Events

Behind the scenes – a Q & A with the organisers of Crimefest

This is the first in a series of interviews with some of the people without whom we wouldn’t have our favourite crime fiction books or events but who don’t normally get their share of the limelight.

First up is the team who organise Crimefest each year (Adrian, Donna and Myles) and with just a few months to go I really appreciate them sparing time for this.

What makes CrimeFest stand out amongst the many UK crime fiction events?

Adrian: CrimeFest came about after we organised the one-off visit of the US Left Coast Crime convention in Bristol on 2006. As a result we still follow the American crime fiction convention model where everyone pays to attend and any commercially UK published author who registers in time is offered a minimum of one panel appearance. If I am not mistaken, we are still the only convention in Britain that is not by invitation only and as a result we are able to offer many authors the opportunity to appear at a major event when they would be unlikely to do so elsewhere. Possibly more important is the fact that we encourage delegates to attend for the duration of the convention and, because it is held in one location, everybody socialises in the tea room and bar between panels and in the evening. Everybody is equal, authors aren’t whisked away after their panel, and it is common for a readers to be chatting to their favourite authors in a very relaxed environment. The social aspect is key at CrimeFest.

Donna: Adrian’s totally right about the social aspect. Over the years, many people have commented that CrimeFest is one of the friendliest conventions and festivals they attend, and that’s why people come back year after year. For me, it’s the one weekend in the year where I get to catch up with loads of lovely people who I only see once a year, and meet new people who I then look forward to seeing the next year! Also, we give newer authors the opportunity of being on a panel with household names. There’s no hierarchy – if you sign up early enough you get a panel, and you could end up on that panel with anyone.

Do you think Bristol is important in the feel of the event?
Adrian: Originally we purposely did not incorporate Bristol into the name of CrimeFest in case we wanted to move it around the UK, and depending on the costs of hosting the convention in Bristol we may still have to consider this. However, with its international airport, two train stations and access by motorway it is relatively easy to get to Bristol. Also, the feedback on the hotel is overwhelmingly positive, as it is in the centre of the city and is close to shops and restaurants. So, all of that, together with the fact that one of us lives here – which makes things easy – means that there would have to be compelling reasons to move.

When do you start and how do you approach the planning and programming?
Adrian: In some form or other we usually are already planning the following year’s CrimeFest before the current one has begun. With regard to programming, Donna is largely responsible for that and she does an amazing job, so over to you…

Donna: I love doing the programming. It’s basically the focus of every second of spare time I have from my day job and university studies between October and February (Christmas Day is often partially spent poring over a hot spreadsheet). It’s a really daunting task at first – a long list of authors that you need to wrangle onto a set number of panels, making sure that everyone has at least one. And you have to make sure each panel has a suitable topic. The topics need to be varied and the panellists need to ‘fit’ but, to be honest, it’s the panellists and moderators that make the panels work. You could give five different panels the same topic and each one would come up with different discussions. That’s one of the absolute joys of CrimeFest – no matter how many times I’ve scheduled a particularly themed panel, the discussion always takes a new and interesting course. Hang on…I think my job has just become simpler…I’m just going to call panels ‘Panel 1’, ‘Panel 2’, ‘Panel 45’ from now on… One of the side benefits of doing the programming is that I get to find out about new to me authors. In order to try and put authors on suitable panels I check out every single author’s website and books, see what their latest book is, what sub-genres they write in, what their interests are etc. I’ve discovered several authors that way whose books I’ve immediately gone out and bought.

How big is the team that organises the event?
Myles (smiles): Adrian and Donna organise the convention, and I run it…

Adrian (laughs): That’s not even completely untrue! We three are the core of the team. Donna, as I mentioned, does the programming; Myles, is in charge of set up, audio-visual, the practicalities of running the convention, coordinating the front of house and technical staff, and smoothing any ruffled feathers; and I do the all the other stuff, like contacting the publishers, contact the moderators and panellists, organise the awards, etc, etc. Having said that, we have incredible support from Jen, my wife, who designs the programme book; Liz, who is the ‘face’ of CrimeFest and who, with help of friends, greets delegates at the registration desk, and also proofs the text for the programme; and Sue, our wonderful website mistress.
Did any of you ever dream that you would be involved in something on this scale?
All chuckle!
Adrian: We only ever intended to organise the one off 2006 visit of the US Left Coast Crime convention. However, following that convention we were approached by publishers, asking us to continue because they could sign up most of their crime list for what they would pay for one of their authors to appear elsewhere. Authors were eager for us to carry on because we offered them a platform they were unlikely to get elsewhere, and readers loved the fact that they could discover new authors and meet favourites and socialise with them between and after panels.

