A Tale of Two Countries …

by Zoë Sharp

On the face of it, it seemed like the world’s worst bit of planning. Two conventions, one weekend after the next. One in Bristol UK, and the other in Omaha Nebraska. One set of rewrites entering their final throes. The day-job. Not enough hours in the day.


And I know, I know – Einstein managed with just the standard twenty-four, but the relative pace of life, as it were, has speeded up a little since his time.


First up was CrimeFest in Bristol, only in its second year but great fun once again. Organisers Adrian Muller and Myles Allfrey also ran the Left Coast Crime event in Bristol in 2006, which gave them the taste for the job. One of the nicest things is the audio books given away in the book bags. An unusual feature, but a cool one. I wouldn’t go out and buy audio books over their paper cousins, but I’m acquiring a taste for them.


As always, a great deal of time was spent in the bar at Bristol. For someone who doesn’t drink, I do seem to hang out there rather a lot for some reason. It’s great who you can end up spending time talking to, and who you can quietly observe Up To No Good at the same time …


The event kicked off with the Pub Quiz on the Thursday evening, which was held across the road from the convention Marriott at the Greenhouse pub. Quizmasters Peter Guttridge and Mike Stotter promised it would be less esoteric than last year, but we failed to appreciate that they make stuff up for a living. Either that, or I fell out of a stupid tree and hit more or less every branch on the way down. If it hadn’t been for the formidable knowledge of Simon Brett and Ayo Onatade on our team – which went by the name MPs On Expenses – we would have been royally stuffed.


On Friday, I had the privilege of interviewing the Toastmistress of the event, Meg Gardiner. Meg was not a difficult interviewee, it has to be said, having such gems in her background as being taken along to an armed robbery during a High School ridealong with the police, and once having been a mime, as well, of course, as being a best-selling author.

Friday afternoon was my panel, which was supposed to be all about the main protagonists of the panellists being ex-Special Forces, and included Matt Hilton, Adrian Magson, EV Seymour and Ruth Dudley Edwards, as well as myself. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but we seemed to become fixated on torture, even though out of seven books so far for me, torture only plays a small, relatively non-graphic role in one chapter of one book. Eventually, a lady on the front row piped up with the comment that she didn’t read the kind of books we wrote and she wanted to know a) how could we do it, and b) did anybody actually enjoy them?


I’m sure you can fill in your own response here, as appropriate. Has anybody ever got hold of totally the wrong end of the stick about your books and refused to let go?


Friday evening was the launch for the CRIMINAL TENDENCIES anthology, in which I have a Charlie Fox short story. Part of the proceeds from this anthology goes to benefit breast cancer charities, so I was delighted to see the party so well attended. We spent some time talking to one of the featured guests, Swedish author Håkan Nesser. Very tall and possessing of a very dry wit, I discovered that he was also one of those irritating people of whom it is impossible to take a bad photograph. The camera just loves him.


Saturday evening was the Gala Dinner, which we had not planned to attend, but were asked to take some photographs, so we snuck in at the last minute. Nice to see people in their finery, particularly Linda Regan and her husband, Brian Murphy, looking very dapper. And David Headley from Goldsboro Books, one of the sponsors, who had come in his best James Bond tux.


Other highlights, in no particular order, were listening to International Guest of Honour, Michael Connelly; hearing the inimitable Gyles Brandreth interview Simon Brett; watching Maxim Jakubowski ask the questions in a Criminal Mastermind, in which David Stuart Davies argued with him over the correct answer to a Sherlock Holmes question; spending time in the bar with Vince and Kate, two yet-to-be-published authors; hearing Steven Hague’s wonderful opening line to his new novel; taking Donna Moore and her SO, Ewan, out for Japanese food and watching Ewan’s face after taking a generous chopstick-ful of wasabi.


I’m sure there’s a lot more that I’ve forgotten, but I’ve slept since then.


The only bad thing about CrimeFest was what I took away from it. I’ve been laid low, on and off, with some mystery virus that wiped out quite a chunk of March and April for me. It started to resurface after we returned home from Bristol on the Sunday evening. We then had just two days before leaving at the crack of dawn to catch our flight for Omaha Nebraska and Mayhem in the Midlands.


By this time, my nose and throat had settled down but left me with a chesty cough that emerged, fully fledged, during my interview with William Kent Krueger. Kent coped brilliantly with me attempting to cough up a lung halfway through his questions, and distracted me very successfully by pulling a stocking over his head and attacking me with a rubber baseball bat. Don’t you hate it when these award-winning authors get all serious about their art?


