Friday, October 11, 2019

A Capital Beginning

(Above) Robert Harris signs copies of The Second Sleep.

By Ali Karim
It was a brave decision by thriller writer Adam Hamdy (Pendulum, Aftershock) and his partner, literary agent and bookseller David Headley, to inaugurate a new annual convention showcasing the crime/thriller genre in the British capital: Capital Crime, which took place from September 26 to 28.

For one thing, there’s already a good deal of competition from more well-established events. Those include CrimeFest (Bristol, England), the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Harrogate), and Bloody Scotland (Stirling, Scotland), as well as smaller, regional conferences such as the St. Hilda’s College Crime Fiction Weekend (Oxford), Bute Noir (Rothesay), the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, the NOIRELAND International Crime Fiction Festival (Belfast, Ireland), Morecambe & Vice, Deal Noir, and Newcastle Noir.

Secondly, mounting a book festival/convention is no task for the timid. I know from my long association with America’s annual Bouchercon (which included my work as programming chair for 2015’s conference in Raleigh, North Carolina) just how much courage, stamina, and resolve it takes to put together such an event. As one U.S. colleague characterized the management of such a diversified affair, “It’s like herding cats.”

(Left) David Headley
and Adam Hamdy

Of course, Hamdy and Headley enjoyed several advantages. For one, their event was to be hosted in the nation’s capital, the center for British publishing, so they had an expansive local pool of talent from which to draw. They had also assembled a strong management team, with professional event organizer Lizzie Curle being backed up by a solid squad of volunteers. Finally, the pair gained good sponsorship agreements, an excellent venue—the Grand Connaught Rooms in London’s West End—and a veritable who’s who of speakers and attendees. Mention should also be made of activity behind the scenes by London’s Midas PR Agency and Tribe PR, supported by Covent Garden-based Goldsboro Books, which set up a bookstore adjacent to the festival’s signing tables.

The key to success in this venture would be to deliver exciting, informative panel discussions capable of attracting a wide range of crime- and thriller-fiction readers. Well, I am glad to say that the two-day array of such panels exceeded the expectations of even the most battle-hardened genre fans. Those panels ran on two parallel tracks, filling both the Grand Connaught’s Grand Room (which seats approximately 700 people) and the Edinburgh Suite (with space for maybe 400 more). The panel events hit all of the subgenres, from espionage, legal, Nordic/Scandinavian, and forensics to true crime, social commentary, Golden Age, contemporary, weird/fantasy crossovers, and historicals. In addition, the schedule offered sessions on the craft of fiction writing (for both the page and screen), a quiz, and a showing of director Steve McQueen’s 2018 heist film, Widows, based on a 1983 UK TV series of that same name.

There were plenty of big-name authors taking part, among them Ian Rankin, Robert Harris, Martina Cole, David Baldacci, Peter James, Lynda La Plante, Charles Cumming, Don Winslow, Kate Atkinson, last year’s Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Gold Dagger award winner, Steve Cavanagh, and 2019 CWA Diamond Dagger recipient Robert Goddard. Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books, one of this year’s nominees for the CWA Dagger for Best Crime and Mystery Publisher of the Year, hosted a lively and most amusing session called “Chilled to the Bone,” focusing on Scandi Noir, with authors Ragnar Jónasson, Will Dean, Antti Tuomainen, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. John Connolly’s career retrospective proved to be as entertaining as it was insightful, while legal professional (and Shotsmag Confidential blogger) Ayo Onatade talked about making the shift from practicing law to crime writing with attorneys Tony Kent, Imran Mahmood, Harriet Tyce, and the aforementioned Steve Cavanagh.

Kate Atkinson with her latest novel, Big Sky.

Keynote events, such as K.J. Howe’s interview with David Baldacci, my own back-and-forth with Martina Cole (during which we considered London’s appeal as a backdrop for crime novels and thrillers), and former Brighton chief superintendent Graham Bartlett’s grilling of Mark Billingham were all well-attended. The deliberate international scope of these proceedings was emphasized by an excellent showcased conversation between Scotsman Ian Rankin and California wordsmith Don Winslow. During a panel talk led by L.C. “Len” Tyler, Sophie Hannah, Ruth Ware, Christopher Fowler, and John Curran discussed the enduring importance of Agatha Christie. And Daily Telegraph books critic Jake Kerridge managed to persuade prominent novelists Robert Harris and Kate Atkinson to deliver short readings from their works as he interviewed them.

Worthy of applause, too, were a session that found Adam Handy and novelist Anthony Horowitz (The Sentence Is Death, Forever and a Day) discussing the genesis of story ideas and how one goes about wrestling them onto blank pages; and a Friday talk on the matter of modern technology’s impact on espionage thrillers, featuring Dame Stella Rimington, Charles Cumming, and Frank Gardner.

To mark its Saturday evening closing, this inaugural Capital Crime convention scheduled the presentation of its 2019 Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, in nine categories. The winners are here.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to take part in this three-day London affair, I hope the photographs embedded above and below will provide you with at least some idea of its diversity and delights.

Adam Hamdy welcomes attendees to Capital Crime, while David Headley announces the winner of the inaugural New Voices Award: Ashley Harrison, for her book, The Dysconnect.

It was little surprise that Capital Crime attracted many London journalists and broadcasters, among them Jon Coates of the Sunday Express, shown above chatting with Martina Cole.

British author Peter James almost disappears behind stacked copies of his newest work, The Secret of Cold Hill, the “spine-tingling follow-up” to 2015’s The House on Cold Hill.

British spy-fictionist Charles Cumming (The Moroccan Girl) spends a few minutes with Kimberley “K.J.” Howe, author (Skyjack) and executive director of ThrillerFest.

Goldsboro Books set up a well-stocked bookstore not far from this festival’s signing tables for authors.

Gold Dagger award winner Steve Cavanagh strikes a pose with Ayo Onatade, a contributor to Shots and the head of judicial support to the President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

On Friday afternoon, BBC reporter Chi Chi Izundu conducted an onstage interview with writing heavyweights Ian Rankin and Don Winslow, covering the subject “The Human Cost of Crime.”

Authors on the Air Radio host Pam Stack (center) interviews UK critic-author Barry Forshaw (Historical Noir, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide) and The Rap Sheet’s chief British correspondent, Ali Karim. You can listen to their very fun exchange here.

Publisher Pan Macmillan provided complimentary coffee to convention participants throughout the weekend. “This treat should not be underestimated,” enthuses Ali Karim, “as the quality of coffee was excellent, and the flasks were kept re-filled.” He goes on to say, “this beverage … was indeed truly life-affirming,” and a fine lead-in to glasses of gin ordered up as day turned to evening.

Speaking of caffeinated refreshments, here we see UK crime novelist Sarah Hilary (Never Be Broken) sharing a cup of said stuff with Vicki Mellor, the publishing director of Pan Macmillan’s commercial fiction team.

“Top-ranking barrister”-turned-novelist Tony Kent (Killer Intent) manages to spend at least some time on London’s streets with fellow author Alex North (The Whisper Man).

I am pleased to report that the same team behind this year’s conference will be responsible for its second presentation, in 2020. I look forward to heading back to the Big Smoke to see whether that sophomore Capital Crime can surpass this year’s event.

(Photographs © 2019 Ali Karim)

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