Newcastle Noir – Friends in the North



Finnish writer Kati Hiekkapelto’s work

This year at NewcastleNoir2016 there was a good dose of Nordic Noir on offer and the panels with Nordic elements were really well attended.  Iceland, Finland and Norway were represented by a great mix of authors.  It was interesting to hear Nordic Noir mentioned in other panels such as the Brit Noir panel and also in the Novellas & Short stories panel. An indication, perhaps, that this genre is now better established and that translated works are reaching more readers.

People sometimes ask me what goes on at a book festival. Obviously there are the planned events but often one of the best parts of a book festival is not a scheduled event at all,  it is that fact that you can make new friends and meet online friends in the flesh. Newcastle Noir is one such festival where it is easy to make new friends. It is a relatively small festival which has really come into its own this year with big names such as Val McDermid and Gunnar Staalesen appearing.  There are no parallel sessions so you tend to see the same people throughout the day giving you lots of opportunity to muster up the courage to say hello.   I met David Warriner who lives on Vancouver Island on Canada’s wild west coast. David grew up in Doncaster and studied at Oxford. A fifteen-year translation veteran (French to English) and long-time crime fiction addict, David is now biting the bullet and combining these two passions as an emerging literary translator. As a first timer at this festival I asked David to share with us his thoughts on Newcastle Noir and tell us how it compares to Canadian crime writing festivals:

Last year I missed Newcastle Noir by a hair’s breadth: I was across the Tyne in Gateshead for an unrelated translation conference that ended the day before the festival, but I couldn’t change my plans and stay on for longer in the Toon. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement, but I vowed to return in 2016, and this year’s event more than made up for what I had to miss out on in 2015.

If you’ve never been to Newcastle’s fabulous Literary & Philosophical Society, it’s a sin. This library is a national treasure. While I was at Newcastle Noir, I was treated to a sneak peek into the Silent Room, which at first I thought was where they sent all the naughty authors. Little did I know that these were the library’s archives; even more precious than the grand reading library. If it feels like stepping back in time to walk into the main building, setting foot in the archives is a positively prehistoric experience. Think Oxbridge college library shrouded in a heavy cloak of silence, the aroma of faded leather and mellowed tobacco permeating the air, a sense of time standing still. Talk about a contrast to the hive of activity buzzing mere feet away on the other side of the wall.


A packed room for the Scandinavian Panel on Sunday

Right from the opening night of the festival—when we were treated to a private audience with Ann Cleeves and gallons of free-flowing wine (this IS Newcastle!)—to the end-of-festival quiz on Sunday night and its impossibly challenging questions, it was one jam-packed weekend of quality crime fiction banter and networking. Not only were there more panels each day than you could stay alert for without having to dash across the road for a quick espresso from time to time, the quality of the discussions truly was top-notch. Jacky Collins and her organizing team did an admirable job putting together such a rich programme.   Themes for panels were well chosen and most of the author matches were made in heaven, delivering a healthy balance of friendly banter and quality discussion that kept the audience coming back for more. It was hard to fault the moderating on any of the panels, and the energy and enthusiasm Jacky mustered up to ringmaster every single one of the events was superhuman. Makes me wonder whether these Geordies slip adrenaline shots into their morning brew or if they shoot it up when no one is looking.

Whereas Canadian festivals such as Cuffed in Vancouver—which recently attracted the likes of Ian Rankin and Canadian crime writers Linwood Barclay, Owen Laukkanen, Chevy Stevens, Ausma Zenahat Khan and RM Greenaway—tend to be a chillier affair with less of a social aspect between the authors and the public (no thanks to our draconian liquor licensing laws), there was a real sense of camaraderie at Newcastle Noir. Being a festival of such an intimate scale, it was a breeze to shoot the proverbial with the authors and conversation flowed naturally with faces in the crowd that soon grew familiar—crime fiction fans and bloggers/tweeters alike. As I head home to Canada from this fantastic event I’m taking with me many new friendships as well as a hefty stack of business cards. Oh, and more books than I’d care to disclose are winging their way across the Atlantic via Royal Mail as I write these words.

Some highlights of the festival: the immeasurable charm of the Icelandic contingent; the exotic air of the Mexican wave; the broad Northern accents I miss so much; Val McDermid telling everyone not to mess with her (we think she was joking); and who can forget the elves and the Christmas book flood? Then there was being turned away from the Station Hotel Bar (were we really that rowdy?), going back for oh-go-on-then-just-one-more-book at the Forum Books stand and being serenaded at 2:00 a.m. by drunk birthday girls outside my hotel room (I wouldn’t expect anything less from a weekend night in the Toon). I met far too many wonderful people to name them all here, but you know who you are. Gold stars go to Jacky Collins and friends for organizing the whole thing; Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books for going far above and beyond the call of duty with her myriad authors at the festival; Kay the wonderful librarian at the Lit & Phil; and Miriam at Nordic Noir for so kindly inviting me to write this post. Newcastle Noir: the nights were late, and sleep was scarce. But at events like this, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you wish to explore Canadian crime fiction David contributes reviews and sample translations of emerging Quebec crime fiction to the website


Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen meetings fans

One comment

  1. What a lovely post – we were there. See you next time!

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