Dana Stabenow also demonstrated how game for a laugh she is when she volunteered to help me out in the self-defence demonstration on Friday afternoon, and Dina Willner moderated Dana, Kent, Jan Burke and I on a panel on Saturday where we had to make up stories behind snippets of news that Dina read out. As you can imagine, the tone dropped quickly and stayed entertainingly low throughout …


Highlights included being able to offer Dina – who made the winning bid at the charity auction to be a character in the next Charlie Fox book – the chance to have both herself and her late mother Caroline in on the act. Strangely enough, I had a parent and daughter role all lined up that would fit them both to a tee; Donna Andrews’s splendid compering job at the auction itself; spending time with Al Abramson whose sense of humour runs along such similar lines to our own; finally getting time to talk to Dana Stabenow at length and hearing about the house she’s built in Alaska; and talking to Jan Burke and her husband, Tim. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed talking to everyone at Mayhem, including Dina and Sally Fellows, and Manya Shorr, and Carl Brookins, David ‘Snookums’ Housewright, Jen Blake/Nichole R Bennett, all the Guppy crew, Lori and Tim Hayes. Especially to Tim, who chauffeured some of us to the nearest multiplex to see the new Star Trek movie on an IMAX screen. (If you haven’t seen it, do so immediately!)


The Mayhem people were incredibly generous and welcoming to us, to the point where we will definitely be back, not only to go to Lee Booksellers in Lincoln on the next tour, but also to the libraries in the city of Omaha itself.


The locals admit that Nebraska is the kind of place people tend to fly over rather than land in, but the landscape was amazing on the way in, from the winding Missouri to the geometric shapes in the fields from the terracing. I’m not quite sure what we expected of the city, but what we was a cultural gem, filled with art and history, nestling alongside modern facilities and structures like the amazing swaying footbridge that enables you to walk from Nebraska to Iowa and back again. In fact, I was so taken with the place that not only will Dina and Caroline Willner have major roles to play in the next book, but I have a feeling that Omaha will sneak in there, too!


The only dark spot in the whole experience was something that happened a couple of times in the hotel and – I hasten to add – had nothing to do with the convention or anybody attending it. Wending through all the public areas of the Embassy Suites, including the spacious lobby, the bar and the restaurant, were miniature waterfalls and pools. The pools contained some of the most beautiful Koi carp fish I’ve ever seen, from tiny little goldfish up to ones at least a foot long. Having spoken to people who own such fish, I know they are intelligent and friendly, so I was pretty disgusted to see children – and adults- intentionally dropping coins on them as they basked close to the edges of the pool.


“Hey, mommy, I hit one!”


“Well done, sweetie.”


Unbelievable …


Of course, the biggest highlight was getting to see my Other Half, Andy, take part on his first panel, along with Tim Burke, Jessica Doolittle, Hap Meredith, and John Nehring, moderated by Sally Fellows. Some people – no names, no pack drill – were being very diplomatic and coy in their answers. Afterwards, several people said he and Tim should take their show on the road.


So, my question this week is, if you’re a writer, what do you think your spouse has to put up with, and if you’re a spouse of a writer, what’s it really like?


This week’s Word of the Week is decollate, meaning to behead, and also decollation, meaning the action of beheading, and – in surgical terms – the severance of the head from the body of a fetus. Also, the Feast of the Decollation of St John the Baptist, a festival in commemoration of the beheading of St John the Baptist, observed on August 29th.


I’ve literally just landed back from the States, so I’ll try and get to any comments as soon as I can …

21 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Countries …

  1. Jake Nantz

    I always love reading your posts like this. For someone who can’t afford (in time or money, really) to travel abroad much, it’s always like a little mental vacation when I get to follow you around in your posts.

    As far as what my wife has to put up with, I don’t write nearly as much as I should, and she still doesn’t get to see me much during the school year, so you guys must have all found saints if they’re still with you.

  2. R.J. Mangahas

    This was an interesting post, Z. My SO Jessi, is also a writer/artist/cartoonist, so we both have that creative thing going on. Not to mention she’s a VERY tough editor. The stuff she hands back to me almost always has quite a bit of red ink.

    Although, she has to put up with some of my "eccentricities". But to be fair, I put up with hers too. Yet we somehow make it work :-]

  3. Dina Willner

    Of course, Zoe, you neglect to mention your incredible generosity in helping me out when I couldn’t decide between Mother and me as the character – you offered to use both of us! Thank you again.

  4. Louise Ure

    Oh, Lord, Zoë, My husband on a panel? He reads car repair manuals not mysteries. Can I borrow Andy and claim him for my own?

    Welcome back home. Now, get some sleep!

