Friday's child is full of beer

'No, Claudia, get off me! ... Yes, I do like pickled onions, but that's just not hygienic!' I awake, dripping with sweat from another Claudia Schiffer-induced nightmare. WHY WON'T SHE LEAVE ME ALONE? Eight in the morning and my mobile phone thing is pretending to be an alarm clock. I can't be arsed pretend to be awake and hit snooze instead. Ten minutes later it goes for an encore, so I reprise my role as button-pushing zombie. By the time the third set of warbling rings sounds I'm up and in the shower, knowing I'm going to have to get a serious shift on if I'm going to make the nine o'clock panel AND breakfast.

Thankfully I drank an obscene amount of water last night, had a couple of fizzy good make feel nice before bed and another couple on waking, so I'm up to the challenge of a huge breakfast. Only the hotel doesn't want to put it to the test, instead they serve a single plate consisting of a solitary sausage, fried egg, one rasher of bacon and a lonely tinned tomato. Haute cuisine it is not. But if it were any bigger I'd be late for the morning's opening session -- do men write better crime fiction than women? Which is entertaining, even if Buggerlugs Billingham makes everyone's stomach churn with talk of staying home and playing with his set of artificial lactating breasts. And then my reputation is sullied as Val McD tells everyone that it wasn't true women wrote more violent fiction than men -- she's only read one book this year that's turned her stomach. And when pressed, admits it was mine.

I have two choices, blush and rush out, embarrassed at being 'The Man Who Sickens Val McDermid', or brazen it out. I give myself a one man Mexican wave, figuring stupidity is the better part of valour.

Next up (for me anyway) is the new blood panel, and then lunch!

Lunch is a strange, silent affair in a little pub at the bottom of the Harrogate highstreet. James, John and Vincent munching away in what I have to assume is hungover silence. I know James's probably is, but then he did try to drink his own bodyweight in Old Peculiar. Afterwards I make my excuses and leg it -- I want to find a birthday present for Agent Phil -- who's not going to be arriving till later (something to do with a big party he had to go to on Thursday night). Only the toy shop is shut! No!!! So I'm going to have to buy him a slap-up birthday lunch instead. If he ever turns up.

Back to the hotel in time to catch the Unique Voices event -- billed as 'a panel of unique voices talking about the ups and downs of being different, and how their work is marketed in an industry which all too often pigeonholes writers.' What it should have said was, 'Come hear John Connolly rant!' And very entertaining it was too, with Mr Connolly telling everyone most crime fiction wasn't very good and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for not experimenting and pushing the genre in new directions, while Shane Maloney got off some very funny one-liners when he could get a word in edgewise. Sometimes there's nothing like a little controversy to make something interesting, and the only thing this one lacked was a knock-down, drag-out bout of fisticuffs.

Then it was off to the bar, where the inimitable Alex Barclay (who isn't actually a man) made her usual dramatic appearance, telling everyone they looked gorgeous in a ninety mile an hour Southern Irish accent. Alex tends to create her own event horizon, frenetic energy building up to critical mass until it implodes into a gravitational well that pulls in men for miles around. Shameless hussy that she is.

God knows where she is when her panel's supposed to start, but she hammers down the central aisle just as the introductions are being made, skidding into the seat at the end of the table. It's a well-behaved panel, but then given the fireworks of 'Unique Voices' anything short of world war three would be. But I do give John and the rest of the panel the chance to be indiscreet by asking if they've got any weirdo freak stalkers yet. He, of course, immediately heads into the realms of pure filth, which gets him a very well deserved round of applause.

The joint forces of HarperCollins and Little, Brown are throwing a party! Last year this was an HC only affair -- chilled champagne and tempting morsels. This year it was very hot, crowded, and the hotel staff were busy setting tables for breakfast. But the wine is warm, free and plentiful, so it would be churlish to complain! I had fun anyway.

Afterwards I'm incredibly lucky to be invited to dinner at a little Italian restaurant attempting the World Record for Longest Time Between Ordering Meal And Actually Getting Something To Eat. The food's good when it finally arrives, but by then we're all too old to remember what we were doing here in the first place. Valiantly, Agent Phil tries to keep James Twining awake by knocking a glass of iced water into his crotch. He's such a trooper. And now there's a much smaller chance of James-T's groin spontaneously combusting. These things are important. But the restaurant's taken so long we've missed both the Ian Rankin / John Harvey talk (which I'd been looking forward to) and the Foul Play event too. Curse those purveyors of slow-motion pasta!

The evening then heads back to the bar for beer, gin and tonic, and many, many glasses of water. By half two in the morning I slosh when I walk, but I'm in bed just in time to catch the thunderstorm. It's like being inside a very hot dustbin, repeatedly battered with sledgehammers. Pause -- two, three four -- BOOOOOOOM! Then the rain, drumming down in vertical sheets, hissing and gurgling, bringing the promise of a cool night. And not delivering. Bloody rain. Ten minutes later it's gone and the heat settles in once more.

I place the large clove of garlic I nicked from the hotel kitchens on my bedside table, next to the crucifix I've fashioned from two pencils, a biro and some sellotape. If Claudia Schiffer tries to start anything tonight, I'm ready for her.