The Crime Readers' Association

Shetland Noir‏ by Mary Bale

1st December 2015

Extract from Threads of Treason and Pamela St Abbs Inspector Campbell Mysteries by Mary Bale.

Thursday 12 November

At about 7pm we passengers experience an extra quick journey to Sumburgh from Edinburgh airport with assistance from the wind. I hadn’t checked the distance between Sumburgh and the week-end events at Shetland Noir in Lerwick. So determined was I to get to the reception being held at the library I mistakenly direct my rescue taxi to Mareel Art Centre where the Noir was going to be held. This meant that I was able to register while the event in the library but time starts to slip away. I find myself unable to manage the map in the dark and walk with cases. A rescue taxi takes me to my hotel, The Queens. The driver takes my bags in and gives me directions to the library.  Would I get there on time? Would there be any cake left?

Up the hill and turning right. Hurrah, there it is, housed in a building which once served as a church. On entering, the room  is buzzing with delegates:  readers, writers and a selection of local experts, among them: dialect, geology, Shetland ponies and the man who finds the locations for the Shetland tv series. More of these people later.  Additionally the Shetland Noir cake is cut.

After this wonderful  event  I  finish off  the evening with a late night trip to the chip shop. Yum.

Friday 13 November

The Noir starts in earnest at 10am in the comfortable Mareel auditorium with where and how Arne Dahl, Valerie Laws and Lilja Sigurđardóttir get their ideas. I’ve not come across Jacky Collins before, but what a brilliant moderator: so knowledgeable; pertinent questions; and an ability to draw out the authors into an interesting conversation. Arne discusses the origins of his fifteen books and Valerie talks entertainingly about her science background she uses in writing her Bruce and Bennett series. Lilja is quite candid about her inspiration not coming from Icelandic mythology.

Jacky continues the good work with asking Quintin Bates, Alison Baillie, Sarah Ward and Mari Hannah by asking “It’s really you isn’t it?”

Is Mari Hannah her protagonist Kate Daniels? Is any of the story of Sewing the Shadows Together in any way connected to the life story of its author, Alison Baillie?  Quintin joyfully discusses his Gunner novella and his strong connection to the subject.

The subjects of tartan and nordic noir are the next for scrutiny. Arne Dahl, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir and James Oswald wrestle gamely with the subject until lunch.

I can’t resist a walk to the ancient circular stone building, a broch, on the edge of Lerwick, which  I saw on my way in to town on Thursday night all light up. Due to touching ancient stones, I was late returning to the Noir and missed the Bloody Scotland event with Alex Grey and James Oswald. A quick check with those that saw it I find that I missed a good discussion.

I came in at the audience question time to the completion of the Noir family, the Iceland Noir, with Lilja Sigurđardóttir, Yrsa Sigurđardóttir, Quintin Bates and moderator Katie Jacobsdottir. I instantly wished I had seen more.

The unmistakable event organiser and MC, Donald Anderson, shimmies, climbes, and appears like magic from the shadows to introduce each event.

Surprisingly, the panel, Ann Cleeves, Valerie Laws, Marsali Taylor and Sarah Ward for “Roll Over Agatha Christie” find the great woman’s work to contain many of the ingredients of the modern detection stories. So much so they find it tricky deciding what defined a traditional detective.

I like being read to and the next event, the head to head, involves Yrsa Sigurđardóttir and Alex Grey reading from their books. Alex reads from Keep The Midnight Out set in Mull and Yrsa reads from I Remember You.

Local food beckons from the Town Hall but first I have to squeeze in a trip to the craft fair with some fellow delegates. We make it to the Town Hall just as the awards are being presented. And, who pops out of the woodwork, but Jimmy Perez himself – that is the actor Douglas Henshall – to present an award to the winner of the short story competition, Helen Grant. Cameras click all over the room.

And then it’s Saturday.

I wake early and arrive at Mareel before it’s officially open. 10 am soon arrives and I take my place on the stage with Häken Nesser, Melanie (MJ) Mcgrath, Suzie (SJ) Holliday and Craig Robertson (Wow!) and our moderator Silk Reeploeg to discuss the setting of time and place. Mcgrath tells us about the Inuits which feature in her books while Häken Nesser explains that he uses many different locations. My own book is set in a historical context.