Donna: Yes, Adrian promised me it would be a one-off…

Myles: Adrian promises me every year that it will be a one-off…

Every CrimeFest I’ve attended has seemed to go smoothly, is that how it feels for you? If something has gone disastrously wrong would you mind sharing?
Adrian: Knock on wood, nothing has gone disastrously wrong so far. We’ve had one last minute cancellation of a featured guest author, but we were lucky that someone gracefully stepped in in time. And if things appear to be running smoothly, then that’s because Myles and I are running around trying to keep all the plates spinning! Donna’s pretty much done all of her work by the time the convention is in full swing, but she instantly and effortlessly finds a replacement if there is a hiccup with one of the panellists.

Donna: As Adrian’s mentioned, I’ve mostly done all my work by the Thursday lunchtime that CrimeFest starts. So, while Adrian and Myles dash around looking red, frazzled and sweaty, I get to swan around, checking authors and moderators in the Green Room are happy and hugging people.

Myles: If you see me sitting at the front desk, looking asleep, then everything’s going well.
Do you get much opportunity to attend the panels?
Adrian: I occasionally do but not often. Donna does, but that is mostly to ensure how the panels are running. We try to record the panels, so I listen to them afterwards, and we have put quite a few of them up on the site. Which reminds me that we’re running behind on doing so for the last year or two. Must work on that.

Donna: I try and pop into all of the panels to see how they’re going. Sadly, I don’t often get to stay for a full panel, because I need to check the others that are happening at the same time, or go down to the Green Room to check things there, but sometimes I get so drawn into the discussions that I have to stay until the end!

Myles: I haven’t sat through a full panel for years. I have to pop in and out to check sound levels and quality and that they are running on time. However, sometimes I get caught up with an interesting discussion and have to drag myself away.

Who (living or dead) would be on your dream panel?
Adrian: I’ll go for the obvious: Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dashiell Hammett as the Participating Moderator? Other than that, we’ve been very fortunate with our headliners and loyal regulars, and having P.D. James, and Lee Child interviewing Maj Sjöwall (the Godmother of Scandinavian crime fiction), it doesn’t get much better than that…

Donna: I love film noir and pulp fiction, so I’m going to go for Richard S Prather (who wrote the hilarious pulpy novels about Private Investigator Shell Scott who wisecracked his way through over 30 novels in the 1950s and 60s. In each one of them Shell manages to solve crimes despite being beaten up, shot and whacked over the head and still had time to sleep with a blonde, a brunette and a redhead before dinner time); Dorothy B Hughes (who, amongst other things, wrote the brilliant novel In A Lonely Place which was made into a great film noir featuring Humphrey Bogart. The film is good, but the book is even better); Margaret Millar (who should be far better known than she is (primarily for being Ross Macdonald’s wife) and who wrote loads of great books including one of my all time favourites – Beast In View – a real heart-stopper of a psychological thriller); and William Lindsay Gresham (who wrote the 1946 stunner Nightmare Alley – another book which was made into a film noir, this time with Tyrone Power. Like In A Lonely Place, the book is far, far darker than the film). The panel would be brilliantly moderated by Eddie Muller – one of my favourite authors and the Czar of Noir. He organises Film Noir festivals and is also the author of two wonderful noir San Francisco set novels The Distance and Shadow Boxer.

(Adrian: Sadly Eddie and I are not related, but he is a good friend.)

