27th Jul2014

Harrogate 2014: a taste of the psychological

by Lloyd Paige


Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate drew in vast crowds from the UK as well as overseas and showcased a rich array of authors. One of the events, Sophie Hannah in Conversation with SJ Watson, proved to be much anticipated, judging by the long queue of people that waited to get in of which I was a part of.

The scene was set and on one exquisite sofa chair we had SJ Watson, the author of the phenomenally successful debut ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ and on the other we had the prolific Sophie Hannah, the author of the very popular Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse adventures.

“If there’s a mystery I’m curious and I want to find out…”- Sophie Hannah

It so happened that on the night before I bumped into Hannah and told her I’d be attending the conversation and that I expected her to, “give it some.” I’m not sure what I meant by that but she seemed to understand and said that she would. And to be honest, she served up a treat because both authors gelled very well with each other.

To start with the audience were treated to a jaw dropping trailer for the forthcoming film ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, and Mark Strong. It set up the conversation nicely because both authors are known and appreciated for the psychological aspects of their writing and they discussed the obsessive side of their work too by, “wondering about people,” as the thing that drives them on and of course, psychology is entwined with human behaviour.

To get some further insight into the thought patterns of the authors Hannah said, “If there’s a mystery I’m curious and I want to find out but not just in a speculative way. I’m absolutely determined to find out, to do the legwork, to ask the questions,” while Watson likened it to, “a puzzle,” and, “a conundrum” wondering, “what makes people behave in a certain way?”

The conversation was injected with bursts of humour such as when Hannah retold the cleaner vacuuming story to much laughter and in a way it felt like listening to a private conversation between two old friends.

“I thought that maybe this could get published.”- SJ Watson

When asked about the success of his book by Hannah, Watson revealed that he didn’t know it was going to be such a success and when writing his debut, he admitted, “I thought that maybe this could get published.”

Which shows that even though it’s a competitive market, stories like Watson’s prove that a high rate of commercial accomplishment can still be achieved. He said that he, “cried,” when he saw the final scene of the film. He’d gone from, “sitting in a room playing with these imaginary people, trying to force a plot to work and then suddenly there’s Nichole Kidman and it’s the bizarrest thing.”

A selection of questions from the audience came afterwards and from the author responses we learned that Hannah loves to plan in minute detail and is genuinely interested in psychology, while part of writing for Watson is the, “discovery of the mysteries,” as I would say, opposed to intricate pre-planning.

Sophie Hannah in Conversation with SJ Watson was just one of the many interesting events on at the festival but it wasn’t just for those wanting to write psychological crime, it was for crime fiction enthusiasts in general.


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