Feature: Granite Noir 2020

Festival programmer Lee Randall chats with Denise Mina and Helen FitzGerald about their work

Authors and fans are ready to solve a murder or two in Aberdeen – Granite Noir 2020 preview

February’s weather is cold, dark and stormy – perfect for curling up with a good book. However, if you’re a crime fiction lover developing cabin fever, a weekend in Aberdeen might be just the ticket. The over-arching theme of  Granite Noir since it began in 2017 has been “North”, which gives the event a distinct identity. Jane Spiers, chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts which produces the festival, says: “You could say the main character in Granite Noir is Aberdeen and the North East.”

Festival programmer Lee Randall adds that “there is something about the darkness of the north” which underpins the strong relationships between Scotland and Scandinavia in particular. Reflecting this, the 2020 line-up showcases writers from Iceland, Sweden and Norway, including Sunday headliner Anne Holt, “the godmother of Norwegian crime fiction”. Randall says she is “hugely excited” to have this former lawyer and Minister of Justice turned best-selling author in Aberdeen.

Another coup is the only Scottish event this year for US writer Sara Paretsky, creator of Chicago private eye VI Warshawski. She will be talking to Denise Mina on Friday night, in what Randall predicts will be “an amazing conversation between two incredible women”.
Meanwhile on Saturday, the festival welcomes Ben Aaronovitch, who will be talking to Granite Noir ambassador Stuart MacBride. Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series features Peter Grant, a police officer and apprentice wizard – perfect for those who like their genre boundaries blurred.

Rounding off Saturday night are Ian Rankin and Phill Jupitus, who will choose the crime books to be stranded on a desert island with, then turn DJ to play some of their favourite tunes. If music is your passion, elsewhere author and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove will examine the links between music and murder, and composer David Holmes will be talking about scoring Killing Eve, plus playing a DJ set featuring his work from film and TV.

Meanwhile on the books front, you can see Aberdeen’s own Deborah Masson introduce her debut as part of the Long Yarn of the Law panel, hear the secrets behind the best suspense novels, delve into Family Affairs, get historical with Ambrose Parry (aka Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman) and Laura Purcell, and that’s just for starters.
If you’re in the mood for non-fiction, there’s the Death, Dirt and DNA panel featuring three scientists who work with the police and advise crime writers, or join Robert Jeffrey to hear tales of Peterhead Prison.

Budding writers can join Daisy Waugh for a short workshop on getting started in fiction, while those wanting to bring more realism to their fictional fights should seek out Caro Ramsay – osteopath by day, crime writer by night – for Breaking Bones For Fun. Don’t miss the Locals in the Limelight strand, which allows unpublished or self-published writers from the region to read to the audience for a few minutes before various panels. You can also catch all ten together on Saturday at the Central Library.

For teenage readers, Icelandic writer Sif Sigmarsdottir – “the Queen of YA crime” – is a must-see. For younger ones, Justin Davis will introduce Louis, a French werewolf, in Monstrously Funny Adventures, or join Emily Dodd and the Crime Squirrel Investigators in a fun event involving music and nuts.

A lighter look at the science of crime fiction can be had at the hugely popular Poisoned High Tea. While the audience nibbles scones, Dr Kathryn Harkup will examine the menu of poisons deployed by Dame Agatha Christie. You might also want to head to the recently reopened Aberdeen Art Gallery for Murder as an Art Form. Randall says it was a “happy accident” that she came across Paris-based Christos Markogiannakis, a novelist and non-fiction writer who focusses on the representation of murder in art.

If you prefer history, there’s See You In Court, a re-enactment of an 1893 murder trial by Aberdeen Performing Arts and local theatre company Ten Feet Tall. If the weather holds, there’s a city history walking tour on Sunday – and if it doesn’t, there’s a free exhibition drawn from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire archives. Other indoor pursuits include films chosen by Ian Rankin, and an “escape room” game, both at the Belmont Playhouse.

With such a varied programme, it’s no wonder that audiences – split about 50-50 between locals and visitors – have tripled since Granite Noir began. Spiers says: “Feedback from our local audiences reflects a pride in the festival and in Aberdeen – a typical comment would be, ‘Thanks for putting Aberdeen on the map’.” Financial backing from Aberdeen City Council and the support from partners and local businesses reflect that pride too.

Granite Noir is a smaller festival than some, but it emphasises quality over quantity and offers a welcome light in the February darkness. Crime fiction fans, what are you waiting for?

Granite Noir runs from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 February. For more information, visit http://www.granitenoir.com

This feature was first published in The Scotsman on 18 February, 2020. This is copyright of The Scotsman Publications and is being used in this instance with their kind permission.

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