Vicky Newham


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My experience of Crimefest 2013

Back home from Bristol, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of Crimefest and feeling rather floaty. People are asking how it was. Well, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you all about it….

The panels were excellent, with interesting panelists and well-informed moderators. The topics were varied, interesting and useful and offered something for everyone, regardless of whether one was a writer, reader or publishing person (we’re all readers, after all). I have to confess to being a kit of a keeno and went to ‘something’ in almost every available slot, but this wasn’t exactly a hardship (although pretty tiring). That said, I didn’t go to any sessions which I didn’t enjoy or learn from, and most of them far exceeded my expectations. This photograph is from the Crime Fiction and Moral Hypocrisy panel.

20130531_160613The best thing about the weekend had to be hearing from authors whose books I’ve been reading, and talking to them, some briefly and some in more detail. I find it so inspiring and exciting to hear writers talk about their work: what made them want to write; how they got into writing and got published; why they wanted to write a particular book; how they set about researching and writing it; what they love and hate about writing; their new projects.

It was also fabulous to chat to people I’ve been conversing with on Twitter over the last twelve months. Many of these are aspiring authors, like me, people who have also written their first book and are either seeking agent representation or are evaluating publishing options. To be able to share our hopes, dreams, experiences and fears … well, there’s nothing like it. I found everyone to be be very friendly, and happy to chat, and being on Twitter certainly helped with introductions. Although calling people by their Twitter handle was a bit – er – weird!

It was also enjoyable to see and meet people I didn’t previously know of. Several authors spoke so enthusiastically about their work that I changed my opinion of their crime fiction sub-genre and promptly dashed off to buy their book. I mean this entirely positively: we all have reading preferences, and it is refreshing to be pushed out of one’s comfort zones and nudged into something slightly different. I also find it beneficial as a writer to learn about new genres and have realised that I love the overlap of the crime novel with horror, some sci fi, and, of course, the thriller.

I discovered several new (new-to-me and debut new) authors and bought their books too. My embarrassing new writer crush has to be Pierre Lemaitre (too many reasons). Other new-to-me authors include: Valerio Varesi (beguiled by his language and book settings); Robert Goddard (what a clever and amusing man); Simon Toyne (it was the mid-life crisis stuff that swung it); Yrsa Siguroardottir (just, wow!); Hanna Jameson (what an assured, articulate debut author). In total I came back with twenty new books. Yes, my credit card was far busier than I’d promised myself, and I’m still stroking book covers and sniffing beautiful cream pages. Here are some of them.

20130603_202727The accommodation given to the conference was excellent. Crimefest had a self-contained area on the second floor of the Marriott with several rooms for the panels, sessions and signings, and there were toilets and an area for the book stalls and refreshments. This gave the conference a friendly feel, and most events were in this area. I spoke to several staff at the Marriott and they were all delightful.

I didn’t stay at the Marriott, and my accommodation at the Travelodge was great value. I paid £145 for 4 nights (I went down a day early). That was for a double room with en suite and shower. It didn’t include breakfast, or wi-fi in the room, but there was a TV and kettle in the room plus free wi-fi in the bar. The ‘five minute walk’ to the Marriott was accurately described and was along a well lit, busy road. I soon met people who were staying in the same hotel but I also felt perfectly safe walking up the road on my own.

On the downside, I didn’t think the lunches were particularly good value for the extra £8 but the Marriott is quite an expensive hotel so this was probably on par with £4-ish for a cup of coffee or tea. However, there were plenty of shops nearby where you could go and grab a sandwich, salad or some fruit. And the café opposite the Marriott did a mean espresso.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the Gala dinner but this was probably due to the fact that this was my first Crimefest. The e-mail that went round beforehand, asking us to nominate two people to sit with, might sound okay in theory but in practice I didn’t know anyone to ask to sit with and felt uncomfortable about requesting to sit with someone I didn’t know (Hello, stalker) just because I fancied talking to them (and especially since they’d no doubt have people that they wanted to sit with). I’m sure I read somewhere that tables would offer an even amount of writers to non-writers. Ours didn’t. The food was delicious but not very substantial, and given that the £40 ticket didn’t include any wine, I don’t think it offered good value for money. Just my opinion, however. Two possible solutions might be that a) newby delegates, who don’t know anyone, could perhaps be given a table with someone who could act as a facilitator, or b) that they are allowed to choose to sit with people they’ve got to know during the conference. To be fair, however, gala dinner organisation is always hard. Sorry, ex-teacher: can’t help going into problem-solving mode!

My favourite panels were: Death Overseas, because I’m fascinated by crime fiction in countries other than the UK; the everyman in a thriller, because the Simons Kernick and Toyne were hilarious, and should definitely set up a comedy trio sideline along with Kevin Wignall; Major cities, major crimes, because the cities discussed are so distinctive; both of Rhian Davies’ Fresh Blood panels, as all the debut authors were inspiring; Who makes the best protagonist, as it was fascinating to hear why each author chose their specific detective; and Barry Forshaw’s interview with Robert Goddard, see below. Due to clashes, I sadly missed a few panels which I wanted to go to.

20130602_111215Overall, it was a fabulous event, friendly, great value for money, and very well organised. I shall definitely go again, and would recommend it to anyone interested in crime fiction.

Vicky Newham © 2013


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In anticipation of Crimefest 2013

When the draft programme was published on the CRIMEFEST website, my indecision about whether to go evaporated and I booked my ticket and hotel. Since then there have been numerous anticipatory mutterings on Twitter about it, who’s going, who’s doing what. Several months later, here I am, in my hotel, re-visiting the programme and marking off the sessions I want to attend. Proceedings kick off today at 13.30 and I’m really looking forward to it.

I know from attending conferences when I was teaching how tiring these events can be. The days pass in a flash, and you realise that you haven’t eaten or drunk much water. But I also know how valuable and informative they can be. At CRIMEFEST, panel discussions are scheduled for the entire day, with no more than twenty minutes in between them to shuffle off – via the loo – to the next one. This provides excellent value for money, hurrah, but does mean that opportunities to chat to people are fleeting until the evening. And the bar, if you have the energy. Oh yes, the bar at these events is where the ‘hidden curriculum’ takes place!

I am looking forward to seeing, and hearing from, some of the people whose books I’ve been reading. It will also be lovely to say ‘hello’ to some of the folk I correspond with on Twitter, to put a name to a face, or a face to a book cover (… in the case of people who have their latest book as their avatar!). Unfortunately, a few interesting sessions clash and I’ve been trying to decide which to go to! As always, I have personal interests and professional ones. As a result of my previous incarnation as a teacher of A-level Psychology, and my continued interest in almost all things psychological, I am drawn to certain topics; the book I am writing, however, and those I have planned, will lure me into slightly different panel discussion rooms, such as ‘Underbelly – the gritty side of the street’ and ‘The changing face of London’. Other sessions which have caught my eye are: ‘The joys and pitfalls of technology in a crime novel’; ‘Moral hypocrisy in crime fiction’; ‘Crime & Crossover’, and the panels with debut authors.

It will be interesting to review the event on ‘the other side’. How will my my expectations sit with my actual experience?

Vicky Newham © 2013