A Poopyhead goes to CrimeFest

I’ve been wanting to go to CrimeFest for years, ever since being a runner-up in the 2012 Flashbang competition, organised by Sarah Hilary and judged by Zoe Sharp, for which a place at the convention was on offer for the winner.

So this year I finally broke that duck in the Con’s unexpectedly sun-drenched and surprisingly beautiful resident city of Bristol. It started on Thursday 18th May, and my first perk on day one was discovering a Pizza Hut a few doors away from the convention hotel. One all you can eat buffet later I dragged myself in for the opening panel on debut authors. Steph Broadribb had an impressive tale of training as a bounty hunter as research for her book, although I found Mary Torjussen’s contrastingly prosaic setting within her own home town more endearing.

The last two panels were my favourites , with Felix Francis, following in father Dick’s footsteps, stealing the show in the Hunter Hunted panel. I worked in a betting shop for ten years and love a day at the races, but had never felt drawn to these books until now.  After that a fresher, more youthful group put on my favourite panel of the day, with Catherine Ryan Howard revealing that the best way to get away with murder is to commit it on a cruise ship, and Felicia Yap intriguing us with her forthcoming release ‘Yesterday’, which seems to veer so far into Science Fiction that it would be better suited to neighbouring BristolCon, but is no less appealing to me for that.

I was back on Friday morning at the brutally early time of 9am, which cost me a hotel breakfast. But at least two interesting panels helped wake me up, one on serial killers and the other about racing against time. And after that, quite fittingly seeing as where my interest started, I got my first two autographs of the con from Zoe Sharp and Sarah Hilary.

After lunch I returned to an excellent and useful panel on genre boundaries, after which I got my copy of Behind Her Eyes signed by Sarah Pinborough, and after sitting in on one more, returned to my hotel room to prepare for the CWA Dagger award nominations. With it mostly being longlists, and in a multitude of categories, I won’t list them all here, but I was most pleased about the nomination for The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. And the free wine; that was good too.

What with the hangover and getting a hotel breakfast this time,  Saturday’s early start was even more daunting, so I was just a smidge late for the first panel, but found Sarah Pinborough especially on top form the discussion about scaring readers, with the genres being crossed to namecheck Silence of the Lambs and M.R. James, not for the first nor last times in the con. Genre remained in focus next, in a discussion outlining all the subgenres that can fall under the crime umbrella. Quite cheering for the aspiring author this, providing reassurance that there is an audience for many more types of story than you might realise.

Alison Bruce had a brilliant idea for the next panel on good and bad guys in police procedurals, issuing red, yellow and green cards to a panel featuring two authors I’ve been meaning to read, Fergus McNeill (who I should not have missed at Totton Library) and Sharon Bolton (who proudly collected most of the reds). Unfortunately the whole theme had me ruminating on my own murky morality and cloudy conscience, so I may have zoned out for parts of a very lively and amusing discussion.

After a break in which I failed to charm my way into the hotel swimming pool, denting my self-confidence, breaking a budding tradition, and meaning I’d packed the previous day’s pants for nothing, I returned for entertaining and informative Guest of Honour interviews with Anthony Horowitz and Anne Cleeves, and the obligatory book signing afterwards, before taking an early night, the lure of Doctor Who in my hotel room proving stronger than the desire for another hangover.

It was just a short session on Sunday, with me kicking myself for booking a train that departed too close for comfort from the end of the event. I did at least have time for two panels quite useful for the aspiring writer; the first being on self-publishing, a refreshing change from the big-press bias shown hitherto. However, the eye-watering recommended expenditure of 500 on covers and 1500 on editing would alienate most bottom rung writers, and leaves me glad I have such unshakeable belief in my own editing ability (I’m available for freelance editing by the way, and cheaper than quoted above), and hoping I haven’t ripped off Karl Miller too badly (best 100 quid I ever spent, and highly recommended for anyone wanting a hand-drawn cover image).

My convention swansong panel was on short stories. I see a big market for them in speculative fiction, but less so in crime, and there were more cross-genre recommendations, once again for M.R. James, and also for my favourite sci-fi short, The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, a dystopian story which has pretty much come true a century later, forecasting the rise of social media and the way it divides as much as unites us.

Other highlights of the Sunday included presenting Christopher Fowler with a whole stack of Bryant & Mays to sign (bringing my autographed book collection to 128 as long as I can find Marcus Tillett’s tome about computer programming) thinking Sarah Hilary had won the CWA Dagger for comedy(!) before realising she had in fact won the prize draw for predicting the winner, and chatting to Felicia Yap about the enormous sci-fi potential of her forthcoming book, and extolling the spec-fic convention scene, not least a return to this city for BristolCon.

The shame of the day was having to leave before the final event, in which a chance to win tickets for next year were up for grabs. I’ve taken a vow not to come to any more until I’m a proper pro writer (exceptions are BristolCon and FantasyCon if it returns to Brighton), but winning tickets would have blown that vow away. Maybe I could find another loophole in volunteering for a Con, but that’s something to think about when I get home. In any case, I look forward to returning to CrimeFest, whensoe’er it may be.

As a postscript, the lowlights of the last day came after the Fest, and are what gave me the silly title for this piece. First, about three steps outside my hotel, one of Bristol’s avian residents decided to drop that which it drops, right on my head. First time in 42 and a quarter years of life that’s happened. I went back into the hotel where the concierge told me that means good luck, which was great consolation as I went into the toilets to wash my hair with dispenser soap, then dry it by squatting unfeasibly low so I could be beneath the hand dryer. And although I dodged that particular bullet second time I left, good luck was thin on the ground as the wheels on my luggage broke, leaving me needing to push, drag, and backbreakingly carry a bag full of books the half mile to Temple Meads, which became three quarters of a mile due to my starting in the wrong direction in my poopyheaded confusion. But some good fortune occurred at the station when my train was right there when I went through the turnstiles, no waiting, and moreover, no stairs. It ends on a win!

On a very big win, in fact – during the five minutes the train wi-fi actually worked, I found this excellent review and interview: http://www.inkpantry.com/books-from-the-pantry-midlife-crisis-by-jason-whittle-reviewed-by-inez-de-miranda/ http://www.inkpantry.com/inky-interview-author-jason-whittle-by-inez-de-miranda/. I’d gladly wear a guano hat all the live long day for that kind of reader response!

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