Sunday, 11 August 2019

Bute Noir 2019 Crime Writing Festival

Last weekend I headed 'doon the watter' to Rothesay on the gorgeous Isle of Bute for Bute Noir 2019. This was the fourth year of the festival, but my first time, and a welcome return to Rothesay for me, as I hadn't visited for a few years.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I haven't been doing so well for a wee while, so was hoping that this would be a restorative weekend that was good for my soul. And it was. Two and a half days spent with my tribe. Fabulous. But gosh, it wiped me out pretty much completely for three days and I'm still recovering, hence the delay in putting this together. But totally worth it!

It was a packed ferry over on Friday afternoon, full of crime writers and readers, in the most beautiful sunshine - the kind of weather we can usually only dream of in Scotland! I had booked into a small B&B, Sunnyside House, and couldn't have had a more gorgeous room, or more beautiful view. It was a promising start to the weekend.

I'm not going to write too much about each of the sessions I attended (which wasn't all of them), otherwise I'll be here for days and you'll have fallen asleep from boredom! So I'll just share a few lines about them, and some of my pics. I also haven't mentioned individual books either for a number of reasons: I wrote this from memory (and there was a lot of wine taken) and was terrified I  would forget someone, it would have meant adding lots of links and there were other fine authors who took part in events I wasn't at. But I would strongly suggest you look up any writers unfamiliar to you.

First up for me on Friday afternoon was "Watching The Detectives" with Douglas Lindsay, Ed James, Caro Ramsay and Craig Robertson, held, as were the majority of events, at the Bute Museum. Four fabulous authors, with tons of books between them, talking about the police personnel who feature in their work. And giving us lots . It was a brilliant start to the festival, and like pretty much all the events, was a sell out.

Top: "Watching the Detectives"
Bottom: "50 Shades of Black"

Following them were Thomas Enger, Mick Herron and Luca Veste talking "50 Shades of Black (with some lighter moments)" with Lisa Gray. These three writers tend to write about the darker side of crime - I guess there isn't really a lighter side,  but they can get very dark indeed. Not that you'd have known it from the session - three very funny men. And Luca might have mentioned, just once or twice, that he played Glastonbury this year (as a member of the fantastic Fun Lovin' Crime Writers).

After dinner and a cool down for me (whilst two other sessions went on at the library), it was time to hit the pub. The Black Bull Inn was our venue for Noir at The Bar, and it was packed to the rafters! There were so many fabulous moments with lots of authors having been roped into taking part at the last minute by organiser Craig Robertson. Everyone was amazing, but some highlights for me were Douglas Lindsay's baked beans poem, Ed James reading the sex scene from Mark Billingham's latest book in a dreadful South London accent and my pal Doug Sinclair reading from his as yet unpublished second novel. Just the best time, and the perfect way to end the first day of the festival.

From top right: Douglas Lindsay, Lilja Sigurðardóttir & Doug Sinclair read at "Noir at the Bar". Sorry the pics are dark! 

Author Mark Billinhgam reacts to hearing the sex scene in his latest book being read in a hilariously dreadful South London accent by Ed James. 

From top right: Oscar de Muriel, Noelle Holten (she doesn't really have alien eyes, my bad), Mick Herron and Sharon Bairden ( in orange) reading their work. 

One Ian Rankin is a best selling author.
The other Ian Rankin is a plumbing and heating engineer on Bute, and sponsor of the Festival.
On Friday night, Ian Rankin the author offered to help with any plumbing problems....

Following a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning, I headed out in the sunshine to the putting greens on the seafront to watch some of the authors fight it out for the hotly contested Brookmyre Cup. Which is, in fact, a mug. This year's winner was Douglas Lindsay, with Chris Brookmyre coming in second, as he has done every year since the competition began! Lilja Sigurðardóttir brought up the rear, but she had never even held a golf club before. And, most importantly, she won the women's championship!

