Morning is not a good thing for the majority of crime writers. Especially not after a night in the convention bar, so it's something of a surprise to come downstairs and find the breakfast room full of people. Probably thought that getting there early would entitle them to an extra sausage, or a real tomato. FOOLS!
I sit at a little table on my own, but Mr Billingham invites me to join him and his mate, Martyn Waites. Which is nice -- it means we get to take the piss out of eachother, the genre, talk about the panels we've enjoyed, and wish there were more sausages. Chief amongst the topics is Shane Maloney's performance yesterday, which we all loved, and a wonder that the Australians aren't taken more seriously in the crime world. Maybe it's the funny hats and bent sticks? Who knows?
After breakfast it's time for Martina Cole being interviewed by the lovely Natasha Cooper. One of the weirdest things is the difference between the two of them -- Martina's very Larrrrndan (being an Essex girl) while Natasha is about as Queen's English as you can get outside Her Majesty's bedroom. 'Oh... Oh... Oh yes Philip: one is arriving!' I got up early last year to hear Natasha talking to Reg Hill -- and this one's every bit as good. I have to admit that I've never read any of Martina's books, but after the event I'm definitely going to.
Then it's time for a cup of tea, where I sweet talk the lady with the urn into giving me a refill, even though she's not supposed to. It's the beard, makes them weak at the knees it does. And then straight into Research -- the awful truth where Simon Kernick manages to make himself sound like a very, very sad man, freeloading off the fire brigade and living on park bench. Sad, but funny. Laura Wilson is the scary one, telling her, 'how I asked my boyfriend to try and drown me' story. Is it just me, or are crime writers all weird?
I was planning on going to the Gritty City panel, but I'm off for lunch with my editor Sarah and naughty old Agent Phil. We wander into town, pretty much at random until Sarah spots a place called the Drum and Monkey. The sign outside looks a bit like Agent Phil, so we go in for a lovely meal of fish with extra fish and some fish on the side. Mmm, fish. OK, it's no TOWER OF FISH, but it's nice nonetheless. Maybe next year? Mostly the talk is of books and writing and deadlines and editing, but we do make time for a detour about James and his writing. With Phil and I bigging him up to embarrassing heights. This is practice for my afternoon appointment, when I have to do the same thing for R.D. Wingfield for ITV 3. It's not till the end of the meal that we notice the moth-eaten, stuffed monkey playing a drum, perched up on the shelf high above one of the other tables. Thank God we're not sitting underneath it -- otherwise there might be taxidermic monkey poop to deal with.
Before anything else happens I need to sprint through the baking streets of Harrogate, looking for something to shave the unintentionally beardy bits of my face. I'd use the razor I'd brought down specially, but She Who Must's father nicked the thing in Newcastle. Damn Fifers -- can't trust them an inch when it comes to disposable items of personal grooming! By the time I get back to the hotel I'm drenched in running-about sweat, but that doesn't deter Betty, who wants me to sign her book. 'It's only a paperback, now,' she says in her naughty Irish brogue, 'Oi'm hopin' you don't think oi'm too cheap...' I wave this off with a magnanimous laugh -- she told me last night how Mr Betty had refused to turn the car round and drive the fifty miles back to their house to collect the hardback version she'd forgotten to pack. And then I open the book... and find it's already been signed.
It turns out Betty's been scrawling names in the thing for some sort of prize draw thing. She keeps telling me, 'It was tirty tree tousand euros...' as I flick through the book looking for any spare page she hasn't defaced with other people's names. Doesn't she know how fragile my ego is?
And then the bit I've been dreading all weekend. Actually, I've been dreading it for weeks, ever since I found out they were doing a TV series on TV sleuths and the books they came from. If you've been here before, you'll know I'm a big fan of the TOUCH OF FROST BOOKS, plus Mr Wingfield and I share an agent, so I've been asked to be one of those talking heads you see on telly the whole time these days. Ulp... I don't mind being on a panel. In fact I really enjoy it -- it's fun and it's fleeting. But radio and television are permanent. And when you make a tit of yourself on there, a lot more people know about it.
I've decided to go for 'enthusiasm' rather than some sort of considered / measured approach. If I'm going to look like an idiot, I might as well look like an animated idiot. And I do. Talking nineteen to the dozen, hands going everywhere, unfinished sentences and, 'Oh, yes, and the stuff with the bit: BRILLIANT!' Oh dear Jesus... When this thing goes out in the Autumn I'm going to look like a proper care in the community job. The only good bit is when the guy asking the questions tells me at the end it's been nice to see someone passionate about their subject, instead of scholarly. I leave feeling slightly better about it, even if I know it's the film-making equivalent of a pat on the head and a lollypop.
After this there's only one thing I can do: go to the bar where I manage to embarrass James by giving him a wind-up snail and telling everyone it's his birthday. He goes a very fetching shade of red.
There's a party going on in a little room off the main hall -- Hodder I think -- where the wine is slightly cooler and they've learned from last night's canapé experience by going for crisps instead. It is here that I learn that the lovely Jane, who's been running about like a mad thing all weekend with the 'any questions' microphone, trained as a painting restorer. Which I think is incredibly cool. Then I learn that people haven't stopped taking the piss out of Anne Cleeves for winning the Gold Dagger this year. Which is kinda sweet, but doesn't stop us being press ganged into 'mingling' at the Author Dinner.
"But," I say, "I'm not going to the author dinner, I'm scamming free wine from Hodder! No! Leave me alone! Help, HELP!!!" But a-mingling I must go. How the hell do you mingle with people sitting down to dinner? Anne and I hang about just inside the door, psyching ourselves up, then go for it. And you know what, even though I felt like a complete tit plonking myself down at someone's table and saying, "Hi, you've never heard of me, but I write books," everyone I spoke to was really, really nice. One lot even let me have some of their wine!
From thence to the Courtyard restaurant with the rest of the HC contingent (after a hurried phone call to Agent Phil to make sure someone took James out for a birthday tea). We went here last year, only we managed to get back just in time to hear the answers being read out for the quiz. Which made us about as popular as a turd in a jar of mayonnaise. This year we're back in plenty of time to not come first, or even get placed. Even if I am a complete star and correctly identify that it's the NEW Avengers, not the old ones, during the theme tune round. And as far as I can tell, HarperCollins people were the only ones boogying on down while they were getting played. Did I mention all the wine?
Afterwards it's back to the bar. Again. More chat, more laughs, ending up with a spirited discussion on the nature and worth of reviews at six in the morning. Well, I'd always planned to enjoy a late night on the Saturday, if one was in the offing, so I did. Made all the more enjoyable by those reprobates from the Billingham Talk Zone. God bless them and all who sail in them.
By the time I lurch back to bed I'm too tired to worry about Claudia Schiffer and her legions of the night. Sleep is my undiscovered country and I'm going to bloody well map it!