Sunday, 25 May 2014

CrimeFest - Part 2: 2 Fest 2 Furious

This is part 2 of my hazy recollections of CrimeFest 2014. If you haven't read it yet, you may want to check out part 1 first. If, on the other hand, you enjoy elliptical non-linear narratives, you should be fine starting here.


Another early morning panel, but another great lineup of co-panellists to compensate.

Meg Gardiner did a great job moderating the panel on Name Your Price: The Hired Gun, featuring yours truly along with Hanna Jameson (Girl Seven), Mark Allen Smith (The Confessor) and John Gordon Sinclair (Blood Whispers), whose name may be familiar to some outside of crime writing.

we make a very thoughtful-looking panel here I think

We'd been gathered together, as the name suggests, because we specialise in protagonists who work on their own and have moral codes ranging from grey to pitch black. Lots of stimulating discussion about the ethics of vigilantism and the perks of writing a character who operates outside of the system. Everyone else on the panel was at least on their second book, but they were all gentle with the newbie, which was much appreciated.

John Gordon Sinclair probed me about Blake's 'black, white or grey' classification system for prospective jobs, and even tweeted the following later on:

...which was very nice of him, and I'm pleased he was intrigued enough to pick it up. Or maybe it was just the fact that as a fellow Glaswegian I was the only one whose accent he understood. I'd planned to read his anyway, and hopefully I'll make it along to his event in Glasgow in a couple of weeks, so maybe now we can compare notes.

After the panel, I caught up with Crime Thriller Girl for an interview following on from her fantastic review of The Killing Season earlier in the month. I can't remember every question we covered (hey - it was the morning), but there were some good ones I hadn't heard before. Discussion ranged from my favourite book to how and when I write, to who should play Carter Blake if there's ever a movie. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the interview by revealing the answers to any of these questions here. I did, however, reveal my nerdy attachment to Excel and PowerPoint as novel planning tools.

I walked back to the hotel for a quick rest and to do a bit of studying for my specialist subject on Criminal Mastermind the following day, then headed back to the convention hotel to hang out in the bar before seeing Mark Billingham in his guest of honour slot. Billingham was great value as always, and his new book sounds great. I've heard the anecdote of him stalking David Morrissey to play Thorne before, but it's a great story. And probably, as Craig Robertson said when I suggested following his example, the only time in history that approach has ever worked.

Having said that, if Hugh Jackman is reading this, drop me an email.

I caught up with Angela from Orion and Helen Giltrow again at our table at the gala dinner, and was also introduced to AK Benedict, whose supernatural thriller The Beauty of Murder has been on my to-read list for a while. The food was just okay this time, but the company was brilliant again, and we conversed about everything from the recent James Bond audiobooks to Eminem. Also the surprising number of great Keanu Reeves movies. There's more than you probably think...


I took advantage of my only day without an early panel to stay in bed a little later. If I'd known the full horror of what was to come, I might never have left the bed...

Okay that's putting it a bit strongly, but only a bit. A lot of regular CrimeFest-goers had been warning me that Criminal Mastermind was brutal, but until I was sitting in that black swivel chair being interrogated by Maxim Jakubowski, I didn't know what brutal was.

Courtesy of photographer / question-setter Ali Karim

I was on with three other writers: previous Mastermind champ Paul Johnston, who chose Dashiell Hammett as his specialist subject; Kate Ellis, who chose Josephine Tey; and Susan Moody who picked one of my favourite authors: Raymond Chandler. Needless to say, all three were lovely. I've yet to meet a crime writer I dislike, actually, at this or any other event I've been to.

Round one (specialists subjects) actually went pretty well for me. Fellow Reacher Creature Ali Karim had been in charge of setting the questions, so I knew I had to bring my A-game. I scored 9 points with 2 passes on Lee Child and the Jack Reacher novels, putting me into second place behind Paul. But that's when the trouble started. Because there was a round two. A general crime round.

Now, I'm reasonably well-read and retain useless information pretty easily, but these questions were tough. As I sat there racking up pass after pass after pass and shedding flop-sweat like a garden sprinkler, I actually started to worry that the powers that be were going to kick me out of being a crime writer for my base ignorance. It wasn't so much that I didn't know any of the answers, it was that I couldn't even make an educated guess at any of the answers.

The buzzer went, and Maxim had started so he'd finish, and thank God, it was a question I knew the answer to: the full names of the husband and wife team that make up Nicci French. Round over: 1 point and about a hundred million passes.

The only consolation is that everybody else found the general round fiendishly tough as well (with the exception of Paul, who managed to extend his lead handily). When the scores were totalled, the three non-winners were very close together. I tied for second-place with Kate, but was knocked down to third as she had accumulated less passes than me. Paul Johnston has my respect and awe for triumphing in his second Criminal Mastermind. As for me? Once is definitely enough.

I had a much-needed drink in the bar, caught up with Craig Robertson and Ali Karim, waved at Chris Carter and met Neil Broadfoot and James Oswald for the first time. I also chatted to Katherine Armstrong from Faber and discovered that we'd both been to the same university and that Faber publish Thomas Enger, who I'm going to be doing an event with later this year. She kindly sent me a copy of one of Thomas's books and also the debut novel of one of her authors... who happens to be one John Gordon Sinclair. Synchronicity is nice.

Thinking about it in the sun, holding a frosty pint, I realised that the greatest thing about CrimeFest is that for a whole weekend, it had been impossible not to get into interesting conversations with interesting people: writers, readers, bloggers, editors, publicists, agents. About books and publishing, of course, but also about movies, music, politics, sport, Keanu Reeves, the UK witness protection program, and all kinds of common interests besides. I learned tons and met some new friends, and I even got a few people to read my book. A worthwhile if occasionally humbling experience.

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