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Committing a fashion crime at the Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend

By Barbara Henderson

What to wear, what to wear… I race around the house, locating, considering and then discarding option after option. I am reading at the Crime and Thrillers Weekend in Cromarty and I should have left 10 minutes ago!

In the end I settle on a vivid grass-green top and jeans with my trademark tartan docs. No, I don’t have time to iron it. It’ll have to do.

The Man and I jump into the car. By the time we cross the Kessock Bridge, I breathe a little easier. I’m not even appearing in the first session of the day – that belongs to the King of Crime, Ian Rankin. We are going to make it, we will. I’m looking forward to hearing him live.

Barbara Henderson at the 2019 Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend.
Barbara Henderson at the 2019 Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend.

I spoke too soon – the small village of Cromarty is heaving with crime writers, crime readers and, I’m sure, some criminals looking for fresh ideas. We park the car at the seafront and sprint up the hill to the beautiful Stables, an art gallery and perfect venue for the 80-strong crowd and the one they have come to see.

I am puffed out from my unusually speedy ascent, but I needn’t have worried. Cromarty’s Crime and Thrillers Weekend is a relaxed affair, with big name writers mingling readily among the punters and shuffling to their seats clutching cardboard coffee cups like the rest of us.

Rankin’s warm-up act is Fortrose’s Vee Walker, who actually manages to cajole the audience into re-enacting a scene from her historical novel, Major Tom’s War. Based on her grandfather’s memories, it is described as ‘fact lightly dusted with fiction’ and her scene of choice is an unjust execution.

Ian Rankin finds himself blindfolded in front of a ‘firing squad’ of raised arms and pointed fingers. Utterly, utterly memorable. The hour-and-a-half flies by with Rankin’s charming mix of anecdotes, readings and chat. However, I nearly splutter on my coffee when he sheds his jumper halfway through and reveals a ‘Union Vinyl’ T-shirt! (I pass this lovely Inverness record shop most days on my way up and down the Market Stairs, and usually exchange a few words with Nigel, the friendly owner).

Ian Rankin in Union Vinyl T0shirt at the 2019 Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend.
Ian Rankin in Union Vinyl T0shirt at the 2019 Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend.

I join the signing queue just to take a picture so that I can pass on the happy news to the shop – when the crime-master comments drily that he has worn it all through his American tour, and that Nigel probably already knows.

Oh well – now you all know too!

A very entertaining second session features Edinburgh crime author Lesley Kelly and her book Death at the Plague Museum. Lesley used to be a stand-up comedian and has no trouble at all working the crowd, who only heckle once!

A quick break for lunch and it’s my turn. As a spotlight author, I have been given 15 minutes. My only remotely crime-related book is Punch, so I read about a miscarriage of justice and hint at a Victorian murder before making way for the much more experienced and famous Shona Maclean.

Writing as SG MacLean, her historical crime, set in 17th-century Aberdeenshire, has me so hooked that I simply have to get my hand on a copy of The Redemption of Alexander Seaton. She also talks about creating 17th-century London for her Damian Seeker books, which sound equally fascinating. Based near Dingwall, Shona MacLean is one Highland author we should definitely get behind!

And so I limp back to the car through the drizzle at the end of a fulfilling, interesting and stimulating day. I’m sad to miss the prizegiving for the short story competition I helped to judge, but I know that the winner, Neil Hepburn of Inverness, will simply blow the audience away with his hilariously savage story of an ornithology field trip gone wrong.

It is not until the evening that I scroll through the pictures.

My stomach plummets.

My carefully chosen outfit could not have clashed with the décor more if it tried!

Major Tom's War.
Major Tom's War.

Look out for:

Vee Walker’s Major Tom’s War.

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