Thursday, July 12, 2018

Getting a Cluedo About CrimeFest

Author and former Crime Writers’ Association chair Alison Joseph returns to CrimeFest in company with novelist Lee Child.

(Editor’s note: My apologies for the fact that this wrap-up of CrimeFest 2018—held from May 17 through 20—is only now appearing. The Rap Sheet’s chief UK correspondent, Ali Karim, sent it to me during my vacation last month, and I’ve been swamped with work ever since. Only this week was I able to clear enough time in my schedule to finish editing Ali’s fine post. I hope you enjoy it.)

By Ali Karim
It was wonderful to help celebrate CrimeFest’s 10th convention recently. We were treated in the tourist-friendly town of Bristol, England, not only to glorious weather, but to an eclectic assortment of events ideal for devotees of the crime-fiction genre.

For the sake of precision, I should probably make clear that this was actually the 11th Bristol-based conference mounted by Adrian Muller, Myles Alfrey, Liz Hatherell, Donna Moore, and the rest of their team. CrimeFest’s roots date back to 2006, when Left Coast Crime was held on this side of the pond. That event enjoyed strong backing from the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and the then-fledgling International Thriller Writers (ITW). And just two years later—time enough to recover and regroup—Muller, Alfrey, and company decided to launch an annual gathering of their own, again in historic Bristol (an apt location, considering it was the birthplace of thriller writer Geoffrey Household, he of Rogue Male and Watcher in the Shadows fame).

In any case, Shots editor Mike Stotter and I—having both been extremely busy of late—weren’t about to miss this opportunity to mingle with fellow readers and with published authors of varying renown. We looked forward, as well, to seeing our colleague, columnist Mike Ripley (aka the Talented Mr. Ripley), who was once more returning to the convention with his “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo” panel quiz, scheduled to close out the festivities. Sadly, Shots’ Ayo Onatade was unable to attend, as she was gearing up for this fall’s Bouchercon in Florida, during which she will be fêted as Fan Guest of Honor.

Thursday, May 17
After first checking in at the convention hotel (the historic Bristol Marriott Royal), Stotter and I reviewed the weekend’s abundant panel-discussion offerings. As someone who created the programming for another such convention (Bouchercon 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina), I know how hard that task is—definitely not for the faint of heart. And I must say that Donna Moore’s panel arrangements were top-notch and wonderfully diverse, with something of interest for every fan of the genre. The success of her efforts may very well have been reflected in the extraordinary attendance at this year’s CrimeFest and the fact that there were so many new faces in the crowd.

Felix Francis, the author son of jockey-turned-novelist Dick Francis, seated with British suspense writer “Susan Moody” (aka Susan Elizabeth Horwood).

Just a couple of friendly historical mystery-makers hanging around: Andrew Taylor (The Fire Court) and “Tom Harper” (aka Edwin Thomas, author of Black River).

Jeffery Deaver with Hodder Books publisher Ruth Tross.

One potential problem this time around was the hotel’s renovations program in progress. Concern over noise and construction hassles had left conference organizers with huge anxieties. But as it turned out, the CrimeFest folks and hotel managers succeeded in keeping disruptions to a minimum. In fact, if you drank enough gin—as I felt compelled to do—there were no obvious problems whatsoever.

Thursday’s panel load was relatively light, but nonetheless satisfying. It included the introduction of debut authors (led by The Sunday Times’ Karen Robinson), an exchange on “Crime Through the Millennia” (moderated by novelist Antonia Hodgson), and a discussion about “forgotten writers” such as Adam Hall, Pamela Branch, and Winston Graham. (CWA chair Martin Edwards managed that last panel, and was joined by John Lawton, Chris Curran, Christine Poulson, Sarah Ward, and Nick Triplow.) Those “forgotten writers” discourses are always quite popular at CrimeFest (as they are too at Bouchercon), and I can’t help but smile when I see younger readers in the audience: there are so many decades-worth of excellent crime, mystery, and thriller fiction they have yet to discover. And so many books still to be published, as the crime-fiction field appears to be in rude health, compared with some other publishing genres.

Quicker than expected, it was time for that evening’s concluding event: the annual CrimeFest Quiz. Fez-wearing writer Peter Guttridge and Burt Bacharach impersonator Adrian Muller were charged with keeping this competition under control. Authors Susan Moody, Felix Francis, and Maxim Jakubowski were among those who joined Stotter and me on what we figured was a victory-bound team. However, our valiant efforts at answering obscure literary questions weren’t sufficient to overcome the challenge posed by Martin Edwards and his teammates: Sarah Ward, Karen Meek, Priscilla Masters, Kate Ellis, Christina Poulson, and Mike Linane. Our energy and knowledge finally sapped, we congratulated the champs and then retreated to the bar, where we fell easily into the sorts of conversations so familiar to crime-fiction fans—about books that have made us think about life and death and the absurdity of existence.

Beware of criminal connivers in the hallway! The line-up, left to right: writer and current CWA chair Martin Edwards; authors Jeffrey Siger and Charles Todd; longtime Bouchercon board member David Magayna; and Shots editor Mike Stotter.

Frequent convention-goers Bill and Toby Gottfried.

Andrew Taylor with John Harvey (Body and Soul).

Friday, May 18
This was a particularly busy day, panel-wise. Karen Robinson acquainted her listeners with a new set of debut authors (among them Felicia Yap, T.A. Cotterell, and Olivia Kiernan) … former CWA chair and moderator Alison Joseph dissected crime-fiction subgenres … Jeffery Deaver led a discussion about the “special (dis)abilities” of some fictional protagonists … Ruth Dudley-Edwards and her guests (C.J. Carver, Elly Griffiths, Johana Gustawson, and Priscilla Masters) addressed the matter of detectives duos … Caroline Todd conducted a round table titled “Crime in Time of War” … Jeffrey Siger rode herd on writers tackling the subject of “Power, Corruption and Greed: Just Another Day at the Office” … and that was all before lunch!

