Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival – launch and line up

On Tuesday afternoon I made my way to London (a chance to sit and read for 2 hours, yes please), having been invited to the official launch of the 2023 Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival. Now in it’s 20th year, the weekend in July sees Harrogate celebrate all that is murderous and villainous about writing. It also happens to bring together the loveliest bunch of writers and readers you could wish for.  The event takes place at the Old Swan Hotel, famous for being the location Agatha Christie stayed at during her disappearance, between 20th and 23rd July 2023.

We heard from festival organiser Sharon Canavar, Theakston’s head Simon Theakston and this year’s chair Vaseem Khan and all I can say is that the panels on offer sound fabulous. There’s something to cover every aspect of crime writing from thrillers to screen adaptations, police procedurals to cosy crime.

Here’s the official information and line up details.

The 2023 Festival Chair, award winning crime and thriller author Vaseem Khan, has curated a ground-breaking programme. Alongside the special guests headlining the Festival, including literary legends Lee Child, Andrew Child, Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware, Ann Cleeves, Jeffery Deaver, Lucy Worsley, S. A. Cosby, Val McDermid, and Chris Hammer, the full programme includes some of the biggest names in crime fiction.

 Exploring everything from the perfect murderous opening, police procedurals and dark obsessions to legal thrillers and the golden age of crime, this year’s 20th anniversary programme will see a variety of acclaimed crime and thriller authors discussing the genre and influences on their writing, including Janice Hallett, Shari Lapena, Louise Candlish, Abir Mukherjee, Steve Cavanagh, Elly Griffiths, Ragnar Jónasson, Clare Mackintosh, Mick Herron, Will Dean, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Chris Brookmyre, and many more!

The Festival will start with Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award ceremony, where the winner of crime writing’s most prestigious accolade will be revealed alongside the recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

This year’s Festival also includes two ‘who dunnit?’ themed author dinners, giving a unique opportunity for crime fans to get to know authors in a fun and informal environment. 

The all-star line-up of events includes the return of Val McDermid’s New Blood panel, celebrating four brilliant debut crime writers, and the popular Late-Night Quiz, hosted by McDermid and Mark Billingham, armed with trivia, titles and tricks to test the knowledge of crime fiction fanatics. 

Vaseem Khan, award winning author and 2023 Festival Chair, said: “It’s a privilege to chair this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. My late father and I watched Poirot together and we’d never imagined that decades later I would chair a Festival so closely connected to Agatha Christie. It feels special to be the first British Asian crime writer to chair the Festival, and even more special for the monumental 20th anniversary. The Festival team have pulled together an Avengers Assemble line-up of crime writers to celebrate the monumental anniversary. You’d be (criminally) insane to miss it.”

Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive of Harrogate International Festivals, added“This year marks 20 years since the Festival launched in Harrogate, and what wonderful two decades we’ve had celebrating the world of crime fiction. In that time, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival has welcomed some of the biggest names in crime fiction and this year is no exception. In collaboration with our 2023 Festival Chair, Vaseem Khan, we are delighted to announce this year’s full programme for what will be the best Festival yet!”

Simon Theakston, Executive Director of Theakston, commented“This year’s Festival will be another monumental event for the world of crime fiction. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the Festival over the past 20 years and following the full programme announcement, I am thoroughly looking forward to celebrating once again at the world’s best crime writing Festival over a pint of Old Peculier!”

Here’s the full programme for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2023:

Thursday 20th July

09:00 – Creative Thursday: Crime Fiction Writing Workshop

A staple of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival line-up, Creative Thursday offers a unique opportunity for aspiring crime writer to learn from the best in the business. Chaired by crime reviewer Natasha Cooper (NJ Cooper) and Mark Billingham, on the panel are authors Mark Edwards, Rachel Abbott, Claire McGowan, Graham Bartlett, and Dr Chris Merritt will share tips of the trade for budding writers as Workshop Leaders, accompanied by publishing experts Ruth TrossEllis MooreMaddalena Cavaciuti, Juliet Mushens and Finn Cotton.

