About Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival

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Bloody Scotland, the international crime writing festival founded in 2012, takes place in Stirling every year, playing host to numerous panels from top crime authors and attracting thousands of visitors. 

In this article, co-founder Alex Gray discusses the history of Bloody Scotland, from the creation of the festival through to its current-day success.

From humble beginnings…
Bloody Scotland 7
In just a few short years, Bloody Scotland has grown to become an internationally recognised brand in literary circles

Looking around the crowded Albert Hall and hearing the roar of applause after one of our events, it’s amazing to remember how this all began.

It is not an urban myth, it’s perfectly true that the idea for having a Scottish International crime writing festival came to us over that second bottle of Prosecco!

Lin [Anderson, co-founder] and I were in Lincoln for a CWA conference. We were chatting about which fabulous crime writers hailed from north of the border.

It was, we told ourselves, Scotland’s other national export, and we should begin our own festival.

“The Harrogate of the North”, Lin suggested.

No, just call it Bloody Scotland”, I said, imagining the big names in our genre propping up the bar in far flung parts of the world and asking one another, “Are you going to Bloody Scotland this year?


Creating Bloody Scotland
Image of a large audience at one of the Bloody Scotland festival's many panels
Rising ticket sales have seen increasingly large turnouts for the festival’s big events

And so a new idea was born.

We talked non stop with our friend, [author] Alanna Knight, all the way home from Lincoln, deciding that we must involve our agent, Jenny, who was the brains behind Edinburgh International Book Festival.

She was as enthused as we were. So we began to plan our first festival, gathering friends and crime writing colleagues into a committee.

It took a couple of years to plan but we were meticulous in the detail which, I believe, is one of the things that made that first festival such a resounding success.

We had a main sponsor in the form of my husband’s accounting firm, Mazars, who promised support for an initial three years.

We then found the perfect location in Stirling, thanks to the efforts of an old school friend, who traveled all over Scotland to see what hotels and venues would be suitable.

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Growing ambitions…
Image of a writers' panel at the Bloody Scotland festival, chaired by co-founder Lin Anderson
Bloody Scotland’s numerous writers’ panels are highly popular each year

As time went on, our ambitions grew to include setting up what was then called the Scottish Crime Book of the Year, a sort of Scottish Booker prize for crime writing.

We agreed that the competition would be open to any book that was written by a Scot, an author living in Scotland or that was set in Scotland. Books of fiction, non fiction and collections of short stories were all eligible.

Publishers would all be informed of this competition, and asked to submit the best of that year’s crop of eligible books.

We were also pleased to have a sponsor that year in the form of Glengoyne whisky, who offered a huge decanter to the winner as well as a substantial cheque.

What fun we had devising the programme! It had to be different and quirky, Lin and I agreed.

It would include a masterclass set up by the University of Stirling and a “Pitch Perfect” event for aspiring authors, as well as panels featuring well-known crime writers.


The William McIlvanney Prize
Image of the final 4 novels shortlisted for the 2016 William McIlvanney Prize at the Bloody Scotland festival
The final shortlist for the 2016 William McIlvanney Prize

Further still, our dear friend William McIlvanney – the hero whom we all adored and who had set so many of us on the trail of crime writing in the first place – was coming to be our guest, and moves were already afoot with Canongate publishers to re-release his Laidlaw trilogy.

William later said that Bloody Scotland had been his favourite crime writing festival of all time, and that it had helped to re-launch his career.

Following his passing in December of 2015, it was therefore only fitting that we renamed the Scottish Crime Book of the Year in his memory, as The William McIlvanney Prize.

Since its inception in 2012, Bloody Scotland has gone on to establish itself as Scotland’s premier crime writing event, selling thousands of tickets each year.

Authors who have appeared at the festival include Louise Welsh, Ian Rankin, Melanie Raabe, Martina Cole and many more. For more information on the festival, visit the Bloody Scotland site and check in with them on Twitter for regular updates.

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