Jane Kerridge moderates the CSI Shetland panel of authors Anne Cleeves and Alex Grey, forensic expert Helen Pepper and pathologist Dr James Grey. This is always a fascinating subject. The general feeling of the panel is that each author took his/her own view on how much of this sort of information to use in their stories.

Sex and violence is discussed by Alex Sokoloff, Denise Mina, Stuart Mac ride and Chris Ewan. Denise Mina examined the mental health issues related to violence. Concerns are expressed about the risk of dating a book through its sex scenes while Alexandre Sokoloff thinks that well told character led sex scenes can add to the understanding of the story. Banter knocked back and forth between the panel members and Len Wanner, the moderator over the violence element of the discussion. However, there is general agreement that readers complain about bad language more than violence.

Yet again I miss the start of the event after lunch as I have become quite determined to try the food at the Shetland Museum next door.

So I settle down with a large audience to watch Alexandra Sokoloff,  Ann Cleeve, Denise Mina,  Marine Hangar moderated by Jack Collins discussing On Screen – adaptation. Everyone agrees the procedures involved in the process of optioning books for the screen are complex. Alex points out that authors in the US are cut out of the adaption process. Ann Cleeves is happy to hand over her work. The rights are signed over and she sees the adaptor’s process as a way of retelling her story. Ann sees Douglas Henshaw as a suitable Jimmy Perez as he depicts the character as someone who is strong but kind. Alex’s background is in screenwriting and this gives her an opportunity to use film structure in novel writing which she feels is beneficial. All Denise Minas works have been optioned and she mentions her Paddy Meehan series, which I remember as an exceptionally good tv adaptation.

Killer Women are next to arrive on the stage. M McGrath, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow and Louise Miller kept in order by the very amenable Jake Kerridge. All are very interesting and this group of women writers supporting the position of women writers is gaining participants many more.

Now I’m exhausted. I have to rest, which is a shame because I’m going to miss the launch of Marsali Taylor’s historical thriller Footsteps in the Dew and the West Mainland Writers Groups, Wastside Noir. I manage to stir myself for the Head to Head with Häkan Nesser and Denise Mina. And what a delight! It was impressive to hear Nesser’s psychological thriller The Mind’s Eye read by the man himself. Denise Mina talks about her work converting the Larsson books into comic books which she enjoyed.

Sunday 15 November

There is a choice of events on Sunday but I opt for the Jimmy Perez tour. This turns out to be a great choice as the weather dawns fine. Ann Cleeves talks about her book locations, Marsali Taylor gives an insight into the history and Davie Gardner tells about the filming locations. We get the inside information on the locations for the new series as well as some of the places used in the previous series. The best way to describe this is in pictures. These have been scattered about this blog.

As if we need any more spoiling on our return there is the last of the head to heads featuring Arne Dahl and Stuart MacBride with Lee Wanner as enquirer. Arne reads a piece set in a zoo followed by Stuart reading a poem about Zombies in the park. This requires Len and Arne and audience participation to shout ‘Brains’ from time to time. Everyone was soon laughing. I should have known that something was being cooked up as there was much suppressed giggling from the start by the readers as if planning some high jinx.

The evening is rounded up with The Big Crime Noir Bash. Music, murder mystery play puzzle conceived by Marsali Taylor and the prize draw of the Ganzie, which was won by a delegate from Copenhagen, so it will return from whence it came as we all had to.

A great time was had by all and thanks to Ann Cleeves, Douglas Anderson, Quentin Bates et al for a brilliant weekend. So, Iceland next year?


Mary Bale was born in the east of England and moved frequently as a child. She settled in Norfolk and worked in local government.

While visiting Normandy with her husband and two children Mary Bale became fascinated by the links between Britain and that area of France. This led to a deep interest in all things eleventh century and the periods of history prior to that which shaped the politics of the time. She undertook courses with the University of East Anglia to further her studies. This resulted in the first book in her Anglo-Norman mysteries, Threads of Treason.

Mary’s children are now grown and she lives in Scotland with her husband.


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