This past weekend, I was lucky enough to make my first-ever trip to Scotland for Bloody Scotland 2017, a fantastic annual crime fiction festival held in Stirling! Bloody Scotland brings together authors from Scotland, across the UK, and around the world for a weekend of crime fiction panels, events, torchlight processions (seriously!), and much, much more. What impressed me most about this festival is how well it maintained a close, intimate feel, while still hosting so many readers and writers!
My favorite memories of this weekend were made in between panels, as you'll see in this journal. (Don't get me wrong, the panels were fantastic too!) I was just struck by how well this festival facilitates relaxed, genuine interacts between readers, writers, and even publishing professionals. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and I absolutely loved the moments spent just hanging out and chatting with favorite authors and new-to-me authors alike. I’m so thankful to have had this wonderful experience, and am already looking forward to Bloody Scotland 2018!
In this post, you’ll find a day-by-day recap of my time in Scotland, including my top book recommendations from the weekend, recaps of author interviews and panels, and lots of photos! (Note that you can click on any of the photos in this post to see an enlarged version!)
Many thanks to the Bloody Scotland team for making sure I had such a wonderful weekend - I tcouldn’t be more appreciative.
Book Recommendations from Bloody Scotland 2017
STIRLING, UK - Bloody Scotland
Day 1: Friday, September 8, 2017
I arrived in Edinburgh bright and early on Friday morning after an overnight flight from NYC, and (true to form), made a beeline for the Starbucks at the Edinburgh airport. Once I was caffeinated and had collected my bags, I headed off to Stirling, the town which is home to Bloody Scotland every year! The train ride to Stirling was absolutely breathtaking - I could hardly believe I had been in the craziness of New York less than 12 hours earlier. Little did I know, I was in for even more of a treat: when I got off the train in Stirling, I think my jaw literally hit the floor—this town is absolutely stunning. My B&B was within walking distance of the Stirling train station, so I set off with my bags and found myself completely transported. Stirling is filled with beautiful, old architecture—I couldn’t believe my eyes! If you'll indulge me for a moment - here are a few of my favorite photos I took of this gorgeous town!
I arrived at my B&B, The Lost Guest House, and dropped off my bags. I also just have to take a moment to appreciate this adorable little B&B - I absolutely loved my room and its beautiful view!
Then I was off to do my favorite thing upon arrival in a new city: find a bookstore!! I had a bit of time before my hotel room was ready and before I could pick up my festival pass, so I made my way to Waterstones. Being an American who had never been to a Waterstones before, this was an absolute dream—I truly can’t remember the last time I was in a general interest bookstore that had such an extensive collection of crime fiction! I picked up two books at Waterstones: PERFECT REMAINS by Helen Fields THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN by Celia Fremlin.
I absolutely loved how Waterstones highlighted the crime books that were on the shortlist for the McIlvanney Prize for Crime Novel of the Year - it was so cool to see this display! (Note: Denise Mina's THE LONG DROP ended up winning this prize!)
Next up, it was time for me to head to the main Bloody Scotland venue, The Golden Lion! At the Golden Lion, I met Bloody Scotland’s PR person, Fiona Brownlee (who, sidenote, is incredibly impressive!). Fiona was a huge help throughout my time in Stirling, so she deserves a little shoutout here - thank you, Fiona!! I grabbed my welcome bag, which to my delight included not only the necessary information about the festival, but also some fantastic goodies - Bloody Scotland Pale Ale and Stirling Gin!
At this point in the day, my jet lag was starting to set in... so to keep myself awake, I went on a little adventure! I figured, being in Scotland, I should find a pub to check out -- and a quick Google search led me to the absolute best place. No. 2 Baker Street was seriously stunning, and had an extensive gin list (fun fact: gin is my favorite!). I had a drink and dipped into PERFECT REMAINS by Helen Fields while waiting to meet up with Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for dinner. At the bar, I got into the nicest conversation with some locals - everyone was so friendly, and I was just so appreciative of their taking the time to chat with me! There's nothing better than learning about a new place from the folks who actually live there, and I absolutely loved not only how welcoming the people I met at No. 2 Baker Street were, but also their natural enthusiasm for the Bloody Scotland festival! They even hunted down a few newspapers to show me all the coverage leading up to the festival.
