Saturday, June 21, 2008

CrimeFest Hits Bristol, Part III

(Editor’s note: This is the third installment of Ali Karim’s four-part report from the recent CrimeFest convention, held in Southwest England. Part I is here, Part II can be found here.)

“Ian Fleming Centenary” panelists Tom Cain, Meg Gardiner, Charles Cumming, Kate Westbrook, Nick Stone, and Mike Stotter.

Day Three, June 7. I was roused by the alarm from my coma-like sleep at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning. Mechanically, I booted up the laptop and checked to see that the world still existed beyond the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel. After showering, I woke Shots editor Mike Stotter in the next bed, as we had an early panel discussion to attend. While he hit the bathroom and belted out a few songs that carried all too well through the connecting door, I continued working.

Then it was down to breakfast, where we met with Penguin UK authors Nick Stone (King of Swords) and Charles Cumming (Typhoon). They were already wolfing down eggs and coffee, while reading a few notes Stotter had sent them in preparation for this morning’s panel, “Ian Fleming Centenary: How to Write a Thriller.” Stone looked relaxed, but Cumming appeared the worse for wear. Once fortified, the other three went off to prepare for their presentation, while I grabbed another cup of coffee and headed to the hotel’s reception area. There I noticed Ian Rankin (Exit Music) by the lift. I went over to thank him for his recent statement about how politicians have exploited anti-terrorism legislation to control populations through surveillance and enhanced powers. Rankin smiled modestly and said something along the lines of someone’s got to tell it as it is.

As I left him to finish registering for this conference, I bumped into Martyn Waites. I have enjoyed Waites’ work for many years, and was pleased to see the recent debut of his third Joe Donovan thriller, White Riot, set in the northeast of England. The basis of that story is a clash between right-wing extremists and Islamic fundamentalists--a heavy topic, but handled with dramatic flair.

With the 9 a.m. start of Stotter’s presentation nearing, I said my good-byes to Waites and headed off to the King’s Room. The turnout for such an early panel was remarkable. Featured on stage with the moderator: Nick Stone, who penned the introduction to Penguin’s reissue of Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me; Charles Cumming, who wrote the intro to Penguin’s The Man with the Golden Gun; the pseudonymous Tom Cain, who is following up last year’s terrific thriller The Accident Man with next month’s The Survivor; Meg Gardiner, author of the Evan Delaney thrillers; and Kate Westbrook (aka Samantha Weinberg), who writes the “Moneypenny Diaries” series. With Sebastian Faulks’ new Bond novel, Devil May Care, having only just been released (and with the latest Bond film, A Quantum of Solace, in the pipeline for the fall), this discussion was very timely. The panelists were divided on the merits of Faulks’ book, but all agreed that he had been wise to place his narrative in the 1960s, for 007 as a character does not translate well into the 21st century. The highlight of this event was seeing Stone’s face take on a boxer’s grimace when one of the audience members, in asking the speakers to name their favorite Bond villains, remarked that Stone looks a bit like Odd-Job from Goldfinger. Before Mr. Stone could leap from the stage and settle this matter at the blunt end of a thrown fist, Stotter thought it prudent to declare that time was up, and the authors had to leave to sign their books elsewhere on the premises.

I stayed behind while the rest departed, for the Kings Room was also where my presentation for the day--the second “Fresh Blood” panel discussion, showcasing debut crime writers--was to take place presently. After the debacle of the previous day, I took no chances this time, but made sure that bottles of water and glasses were laid out for all of the panelists, as well as me. It wasn’t long before my interviewees began arriving. Today’s “new bloods” were Helen Black (Damaged Goods), S.J. (Sharon) Bolton (Sacrifice), Mary Andrea Clarke (The Crimson Cavalier), John Macken (Trial by Blood), Michael Morley (Spider), and Lee Weeks (The Trophy Taker). Sadly, the attendance for this day’s “Fresh Blood” presentation was half the size of Friday’s event; but then, we were up against two star-studded competing panels. Nonetheless, my panel did quite well, with all of the wordsmiths providing useful insight into how they’d found their way into print. Two of the people at my table had never written a novel before, and it was their debut work that was accepted for publication, while the others had been published previously in different genres and under different names. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and we shared a few laughs.

