CrimeFest 2011 – Bristol Fashion

Zoë Sharp

If it’s May, then for crime fans in the UK, it’s time for CrimeFest in Bristol.

CrimeFest began with Left Coast Crime, which was held at the same venue, the Bristol Marriott, in 2006. (Well, Bristol is sort of the left coast of the UK, if you squint a bit…) The organisers, Adrian Muller and Myles Allfrey, had a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided to keep going. CrimeFest in 2008 was the result, and next year will be the event’s fifth birthday. 

One of the highlights of CrimeFest is the gala dinner on the Saturday night. Not because I particularly enjoy such rubber chicken-type formal meals, but because Adrian and Myles always manage to rope in a highly entertaining Toastmaster for the evening. Last time it was Gyles Brandreth, who is a far funnier man live than any of his television performances ever led me to believe. (That’s not supposed to damn with faint praise, by the way – he was an absolute riot as Toastmaster.) 

For this year it was originally going to be Don Winslow – one of my favourite authors – but when he was unable to attend, Christopher Brookmyre ably stepped up to the mic. This should give you an idea of how seriously he took the role.

I’ve been a fan of Chris Brookmyre for a while now, and even if you’re unaware of his work, his titles should hook you right in:






I mean, come on! How can you not love those?

Featured guest authors Linsdey Davis, Peter James and Deon Meyer also kept us smiling – particularly Deon’s description of real-life crime and inept criminals in his native South Africa.

[left to right – Myles Allfrey, Peter James, Lindsey Davis, Deon Meyer, Adrian Muller, Christopher Brookmyre in front]

Lindsey Davis was the recipient of this year’s CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger which made an appearance on the night, with Myles doing his burly security man bit. Not surprising – the diamond-encrusted dagger must be worth more than half the attending authors earn in a lifetime. 

Of course, even if you didn’t fancy the gala dinner, there were plenty of very interesting panels running from Thursday to Sunday, put together by the incredibly hard-working Donna Moore

My first one was on Thurs afternoon, when I was tasked with keeping Paul Johnston, Last Laugh Award-winning LC Tyler, Christopher Wakling and Anne Zouroudi in line while we discussed ‘Bringing Up Baby: Creating Believable Sleuths’.

As moderator, I asked each of them to come up with a brief intro that included one blatant untruth. This was to see just how believable they could be when making stuff up. Excellent, as it turned out. So convincing were they as liars that nobody in the audience actually got all four answers correct. In fact, only three people managed three out of four, so we picked a winner from those entries. Honestly, would you buy a second-hand car from any of this lot? 

[left to right – Paul Johnston, Christopher Wakling, LC Tyler, Anne Zouroudi, me]

And just in case you were wondering how you might have done, here are their intros. I’ll tell you the answers later, and there’ll be a copy of the latest Charlie Fox paperback, FOURTH DAY, to the winner:

Paul Johnston: ‘I’m Paul Johnston. My twelfth novel, THE NAMELESS DEAD, has just been published. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a literary and literally lethal dagger and an engraved piece of plastic for my fiction. I spend most of my time in Greece, was at school with Gordon Brown, lived on a small island for six years, and have chaired over 300 authors at book festivals. Oh, and I’m frightened of Zoë Sharp.

LC Tyler: ‘LC Tyler is the author of four Ethelred and Elsie “Herring” mysteries, the latest of which is HERRING ON THE NILE. He is now a full-time writer but has done all sorts of other things in the past.  Growing up in Southend he had holiday jobs selling ice-cream, working at Southend Airport and clearing mines from the beach. More recently he has been employed as a systems analyst, a cultural attaché and as Chief Executive of a medical royal college. He is an honorary paediatrician.’  

Chris Wakling: ‘Christopher Wakling worked as a litigation lawyer before turning to writing full time ten years ago. He can fly a plane, surf small waves standing up, and walk on his hands. THE DEVIL’S MASK is his fifth novel.’

Anne Zouroudi: ‘Anne Zouroudi was led into writing her series of novels featuring Hermes Diaktoros, the Greek Detective, after abandoning a lucrative career – which included a spell working on Wall Street – to become a fisherman’s wife on a tiny island in southern Greece.

‘Like many authors, she’s held down some interesting jobs to fund the writing habit, including donning a butcher’s apron to sell pork pies and sausages, playing a begowned extra in a BBC production of Jane Eyre, and picking mutant jelly babies from a conveyor belt in a sweet factory.’