The Brookmyre Cup competition
As I was cheering on, and caddying
 (well, carrying her handbag anyway) for Lilja, I missed some of the action elsewhere on the course.
Group photo by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

After a quick coffee stop, I headed back to the museum for "The Lady Killers" - authors Alexandra Sokoloff, Liz Nugent and Lilja Sigurðardóttir discussing the reasons women kill with Louise Fairbairn. A fascinating and quite emotional panel. I had a few hours off after that, to drink wine and mooch about a bit. I headed back up to the museum later on for "Nordic Noir" with two of my faves, Lilja Sigurðardóttir (yes, she figured heavily in my Saturday, and I can't think of a nicer person to do so!) from Iceland and Thomas Enger from Norway, with Alexandra Sokoloff asking the questions. My favourite accents of the weekend along with Oscar de Muriel, who I'd met in the pub the night before.

"The Lady Killers" & "Nordic Noir" panels

Closing Saturday evening was "A Question of Court", a ridiculously funny quiz including a theme tune round and a charades one too. Following that was an eclectic selection of musical entertainment. We had acoustic tunes from half of the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers - Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre and Luca Veste including a rousing rendition of 'Hey Jude', which became 'Hey Bute'. Following them, Oscar de Muriel entertained us with a couple of tunes on his violin, then Caro Ramsay and Douglas Skelton (because he was too scared to say no to Caro!) led us in a community sing song - Shang-a-Lang by the Bay City Rollers. I reckon we did OK, and it ended another cracking day.

"A Question of  Court" quiz and musical entertainment

The weather broke on Sunday morning, but between the showers we still saw the sunshine. My first event of the day was at PrintPoint, Rothesay's fabulous independent bookshop. Sharon Bairden interviewed Douglas Skelton and Douglas Lindsay about their latest books in "Highland Reeling". Both authors have written twenty books or more so have a wealth of knowledge between them, and it was a brilliant session.

"Highland Reeling" at PrintPoint

Again, I took the early part of the afternoon off, but headed back up to the museum for "Do As I Do (not as I do)" . Experienced authors Douglas Skelton and Myra Duffy (whose books are set on Bute) imparted their wisdom to debut novelists Lisa Gray, Noelle Holten and Allan Martin. I think the main lesson was that there's not one single way that works.

The final event of the festival was "Room 101" . Mick Herron, Ed James, Caro Ramsay and Luca Veste were asked for three things they wanted to put into Room 101 - Caro's list had 148 items on it! Much hilarity ensued, to a completely packed house, and the world was put to rights!

Top: "Do As I Do (not as I say)"
Middle & Bottom: "Room 101"

I was quite emotional when it came to Alex Sokoloff's (on behalf of Craig Robertson, and wearing his contact lenses) closing speech. It was such a fabulous festival, organised by Craig, Karen from PrintPoint, Anne from Bute Museum and Patricia from Bute Library. The tickets were very reasonably priced (and included a glass of wine!) and the events attracted both locals and visitors to the island. But it wouldn't have been the success it was without the huge team of volunteers who worked incredibly hard all weekend and deserve a huge shout out. I can't wait until next year!

As I was so busy, I didn't get much chance to wander round Rothesay. I can, though, recommend PrintPoint, which has a great selection of books and stationery, you can get printing done, they have coffee and Karen and her team are super nice. I also visited Helmi's which is a gorgeous café and bakery on the front. I didn't try the cakes but they looked absolutely fabulous! A few doors down from there is The Bute Gallery. I headed in there looking for something specific, which I couldn't get, but owner Joe was very welcoming and has some gorgeous pieces. That was all I managed, so I'm going to head back for a day trip soon to explore some more of the local shops and area.

But last weekend was all about the books, the authors, the readers and the awesome festival team. And I had a wonderful time - it was just what I needed, when I needed it, if very tiring. And remarkably, I only bought seven books! This must be some kind of festival record for me!

Goodbye (for now) beautiful Bute and roll on Bute Noir 2020!


  1. I love your writing style. It's personable, informative and engaging. I'll be going next year. Thank you.

    1. Thank you. It's a fab wee festival and really worth the trip. x


These Lost & Broken Things by Helen Fields

I am thrilled to be on the blog tour for this historical thriller from Helen Fields. This isn't a genre I go to very often but I knew He...