Killer Women Fest

Saturday 15th October has been marked in my diary for months – Killer Women Fest. Eagerly anticipated by the many who went, it did not disappoint. I wrote copious notes but you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not about to write up all 24 pages! Instead, I’ll put up a few of my slightly better photos and some highlight quotes.

Having just missed a train on my way there, I had a few minutes to kill before the next one and noticed this lovely advert.


But more about Ann Cleeves later!

Having reached Shoreditch Town Hall (a venue that once housed the inquest for Jack the Ripper’s last known victim, Mary Kelly – so very apt for a crime writing event), we were welcomed by some of the Killer Women.

l-r Helen Smith, Sarah Hilary, Kate Medina, Melanie McGrath, Laura Wilson & Kate Rhodes

Melanie McGrath told us how Killer Women had come into being through ‘wine and crime’ and what had started off as a small group of female crime/thriller writers, had now grown into their first festival.

There was a ridiculous amount of workshops, panels and author interviews to choose from (I could have done the day three times over) but I did have to make choices in the end. I started off with a workshop on How To Pitch A Novel with Sam Eades (Commissioning Editor at Trapeze) and Nelle Andrews (literary agent at PFD). Killer Woman, Jane Casey, asked the questions. So rather than transcribing all 5 pages of notes (!), I’ll give you a few choice morsels:

Nelle – ‘No one ever takes a book back to Waterstones’, ‘Can fix plot and characterization but can’t fix bad writing’ and  ‘Authors make our careers’.

Sam – ‘Love getting my hands dirty’ – editing a book, ‘You want someone who absolutely loves your book’ and the worst pitch she’s heard, ‘Josef Fritzl meets The Sound of Music’!

I managed to sneak in and hear a little from Martina Cole. She often works for 25 hour stretches at a time and likes to write long hand as then she can write anywhere. And she sometimes gets told in Asda that she looks like ‘that Martina Cole’.

Back to Ann Cleeves, who appeared alongside Mark Billingham, Gaby Chiappe (screenwriter for Shetland) and Douglas Henshall (who plays Jimmy Perez in Shetland) for Serial Thrillers. Colette McBeth chaired the panel.


One question that Colette asked was, what makes books work well on television?

Mark Billingham said that almost everything is optioned. A strong sense of character is needed but it helps if you have a name attached. For 10 years he said that he wanted David Morrisey to play Tom Thorne. It was only when Morrisey bought a Billingham book and Googled him, that he discovered his name there too!

Gabby Chiappe said that you have to really understand the character when adapting for TV but sometimes you have to make changes because of time constraints – much shorter time to grow characters. Also have to take into consideration advert breaks. They have to finish with a hook each time to keep the audience.

Colette also asked, is there too much crime drama on TV?

Douglas Henshall answered yes. Most new optioned drama is crime. Gaby Chiappe thought that was probably because crime comes with an inbuilt hook but maybe it stops commissioners taking risks with other shows. Ann Cleeves thought that there is now a breadth of crime drama that we didn’t have before and Mark Billingham agreed that it reflects the enormous umbrella of crime. However he did think there were too many adaptions and he would like to see more original crime dramas.

I managed to ask  Mark and Ann if, like Colin Dexter, they were tempted to have a cameo role in their shows?

Mark said that he did have an extra part but it was cut! However he does have a very small cameo in the new series. Ann – no! Having been on set for both Shetland and Vera, and seeing how the weather can change so quickly, she’s happy to sit in her car and watch!

After a brief lunch break with fellow blogger and writer, Rachel Emms, it was time for the event that I had been looking forward to the most – Val McDermid talking to Laura Wilson. Titled ’30 Books and Counting’, we had a brief overview of how Val was fast-tracked at school and so went to St. Hilda’s, Oxford, at age 16 – their first Scottish state school pupil.

Her first book with character Lindsay Gordon, was her attempt of feeling her way into fiction. The third book was the one that she really wanted to write but it meant writing the other two books first! Ian Rankin has described her as ‘a restless writer’ as she writes lots of different books. She finds that she can’t do two books back to back with the same characters as she gets bored. And she finds that the next book she’s planning in her head, helps propel her to write the current one. She recently wrote 4 books in 18 months – a reworking of Northanger Abbey, Forensics and 2 crime novels. Once, when she was struggling to finish a book and a deadline was looming, she took herself off to Italy. She wrote 65,000 words in 9 days!


And her top tip for aspiring writers? Find sacred time to write. Ring-fence it. Commit to yourself. Be thinking about your story, rehearsing it in your head so that you’re ready to roll when you sit down. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the time!




Up next was How To Solve A Murder with former Detective Superintendent David Swindle and current Detective Chief Superintendent Dr. Jackie Sebire. It’s fair to say that they are more than qualified to solve a murder. They were talking to Louise Millar.

Again, rather than regale you with my 6 pages of notes, I’ll give you some nuggets.

DCS Jackie Sebire gave us the ABC of solving a murder – Assume nothing, Believe no one and Challenge everything.

David Swindle spoke about how a hunch paid off when solving the murder of a Polish woman found under the floorboards of a church. He felt sure that the murderer had committed similar crimes before. Eventually he was able to find the victims and bring justice and closure for the families.

And that was something that shone through the whole talk, how these two officers are ‘like a dog with a bone’ (Jackie’s words). They  persevere with a case, even if it takes years. They do not give up.


The penultimate event for me was Silver Scream or I Preferred the Book/Film. Talking about their experiences of having their work adapted for film/TV was (l-r in photo) Louise Doughty, S.J. Watson, Alex Marwood, Paula Hawkins and Erin Kelly. Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard is soon to appear on BBC with Emily Watson. Louise mentioned how excited she was to have Emily playing the lead and she tried to play it cool when she met her. However she failed and began gabbling! (Nice to know that successful authors gabble too! I gabbled at Val McDermid at the book signing in a fangirl moment – sorry Val!).

Paula Hawkins is pleased with the way that Emily Blunt has managed to portray Rachel’s self-loathing in the film of The Girl On The Train.

S.J. Watson was still trying to get Before I Go To Sleep published when he had an email from Ridley Scott wanting to option it. Steve’s first thoughts were, how did you get my email and how did you get a copy of the book? Once on set, he saw Nicole Kidman do a scene in pouring cold rain. He told her afterwards that in the book, that particular scene took place indoors with a roaring fire. ‘Yes but it wouldn’t have been as dramatic’ was her reply.


The final event of the day was a Murder Mystery with Helen Smith, Colette McBeth, Erin Kelly, D.E. Meredith, Kate Rhodes and Mark Billingham as Detective Alan Barnes in Who Killed Eddie Glass? Written by Erin Kelly, we were given the scenario and four possible suspects to choose from. I’m not going to say anymore about it in case you ever get the chance to see this. But what I will say is that I failed to use the ABC technique given earlier by DCS Jackie Sebire! I should have listened to fellow team mate Michelle Davies. As she clearly knows her stuff, I think I need to add her debut, Gone Astray to my TBR pile.

And on my way home, my day ended as it began – with a very large advert! Thank you Killer Women for a tremendous day!


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