What has been the most contentious panel discussion you can recall?
Adrian: The only contentious panel that immediately springs to mind is one where the moderator cheerfully announced at the start at the panel that, despite having three months to prepare, she only did so one or two days before the convention with material her child had managed to find on the internet. Needless to say we… I think someone just kicked me in order to shut me up! We try to celebrate crime fiction at CrimeFest rather than create contention. Instead we try to encourage panellists and (participating) moderators to meet socially before a panel so that they are comfortable enough for the panel to become a conversation where they (politely) interrupt and/or disagree.
2016 will be the ninth year – how has the event changed since you started?
Adrian: Well, it’s become more popular and the attendance has grown – which is great. I don’t think it has become easier to organise. I’m sure Donna will confirm that with regard to the programming. Also, as much as we love the hotel and working with the regulars, they have increased their prices which makes things harder. This is another area where support from friends of CrimeFest comes in, especially Edwin Buckhalter from Severn House who has negotiated the hotel contracts and kept things relatively affordable. He and David Headley from Goldsboro Books have provided invaluable advice and support. I don’t think we would still be hosting CrimeFest if it hadn’t been for their input. I can’t immediately think of anything else other than that the main constant has been to celebrate crime fiction in a very social atmosphere…

Myles: A lot of the day-to-day event management has become easier and smoother both through our gained experience and the long-term cooperation of Marriott hotels in knowing what our requirements are and just being in the right place at the right time. From having no idea what we were doing, or letting ourselves in for, we have progressed to surrounding ourselves with a great team ranging from young sound engineers through dedicated volunteer receptionists to the coffee lady (who – despite being promoted – has it written into her Marriott contract that she will work at CrimeFest no matter what).

What has been your highlight?
Adrian: Getting to personally know more authors, and people like Edwin and David; the headliners for our 5th anniversary – Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver, Frederick Forsyth, Sue Grafton, P.D.James and more – wasn’t something to sneeze at; having the BBC’s Sherlock team was a treat; and again: Lee Child interviewing Maj Sjöwall…

Donna: Each year, CrimeFest gets bigger and better. My own highlights are just getting to spend time with people I love to bits, talk about and celebrate crime fiction, discover new to me authors, have fun and buy books.

Myles: To me, the highlights are the very human aspects, from Jeffery Deaver explaining how his dog set off the fire alarm to Jasper Fforde giving an impromptu comedy turn for the entertainment of those on reception.
What are you reading at the moment?
Adrian: I’m reading James Laws’ Tenacity. James has been a CrimeFest regular, attended Crime Writing Day, and Pitch-an-Agent as well. Following the latter I know that various agents were interested in representing him and that multiple publishers made offers for the book. Reading the book seemed like a minor way in reciprocating his support, and so far it has been a compelling read…

Donna: Apart from an academic text about the plight of women in mid-nineteenth-century Victorian factories I have two great books on the go – David Young’s Stasi Child (one of the new-to-me authors discovered while I was programming) and Mignon Eberhart’s Never Look Back (part of my pulp fiction kick). Both highly recommended.

Myles: Because I’m a judge, all my spare time is being taken up by reading the 150-plus books submitted for the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of the year, the longlist of which is announced at CrimeFest in May.

What would you say to someone thinking of attending for the first time?
Adrian: CrimeFest is a party, come and join the fun. Read the Frequently Asked Questions on the website, and, if you still have queries, we’re here to answer them.

Donna: If there’s an author you’d love to speak to – do it. Everyone is really friendly and, in my experience, just loves to talk! And please come up and say hello. I’ll be the organiser who looks calm and unruffled!

Myles: This is an event organised by people who are not part of the publishing industry. We are primarily readers and fans (although multi-talented Donna has gone and become an author in the meantime). I agree with both Adrian and Donna: this is a very social event where all the back-stabbing is done on the page. Do come and say hello, don’t be nervous I only shout at Adrian!

If that’s whetted your appetite you can check out all the details and the full event programme on the Crimefest website or catch them on Twitter or Facebook.