The Friday night CrimeFest quiz, which took place across the road from the convention hotel in the Green House bar, was a disappointment from our point of view. Our makeshift team were aiming firmly for last place, but were nudged off bottom spot by a team who remarkably knew even fewer of the answers than we did. Over the last few years we have telegraphed our complete lack of general crime-related knowledge by our choice of team names – Northern Rock (a UK bank that took a spectacular nosedive), MPs on Expenses, BP Complaints’ Department, and this year’s effort, The IMF Equality Commission. As you can imagine, we were gutted by this result, and are determined to train less in order to avoid a repetition next time. Or, better still, we may retire altogether and allow someone else to hog the inglory of the lower end of the order ;-]

I was particularly looking forward to my Saturday panel – ‘The Grass Is Greener: Thrillers – UK vs US’ – for various reasons, not least of which was that I was not moderating it, so basically all I had to do was turn up! I was sitting alongside fellow Best British Barry Award nominee Charlie Charters, as well as Steel Dagger-winning Simon Conway, and Matt Hilton. Nick Sayers, publisher from Hodder & Stoughton, had the dubious honour of moderating proceedings, although his opening gambit of announcing that three out of the four authors on the panel were published by Hodder, so he felt he could control them, was a temptation to misbehave that I almost couldn’t resist …

[left to right Nick Sayers, Charlie Charters, Matt Hilton, Simon Conway, me]

I admit that I’m never sure how serious to be on such occasions, and I tend to go for the entertainment as much as the enlightenment angle. Do you have any preferences, either when you’re watching a panel, or taking part?

Of course, one of the reasons I like going to events like CrimeFest is it’s an excuse to drag out a frock and a pair of legs, not to mention other bits of me, and get poshed up. Anybody who thinks writers lead a glamorous life has never seen us answering the door to the postman at lunchtime in our jim-jams. So, it was nice to have the opportunity for ‘stunt dressing’. Was it our Alex who coined that term – great one.

[me and Deon Meyer – I’m the one on the left – taken by Ali Karim]

As always, we came home having spent the weekend talking our heads off to friends both old and new. Apart from the odd bombast in the bar, it was a great chance to catch up and recharge the creative batteries, even if we did need a lie-in on Monday morning …

So, ‘Rati, a few questions for you this week. What’s the best panel discussion you’ve seen at a convention? What’s the worst and why? (You don’t have to name names if you don’t want to.) And can you spot the lies my Believable Sleuths told?

This week’s Word of the Week is jugulate, which actually means to cut the throat of, or to check a disease or similar by drastic means.

And just to leave you groaning, how do you kill a circus performer?

Go for the juggler …

24 thoughts on “CrimeFest 2011 – Bristol Fashion

  1. Dana King

    This looks like it was a lot of fun.

    It's hard to pinpoint the best panel I've seen. The most memorable was at Bouchercon in Baltimore a few years ago, when Declan Hughes gave a stirring speech about the PI novel, when properly done, being the highest form of crime fiction because of the things it was able to explore so personally. Almost everything I'd written to that point was first-person PI, and he made me proud to have done it. (You may have been there, Zoe. I remember sitting next to you at a panel–JT was ill and I signed a card for her–but i don;t remember which session.)

    Another standout was a panel on translations, led by Peter Rosovsky in Indianapolis. I went because peter is a friend and ended up fascinated with the topic and the panel. Just the way a panel should be.

    Three or four stand out as tied for worst. I'll niot name names because I don;t remember them, but they were, primarily, the fault of the moderators, who weren't prepared and didn't know how to set up their panelists.

  2. Alafair Burke

    That is a groaner. I won't venture a guess on the fibs but thanks for the reporting. I've never made it to Bristol.

  3. Sarah W

    The first thing I'm going to do after I post this comment is locate a copy of *Boiling a Frog.* I must read Mr. Brookmyre's work.

    This sounds like such a fun convention! Please tell me Bouchercon is just as marvelous?


    Okay, here goes—without benefit of Wikipedia or author sites:

    Paul Johnston: Didn't go to school with Gordon Brown (wasn't it Tony Blair, and how do I know this?)

    LC Tyler: Didn't work at Southend Airport (Just a wild guess)

    Chris Wakling: Can't walk on his hands (just another guess)

    Anne Zouroudi: I was so torn — I know one of her characters marries a Greek fisherman, but I don't know how autobiographical that is . . . So, my offical guess: I don't think they remove mutant jelly babies – I always seem to have a few every time I buy them (but perhaps they mutate during shipping?).

