  • A Wanted Man by Lee Child
  • The Honey Guide by Richard Crompton (published in the US as Hour of the Red God)
  • The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
  • Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths
  • Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes
  • The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay*
  • The Chessmen by Peter May (out in the US on April 7, 2015)
  • I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty
  • The Red Road by Denise Mina
  • Ratlines by Stuart Neville
  • Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin
  • Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson
  • Eleven Days by Stav Sherez (out in the US on October 7, 2014)
  • Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth (out in the US on August 12, 2014)

This longlist will be whittled down to a shortlist, which will be announced on July 1.

One of my favorite things about Harrogate is the on-site bookstore, which is devoted exclusively to crime fiction. It’s a wonderful opportunity to find books that are hard to get in the US.

If, having read the above, you still have questions, check out the festival’s FAQs. And feel free to post questions here, of course.


I’ll be reporting from Harrogate right here, so if you can’t be there this year, watch this space for more!