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Bristol is one of my favourite cities, it is where I spent most of my nights out from the time I could drive until the time I moved to Cambridgeshire. Bristol is full of grand decay, ambitious beauty, bad behaviour and stained with a dark past; the ideal location for a crime convention then. A weekend in Bristol is my call to adventure and the unexpected, the opportunity to add to my previous Bristol memories of stray bullets and delinquency. Here are the edited highlights of how CrimeFest 2014 did it for me.

When you are an author and your panel is announced there are a few questions that spring to mind: Is it a good time-slot? How scary is the moderator? and Do I know anyone else on my panel? are three of mine. My panel was 9a.m. on Friday morning and since I’d arrived at 11p.m. the previous night it would coincide with my first visit to the venue. I had no worries about my moderator (the smart-but-not-scary Len Tyler @LenCTyler) or the other panellists… but 9a.m… I am a night-owl. So I lay in bed until about 2, telling myself to rest, then woke at 5 with visions that I’d overslept. But who, I wondered, would be venturing out for the first panel of the day? I imagined a 9a.m. slot would attract just a few die-hards so I was delighted when we found the Lancaster Room full.  And in that is the answer to several reasons why CrimeFest (@CrimeFest) works so wonderfully well.

Alison at CrimeFest

Here I am practising the subtly-support-your-chin-in-case-you-nod-off pose.

First, the readers and writers who attend are genuinely in love with crime-writing, they are rarely present to see a single author but keen to check out a variety of panels. Second, the delegates that CrimeFest attracts are diverse; it is an event that feels welcoming to all and that mix of people ensures that the ying and yang of larks and owls, grit and cosy, and party v serious is all accommodated. And last, on my short and non-comprehensive list, is the laid-back vibe of the event that means I can feel happy to own up that I left half-an-hour after Death in High Heels panel to crash out on my hotel bed for a lunchtime sleep…

…I didn’t nod off immediately, I reclined (gracefully of course) and considered some of the issues brought up by that panel – its full title was Death in High Heels: Women as Victims moderated by Ruth Dudley Edwards (@RuthDE). This is a subject that is arising with increasing frequency at reader events with questions such as Do you ever kill a man? (Yes, I do) and Wouldn’t it address the gender balance to have a woman killing men?  (Does striving for sex equality make it desirable for women to up their murder quota then?). For me, this particular panel turned out to be unusually frustrating; Martyn Waites (@MartynWaites) and Jessica Mann were so far distant on opposite sides of the fence that I don’t think either one of them could hear the other. The two ‘moderates’, MR Hall (@MRHall_Books) and Jessie Keane (@realjessiekeane), had far less opportunity to speak, MR Hall managed to sneak in several interesting points but I felt that both of these authors probably had far more to offer. In my books I do use violence (sparingly I think, although one person’s paper cut is another’s A and E emergency) and, for me, it was their point of view and experiences that would have been of greatest interest. I was a little disappointed to come away with nothing more than the revelation that some writers swear by it and others swear at it.

(l to r) Clare Donoghue, Matthew Frank, Rob Gittens, Claire Kendall, Paul Mendelson and Laura Wilson.

(l to r) Clare Donoghue, Matthew Frank, Rob Gittens, Claire Kendall, Paul Mendelson and Laura Wilson.


Of course, in between panels I mooched around bumping into new and familiar faces before joining the DHH Literary Agency (@DHHLitAgency) team and their authors for dinner. Incidentally I was one of the lucky authors who had both agent and publisher with them for the weekend – a big thank you to Broo (@BrooDoherty) and Krystyna, Dom and Grace (@GraceEVincent) from Constable for keeping me company. In so many ways it is the conversation in the bar and over tea that makes CrimeFest. This year Merchant 3 became the home to both the bookshop and tea facilities which was a huge improvement and gave our lovely tea lady a less harried weekend too.

During my mooching I met up with Clare, Kate and Jeremy, three representatives of the Clic Sargent (@CLIC_Sargent) fundraising team who organised an online event called Get in Character. The campaign allowed people to bid for the opportunity to name characters in forthcoming books and several of the authors who participated were at Crime Fest, including Belinda Bauer (@BelindaBauer), Amanda Jennings (@MandaJJennings), Kate Rhodes (K_RhodesWriter), Elly Griffiths (@EllyGriffiths) and Martyn Waites. The CrimeFest team had supported Clic Sargent with the donation of a pair of full passes for the weekend and here I am with the winner of these, Lucy Cavendish 2013 Shortlistee, Lynn Fraser.

‘Shortlistee’ Wow, I made up a word.

‘Shortlistee’ Wow, I made up a word.

There were four panels entitled Debut Authors: An Infusion of Fresh Blood, one per day and each scheduled for the first slot in Merchant 1. This seemed like perfect scheduling to me, fresh-faced and enthusiastic authors jumpstarting our brains.  It was Saturday morning’s Debut panel that became my favourite of the weekend.  Laura Wilson (@LWilsonCrime) is always an effective moderator and she steered the discussions with pace and humour and by the end I was convinced that I needed to visit the bookshop NOW. I steered away from Paul Mendelson’s (@MendelPS) The First Rule of Survival despite the fact that it looks like a great read – it is just that it turns out to be about the disappearance of schoolchildren in Cape Town and last Thursday I’d signed my daughter up for a trip to Cape Town… sorry Paul but my attempt to avoid parent-panic lost that sale! Here are three of the books I did buy though: two from this panel, Never Look Back by Clare Donoghue (@ClareDonoghue) and The Book of You by Claire Kendal.  My third is The Beauty of Murder by the charismatic AK Benedict (@AK_Benedict).

Collective noun: A fatale of dangerous women?

Collective noun: A fatale of dangerous women?

So I went home with two bags of books, motivation, the buzz of spending time in great company and the excitement of meeting current and future authors. So it wasn’t bullets and delinquency, more like shots of creativity and some criminally good ideas, and the addition of a happy chapter to my Bristol File. See you next year!

P.S. Thanks also go to the CrimeFest team for arranging the weather – I’m sure they will refuse to take responsibility just in case it rains next year, but I am convinced the sunshine was one of those behind-the-scenes arrangements that show how hard they were working and how beautifully they considered all those things that gave this author her favourite CrimeFest to date.