Bloody Scotland 2019: Festival recap

We dive wholeheartedly into the world of crime fiction at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, featuring Ian Rankin, Richard Osman and a gripping live trial

Feature by Tina Koenig | 27 Sep 2019
  • Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon at Bloody Scotland

As Bloody Scotland entered its eighth year, the festival – an annual celebration of crime writing – presented a full weekend of top authors to choose from. Organisers were keen to showcase new talent too, through the Crime in The Spotlight initiative. This gave new authors like Geraldine Hogan and David James the chance to tell audiences about themselves before reading a short extract of their work. "What a great opportunity to discover new writers," said Lin Anderson. As the creator of forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod, Anderson was well qualified to interview the man behind Channel 4’s gripping TV series Interview with a Murderer.

Dr David Wilson is Professor of Criminology at Birmingham City University and claims that, at the age of 29, he was the youngest prison governor in England. The criminologist specialises in serial killers and told the audience of "grizzly encounters" with Scottish serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen. Wilson declared: "I have 600 pages of letters he sent to me over the course of his life."

On Mindhunter, Wilson didn’t hold back, pointing out "serious inaccuracies" in the Netflix crime hit. "It’s super but in terms of offender profiling, it’s nonsense," he said. Wilson’s book, My Life With Murderers, has been inspired by people’s fascination with murder. "I find murder a very diverse and complex phenomenon. The reality is that every murder is as different from the other as trees in a forest."

Crime in wild places: CL Taylor, Lucy Foley

The spotlight also shone on books containing crime in wild places. In Cally Taylor (aka CL Taylor)'s Sleep, protagonist Anna starts to receive strange messages about sleep after being involved in a car accident that killed two people. After moving to the Isle of Rum, the messages start again. "To go somewhere as remote as the Isle of Rum, with its 35 inhabitants, and know that a stalker is on the island with you – that’s terrifying," Taylor said.

The author, who has a degree in psychology, admits she is fascinated by stalking: "Stalking is a subject that fascinates me, party because I’ve had a bit of experience with it myself. I know what it feels like to be looking over your shoulder." The Worcester-born writer fell in love with Scotland on a family holiday but has, controversially, never actually been to the little island of Rum where her story is set. 

Lucy Foley also spent a holiday in Scotland– she plotted out her first crime novel The Hunting Party in the Highlands. Inspired by Agatha Christie and island mysteries, she set her thriller on a remote estate by Fort William. A group of thirty-somethings gather in a remote hunting lodge during the Christmas holidays; on New Year’s Day, a member of the group is found dead in the snow. The book is currently being made into a TV series by See Saw Films, the production company behind Top of The Lake.

You The Jury and Richard Osman

The play You The Jury was a fantastic addition to this year’s festival line-up. Written by Douglas Skelton, there wasn’t an empty seat in Stirling Sheriff Court’s courtroom, as members of the public watched real-life advocates, court staff and scientists put forward the mysterious case of Bessie Lang, who had been found dead with a cord round her neck. It was down to the jury, selected at random from the audience, to decide whether Bessie was murdered by the accused Paul Darren, played by Skelton himself, or if she had committed suicide.

The audience was enthralled and completely convinced by what was being played out before them, unmindful for most of the hour that this was not a real case. Skelton, who used to investigate criminal cases when he worked as a journalist in Glasgow, spoke about the project at a separate Bloody Scotland event. "They asked me to write a play about 18 months ago," he said. "I found a case from 1932, updated the evidence and wrote statements for the court. I wanted to show people what it’s really like in a Scottish courtroom." 

Fans flocked to the city’s Albert Halls to hear from Pointless favourite Richard Osman in conversation with best-selling author and friend Mark Billingham. Osman was in Stirling to promote his debut crime novel The Thursday Murder Club, which isn’t actually out until next year. The former Deal Or No Deal producer admits he feels nervous about the release of his book:

"We are one year away from it now. As a producer and presenter I’ve always got an audience to like something," Osman said. "I’m in a world where I go on panel shows, I tell a joke and people hear it immediately, but with a book you have to wait." He praised the crime-writing community, calling it "incredibly supportive" and said the time he’d spent in Stirling "had been a joy". He promised to return to Bloody Scotland next year to talk about his book once it’s published.

Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon left politics aside as she sat down with the King of Scottish crime writing to talk about his career. After showing me her ‘Pensioners for Independence’ badge, the lady of at-least-80 eagerly tells us: "You know, I think Ian Rankin has sold over 30 million books!"

It was in 1987 that Rankin wrote his first Inspector Rebus novel. Over three decades on the series is still going strong, but he admits he’s lost count of exactly how many books he’s actually written. "When I was starting out, I wrote a crime novel by mistake. I shot and killed Rebus by the end of the first draft. I’m pretty happy I changed my mind." He spoke passionately about how he had always wanted to write stories and wrote under a pseudonym for a while, writing two books a year just to get by. It wasn’t until his eighth Rebus book, Black and Blue, that he won the CWA Gold Dagger Award; that’s when he started to make money from writing. 

It’s obvious that Rankin has a soft spot for Scotland’s capital. "Edinburgh is the central character. Every time I walk around the streets I see something I’ve never seen before," he revealed. He wants to represent society as it is in his writing, and told the audience that business people have paid him to appear in his books. On the polarised, divided world in which we currently live in, Rankin said: "The way the world is at the moment, fiction is realistic in the way that the real world isn’t right now. We have to look for the shared common humanity. We are nothing without literacy." As always, a fantastic weekend, and one that will return in September 2020.