After hanging out at No. 2 Baker Street for a bit, I got to witness something very cool: a torchlight procession from Stirling Castle down into the town to kick off the Bloody Scotland festivities!! For some reason, I didn't manage to record the bagpipes playing in the below video - I think I was honestly too caught up in the moment to think about filming it well. But you can get a sense of the drama of this moment in the little video below!
Then it was off to meet Karen and one of her authors, Thomas Enger, for dinner! For those of you unfamiliar with Karen Sullivan, she is the powerhouse behind Orenda Books, one of my favorite crime fiction publishers. Orenda publishes fantastic authors like Ragnar Jonasson, Thomas Enger, Matt Wesolowski, Michael Malone, and many, many more. At dinner, Karen showed me and Thomas some of the very exciting brand-new proofs she had brought along to Bloody Scotland with her: WHITEOUT by Ragnar Jonasson, and SNARE by Lilja Sigurdardottir!
After dinner, we three set off for a super fun event: a Crime Quiz pitting two teams of authors against each other! The teams were captained by bestselling crime writers Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. Following the quiz, we were treated to a performance by the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of (you guessed it) crime writers!! I am always blown away by the many talents these authors have, and the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers were no exception. This band includes Dough Johnstone, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste, Val McDermid, and Chris Brookmyre - and they are fantastic!!
After this performance, it was past midnight and I was exhausted. Time for some sleep!
Day 2: Saturday, September 9, 2017
I was up bright and early on Saturday to collect myself before a very exciting interview! Thanks to Fiona Brownlee, I had the fantastic opportunity to interview author Christopher Brookymre, the author of eighteen novels including BLACK WIDOW and, most recently, THE LAST HACK (titled WANT YOU GONE in the UK). I had a fantastic conversation with Chris, and am so looking forward to sharing this interview with you! I have actually never read a Chris Brookmyre book before, but (as you can see from my list of books that caught my eye this festival), I fully intend to do so as soon as possible. My interview with Chris will be geared towards introducing new readers like myself to his work - I can’t wait to share with you! My interview with Chris will be live on September 17th, so stay tuned.
After chatting with Chris, I was off to see the Orenda Books pop-up launch for HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone! I recently read and loved HOUSE OF SPINES, and was delighted to meet MIchael in person and check out a physical copy of this brilliant book. (If you missed my review of HOUSE OF SPINES, you can read that here.) At the pop-up launch, I also met L.V. Hay, author of THE OTHER TWIN! I always love getting to know the Orenda Books authors - they are truly such a welcoming and fun bunch of people, and I was delighted to spend some time with them!
Then it was time for one of my most-anticipated events of the weekend: the annual Scotland vs. England football match! (Aka soccer game, but I practiced a lot to call it football while there!) This was such a fun event—it involves exactly what you’d think it does, two teams of crime writers playing football against one another!! This was particularly fun to watch because a number of authors whose books I love were playing, and one of my crime reading friends was playing, too! (Well done Paul!!) Authors including Ragnar Jonasson, Matt Wesolowski, Thomas Enger, Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, and many more participated in the game. Even Karen of Orenda Books played!! It was such fun to watch.