  4. Jake Nantz

    Paul Johnston did not attend school with Gordon Brown, LC Tyler never worked at Southend Airport, Christopher Wakling can't walk on his hands, and Anne Zouroudi never sold Pork Pies and Sausages.

    Other than that it looks like you had a grand time Zoe, and I hope to be able to afford to make it to one of these some time in the next 10-15 years or so!!

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Wonderful frock, Z, you look gorgeous!

    This is the con I would most like to go to that I haven't been to. I wondered what your panel decided – is the grass greener in the US or UK?

  6. Rae

    Great post, Zoe. I had such a blast at LCC in Bristol – I've always been disappointed that the timing hasn't worked out for me to go again.

    I've enjoyed a number of great panels over the course of time. One that's standing out at the moment is a humor panel with Laura Lippman, Mark Billingham, and John Connolly among the panelists. These folks really know how to bring the funny.

    As for bad panels: no names, but poorly prepared moderators will send any panel right down the drain. And participants who think that the purpose of programming is to sell books, specifically theirs, send me right over the edge. Panels are not about selling books. They are about entertaining and maybe educating people. Which in turn just might make them interested in your book. (Can you tell I’ve recently had experience with this? 😉

  7. Donna Moore

    Well, I'm not going to answer the lies question since I was in the audience at the panel, so I already know :o)

    Best panels are definitely those with good moderators. Zoe's an excellent moderator, as is Steve Mosby. They both ask really excellent questions, are well prepared and give their panellists equal time. They bring the best out of the panel. Another really good moderator is Natasha Cooper. Any panel with Reed Farrel Coleman, Christa Faust, Megan Abbott or Eddie Muller are always fascinating and great fun.

    Bad panels – those where authors are constantly saying "In my book, such and such happens." I've already gone on record on my blog talking about a really bad panel so I don't mind saying it here. There was a panel at Bouchercon in 2009 made awful by Joe Konrath who was rude and disrespectful to the other panellists and the moderator because of his behavious. I think he was trying to be funny, but for me it just didn't work. I nearly walked out twice – and I wasn't the only one.

  8. Louise Ure

    You are gorgeous in that black dress, Zoe!

    I loved the 2006 Bristol LCC. Haven't had so much fun since then.

    And no, I'm not going to guess the fibs. Writers are such good liars.

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dana – I remember we met because I spotted your name tag and got you to sign that card for JT, knowing you were a fellow ‘Rati, but I don’t recall which panel it was. Hey, I’ve slept since then! Declan is always passionate about his subjects, and I was sorry I missed Indianapolis.

    Yup, bad moderators can kill any panel. In that case, I think the panellists have to band together and storm the cockpit door …

    Sorry, Alafair – I couldn’t resist it. I have plenty more where that came from:

    Two cannibals sitting eating a clown, and one says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

    Hi Sarah – Bouchercon IS as much fun, although rather bigger, so you can spend the entire convention wandering round and still not manage to bump into half the people you know are there. At CrimeFest they ran one panel track on Thurs, two on Fri and Sun, and three on Sat if you included the twenty minute solo slots. B’con can run four or five at a time, so it’s really hard to choose which ones you want to go and see.

    Good guesses, by the way. I shall reveal all later ;-]

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake – hmm, more good guesses, but I couldn’t possibly comment – yet!

    The Bristol event is always a fun one, and a wonderful city to see as well. Not to mention the incredible Roman baths in nearby … Bath. I suppose the clue is in the name ;-]

    Thanks, Alex – it makes a change, doesn’t it? No real conclusions, mainly because we were supposed to have Don Winslow arguing the US angle, but he sadly had to cancel his visit. I think we all agreed that writing books of a larger scope is far more feasible in the States, though.

    Hi Rae – LCC was a terrific event, and for the fifth anniversary of CrimeFest Adrian and Myles are bringing back two of the guests of honour from LCC – Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver. Two great reasons to make a return trip!

    I have to agree about panellists who preface every sentence with, “Well, MY character does this … MY character does that … in MY books …” or the ones who hold up a copy of their book while they’re speaking.

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Donna – and thank you for not spilling the beans!

    Totally agree with you about the hard-sell panellists, and I think I attended the same panel you did, although as I’ve seen Joe do more or less the same thing while moderating two entirely different panels, it might have been another one. I believe one of his panellists didn’t actually get to speak AT ALL, which when you’ve paid to be at a convention and it’s your moment in the spotlight is very, very unfair.

