We were lucky enough to catch up with Sarah Hilary the next day to hear all about the moment she was announced as the winner and what it means to her.
Congratulations on winning the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Book of the Year Award 2015 Sarah! What was it like to win and how did the ceremony go?
It was amazing. I was just so excited to be on the long list to begin with because there’s so many of my heroes on there, like Ian Rankin and John Harvey, and then the shortlist was incredibly strong – I love Belinda Bauer and she was on there – and I thought that was enough, I thought that was it. It was quite nerve-wracking going up on stage although everyone was very relaxed and lovely about it. Mark Lawson was funny and the speeches were really good. Each of us went up and answered two questions from Mark, and then we sat back down and celebrated Sara Paretsky’s fabulous Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t expect to win Crime Novel of the Year, I don’t know if anyone expected to win it so maybe you never do, but it was very exciting.
I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to get back up on the stage because my legs were shaking quite badly. And the trophy is empty. Everyone assumes that there’s Theakston’s Old Peculier in the barrel and they might have to start doing that in the future because there’s so many jokes about it now. Belinda Bauer says she kept rum in hers, so maybe that’s a plan. It’s pretty heavy even when it’s empty. You’re standing there holding it, with your legs shaking, trying to say something sensible and gracious [laughs] so that’s quite nerve wracking. And there were lots of photos! I must admit I hate having my photo taken, and there was one point where the photographer was saying, “Don’t look so worried!” and it doesn’t help! If you’re ever taking photographs of somebody don’t say, “Don’t look so worried,” it doesn’t work, it makes you feel even more worried about your expression [laughs]. But it was lovely.
I had a text from my sister-in-law at 11 o’ clock last night saying that she had just seen me on the BBC news.
Twitter and Facebook had gone absolutely crazy when I got back up to my room, I mean it’s still going crazy now, it’s just amazing. I had a text from my sister-in-law at 11 o’ clock last night saying that she’d just seen me on the BBC news. My BT email account had so many Facebook notifications that it locked me out saying there was ‘suspicious activity on your account so we’re closing it temporarily for security reasons’ and I thought that was funny. It had obviously assumed that I must’ve been hacked because there’s no way I could’ve had so many notifications, that’s not right. So I thought that was a really constructive reaction from BT, you know “that’s enough” [laughs].
I still can’t quite get my head around it, I must admit. On my way down to breakfast with my daughter who’s in the hotel with me – she didn’t come last night, she’s a teenager so she doesn’t really want to do this kind of thing at the moment, she’s incredibly sweet but she doesn’t want to follow me around everywhere – quite a few people came over and said not just congratulations to me (which was lovely) but also told her that I’d mentioned her in my speech last night. If I’d just said, “Obviously I thanked you,” then she wouldn’t have quite believed it because of course your mum is going to say that. We had lots of people come up and say, “Your mum’s so proud of you, she talked about you in the speech,” and that was almost my favourite part of the whole thing; her getting some of the credit she deserves for having put up with her mum being a crazy crime writer for the last few years. And also I think she realised that crime writers are actually quite cool. I’m not, but there are other very cool crime writers, and so when she was introduced to some of them and met David Mark and Steve Mosby for instance, I think she definitely thought, “Well ok, yes, Mum’s friends are actually quite cool,” [laughs] so hopefully she’ll meet some more over the weekend, that’ll be really nice.
There were quite a few debuts on the longlist this year. Do you think people were searching for fresh voices this year or are there just a lot of particularly talented debut authors emerging at the moment?
It’s hard to say isn’t it! I was having a long chat with a couple of the judges, Alison Graham from the Radio Times and Sandra from WHSmith, and they were saying what an incredibly strong shortlist it was and how all the books were so good – and that’s why they’re bundling them together to sell in WHSmith because they feel that everyone should read all of these books. What I liked about the shortlist is how eclectic it is; there are so many different kinds of crime books on it. I think the genre as a whole attracts the most creative people, not just writers but also directors and producers. If you look at TV shows like Hannibal, the creativity that’s going into those programmes is remarkable. People are always pushing boundaries and wanting to try something new, and readers want it too. Obviously they’ll have their favourites, we all have favourite series where we can’t wait for the next book to come out. I’m exactly like that, I’m dying for the next Belinda Bauer and the next Jonathan Kellerman, and Fred Vargas – a French crime writer whom I absolutely love who’s not had a book in her Adamsberg series for a couple of years. If I was her publisher I’d be saying, “Give me that book!!” [laughs]. But then also, it’s so exciting to be at the beginning of something new.
I think all good crime writers are always looking for something different; a different way of telling a story or a different way of exploring the world and explaining the world, so long may it continue!
And I do think that seems to be unique to the crime reading world… the enthusiasm for fresh blood. It’s a genre that can always expand, and in really new and unusual directions. There’s an organic impetus for us to always be pushing boundaries, because we ask all the awkward questions and we look in all the murky corners – that’s what we do. Good crime writers are always looking for something different; a different way of telling a story or a different way of exploring the world and explaining the world, so long may it continue.
What are you excited about at the Theakston’s Festival this year?
The New Blood panel is going to be great, because it always is. I’m really looking forward to that. I love the TV panels here, it’s a real shame Sally Wainwright can’t come, but they’re still going ahead with the event. I always love those panels, the Broadchurch one they did last year was fantastic. They have such a good mix of writers, actors, producers, police consultants and it makes for a really interesting 3D discussion around crime. But every panel at Harrogate is always so good, and also every conversation you have outside on the lawn, even in the beer tent you’re going to overhear some amazing stuff. Never a dull moment!