Bute Noir – Crime on an Island


I got off the train at Weymms Bay station, dragged my bag through the category A listed, turn of the century, railway station and joined the rag tag line of passengers waiting on the ferry to Rothesay.

It’s midday on Friday the 5th of August and my thoughts are on the weekend ahead. I turn round to see how many more people have joined the queue and a familiar face smiles in my direction. A Liverpudlian accent says hi and I walk back to join Luca Veste. This is the start of Bute Noir for me.

Bute Noir is a new crime writing festival, the brainchild of Craig Robertson and Karen Latto, that lined up 12 authors for a weekend of crime across three venues on the Island of Bute – Rothesay Library, Bute Museum and Print Point.

(The line up.)

I board the ferry and enter a floating crime writer’s convention in its own right, as Luca and I are joined by some of our cohorts

(From left to right – me, Craig Robertson, Alex Sokoloff, Luca Veste, Douglas Skelton and Michael Malone. Present, but missing from the photo, Alex Gray, Alanna Knight and Caro Ramsay.)

The hub for the festival was the Argyll Guest House, which we had to ourselves. On the ferry Craig asked if I minded sharing a room with Douglas Skelton. I said yes too quickly. Seconds after I nodded my head Douglas turned to me and said ‘I’m trying nasal strips to help with the snoring.’ My relief was palpable when I checked in to find we all had our own rooms.

The first event kicked off at three o’clock with me chairing Craig and Luca.

(Luca’s body language saying ‘OK Craig – enough with the sarcastic remarks.’)

The theme was serial killers with Craig’s new book, ‘Murderabilia’ and Luca’s latest, ‘Then She Was Gone’ featuring a slew of dead bodies. The audience, setting a trend for the whole weekend, were engaged and loaded up with questions at the Q & A section. Books were signed, wine drunk, thanks given and we were off to a flying start.

I’d like to say that I made it to every event but there was a technical issue that prevented me from doing so (and before it’s said it wasn’t the pub). Venues selling out meant that space was limited for the authors. So I made the sacrifice and stepped aside to let the paying guests take their rightful place for the next few events.

Everyone involved in the festival did us proud with some stunning displays across all the venues.

(Display in the library – the press took a photo of us all in front of this but I forgot to do the same.)

With a nice creative twist the festival had linked a book from each author to an object in the museum – providing content for posters and bookmarks.

(My poster – with me trying, and failing, to look cool in sunglasses and black t shirt.)

Later in the afternoon Craig, Luca and I were grabbing a refreshment when Craig snapped upright and announced that he was supposed to be on Bute Island Radio in five minutes. He rushed out leaving Luca and I in his dust. Ten minutes later the manager of the station appeared and says to the two of us that Craig wants us to join him on air. We are whisked into the studio to talk gibberish. Just as we are settling into our rhythm the studio door opens and in walks Chris Brookmyre to join us.

(Luca, me, Chris, Mike Blair (DJ) and Craig in the Bute Island Radio studio)

The first day finished with Chris in the library. He signed off the evening with a short story entitled Puck Knows – so Chris.

We were all good people and off to bed we went (believe what you want).

The next morning I took a stroll up the Serpentine to ‘Spring clean’ my head.

(Go on, beat this for a Saturday morning view – Rothesay in the sun)

Before we all kicked off again the inaugural Brookmyre Cup was held on Rothesay’s famous putting greens. Six players entered (Chris, Luca, Craig, Douglas, Michael and me – with Caro as official umpire) and I emerged victorious.

(There were six in the competition but I suspect that Luca was having a quick ciggie when this photo was taken.)

The festival resumed at lunchtime with an event entitled ‘Caro Ramsay and Friends’ (who knew she had friends). Chris and Craig did the manful thing and stepped in to be Caro’s mates – another one I missed because there wasn’t a spare square inch the room.

Later in the day Michael chaired Alex.

(Michael deciding a glass of vodka is in order)

Next I found myself squeezed in at the back of Print Point. When I say squeezed I use the word to its full effect. The only way to explain the crowd that sat down to watch Luca and Douglas debate the merits of Liverpool and Glasgow is to introduce that well known acronym – TARDIS. Not being bias in any way the outcome of the city debate was a forgone conclusion. Glasgow won. (I’m writing this – so my view is all that matters).

(Luca and Douglas in full flow. Look closely – strategically Luca is in the Health section with Douglas filed under Cookery  – just saying).

As the festival drew to a close Alex Sokoloff and myself debated the role of supernatural in the library (and were told some very chilly ghost stories by the audience).

The whole event was rounded off by a quiz. Not to put to fine a point on it my team, Ramsay, Skelton and Brown, roundly beat Brookmyre, Veste and Malone despite Craig, as the chair, docking us points for various infringements (he even knocked off a point when I gave him a tenner).

(An unstaged shot if ever I saw one)

The weekend finished on a high with the quiz. We all mingled with the audience afterwards and gauging by the number of requests for it all to happen again next year I feel that something good has been born.

The next day even the weather was a little melancholy that it was all over.

Summing up the weekend is easy. Wonderful. It’s the only word I need. Let’s be serious – when you turn up to find a goodie bag like this – what else can you say.