Bloody Scotland

Bloody Scotland 2018

You know when you just have those ‘argh’ times?

You’re up to your eyeballs in ‘stuff’.

Not work stuff, just ‘stuff’.

Yup. That’s been me for the last couple of weeks.

Stirling Steps
Wise words at the top of Stirling town.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had work stuff too, but the ‘stuff’ stuff has had an impact.

The best of it, though, was Bloody Scotland.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It was magnificent.

Bloody Scotland sign

I started my weekend on Friday 21st September with the Crime Writing Masterclass.

This was a full day of writerly stuff. First there was a talk by Graeme MacRae Burnet (Sunday Herald Culture Awards Author of the Year 2017). It was wonderful to sit in a room listening to a real writer (I’m a writer, but until I’ve written a novel I’ll never consider myself one) and he was SO interesting. He actually set a theme that ran throughout the whole weekend – that old chestnut: to plan or not to plan. He lets the characters lead him organically through the story, which is what I tend to do, but there was a difference of opinion on this all through the festival.

Next we had AK Benedict and her section on bringing your prose to life. This was a revelation. Not because I actually got to put pen to paper for the first time in eons, but because she writes the way I do! She uses smell, sound and touch to tune into her writing. We worked through exercises that mirrored the way I work when I’m writing, and it was great to actually see others do this. I listen to music my characters (or customers) listen to, or surround myself with sounds that would surround them. I use smells, sounds and touch to connect. I’m not weird after all – hurrah!

A bit of free writing using touch as a prompt
A bit of free writing using touch as a prompt

After a lovely lunch at the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling we sat down to an Alison Belsham and Lorna Hill synopsis and pitch masterclass.  I also scared myself witless when I decided to volunteer to read my pitch to the room – after a fair number of very eloquent writers did the same. Let’s just say I’m not going to be going on stage any time soon! (B- must do better).

Finally we attended an industry panel consisting of an agent, and representatives of a small publisher and a large publisher. It was interesting to hear how they look for submissions that show commitment to writing, including having manuscripts edited and critiqued before publishers are approached.

Take note writers – it’s official, editors aren’t just there for self-pubbers!

My book pile is growing!

It was also explained how it’s still hard to get your book accepted by publishers if it’s already been self-published, so writers really do have to think carefully about whether traditional or self-publishing is for them.

And that was the end of the Masterclass.

What a brilliant set up for the rest of Bloody Scotland!

I won’t go into detail about the weekend but here are a few of my personal highlights, in no particular order:

A very full itinerary for the weekend. Who needs to eat when there are crime writers about?
  • Writers in the Spotlight. Before many of the big talks, emerging writers introduced themselves and read excerpts from their books. They were all brilliant. They also added a lot of titles to my reading list. Heleen Kist , Daniel Smith and CS Duffy are the three that I’m going to follow and add their books to my huge to-be-read pile.
  • The Brit Noir talk. A panel about stories that spin out of control and end in a dark, dark place (a bit like my journey into housework). A brilliant and enlightening hour. Cathi Unsworth’s, book based around the stories of Helen Duncan and the Witch Elm is currently sitting on my huge tbr pile.

Brit Noir

  • The gin at the Holy Rude. Bloody hell it was good. While the McIlvanney prize announcement was underway Stirling Gin treated us to a blood orange cocktail – the best thing I’ve tasted in ages. I’m now trying to figure out where to get blood orange syrup so I can make one at home.
  • The Fun Loving Crime Writers and Two Crime Writers and a Microphone. What happens when crime writers stop talking about books and let their hair down? Mischief, mayhem and music. Brilliant sessions which left me with one question … what exactly was the wine Val McDermid was drinking? (it looked lovely).
Two Crime Writers and a microphone
Two Crime Writers and a microphone – lots of truth and lies, and stories of soiled trousers.
  • Sue Black and Richard Shepherd. I fangirled. I’ve been wanting to hear Sue talk since my very first forensic Futurelearn course when she headed one of the best MOOCs (massive open online courses) I’ve ever taken. Sue and Richard lead immensely interesting lives, which are nothing like those crime shows where every crime gets solved and everyone is fine at the end. I could listen to them both talk for hours and hours and hours.
  • The Real CSI. Kate Bendelow has my total respect. She’s a real scene of crime officer and has seen things you really don’t want to see. She also sat for an hour and talked with Martyn Waites and Mark Billingham. It was my last session at Bloody Scotland and I really left on a high after such an enlightening and enthusiastic hour. It also left me with the knowledge that I will always wash clothes that I buy before I wear them. Don’t ask! (seriously, don’t!)
The Real CSI
My final session. Booo! I didn’t want it to end.
  • Flaming torches and crime writers. Nothing can prepare you for wandering down old Stirling streets carrying a flaming torch behind some of the best crime writers in the world as the moon rises over the town. It was glorious.

 Torchlit parade Stirling


I was initially worried that I’d be an imposter among all the real writers but my mind was soon put to rest. I met the lovely Mysti Berry on a few occasions (in fact she was one of the first people I spoke to at the masterclass). She came all the way from San Francisco … buy her book, it’s for a great cause.

Mysti Berry

I also met Fiona Sussman up at the Church of the Holy Rude, just before the gin and Liam McIlvanney won the McIlvanney prize. She’s lovely and came all the way from New Zealand for the festival.  She’s also the 2017 winner of New Zealand’s highest crime honour, the Ngaio Marsh Award. I’ll be buying her books too!

Best of all, I managed to spend a day and a half with my editor buddy Eleanor Abraham. It was brilliant to see her again and catch up. She’s my kind of human and she put up with all my inane rambling along the way. Eleanor, next time there will be more gin drunk!

two happy editors
here we are … (c) Eleanor Abraham, 2018

So, despite a few weeks lately of ‘urgh’ stuff, there has been some brilliant stuff. I’m glad I took time off for Bloody Scotland. I hope it never again clashes with the CIEP conference, or I may have to alternate between the two – this cannot be the last Stirling weekend I go to. I have found my writing tribe.

I’ve found that crime writers are one huge family. They are friendly, supportive and love to laugh.

It was excellent to be among folks who didn’t bat an eyelid when talking about things polite society thinks odd.

What did I get from Bloody Scotland?

Friendship, great memories, new writing knowledge, a deep wish that I could clone myself and attend all the talks … and a bloody huge pile of books added to my teetering to-be-read pile.


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4 Comments on “Bloody Scotland

  1. It was an inspiring weekend. Thank you for such a lovely mention. And thank you for your excellent company while I was there, too briefly. This definitely needs to be a regular thing! The writing masterclass was the best thing I’ve done in ages with regard to writing – great to feel free of the need for a planned plot structure. I’m going to just write what I want and see where it goes.

    • I’ve only once planned a piece of fiction. Five years ago for NaNoWriMo, I had notebooks and a whiteboard that looked like one of those walls you see in a crime series (you know the type … lines, photos, scribbles). The novel is still only 50k words and I’ve not looked at it since.
      Pantsing is a much better way!

      Thank you so much for a fab weekend, but next time we lunch at a hipster cafe I’ll bring a paper plate and extra napkins 😂

  2. Friendship, great memories, new writing knowledge, a deep wish to clone oneself … sounds like a fabulous weekend! Thank you for letting me (virtually) tag along.

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