After shepherding the authors off to the signing room, I met up with Stotter and congratulated him on a fine job moderating the Ian Fleming panel. We went for a beer and, naturally, bumped into a number of familiar writers. Then, while Stotter remained behind, I returned to the Kings Room to see Ann Cleeves (White Nights) interview Karin Fossum--shown at left--the Norwegian author of Black Seconds (2007).

Fossum, to whose work I was introduced at the inaugural Harrogate Festival back in 2003, proved to be every bit as melancholic in person as she is in her fiction. If you haven’t read her books, they’re deeply moving but tinged with tragedy and heartbreak, and don’t always tie up all the loose ends of a crime and its aftermath. Cleeves worked well with the soft-spoken Fossum, allowing her to explain why her work is sometimes as troubling to her as it is to her readers. One member of the audience finally asked Fossum, “Considering the sadness that pervades your work, have you experienced any personal tragedy yourself?” Cleeves indicated that her guest didn’t really have to respond; however, Fossum, after pausing for a moment to collect her thoughts, said, “If you come to the banquet tonight, I will answer that question.” That note of mystery sent a hush over the attendees and halted the questioning.

Afterward, I approached Fossum in the signing room and told her how much I’ve enjoyed her work, especially her fourth book in the Inspector Sejer series, 2005’s Calling Out for You (released in the States as The Indian Bride). That novel had made me very sad indeed, as I read about the poor woman who’d come all the way from India, only to end up lonely and dead in Norway. Fossum could see that the novel was very personal to me (since I am of Indian heritage), so she tried to cheer me up a little as she signed my books, remarking that “Your name is very similar to mine, Karim and Karin.” It wasn’t much, but it did lighten the mood.

Because the queue at Fossum’s station was growing rather long, I told her that I looked forward to seeing her at that evening’s banquet, and then stepped away. But as I was leaving the room, one of the CrimeFest organizers, Adrian Muller--who was planning the seating for the banquet and had overheard my exchange with Karin Fossum--asked if I’d like to sit with her at the Random House authors’ table for dinner. It seems somebody else had had to drop out. I said “yes” without hesitation.

Following one more panel (the subject this time: crime novels being translated into movies), Mike Stotter and I set off for lunch. We found a pub not far from the hotel where we could dine on the traditional UK delicacy of sausage and mash in onion gravy, all washed down with a pint of cider (we were, after all, close to cider territory in Britain’s southwest). Our stopping for lunch this way meant that we had to miss seeing critic-author Peter Guttridge interview Ian Rankin, but we know Rankin and Guttridge well enough and are more than a little familiar with their work, so decided that the attractions of sausage and mash were stronger.

Back at the Marriott, we ran into Martyn Waites again. He was on his way to participate in a panel presentation about private-eye fiction. There were two other noteworthy discussions slated for that same hour of the afternoon--one about police procedurals, the other on novels in translation. But since Stotter and I couldn’t decide which to attend, and we knew that this night would be a late one, we went off to the hotel’s health club instead. An hour’s worth of swimming, sauna, and steam did the job of burning off our lunch.

And then it was back to our hotel room for a quick nap--another part of our preparation for that evening’s gala banquet. Not until 6 p.m. did we rise, shower, and suit up for the celebration to come. Being the party dudes that we are, we headed to the bar.

(Part IV can be found here.)


Anonymous said...

Nice piece, as usual, Ali. Trust you to remember the Oddjob moment.

I couldn’t work that out. The guy was ribbing me like we were mates. Only I’d never met him before. So I went up to him afterwards and asked him why he’d said that. It was very disrespectful and it’s not like I knew him. His reply: “Because you wear black and look foreign”. I’m not sure if he was a bigot first and an idiot second, or if it wasn’t the other way round. Whichever, he's a moron.

Anonymous said...

Good for you Nick! I attended that panel at Crimefest and I remember Colin Campbell’s comments. You handled yourself very well, Nick, putting him in his place. He was trying to have a laugh at your expense, but you turned the joke on him.


Anonymous said...

Colin Campbell is a creepy ex-cop from South Yorkshire who writes self-published books (eg stuff so godawful he has to pay to put it out)and hangs out at the crime festivals making everyone he meets feel uncomfortable.

Colin is about 6 ft 5, which makes me suppose he spent his entire career rescuing cats from trees while jerking off to The Sweeney.

Nick Stone should have done us all a favor and decked the twat. I'm surprised he didn't. Nick's supposed to have a bit of a temper on him.