|Martha Lea, the unworthy me, Catriona McPherson and Nicola Upson|
In August, I finished the first draft of Enemy of Rome, started my next Jamie Saintclair book, had Sword of Rome and Excalibur of Rome published, and organised the launch party. I've also been preparing for Bloody Scotland, Scotland's crime writing festival, which took place at the weekend in Stirling. I'm not a crime writer (yet), though the Saintclair thrillers probably have a high enough body count to qualify, but I was actually talking about life and death in Ancient Rome, alongside the inimitable Manda Scott. To prepare for that event, I had to read her latest novel, the magnificent Rome: The Art of War, but I was also asked to chair a second event, a chat with three writers whose novels span the genres of historical fiction and crime. It meant reading another three books: The Specimen, a sexually charged and very dark Victorian murder mystery by Martha Lea; Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone, the eighth outing of Catriona McPherson's quirky Perthshire matron turned private detective; and The Death of Lucy Kyte, which features Nicola Upson's true life heroine, the writer Josephine Tey. All great books, and all very different in mood and approach. It was fascinating to hear about their different methods of preparing and writing, the way they developed their characters, and the passion they had for their craft. The audience loved it.
The first event I spoke at as an author, would be my first book launch, way back in July 2008, and I remember being terrified until I realised that everyone in an audience of about ninety wanted me to be good, and were prepared to cheer on even my most nervy babblings. Since then I've done two Historical Novels conferences (Manchester and London) where I've appeared beside people like Sarah Dunnant, CC Humphrey's, Alison Weir and the masterly Bernard Cornwell. I've done a solo event at the wonderful Borders Book Festival, spoken to an audience of three hundred as part of a panel at the Festival of History, and another as part of a panel at the amazing Wigtown Book Festival (as the one with six 'O'levels and an interest in Rome alongside three classical scholars, including the incredibly erudite Allan Massie), made serial appearances at Off the Page, the local book festival, and several dozen library and school gigs.
Bloody Scotland is right up there with the biggest and best, a wonderful celebration of crime writing and writers, which featured, among others Lee Childs, Jo Nesbo, William McIlvanney and Val McDermid. Ticket sales were up by 43 per cent since last year and I predict it will grow and grow. A huge thanks to Lin Anderson, Alex Gray and Jenny Brown, and a high five to Dom, who somehow held the whole thing together.