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A whirl of criminal events

9780718181338Crime events can be a bit like buses – you can go for weeks without one and suddenly three come along at the same time! On Tuesday I was able to meet author Julia Heaberlin during a whirlwind trip to the UK from her home in Texas. Julia was here to promote the forthcoming publication in August of her new psychological thriller ‘Black Eyed Susans’, “A chilling new thriller that gets into the heart and mind of the killer, and the victim . . .” It was lovely to get the chance to chat to Julia, and find out more about the book. She has carried out some fascinating research for the book and it will be interesting to see how this translates into the plot.

Black Eyed Susans is published by Penguin on 13th August 2015.

KW-online-logoOn Wednesday I was thrilled to be invited to the launch of ‘Killer Women‘, a new collective formed in London by a group of like-minded female crime fiction authors. The group of 15 writers aims to “Provide innovative events, debates, talks, interviews and workshops to libraries, bookshops, festivals, book groups, literary and arts organisations, clubs and academia.”

The authors cover a range of sub-genres – including thrillers (Helen Giltrow), psychological thrillers (Colette McBeth, Louise Millar) and police procedurals (Jane Casey, Laura Wilson). There have already been a number of appearances of KW, with a debate ‘Deadlier than the Male?’ at the Trouble Club and a spotlight session at this weekend’s Crimefest in Bristol.

Following the launch there are number of  articles about the aspirations of the group, see Shots,  The Guardian and The Independent.

CFlowreslogo-2015Last but by no means least was this year’s Crimefest event. The annual convention for lovers of criminally good writing. Taking place over a long weekend the convention consists of multiple author panels, spotlight events and, perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to meet and chat in a relaxed atmosphere (the bar) with the many authors in attendance.

The headline events for the weekend included Lee Child interviewing Maj Sjöwall and Jake Kerridge interviewing Catherine Aird and James Runcie (although not at the same time I hasten to add).

Highlights for me, however, were to be found in the more run of the mill panels which offered the opportunity to discover new authors and find out more about those I’ve been reading.

On the Friday one of the most entertaining panels was “Playing God With Your Characters” which was discussed by Amanda Jennings, David Mark, Linda Regan, Stav Sherez and moderated by Christine Poulson. The participants had some quite different perspectives on the ‘lives’ of their characters and this led to an animated debate. It’s much more interesting for the audience to see authors with differing points of view!

It’s difficult to choose between two of the panels I attended on the Saturday – Thrillers: Brains Or Brawn, Who Kicks Best Ass – with Lee Child, Chris Ewan, Zoë Sharp and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir moderated by Tom Harper, or Things That Go Bump with A.K. Benedict, Oscar de Muriel, J.F. Penn, Mark Roberts and moderated by Kevin Wignall.

It was a packed room for the panel featuring Lee Child and the discussions did tackle some issues beyond the brains vs. brawn one. This included the difficulties in actually writing an action sequence and the realism of TV and film action compared with the written descriptions. I was particularly interested in the views on the difference between crime fiction and thrillers, the consensus being that crime fiction starts with a bad situation and is about discovering its cause (who, why etc) whereas thrillers are about preventing a bad situation happening. The shorter comparison was ‘ticking clock versus whodunnit’!

In my view, however, any panel which has Kevin Wignall as its moderator is not to be missed, and this panel considering the use of the supernatural in crime fiction didn’t disappoint. With discussions ranging from the links between supernatural and religion  to chocolate or cake the session lived up to my expectations.

But of course the real highlight is all the new friends I’ve made. So now I’ve unpacked my bags, squeezed my new books onto their shelves and caught up on some sleep. Until the next time!

Deal Noir

cropped-deal-noirThe crime festival season was kicked off in great style yesterday with the first ever ‘Deal Noir’ event. For a full-day event which was only announced to the public in January it’s remarkable that the event sold out – and a testament to the interest in crime fiction and crime writers.

The day covered the whole spectrum of crime fiction – from cosy and humorous crime to darker subjects, with panels focusing on historical fiction, those set in chilly climes and women crime authors. For an inaugural event organisers managed to field panels which included many big names from the word of crime fiction, including Robert Goddard, Mark Billingham and this year’s winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger – Catherine Aird.

dealThese events are always a great opportunity to meet other readers, aspiring crime writers and of course chat to some of the authors too. Although at capacity the venue still offered a small bookstall for signings and some refreshments – including wine at the end of the afternoon, which went down well with the attendees!

