I’m in a very packed pub and safe to say my fellow punters are, between them, responsible for more murders and dastardly deeds than the occupants of your average UK prison.
They may look normal enough, but jammed into the Golden Lion Hotel bar, centre of operations for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, are more infamous and influential names than you can shake a fully-loaded pistol at and more expertise in disposing of bodies than the mob.
Yet this is genteel Stirling, where crime tourists mingle with students and locals in the cosy coffee shops, after hiking up and down the cobbled inclines of the historic volcanic-stoned city overlooked by its medieval castle.
In the watering holes, restaurants and book shops, American, Australian and New Zealand accents mix with Londoners and Scots as authors chat to agents, publishers to would-be writers, fans to their idols.
The only clue to the status of drinkers are the occasional displayed lanyards proclaiming ‘author’, ‘guest’ or ‘press’.
I’ve already spotted famous and upcoming names as I peruse a cocktail menu asking ‘What’s your poison?’ with options ranging from Blue Murder (Jose Cuervo Clasico, Blue Curacao , lime and lemon juice, club soda in case you were wondering) not to mention The Thin Man-hatten, Reacher and Charlie Parker.
Authors Craig Robertson, Steve Cavanagh, Sarah Pinborough, Stuart Macbride, Liam McIIvanney and more are all here.
I checked in my hotel alongside Brighton writer Peter James and I’ve spotted Val McDermid in the street.
When you think festival, you may think music, but it’s actually the darker side of tourism that is one of the-fastest-growing trends in the UK and it’s not surprising why.
We are a nation obsessed.
It doesn’t matter how many ‘nice’ stories the media produces, it’s the grim voyeurism of crime and conspiracy that tops the news agendas and correspondingly, in the past year, it is crime fiction that became the most popular genre in the UK – producing 18.7 million sales during 2017, a third consecutive year of growth.
This was a greater market share than general and literary fiction, although it didn’t make more money, according to Nielsen Bookscan’s annual report.
And despite the pretty even gender mix in this bar, it’s is women who are driving the boom in crime fiction and psychological thriller sales – a market last year valued at £117m.
One theory is that it is crime TV adaptations fuelling this phenomenon, often available by convenient box-set and many written by women and starring strong female characters including J.K.Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series.
In Stirling festival-goers are treated to events kicked off by a gala evening, atmospheric torch-lit procession, an England vs Scotland authors football match (England prevailed) and the announcement of the McIIvanney prize.
This was won this year by Liam Mcllvanney, son of William for ‘The Quaker’ - published by Harper Collins.
It was a controversial decision in the light of possible accusations of favouritism but the right one, a judge later confided in the bar.
Val McDermid and Denise Mina are on Friday night’s bill, ahead of a weekend of huge names concluding in a highly inspiring audience with Irvine Welsh, who charms the audience with his particular un-PC brand of honesty about his life and career, admitting he would do it all again.
“It doesn’t matter what mess you get into - it’s still the best time of your life – my books are not about drugs they’re about youth,” he says to a packed Albert Halls venue.
He then waved off Stirling’s annual crime-writing event by admitting he’s not a crime writer before signing endless copies of his new book ‘Dead Men’s Trousers’ and a fair smattering of ‘Trainspotting’ with extreme good grace and selfies.
His fans don’t care about genre because at this festival he’s a rock star
But writing festivals, of which there are now many in the UK, are not merely about famous names or attracting tourists, although almost 10,000 Bloody Scotland tickets were sold in 2018 as Bob McDevitt, festival director explained
He said: “I’ve once again been overwhelmed by the tremendous good humour and bonhomie exuded by crime writers and readers. We brought nations together, discussed different genres, drank some gin, sung a few songs.”
These are top drawer networking events for the industry, with unpublished writers seeking representation, and likewise, agents hunting out future stars.
One event on the agenda at Bloody Scotland is ‘Pitch Perfect’ –a chance fora shortlist of eight unpublished authors to pitch their work to an industry panel – every year this event produces at least one published author.
Sticking to its national and international identity, in 2018 writers who pitched are from Australia and the US as well as, England, Scotland and Poland.
The winner from two years ago is here too – Alison Belsham - is wielding her published novel That Tattoo Thief and inspiring others with her success.
Meanwhile, Simon Cowdroy, travelled from Melbourne, Australia, after being shortlisted for the event and hopes the event will kick start his career.
He explained: "The decision to travel 11,000 miles to pitch a book idea to a panel of agents and publishers should, in the normal scheme of things, take some serious
"However when that opportunity is to present at such a high profile event as Bloody Scotland Crime Festival for their “Pitch Perfect” session the
answer is an easy one.
"The Pitch Perfect session is highly regarded for three main reasons. Firstly, the competition to make the short list, on this occasion eight contestants, is
"Secondly, it is treated as part of the festival proper and is a ticketed event.
"And lastly, every year at least one pitcher has gone on to be published as a result.
"The size of the book market in Australia is small and the opportunity to break into a large market would mean absolutely everything to me."
Meanwhile, the audience in the small church venue has been infiltrated by press and agents’ assistants wielding business cards.
This is an opportunity for would-be published writers to make a killing in more ways than one – proving crime does pay.
UPCOMING UK CRIME FICTION FESTIVALS
Morecambe and Vice, September 29-30, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Lancashire.
Details: http://www.morecambecrimefest.co.uk/ Authors due to attend: Peter Robinson, Frances Brody, Elly Griffiths, Sarah Hilary, Mari Hannah
Killer Women Crime Writing Festival, Camden, London, October 21, 2018
Details: http://killerwomen.org/ Authors due to attend include: Elly Griffiths, Mark Billingham
Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival, March 8-10 , 2019, Belfast.Details: https://www.noireland.com/
CrimeFest May 9-12, 2019, Bristol http://www.crimefest.com/
Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, July 18-21, 2019, Harrogate. Details: https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/crime-writing-festival/ Authors who have previously attended: Martina Cole, Linwood Barclay, J.K.Rowling
Noirwich, Norwich, next event September 12-15, 2019
Details: https://noirwich.co.uk/ Attended in 2018: Val McDermid, Nicci French, Paula Hawkins
Bloody Scotland, Stirling, next event September 20-22, 2019 https://bloodyscotland.com/
Attended in 2018: Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh, Denise Mina, Ian McBride, Peter James
Capital Crime, London’s West End. New for 2019, September 26 – 28. Details: https://www.capitalcrime.org/