After the game, I was off to grab a quick coffee before attending an afternoon panel called THE DARK LANDS. This panel included three authors with books set in the north: Ragnar Jonasson (Iceland), Thomas Enger (Norway), and Lin Anderson (Scotland and Norway). This was truly such a fantastic panel! If you’ve followed CBTB for a bit, you’ll know that both Jonasson and Enger are personal favorites of mine - I always love to hear what they have to say about their writing process. I was also very impressed by Lin Anderson - she was extremely articulate and enthusiastic, and I have to say, I would love to check out one of her books after listening to her on this panel! Thomas Enger kicked off this panel by playing an absolutely gorgeous piano piece: a lullaby that the main character in his crime series wrote for his son - a son who was later killed in a house fire, and whose death propels the main character in a search for justice.
One of my favorite questions raised during this panel was how the climate of the north affects these writers. Ragnar Jonasson shared that he actually doesn’t write during the summer - he doesn’t want to stay indoors writing when they are finally getting sunny weather! Thomas Enger agreed that there’s something about the darkness of the winter that facilitates his writing. The authors also discussed whether there’s a specific place that they’ve set their books that they particularly love. Lin described that usually, when she’s set a book in a specific place, that’s the place she has fallen in love with at that moment! I loved that idea, of falling in love with the many different places you’re writing about. For Thomas, he has a summer cabin at which he does a lot of his writing. In the third Henning Juul book, SCARRED, he was able to incorporate the cabin into the book, and it meant a lot to him to be able to do so.
Once this panel wrapped up, I was off for my very most-anticipated author meetup of the weekend! I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interview M.J. Arlidge, author of the D.I. Helen Grace series!! This series is one which I’ve been reading quite literally since I began CBTB - Book 1 in the series, EENY MEENY, was actually one of the very first review copies I ever received. Matt and I had a fantastic conversation - we discussed the Helen Grace series as a whole, and the newest installment to come to the US this fall - HIDE AND SEEK. Matt was then kind enough to hang out with me at the bar for a bit, where we just generally chatted about life, books, traveling, and a whole lot more! My interview with M.J. Arlidge will be live on CBTB on September 22nd - stay tuned! (And Matt, thank you very, very much for taking the time to meet with me!) Side note: I need this phone case.
By this point, it was time to grab dinner and get ready for one of the highlights of the weekend: Crime at the Coo, a bar event featuring musical performances from crime authors!! This was such a fun night, and I was just blown away by how talented these authors are. Attendees were treated to performances by Mark Billingham, Doug Johnstone, Thomas Enger, the Slice Girls (so cool!!!), and more! This was such a fun way to wrap up a completely stellar day.
You can listen to one of the songs performed at Crime at the Coo - Bloody Beautiful Scotland by Thomas Enger - below!
DAY 3: Sunday, September 10, 2017
Very sadly, I wasn’t able to spend too much time around the festival on Sunday, because I had to make my way back to Edinburgh and then back to NYC. To start my day, I gave myself a quick tour of some of the area's local coffee shops - because you know me, I can never go anywhere without checking out the local coffee situation! My favorite of the coffee shops I tried was The Burgh Coffeehouse - if you follow me on Instagram, it's the spot where I hung out and read for a while!
Before leaving Stirling, I did manage to find time to (naturally) take a peek into the fantastic festival bookstores that were set up at various venues around Stirling! It took all my willpower not to buy more books… but at this point, I was aware of how heavy my bags already were with books, and knew I’d better not buy any more!
I was so happy because on my way out of the festival, I happened to run into Matt Wesolowski, author of SIX STORIES! I absolutely loved Matt’s debut (if you haven’t yet read my review of it, read that here), and had so been hoping to see him at the festival. I should have snuck a selfie with him, but I definitely will next time! That’s absolutely my favorite thing about these festivals: it never ceases to amaze me when I turn a corner and run into an author whose books I love.
Then, almost before I knew it, I was back on the road to New York. Every time I leave these festivals, I’m convinced I must be the saddest person at that airport or train station - and that was no exception here. This was an absolutely fantastic weekend, and I am so thankful to the authors, coordinators, and friends who made it so much fun. Scotland, I will absolutely be back!
PLUS: Mark your calendars for Bloody Scotland 2018! September 21 - 23, 2018