Joy for book lovers as Harrogate Crime Writing Festival returns today welcoming Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Ann Cleves

It has been at the heart of Yorkshire’s literary calendar for years.

The festival’s chief executive Sharon Canavar is buoyant about the prospect of hundreds of fiction-lovers returning for the first time in two years

And crime fiction lovers will finally be able to return to Harrogate’s renowned festival as it delights with a line-up full of the doyens of literary noir.

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival begins today at the spa town’s Old Swan Hotel.

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It will run until Sunday and features a line-up curated by one of the most successful living crime writers, Ian Rankin

The Inspector Rebus author will bring together some of the best-known names in crime fiction including Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves and Mick Herron.

Also appearing will be Pointless star Richard Osman, whose debut crime novel The Thursday Murder Club sold 45,000 copies in its first three days of publication.

The festival is one of the first major literary events to take place since coronavirus restrictions began in March last year.

And organisers have faced last-minute challenges as some staff have fallen victim to being “pinged” into self-isolation.

Despite this, the festival’s chief executive Sharon Canavar is buoyant about the prospect of hundreds of fiction-lovers returning for the first time in two years.

“When you get this close to an event, there’s that mad mix of exhaustion versus elation. Even eight weeks ago, we thought we wouldn’t get to this point,” she said.

While legal restrictions on mixing have been lifted, the festival is not running at 100 per cent capacity to ensure social distancing can take place, and ticket-holders are being asked to wear face coverings.

“We’ve had essentially since March to put this together, working with these guidelines,” said Ms Canavar. “It was a reach to break even, but we’ve got a strong event and we know people want to be here. To leave it another year would have been really sad.”

“There will be more space and less people. We want to make sure people feel safe on site.”

For Ms Canavar, the hard work will pay off when she sees attendees finally able to enjoy hearing talks from their favourite authors again.

Fiction sales rose by more than £100m last year as the public turned to books for escapism during lockdown.

Despite its often gloomy settings and dark narratives, Ms Canavar has a theory as to why crime fiction has remained so popular throughout even the most difficult days of the pandemic.

“It’s a really broad church of writing, but the key thing with crime is there’s a battle of right and wrong. There’s a sense of justice. While we’re living in a pandemic of unknowns, even though it can be brutal at times, you know the ending will be satisfactory – that has got to be reassuring for people.

“It certainly was for me.”