    Thank you for the kind words, by the way, and without being too sickly sweet, anyone who’s missed one of Donna’s panels has really missed out. She sets homework! The one I was on we had to write a poem, where the year before at CrimeFest she had Al Guthrie writing bucolic erotica that was a memorable – if slightly scarring – experience. And this time she forced – erm, invited – her participants to write a short piece involving an animal, although this ended up including insects and bacteria as well as the more expected mammals. Needless to say, though, they were all brilliant.

    Thanks, Louise – it’s nice to have the opportunity to wear it! And yes, we lie so beautifully, don’t we?

  12. becky hutchison

    Your post makes me want to sign up for next year's Crimefest! Sarah W, Bouchercon is a wonderful conference, with lots of laughs, meeting great people, and interesting panels. That's how I feel about Malice Domestic too.

    The worst panel I saw was at last year's Malice, where one panelist was totally rude to the moderator and other panelists. She gave really short and snarky answers to the interesting questions posed to her and seemed to snarl throughout the whole presentation. I vowed I would never, ever buy any of her books and that I'd tell anyone I met to stay away from her novels too. Only problem is, I can't remember her name now. (But I could find it if I had to.)

    I've moderated several panels and enjoy it every time, but I prefer to attend panel discussions instead of being part of them.

    My choices for the lies:
    Paul Johnston – not in school with Gordon Brown
    LC Tyler – didn't sell ice cream
    Chris Wakling – was a corporate lawyer (not a litigation lawyer)
    Anne Zouroudi – not a fisherman's wife

  13. David Corbett


    I was going to join the choir singing the praises of you so stunningly attired in that lovely black dress, but then you said: "I shall reveal all later."

    Be still my foolish … um, heart.

    How nice to have Donna joining us today. The sweetest, loveliest, funniest redhead working the crime beat. I swoon. I sigh. You are very much missed, Ms. Moore.

    The best panels are always the freewheeling ones, where you just have smart people cracking wise on any number of subjects. How tiresome, the burden of theme.

    At B'con such panels usually include or are moderated by Mark Billingham (or Ken Bruen or John Connolly), and I would say generally–any panel with Mark, Ken or John is sure to be a gas.

    I've purposely included Mark and John on panels I've moderated for exactly this reason — I knew I couldn't fail as long as they were there to bail me out. I was not disappointed. And Ken's panel at the Chicago B'con on poetry, with Reed Coleman and Peter Spiegelman, was one of my absolute favorites ever.

    I've twice had to wrestle a panel away from a sub-par moderator — or storm the cockpit door, as Zoë put it. In one case, the moderator was shy and intimidated, and just needed help. In the other the moderator just took off on a overly intellectual tack no one in the audience cared about, and I could see teh glazed expressions staring back at me from the seats. In neither of these cases was the moderator rude, though — just not sufficiently engaging or tuned in. (I've sat through a few like that, of course, and seen the frustration and anger boiling up on the faces of the panelists who had to endure them.)

    Now, Zoë — back to "revealing all" …


  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Becky – wow, it’s unusual to hear about a panellist spoiling a panel, rather than poor moderation, although I did have the Panellist From Hell at one event a few years ago. I’m happy to report that I have not come across them since …

    More good guesses for the lies!

    Oh David – only you could come up with that ;-]

    Funny about the overly intellectual tack. I’ve had this happen once or twice, and you’re right – you can feel the walls bowing inwards as all life is being sucked out of the room.

    Anyway, the revelations strictly concern the lies of my panellists, and nothing more. I should hate to frighten the children.

  15. Reine

    Looks like great fun, Zoë. I'll join the chorus to add my praise for how brilliant you look in that gorgeous dress.

    Author panels at book conferences/literary fests, though . . . only been to one, so I dare not critique – but you and it were wonderful and entertaining! I have been to many APA conferences, however. I found them to be pretty boring, usually (but the food was often good). It's a different thing than literary conferences, where people aren't attending for continuing education credits. Mostly, I find annoying when the moderator interjects and talks too much – as when they step on the panelists' comments so that by the end of the discussion you know tons about the moderator, whom you'd never heard of before, and little more than you'd already known about the panelists or their work.

    Being too ill informed, I am reluctant to guess about the lies but wouldn't mind at all if I were to win a book! xxxR

  16. PD Martin

    I want to go to Crimefest!!!! I've heard great things about it from some Aussie author friends who've made the trip.

