It is with great pleasure that I can announce that I have signed up with London Agency A for Authors. I am looking forward to working with Annette Crossland and Bill Goodall on a new mystery series. 2018 is going to be an exciting year.
Mix 150 panellists with a wave of crime writers and readers in two streams spread over four days in the Bristol Marriott and that was Crimefest 2017. I flew in late Friday so caught the second half of the programme, starting with the CWA party in the Palm Court where this year’s Dagger nominees were announced (see the CWA site for the full list). I was asked to be the photographer at a late stage, challenged by the combination of subdued lighting and back-lighting. The fact that I’d changed my pen-name mid-year had not worked its way through to the organisers, and a number of friends frowned at my name-badge. Yes, Jason Foss is really dead I had to explain.
Debut Authors Panel
Mixing with the crowd I met up with Bill Beverley, double dagger winner in 2016 for Dodgers a distinctly different road novel which has been my favourite crime book so far this year. Apparently he was inspired by reading narratives of black slaves who had escaped the Confederacy and were awe-struck by the America that existed beyond their previous horizons. ‘Makes America strange again’ was a good slogan. I also chatted to Luke McCallin about The Man From Berlin, in which he pitched a ‘good German’ policeman into WW2. Shame his Ashes of Berlin is still a bulky hardback and I can’t lug it on my upcoming trip. How to keep a single crime relevant whilst the death and mayhem of war took place all around was another panel theme.
Picking panels (and working out which room they are in in time to get a seat) is Crimefest’s primary challenge. Then there’s the dilemma of whether to support familiar friends or explore something new. I learned that English books have ‘American editors’ to subtly adjust Britishisms for the US market. The Indie panel underlined that self-publishing has to be approached like a business, with as much time devoted to marketing as to actual writing. Professional editing and cover design were unanimously recommended by the panel. Short stories were extolled as opportunity to experiment, write in a new tone and actually finish a tale whilst the beginning was still fresh in the writer’s mind.
Anja De Jager and Felix Francis
Crime festivals are of course great social occasions. It was good to catch up with Fellow archaeology detective writer Kate Ellis, and say hello again to Anja de Jager, Leigh Russell and Mary Andrea Clark among many others. The bar proved to be a great place for (ahem) ‘networking’.
Old chestnuts were picked over, such as how ‘historical’ fiction can avoid simply dressing modern people in period costume, projecting our sensibilities into their actions. Panellists discussed how female characters can realistically make an impact in periods where women were expected to ‘know their place’, without straining credibility. The question was posed of where fact ends and fiction should begin (the truth being we make most of it up!). Several writers addressed ‘the twist’ and how whilst it is a thriller staple, simply awaiting ‘the Big Twist’ should not dominate the reader’s experience.
Anthony Horowitz was interviewed in the Great Hall, then entertained us quite unexpectedly at the Gala dinner. What could have been a straight five-minute after dinner slot with a few jokes turned into a brilliant impromptu cosy crime denuement. Horowitz announced that one of his table guests had been poisoned – at which point Felix Francis gamely ‘died’. One by one the motives and opportunities of the other six table guests were explored and the culprit ultimately unmasked.
Yes I could bore you all with another page of anecdotes, but even blogs have deadlines. With a book room crammed with the latest bestsellers and the backlists of the panellists, plus the goodybag freebies I ended an exhausting but thrilling weekend straining my case capacity and luggage allowance.
It was close to home in more ways than one. I’m not on the organising Committee, but our Castle hosted some Literary Festival events and I had three slots to participate in, so it was a busy few days preceded by a week of preparation around the ‘day job’. The fun began with a reception in the inflatable ‘space igloo’ that was the festival Hub. Slam Poet Harry Baker entertained us with an epic story-poem of a trip to Weston Super Mare. I sat next to him later at the dinner in the newly-opened Slaughterhouse restaurant on the Guernsey seafront. It did not serve the bloody steaks that the name suggests, and I’d have been tempted to add a ‘5’. The chunky chips were gluten-free and the company excellent.
Friday coincided with Museums at Night, so the Festival decamped to the Castle. I opened the batting at 5.30pm which felt like the graveyard slot when I first saw it. I knew my Mum and a couple of others were coming along but wondered how many people would turn out to see a ‘local writer’ so unfashionably early on a Friday. The answer was ‘about 50’ and they filled out the gorgeous Hatton Gallery whilst I waxed about Guernsey and the Great War, and how I researched the background to Glint of Light on Broken Glass. After a Glint-signing session, I did a stint in the local author tent, which was largely bypassed by civilians making their way to and from the lectures, but it proved to be a companionable hour amongst fellow writers.
On Sunday morning it was back to the Hub, where I’d been invited to interview crime writer Clare Mackintosh. Her second novel ‘I See You’ hit #3 in the Sunday Times paperback fiction charts this week, and was a former hardback #1. Prepping for the interview was more daunting than my own lecture. Of course I read the book, and her first novel ‘I Let You Go’, although unusually Amazon’s carrier snail took an age to deliver them causing a little angst as the date approached. I’ve been interviewed by the media or given a live lecture every couple of weeks for the past decade or more, but have only done a live author interview once before. This was new territory and I was very conscious that (a) although an exciting event, this was not about me; (b) I needed to provide the interviewee with space to talk about the new book, as writing is an industry and it demands that books be sold; and (c) I must not screw it up in front of a capacity audience. In the end it went swimmingly. The experience reinforced something I learned long ago; you can never do too much preparation.
