You might imagine crime writers are a solitary, humourless bunch, who spend their days thinking about death and the many ways it is possible to die.

But the Bloody Scotland festival tells a different story.

Set up by writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray in 2012, it tapped into the “tartan noir” trend which saw Scottish or Scotland-based writers appearing at festivals around the UK.

“But there was nothing here in Scotland” recalls Lin.

“We knew Denise Mina and Chris Brookmyre and Val McDermid and Ian Rankin would all come so at least we would have a festival for one year.”

Twelve years later, the festival is still going strong. Held over three days in Stirling, it is small enough to mean readers and writers can rub shoulders at the bar as well as in the book shop.

This year’s guest list includes James Naughtie, Abir Mukherjee, CJ Tudor, Craig Russell and Liam McIlvanney.

A serious festival for lovers of the crime genre, then. But it is also known among writers for its sense of fun.

It is here you will find a walking tour, a cabaret, and even a football match between crime writers representing Scotland and England.

Some of the biggest names formed a band called The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. And that’s the spirit which continues to give new and returning writers a chance to let their hair down with their peers.

This year a writer travelled from Dubai for the perfect pitch session, while other attendees made the trip from the US and Canada.

This year a writer travelled from Dubai for the perfect pitch session, while other attendees made the trip from the US and Canada.

Image caption,

Kate Foster won the debut novel for her thriller set in 17th century Scotland

And it was here that Kate Foster’s book The Maiden first saw the light.

Based on the true story of a murder in 17th century Scotland, it first appeared on the virtual stage for new writers during lockdown in 2020. Foster won the pitching panel competition with an outline of The Maiden and went on to get an agent and publisher.

“The maiden was a prototype guillotine which was used for about 150 years to execute nobility,” she says.

“If you were a posh criminal, you were beheaded at the maiden because it was seen as a better death. It was a flat pack machine which could be moved around Edinburgh and it’s on display at the National Museum of Scotland.”

And last night, she picked up the Bloody Scotland Debut prize.

I should declare an interest. I was one of the judges of the prize – along with Arusa Qureshi and Kenny Tweeddale – and have spent the last few weeks carefully guarding the winner’s identity.

Image caption,

Award-winner Callum McSorley

So I was delighted to learn that Callum McSorley – one of the other shortlisted authors for the debut prize – had won the McIlvanney Prize.

Named for the writer William McIlvanney, regarded by many as the godfather of tartan noir, it has been won in the past by many established names but this is the first time a debut work has scooped the prize.

“When Kate was announced as the winner of the debut prize, I thought, oh well, that’s that,” said Callum, ” and I couldn’t believe it when my name was read out for the overall prize.”

Squeaky Clean is a darkly comic novel set in a Glasgow car wash, based on one in which Callum worked as a student. It introduces the reader to “Glasgow’s least popular detective”, DI Ally McCoist.

“Alison McCoist was named for my friend’s goldfish. It fitted her character nicely. She puts up with all sorts of irritating jokes,” he said.

Prizes awarded, photos taken, the writers disperse to various events around the city. But if you want to hear what your favourite author is working on, or simply say hello, the place to hang out is Stirling’s Golden Lion hotel. At least for one weekend of the year.

As I write this, a group of writers are plotting their weekend.

“It’s lovely to see everyone, and catch up with other writers, but you do feel a little guilty at not being home working on the latest book,” says one.

The banner by the door, wrapped in police tape, is the scariest thing you will see. Crime writers, it turns out, are really very friendly.

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