20:00 – Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award

Crime writing’s most wanted accolade returns to highlight the very crime novels published by British and Irish authors over the last year. The longlist will be on announced Thursday 27 April, followed by the shortlist on Thursday 15 June and the winner announced at the awards ceremony on Thursday 20 July hosted by Mark Lawson.

Friday 21st July

9:00 – Special Guest: Val McDermid

Festival co-founder and doyenne of the crime world Val McDermid will reflect on her illustrious career and 20 years of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival with Mark Billingham.

10:30 – PANEL: Starting With A Scream

Crime novels often begin with a chilling killing. C.J. Tudor, Liz Nugent, Simon Toyne, Will Carver and Fiona Cummins dissect exactly what goes into the perfect murderous opening.

12:00 – PANEL: Law & Disorder

Police procedurals are the cornerstone of the crime fiction canon. But what happens when cops are forced to cross the line? Cara Hunter, Nadine Matheson, Neil Lancaster, Jane Casey and Graham Bartlett, will tell us whether the end justifies the means.

14:00 – PANEL: Literary Crime

Great crime fiction is as good as any highbrow literary offering. Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Abir Mukherjee, Will Dean and Jacob Ross have received acclaim for books that combine prose and plot into a glorious whole that has even diehard littérateurs purring. Expertly chaired by S.J. Parris.

15:30 – PANEL: Obsession Makes The World Go Round

Simmering secrets and murderous impulses make for dark deeds. Hear Alex North, Sarah Hilary, Dorothy Koomson, Mark Edwards discuss how deadly obsession shapes so many of the deliciously dark stories we’ve come to love, chaired by Erin Kelly.

17:00 – IN CONVERSATION: Lisa Jewell & Ruth Ware

Crafting gripping thrillers filled with creepy chills and unforeseen twists takes an expert hand. Lisa Jewell introduces her new nail-biting suspense None of This is True with Ruth Ware, author of the unputdownable The It Girl, as the pair reveal what it takes to master the form.

18:15 – Author Dinner

A unique opportunity for crime fans to get to know authors in a relaxed, but fun, dinner environment. Join A.A. Chaudhuri, Alex Dahl, Amen Alonge, Craig Robertson, D.L. Marshall, Tracey Whitwell, Greg Mosse, Jo Callaghan, Leigh Russell, Jenny Blackhurst, Nicola Williams, Rachel Abbott, Simon Mason, William Shaw and S.E. Lynes for dinner as together you try to figure out ‘who dunnit?’ in this murder mystery with a twist.

18:30 – PANEL: Words! Camera! Action!

From Netflix to Hollywood, crime dramas now rule the roost. Chris Brookmyre will chair the panel of authors, including A.A. DhandImran MahmoodLouise Doughty, and Mick Herron, as they tell us about their journey from page to screen, and the ins and outs of how literary creations are brought to life.

20:30 – SPECIAL GUEST: Ann Cleeves

Bestselling creator of the Vera Stanhope, Jimmy Perez and Matthew Venn book series Ann Cleeves will be interviewed by Festival Chair Vaseem Khan.

22:00 – Fun Loving Crime Writers

Prepare for some killer tunes as the world’s greatest crime writing superband Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Doug Johnstone keep Harrogate rocking until the early hours.

Saturday 22nd July

9:00 – IN CONVERSATION: S.A. Crosby & Chris Hammer

Mastermind of the “Southern noir” genre S. A. Cosby and Australian crime novelist and creator Chris Hammer will talk about their works and how the varied landscapes of their respective homes influence their works.

10:30 – PANEL: Modern Gumshoes P.I. For Hire

Chaired by Doug Johnstone, Femi Kayode, Holly Watt, Robert Crais, and Tim Weaver will discuss how crime fiction has evolved from the laconic cool of a Philip Marlowe to African lady detectives, with private investigators being historic fan favourite.

