And so back home from Crimefest 2015 I discover the apple blossom
and the lilac tree in full bloom in the garden along with multitudes of flowers I didn’t even know we had. It’s amazing … you go away for three days and three nights and the world is transformed!
So Crimefest? Where to start? It’s all a blur – only snatches retained. I took notes this time on my iPad mini but I can’t read my writing so must rely on my memory!
There is a huge variety of settings for crime novels these days. Here are some of the more exotic settings I learned about whilst in Bristol:
Yemen – In Paul Hardisty’s The Abrupt Physics of Dying, Claymore Straker is hijacked by Islamic terrorists. You couldn’t get a more up-to-date setting and plotline than this and it may be too close for comfortable reading in today’s world. It’s billed as an eco-thriller so must go on my to-be-read list as this is a sub-genre I’m interested in.
Kyrgyzstan – Tom Callaghan’s A Killing Winter is set in the republic of Kyrgyzstan (formerly part of the Soviet Union). It begins as an investigation into the murder of a young woman but it soon becomes apparent that there are layers upon layers of underworlds at work opposing each other as Inspector Akyl Borubaev searches for the truth.
Cambodia – K T Medina’s White Crocodile features an emotionally damaged mine clearance worker searching for the truth about her ex-husband’s death and quickly becoming embroiled in something much much bigger.
Less exotic to me, but equally enticing locations – Norway (Gunnar Staalesen, Jørn Lier Horst ), Sweden (Maj Sjöwall), Finland (Kati Hekkappielto), Iceland (Ragnar Jonasson), Holland (Britta Bolt), the Faroe Islands (Craig Robertson). And add in a fictional small town near Edinburgh (SJI Holliday), alongside Liverpool (Luca Veste), Cambridge (Emily Winslow), Dundee (Chris Longmuir) and … well you get the idea. Any location can work extremely well in a crime novel.
There seems a clear steer away from the alcoholic cop with a broken marriage as protagonist these days to cops with more realistic life/work balance problems. Sheila Bugler’s protagonist, DI Ellen Kelly struggles with single parenthood and life/work balance.
There is also a lot of drawing upon personal experience in the works. Emma Kavanagh was a police psychologist and Elizabeth Haynes a police analyst, Jørn Lier Horst was a detective, as was Michael Fowler before turning to a life of crime fiction writing and Anna Smith was a journalist before writing about her protagonist, Rosie Gilmour – a journalist.
There are new investigative talents emerging so we have K T Medina’s landmine clearance worker and Britta Bolt’s Pieter Posthumus, who works in a Lonely Funerals department investigating the deaths that come to his door.
What does success look like?
Joanna Penn, an independent writer under the name J F Penn, did a fabulous job in her panel – Emerging Indies – of promoting the independent author, taking care to note that all the independent authors on the panel have teams of people working with them – editors, cover designers and so on and are every bit as professional as traditionally published authors. Between them, the panel indies had phenomenal sales and revenue statistics.
The main thing about independent publishing is the empowerment, artistic freedom and speedy returns on hard work. It can take weeks to get to market for an independent author or years for a traditionally published author. But both traditionally published and independently published authors need to step up and pitch in with marketing these days. And both have a long hard slog at the start – building a readership.
Success is an ephemeral thing and for every author, you are only as good as the last book you wrote. With each book released (and loved), comes higher expectations – your own, your publisher’s (if you are traditionally published) and those of your readers.
Shorts, Longs and Very Longs
I’m not seguing into fashion here but rather considering that crime stories can exist as short stories, novellas, novels or a series of novels.
I’m not a short story reader or writer, preferring to read and write novels. I wouldn’t have considered myself to be a series writer either but strangely enough, I’m now writing a series and thinking in series terms for almost all of my ideas going forwards.
My first novel – Out of the Tower – was a standalone psychological thriller – this kind of novel is now becoming known as domestic noir. And I can see why – the psychological story tends to be all about the main protagonist and a slow reveal of their personal (or domestic) situation as it really is and as this is the sole focus it would be nigh on impossible to maintain this suspense over a number of novels.
Crime series encompass the individual crime stories within each novel and the character story of the investigator over the whole series. I thought this was a recent phenomenon but John Harvey pointed out that Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö had set out to write a story in ten parts (the Martin Beck series) in the 1960s.
And so I was surprised to find myself attending the panel – Short and Sweet – Crime fiction in small bursts – about short story and novella crime writing. However, the panel provided the following reading recommendations and I might just follow these up:
- A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
- Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
- Winesberg, Ohio by Sherman Anderson
Catching up with old acquaintances and friends and meeting new ones. Having my eyes opened to new authors and new opportunities within publishing. Acknowledging and celebrating contributions to crime fiction.
The good news is that there is room for everyone who wants to write within a supportive community of writers – the pantser, the plotter, the private investigator, the police procedural, the short story, novella, novel or series, the cross genre novel, the self-published and the traditionally published.
Being back at Crimefest again after two years (I was there in 2013), reminded me strongly of how wonderful it is to be a part of such a community. There is real camaraderie in the shared joy of reading and writing. It’s also wonderful to have seen people before they have been published, now published and enjoying the fruit of their labour, celebrating those stories together.
If you have never been to a crime writing conference, I would highly recommend attending Crimefest. It is billed as one of the fifty best festivals in the world. It is certainly the best festival that I have been to.