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.”
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 …