Crimefest is Back!

Yes Crimefest is back! After having been cancelled twice due to covid, a big question mark hung over the Bristol crime extravaganza’s future. Many attendees rolled our 2020 tickets over to keep supporting the team, and Specsavers stepped in to ensure it could go ahead this year.

Attending three days of panels, choosing between two or three parallel streams is a full-on experience. Dozens of my crime writer friends were there, so many indeed that I only managed a quick hello with most as we passed on the stairs or nudged past in the bar. Perhaps the most surreal moment was after the gala dinner, when we retired to the Ballroom where Eurovision was being screened live. And the UK was winning. The fact that Ukraine won on the public vote was a pretty predictable if slightly ironic twist.

With four authors on each panel the experience is difficult to summarise, and it is even more difficult to name-check particular writers or individual books. Coming home I realised I had Tim Glister’s Red Corona on my shelf, and after him talking over its (possibly) unfortunate title am making that next to read.

Moderator Zoe Sharp set the International Thriller Writers panel the task of assessing how their books match up to six criteria that make up a thriller; threat, high stakes, twists, memorable characters, locations and action. It proved to be a fascinating exercise, including the advice from Alex Shaw not to do what the reader expects and comments on how using female lead characters can subvert expectations of both readers and antagonists. The trend towards short chapters was discussed as a vehicle to maintain pace and also adapt to the growth of Ebooks.

CWA Diamond Dagger winners Robert Goddard and Martin Edwards were in discussion over their respective experience of writing crime fiction. Martin has been an avid reader of crime since childhood, but in contrast Robert explained how his time for reading fiction was limited by the amount of research material he needed to read for his historical novels. This struck a chord with me.

Andrew Child sat for an entertaining interview with Peter Gutteridge, talking of his early books as Andrew Grant before moving on to how he came to take over the Jack Reacher mantle from his brother Lee. Ironically, having set out to write books that were in a different style to his brother, he now has to work as closely to it as he can, although he says he’s bringing back a more talkative Reacher as found in the earlier books.

Fiona Veitch Smith taking about her Poppy Denby Series on the ‘Out of Uniform’ panel on amateur sleuths.

As always I was most interested in the ideas behind the books rather than the books themselves, which for the most part I haven’t read and honestly will never find time to approach. The ‘Trying to Forget’ panel considered the best ways to introduce back story, how rapidly to throw the reader into the crime plot and how to maintain tension in stories with dual timelines. The hardest secrets to keep are the ones we must hide every day, and there is a structural difference between the secrets characters withhold from each other and those the writer keeps back from the reader.

Suddenly it was over again. Weary, head buzzing with ideas, I bought my Crimefest t-shirt and booked an Early Bird for next year. It will be murder.

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