A quick sandwich, washed down with gin, and I was ready to tackle that afternoon’s hectic schedule, which included: moderator Kat Hall exploring the topic of German crime fiction with Oliver Bottini, Simone Bucholz, Dirk Kurjuweit, and Andreas Phluger; Kevin Wignall managing a spirited debate touted as “Life with the Dull Bits Cut Out,” about penning thriller fiction; a back-and-forth dealing with writing pairs, featuring Charles and Caroline Todd (who produce historical mysteries as “Charles Todd”), as well as Stanley Trollip and Michael Sears (who concoct the Africa-set Detective Kubu series as “Michael Stanley”); and a gathering of Michael J. Malone, Tana Collins, Lesley Kelly, Douglas Lindsay, and Caro Ramsay to chat about this fall’s Bloody Scotland conference (September 21-23). Oh, there was also the launch of the anthology Ten Year Stretch: Celebrating a Decade of Crime Fiction at CrimeFest, with signings by contributors such as Simon Brett, Lee Child, Martin Edwards, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

But for me, Thursday afternoon’s highlight was Maxim Jakubowski’s joint public interview with author John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) and John Simenon, the son of Belgian writer Georges Simenon, whose 75 novels starring French detective Jules Maigret are still in the process of being reissued by Penguin Books—a great treat.

The day’s closing events? The unveiling of the Crime Writers’ Association’s longlisted nominees for the 2018 Dagger Awards (check those out here), and the announcement that Russell Day had won the 2018 Margery Allingham Short Story Competition with his yarn, “The Value of Vermin Control.” Works shortlisted in the Daggers race should be made known in July, with winners to be declared during a special dinner held in London on Thursday, October 25.

From that CWA reception, we hied off to dinner, during which we made a point of toasting the award contenders. And then—at some hazy stage—it was time for bed.

Saturday, May 19
This time, it was The Daily Telegraph’s Jake Kerridge who led off the day with a lineup of debut authors, introducing Alex Dahl, Will Dean, Iain Maitland, Vicky Newham, and Lloyd Otis. Beyond that, Saturday’s panel schedule offered more clashes than a Joe Strummer revival. An attempt to list them all would be tantamount to insanity.

Red-letter events, though, included Kerridge’s center-stage interview with Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver; the standing room-only launch of Barry Forshaw’s Historical Noir and his group debate (featuring Abir Mukherjee, M.J. Carter, and others) over whether historical mysteries can ever be described as “noir”; a presentation on the British Golden Age of Thrillers, featuring Kiss Kiss Bang Bang author Mike Ripley, C.J. Carver, Lee Child, and Zoë Sharp; and Peter Guttridge’s interview with Peter James and Martina Cole. The evening was highlighted by the CrimeFest awards dinner, during which half-a-dozen prizes were handed out, including those for best humorous crime novel and best biographical or critical book related to crime fiction.

Stotter and I joined Guttridge, Maxim Jakubowski and his wife, Delores, for dinner, after which we adjourned to a nearby traveling carnival for fairground rides made all the more exciting by the quantity of drink we’d consumed during our meal.

German fictionist Andreas Phluger (In the Dark).

Mike Ripley, the winner of this year’s H.R.F. Keating Award (for his history of British crime thrillers, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and master-of-ceremonies for “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo.”

Quiz teammates Andrew Taylor, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver, with CrimeFest organizer Myles Alfrey leaning on the far right.

Sunday, May 20
This concluding day of the convention opened a tad early for those of us who were still working off the manifestly debilitating effects of the previous night’s revelry. Panel presentations were few, but significant, with Kerridge again welcoming debut authors (Peter Beck and S.S. Mausoof, among them), and Zoë Sharp leading a talk on the subject of independent publishing.

Saturday’s two principal highlights were Barry Forshaw’s on-stage conversation with former Petrona Award winners Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Gunnar Staalesen, followed 90 minutes later by the convention’s final event, Ripley’s surreal tournament, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo.” As I point out in this piece for the Shotsmag Confidential blog, Ripley’s game is another crime-fiction quiz, pitting two teams of three authors against one another. 2018’s face-off found a women’s team led by Ruth Dudley-Edwards (backed up by Alison Bruce and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir) challenged by a male squad captained by Lee Child (and also featuring Andrew Taylor and Jeffery Deaver). The competition was, per usual, friendly and played mostly for laughs (of which there were plenty), as you can see in an eight-part video found at the aforementioned link. Yet it was a comfortable way to end CrimeFest. The close of a gathering such as this can be rather melancholic, for it means that attendees must return to the straight-jackets of their real lives. Scheduling “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Cluedo” at the end sent everyone out the door with a smile on their face.

Still, there was some sadness as this 10th CrimeFest came to a close. Adrian Muller announced that Myles Alfrey and Liz Hatterell have decided—reluctantly, so I understand—to retire from the management team. Muller thanked them vociferously for their years of work to make CrimeFest popular, and those of us assembled to hear the news gave the pair a standing ovation. We all look forward, I’m sure, to hearing what CrimeFest XI will offer in the way of both events and additional organizers.

Next stop: the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, to be held in Harrogate, July 19-22. I hope to see some of you there.

(All photos in this post copyright © Ali Karim 2018.)

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