12:00 – PANEL: New Blood with Val McDermid

Always a sell-out, the New Blood panel provides a showcase for some of the year’s most outstanding debut novelists. Val McDermid will once again be personally selecting four brilliant first novels to discuss with their authors. This panel is always a highlight of the Festival and gives today’s readers a unique opportunity to discover the stars of tomorrow.

14:00 – PANEL: Presumed Guilty

If recent celebrity trials have shown us anything it’s that our fascination for a good legal brawl has never been greater. Judicial hijinx, miscarriages of justice and courtroom battles are at the heart of the legal thriller. Authors Helen Fields, Kia Abdullah, Sarah Vaughn, and Steve Cavanagh are joining Rob Rinder to explore the world of the legal thriller.

15:30 – PANEL: Murder Most Joyful

From parish murders to kitchen killers, the sheer breadth of ‘cosy’ crime is astonishing. Antti Tuomainen, Elly Griffiths, Mark Billingham and Rev. Richard Coles will examine the success of the genre and its modern resurgence, chaired by S.J. Bennett. Nobody puts cosy in the corner.

17:00 – SPECIAL GUEST: Jeffery Deaver

Jeffery Deaver, author of the bestselling Lincoln Rhyme series, will make his return to the Festival in 2023 to talk about Hunting Time, the latest thriller featuring “reward-seeker” Colton Shaw, with Mark Lawson.

18:15 – Author Dinner

Crack the case with Richard Armitage, Alex MarwoodChristie J. Newport, D.V. Bishop, David Hewson, Emma Christie, Holly Seddon, James Oswald, Jude O’Reilly, Katy Watson, Lisa Gray, Olivia Kiernan, Sam Blake, Steph Broadbribb, Sue WatsonSusi Holliday, Tina Baker, and Stuart Neville in the second Author Dinner.

20:30 – SPECIAL GUEST: Lee Child & Andrew Child

Lee Child and Andrew Child will share their experiences of collaborating on the iconic Jack Reacher and what the process has taught them, with TV presenter Steph McGovern

 22:00 – Late Quiz Night

Val McDermid and Mark Billingham return as the ultimate Quizmasters for the crime fiction Late Night Quiz.

 Sunday 23rd July 

 9:00 – PANEL: The Never Ending Golden Age

Agatha Christie continues to inspire crime writers the world over. Inventive puzzles, strong characters, and a Golden Age sensibility. Stig Abel will chair the discussion about why fascination with the Golden Age endures between Janice Hallett, Ragnar Jónasson, Clare Mackintosh, and Vaseem Khan.

 10:30 – PANEL: When Sally Killed Harry

Domestic noir is now one of the biggest selling genres in publishing. C.L. Taylor, Claire Douglas, Louise Candlish, Shari Lapena and T.M. Logan, experts in writing about the darker side of love and friendship, will discuss dodgy husbands, scheming wives, murderous siblings.

 12:00 – SPECIAL GUEST: Lucy Worsley

Historian and TV presenter Lucy Worsley will be revealing more about the life of the Queen of Crime and former resident of the Old Swan Hotel, Agatha Christie, in conversation with Natasha Knight.

Rover tickets go on sale on 5th April with individual panel tickets and site only tickets on sale from 9th May.

You can find out more information here.

Doesn’t it sound fabulous?!

If you’ve never been before but are tempted, I can highly recommend it. The festival is a relaxed and friendly affair and whilst I always go alone, I invariably meet up with familiar faces who I may only see once a year.

Do let me know if you plan on attending and which panels catch your eye. Who knows, we may end up bumping into each other in the beer tent.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Ah, wish we could have caught up as well, but I suppose you just had a flying visit to London! I dream of going to Harrogate some day, but until Corylus has an author there, it is just too expensive for me as an individual, to be honest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I was arrive at 6pm and was back out on the 9.30pm train so very much a flying visit. Next time I’m down I’ll be in touch. I’m lucky that Harrogate is close enough for me to drive there and back so it makes it cheaper for sure. Hopefully you’ll make it there one day.


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