The panels all offered something of interest and I would be surprised if there were many people in the room who didn’t go home with the names of at least one or two authors that they will want to try in the future.

Susan Moody – one of the founders of the event – interviewed Robert Goddard, who proved to be a very funny raconteur (although I’m not really any the wiser about his books).

Possibly the most contentious panel of the day the all-female panel discussing a woman’s place in crime fiction. ‘Too often the victim’ seems to be the message!This was also an opportunity for them to mention a the new group, Killer Women, which is a group of London-based women crime writers who will be providing innovative events, debates, talks, interviews and workshops.

The day ended with the announcement of the winner of the Deal Noir Flash Fiction Award for 2015 – hopefully they will be posting a link to (at least) the winning entry for others to read.

Although there wasn’t much time of wandering through the historic town I did manage a quick look at the sea and a walk through some of the quaint streets near the venue – it definitely looks like it will be worth a trip back and there is already talk of Deal Noir 2016! Deal Noir

Did you go – what did you think of the event?

 

 

 

Bloody Scotland

BloodyScotlandThere are a plethora crime fiction events but one that looks too good to miss is Bloody Scotland, taking place over 19 – 21 September in Stirling. Only in its third year this is quickly becoming one of the key events for fans of crime fiction.

Scotland seems to produce a higher ratio of top notch crime writers than seems fair (perhaps it’s something in the water) – think Ian Rankin, Quintin Jardine, Peter May, Denise Mina – and they’re all participating this year. Generously the list of authors also includes a few interlopers including Kathy Reichs, Mark Billingham and a contingent from Iceland including Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

Part of the appeal of the festival has to be the location – Stirling has a wealth of historic venues and the organisers are making the most of this, with events taking place in the Old Town Jail, Stirling Sheriff Court and even Stirling Castle itself. And not all of the events are sedate authors on panels, there’s a crime writer’s football match, a recreation of a real-life medieval murder mystery and a true-crime dramatisation.

For those who would rather appear on a panel than watch one, the Friday features a Crime Writing Masterclass in conjunction with the University of Stirling and will include a masterclass with author Christopher Brookmyre.

The timing of the festival is particularly interesting as the results of the Scottish Independence Referendum will be announced on 19th September – what better time to be in Scotland…?

For more information about the programme see the Bloody Scotland website.

 

More Bloody Foreigners

More Bloodt ForeignersI’m usually drawn to events because there is a particular author that I’m interested in hearing speak, but in this case I was intrigued by an event where I knew nothing of any of the authors.

The panel consisted of Mariusz Czubaj from Poland, Marco Malvaldi and Ben Pastor of Italy and Montenegrin Andrej Nikolaidis, who were interviewed by Jake Kerridge, journalist and crime fiction critic for The Telegraph.

Although connected by the crime theme it soon became apparent that the four authors had quite different approaches to the genre. Discussions ranged from the importance of place for the novels, which also took in some of the cultural differences between the countries, to their own diverse backgrounds.

Marco Malvaldi  has an interesting background and told a very amusing story about his reports when he was studying chemistry at university. It sounds like he has quite a strong interest in food, with his crime fiction series featuring Massimo, the “barrista”, as well as an historical mystery featuring the real-life character of Pellegrino Artusi, a world-renowned author of the cookbook “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene”. Malvadi shared some interesting insights on life in Tuscany, much to the amusement of the audience.

Mariusz Czubaj unfortunately struggled more with the language barrier than the other authors, which is by no means a criticism as I’m sure most of the us would have struggled to speak any Polish. However, it did mean that he was less able to express his thoughts about his current book and on the setting, culture etc. What did come across was his sense of humour (although the less said about his Jimmy Page reference the better). He is a real-life cultural anthropologist and his first crime novel, 21:37 (at the moment around £2 on the Kindle), features profiler Rudolf Heinz. What we did miss out on were his views on the relationship between his own role as an anthropologist and that of his protagonist as a profiler – I think that if you could speak Polish he had some really interesting things to say!