Clare Mackintosh interviewed by Jason Monaghan at the festival Hub
So another festival slides past. Four days breather, then it’s Crimefest, Bristol. Watch this space.
This has to be the best literary festival in the land (if you count the tiny island of Alderney as ‘in the land’). Its cosy, its intimate and its focus is firmly on history: historical fiction, biography and non-fiction.
As the speaker’s room at the Island hall only accommodates an audience of 50, there were very few free seats and most talks were at capacity. Only two free seats in my talk (and I like to think the ticket holders had an extra hour in bed, as I was on at 9.30am).
A dozen authors mixed freely with the bibliophiles, another nice departure from the big conventions when the big names parachute in for a panel, and equally swiftly are swept away again by their minders. Work commitments meant I missed the Friday sessions, and I couldn’t get a ticket for Andrew Lownie’s talk on Guy Burgess, but the rest of the weekend passed in a whirl. Anna Mazzola talking about her debut early Victorian crime novel the Unseeing, Lloyd Shepherd finding monsters in Regency London and Matthias Strohn on the Real German Army of the 1930’s.
On Saturday evening there was a dinner at the Georgian where some of us dared to wear Roman or Celtic garb to hear a good-natured debate on the impact of Rome on Britain – Overpaid, Oversexed and Over Here. Romanists SJA Turney and Ruth Downie fought the corners for Rome and the Celts respectively, with Simon Scarrow umpiring. I think the Britons won by a narrow margin of ‘thumbs up’, but I’m not precisely sure it mattered.
I was particularly interested in Simon Scarrow talking about Greece in WW2 and its aftermath, as this was the sub-plot of Byron’s Shadow and close to my heart (no pun intended – his book is called Hearts of Stone). Elizabeth Chadwick, Anna Mazzola and Imogen Robertson debated research for the Historical novel, which struck many true cords. Agent Andrew Lownie and phenomenally successful e-book author Rachael Abbott also had an intriguing debate on new forms of publishing versus the traditional model.
Then of course there was Dr Monaghan, talking about Guernsey in the Great War and the background to Glint of Light on Broken Glass. This was a lot of fun in its own right, although always tricky when it comes to the questions. Next year’s Alderney Literary festival is 23-25 March, so put that date in your diary.
‘Upchurch’ was my first book, published by BAR in their no-frills fashion directly from my manuscript. It was a distilled-down version of my PhD thesis, typed on a 256k Amstrad. Incredibly the statistics were processed on a 124k Spectrum fed by a tape recorder and viewed via a black and white portable television.
As the BAR is now out of print the Kent Archaeological Society have put the entire text onto their website.
The PhD project was enormous fun. I moved to Chatham to be closer to the area I was working in, and grew to know dozens of people working in archaeology in the region. Many ‘professional’ archaeologists and ‘amateurs’ assisted my work and although some are still my friends today, many have since died. Fieldwork included slopping out onto the mud of the Medway estuary and the Thames foreshore – places that will swallow the unwary up to the waist in black goo and leave them victim to a rapidly advancing tide that can sweep in from unpredictable directions.
Space, clean air, a flat horizon – the memories are still sharp. Spotting intact Roman pots sticking out of the mud is a thrill that never escapes me. Coming home black and stinking of mud, fish and seaweed was another matter.
I spent days in the museums of the region – their lofts and cellars, hunting out the pottery that interested me. I photographed it in back yards, drew it on my drawing board, counted and weighed it. Joining the Roman Pottery Study group I learned a craft which sustained me for a decade afterwards.
Something else came from the fieldwork: inspiration for my first novel. Those Museum cellars and lofts, the megaliths on rolling downland and isolated manor houses in treacherous marshland all came into play when I came to write Darkness Rises.
My final lecture in the Celts & Romans series was given as the Alderney Society’s Mendham Lecture on 9th July. This time I gave an update on our ideas about Roman Guernsey and Alderney, following on from the previous lecture which had covered familiar ground. It was also the first chance to discuss the ‘new’ find of 500 sherds of first and second century pottery from Longis Common which indicate an early military presence there.
The first five Jason Foss novels, originally published in hardback by Severn House, have now been re-released as e-books by Endeavour Press.See Darkness Rises entry on Amazon
I’m giving three lectures as part of the Celts & Romans Treasure & Trade exhibition at Guernsey Museum. The first is on Tuesday 9th June on ‘Romans in Guernsey’ and the Second on Tuesday 23rd June on ‘Guernsey’s Roman Ship’. Admission is free and the lecture starts at 8pm in the Frossard Theatre, Guernsey Museum. On Thursday 9th July I am delivering the Alderney Society Mendham Lecture at the Island Hall, St Annes; ‘The Latest News from Roman Guernsey & Alderney’. There is a small admission charge for this one.
On Sunday 14 June I’m speaking at the Study Group for Roman Pottery in Norwich on ‘Guernsey and Maritime Trade’.