Crime Novel of the Year 2023 Announced at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival
By Sarah Morgan
It’s July, it’s Harrogate and I’m sitting in a big tent at Harrogate’s Old Swan hotel. That can only mean one thing – the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival has come around again, and this time it’s even more special than usual.
That’s because this year, it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary with an event that promises to be bigger and better than ever. And that’s some achievement for something that’s already the most acclaimed of its kind anywhere in the world.
But, thankfully, that doesn’t mean it’s changing – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? As a result it got under way on Thursday evening with its now traditional curtain-raiser – the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year ceremony, something Harrogate International Festivals’ Chief Executive, Sharon Canavar, describes as “the crime writing world’s answer to the Oscars.”
She announced that to mark the anniversary, authors’ agent Jane Gregory, one of the festival’s founders, would be setting up several new bursaries, while Val McDermid also revealed that from next year, an award would be given to the year’s outstanding debut novel; it’s a trophy that ties in with her popular annual New Blood panel, which this year will be taking place on Saturday.
After Simon Theakston, executive director of sponsors T&R Theakston, added his words of support (not to mention his customary cheesy jokes, which are almost as much a part of the proceedings as the authors), it was time to get down to business.
Broadcaster Steph McGovern was welcomed onto the stage to present the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award to her friend, Vera and Shetland creator Ann Cleeves, who received a well-deserved standing ovation from her many fans in the audience.
This year’s festival chair, Vaseem Khan, who recently recovered from a health issue that almost scuppered his involvement, made a special surprise announcement in honour of Sharon Canavar and her tireless work behind the scenes. She was in the first meeting about the proposed festival way back in 2002, taking the minutes; how times have changed!
And then came the moment we were all waiting for – the crime novel of the year announcement. Many luminaries have taken home the now famous beer barrel trophy – Mark Billingham was the first winner for Lazy Bones, while the likes of Mick Herron and Denise Mina are also included in the roll of honour.
Shortlisted writers Fiona Cummings (Into the Dark), Elly Griffiths (The Locked Room), Doug Johnstone (Black Hearts), Gillian McAllister (Wrong Place Wrong Time) and Ruth Ware (The It Girl) all hoped to add their names to it for the first time, but it was MW Craven, for The Botanist, who proved to be the winner, having impressed both the judging panel and the public. Griffiths, a previous nominee, was also highly commended.
So that was that for this year. Now it’s down to the nitty gritty of three days of fascinating talks and discussions with the great and the good of the writing world. It’d be a crime to miss it.