Andrej Nikolaidis is a journalist and novelist, who spoke about his book ‘The Coming’. His detective has a quite unusual position on investigation – wanting to give the customer what he wants rather than pursuing the crime to uncover things which they would rather leave hidden. I can think of a few books which would have come to an early end taking this approach! The book itself is more of a novella and deals with some intellectual issues – finding favour with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. He also mentioned that the book is accompanied by a Spotify playlist (I’m now trying to remember is this is how we got on to the subject of Jimmy Page…).

Of the four I was probably most drawn to Ben Pastor (Ben is short for Verbena) who has a series of books set during the Second World War and whose main protagonist is Martin Bora, a Wehrmacht officer. She was very engaging, her opinions made a lot of sense and she has a ‘thing’ for men in uniform.

This was a very entertaining evening attended by around 100 people – no mean feat in the London Review Bookshop! In truth I would be interested to try the books by any of the authors. Many thanks for all who organised the event and sponsored it, allowing us all to have an illuminating event for free.

You may also be interested to read the Stu’s account on his WinstonsDad blog about the related lunch the following day.

Dark and Stormy – crime heads for the south coast

D&SThis year sees a criminally good addition to Brighton Festival’s programme of events – Dark and Stormy. Reflecting the eclectic nature of the other activities taking place in Brighton the programme features book, film, music and theatre events. Things kick off on Friday evening 23 May and the last event is on Sunday evening 25 May – with no worries about work the next day because the good news is it’s a bank holiday weekend.

Brighton is a popular setting for crime fiction so it can only have been a matter of time before there was an event of this size and if you’ve ever been to Brighton Festival you’ll know that the city buzzes even more than normal, making it a really exciting time to visit.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction – whether on the page or the screen – then there is something for you. On the Friday you could see a screening of Layer Cake (with real cake) introduced by  J.J. Connolly (who wrote both the original novel and the screenplay).  On the Saturday why not see Sophie Hannah in conversation with Julia Crouch – talking sexual infidelity, internet cruelty and secrecy? Last but not least, on the Sunday you could enjoy an evening with authors who have used Brighton as a location in their books – including S. J. Watson, Colette McBeth  and Erin Kelly.

Some of the events have already sold out so check out the programme and book your tickets before it’s too late!

Dark and Stormy

Penguin crime

Rowland White

Rowland White

If there’s one thing Penguin does well (other than publish books that is) it’s throw a great party and Wednesday night’s crime gathering was no exception, hosted in a stylish (and packed) room in London’s Soho. After a welcome from Rowland White there was plenty of opportunity to sample the canapés and wine chat with authors, journalists, bloggers and others from the book trade.

ThursdayschildrenOf the forthcoming titles that got a mention on the night it’s probably Thursday’s Children by Nicci French that I am most looking forward to. The Frieda Klein series has been excellent and I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

There was another crime writing duo represented – Paul Perry and Karen Gillece – who are published under the pseudonym of Karen Perry. Their title The Boy That Never Was was published just a few days ago “a deeply atmospheric and masterfully crafted tale of love and loss that will chill you to the bone”.

If I Should DieAs is inevitable with these events, there’s not enough time to talk to everyone that you would like to, but I did have a brief chat to Matthew Frank, whose debut If I Should Die is due out in June. This is the first in a series featuring a police detective who is an Afghan veteran. It was interesting to discover that Matthew’s day job is as an architect and I was as interested in quizzing him on that as his writing! I’ve spotted that Matthew will be on a couple of panels at Crimefest in May and I’m looking forward to catching up with him then. I also spoke to Tim Relf about his forthcoming book  – although we have to wait until 2015 for that!

Penguin Crime Top Trumps

Penguin Crime Top Trumps

Other new titles to get a mention included After the Silence by Jake Woodhouse,  the first in a police procedural series set in Amsterdam, to be published later this month.  Eeny Meeny is s serial-killer thriller debut from M. J. Arlidge, due to be published in early May. James Oswald was also present – the third instalment of his Inspector Mclean 3 series The Hangman’s Song having been published at the end of February.

 

Apologies to any author’s I’ve neglected to mention, and many thanks to the organisers for a great evening.