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Great info, Zoe, and I love the word of the week. I can’t wait to be having the same types of adventures as you describe above.
    I’m very lucky in that my wife is a very talented story editor and she reads behind me on every scene and chapter I write. And she’s very critical. And she’s very enthusiastic. About her criticism.
    You get the good with the bad and the bad with the good, I suppose.

  6. Pari

    I’m so glad to have the computer on today. What a wonderful post. I felt like I was with you for both trips.

    Thank you.

    As for my husband . . . when I told him I was going to chair LCC in Santa Fe, he said — "You have to promise me you’re not going to go to any conventions for the next two years. As far as I’m concerned, when you travel, it’s equivalent to abuse."


    He’s sick of the marketing.

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    Yup, Andy’s a saint all right ;-]

    He knows, though, that while I might be cranky sometimes while I’m writing, that’s nothing to how cranky I’d be if I WASN’T writing …

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi RJ

    It might seem like tough love, but having someone close to you who’s prepared to be honest when the writing ISN’T working, is so much easier to believe when they tell you it IS working.

    Nice theory, anyway!

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dina

    "Of course, Zoe, you neglect to mention your incredible generosity in helping me out when I couldn’t decide between Mother and me as the character – you offered to use both of us! Thank you again."

    Erm, I DID mention the fact that I may be planning to mutilate you just a little – in print, that is – didn’t I?

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    If your husband reads car repair manuals, he and Andy would get on like a house on fire. (Never really understood that phrase …)

    And hey, Andy would help anybody out, but I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that he’s a gentleman of negotiable affection … ;-]

    Yes, sleep is calling at the moment.


  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    The mystery crowd are just so inclusive that going to conventions is always a pleasure, even if I had no clue what time zone I was supposed to be on for most of the time, thanks to the fact that my wristwatch battery went flat just before CrimeFest, and then my back wristwatch battery went the same way on route to Mayhem, freezing at 1:40, which meant it was only right twice a day.

    Actually, the watch has a date window as well, so it was only actually correct twice a month.

    Like your Other Half, Andy reads everything I write, usually as soon as I’ve finished for the day, unless it’s 3am and he’s already asleep. He jokes that he’d read over my shoulder as I typed if he could, and when I’m working on the laptop in the car, I have to angle the screen away from him while he’s driving, or he’d be trying to keep one eye on the road and the other on the latest chapter!

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    ‘As for my husband . . . when I told him I was going to chair LCC in Santa Fe, he said — "You have to promise me you’re not going to go to any conventions for the next two years. As far as I’m concerned, when you travel, it’s equivalent to abuse."’

    Why not bring him along and stick him on a spouse panel? The one at Mayhem was very entertaining.

    I’m very lucky in that Andy loves coming to conventions, even when I introduce him as, "My present husband …"

    And yeah, the marketing side of it – conventions apart – can be tough.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Cornelia

    We loved the name – much good that it did us … ;-]

    Last year we were called Northern Rock, after the UK building society that failed in spectacular fashion last year – and we lived up to it entirely!

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Billie

    Yes, seeing people torment other creatures just for fun is never my idea of a good time. If you’re going to kill something, do it as quick and painless as possible.

    And then make sure you eat it afterwards.

  15. toni mcgee causey

    My husband and Louise’s are very similar, it seems, on the reading material. Carl is a great story-guy, however. He’s one of those irritating people who can see the big story picture, keep track of the nuances and then ask THE EXACT question that you do not yet have the answer to. If I can’t spin the story to him in conversation, I know I haven’t thought it through well enough.

    [I am thankful he doesn’t read what I’ve written as I’ve written it, as I tend to be a much better editor than I am a writer.]

    And dear God, the first person that puts him on a panel… well, I am just not responsible, let’s put it that way. (I’ve been married to him for 27 years, and I *still* do not know what he’s going to do or say next.) (grin)

    Also, he cannot possibly tell people I am difficult to live with, because, even though I am crazy, I am not crazy enough to, oh, say, bring home a vintage salon hair dryer and decide, gee, that thing ought to have wings and lights and skis and let’s call it a "time machine." (http://postcardsfromla.com/timemachine) It did end up being included in a traveling Smithsonian tour, though. So I think we’re fairly balanced on the nutty scale.

  16. Zoë Sharp


    Carl sounds like a keeper ;-]

    Oh, and those pictures are a scream – especially the last one, right down at the bottom of the page.

    If you’ll excuse the pun …

  17. Manya


    It was such a pleasure to have you and Andy at Mayhem this year….it was clear to me how much you love hanging out with other authors and fans. I had no idea that you were feeling ill….you hid it well.

    I think I will mention the fish incident to the hotel. That would have upset me as well.

    We’ll see you next time you’re in Omaha!



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