    I think panels are a great format – generally better than one-on-one interviews. For me, panels that work tend to have a fantastic moderator who gives everyone 'time' but also knows when to cut in (if necessary). I also prefer smaller panels. I've only been to Bouchercon once, but from memory it was a moderator plus four panelists. I loved the panels but personally feel the ratio is better at three-to-one.

    Problem panels…all the things mentioned plus I think it's hard if you have a fellow panelists who's the shy type – hard for the other panelists and for the moderator. That's perhaps as awkward as someone who won't shut up 🙂


  17. JT Ellison

    I so, so, so want to go to Crimefest. And now that I set a book in the UK… hmmm….

    I too can't even begin to guess because the lies are so well couched. Looking forward to seeing what was what.

    And thanks to all of you who signed that get well card. It meant the absolute world to me, at a time when I needed my spirits lifted more than you can imagine. And thanks to you, Zoë, for thinking of it. It was the most lovely gesture.

  18. KDJames

    I just assume that everything any writer says is pure fallacy. Well, except for me. I always tell the truth. And I'm honest as well.

    Looking good in the stunt garb, Zoë. I love reading these reports from conferences I know I'll never attend. Part of me thinks, OMG that looks like it would be so much fun. And then I come to my senses when I realize that some people might actually want to talk to me. Or, more likely, that no one would. And I can't decide which would be worse.

    Best panel? There's only one I can remember (I know, I need to get out more) and it was Jenny Crusie and Anne Stuart and Eileen Dreyer some years ago at RWA talking about their collaboration. They didn't have a moderator (I mean, really, who would dare?) and they were absolutely hysterical. But I also learned a ton about not just collaboration, but writing in general.

    I think any time you attend a conference, it's best to disregard the topic and pay attention to the speaker(s). Good speakers/writers will teach you something important no matter the topic.

    Thanks for the recap, Zoë!

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Thank, Reine – although I was supposed to be a participating moderator, I try not to talk too much, otherwise it does look bad. I’d rather just keep everyone else moving. The first panel I ever did, the moderator went a little overboard describing her books and character, and then at the end told me she wished she’d managed to say more!

    Hi PD – it would be a lot of fun to have you at CrimeFest. And I definitely WANT to go to Australia ;-]

    I like panels if the moderator keeps things moving and the panellists aren’t afraid to chip in and keep the discussion flowing in a kind of organic way. And you’re quite right, three or four is a great number. I did a panel at ITW where there were seven of us, and the moderator had no contact with us beforehand at all, so that a couple of people were intimidated into silence for most of the event. It put me off going back.

    Shy panellists can be a problem, but nobody expects when they set out to become a writer that they also have to be a performer as well.

    Hi JT – it would be great fun to have you at CrimeFest, too, and you’d have a blast. And you’re very welcome about the card. It was the least we could do ;-]

  20. Zoë Sharp

    Hi KD – us, lie? Surely not … ;-]

    Part of the joy of conferences and conventions for me is recognising the name tag of someone you know from blogs and forums such as this, and being able to say hello in person. I’ve only been blanked once by someone who clearly didn’t want to talk to me, but you can’t let it get to you … too much.

    I met Eileen Dreyer at a Bouchercon a few years ago, and I can imagine that panel would have been a scream.

    I was planning on revealing all at this point – even if it isn’t quite the reveal David was hoping for – but nobody’s done better than two out of four so far, so I’ll leave this open over the weekend and keep checking back. If nobody beats that, I’ll pick a name out of a hat!

  21. pari noskin taichert

    What I like about the lies is that, I think, they're small . . . just bits on a detail rather than a huge fib. I look forward to the answers.

    And CrimeFest looks like it was just wonderful. I'd love to attend someday and hope to have the chance. Am finally going to apply for a new passport so international travel will be an option once more.

    As to worst and best panels? I was on a horrid "sex" panel (the panel was horrid . . . and no real sex to speak of) at LCC in Seattle where I saw the audience just slowly dying in their chairs. I don't feel like writing an essay on all the things that went wrong with it, but trust me — I didn't know it was the sex panel until halfway through . . . it was THAT bad.

    Good panel? Oh, there've been so many. The ones I like the best aren't necessarily humorous but they're lively and real discussions. Actually some of the best have been at science fiction conventions where writers are more likely to disagree with each other and where audiences feel they have the right to chime in

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari
    Yes, the lies are comparatively small, but entertaining. (See below)

    I’m intrigued by the sex panel you mention. Did the moderator light cigarettes for you all when it was over?

    I much prefer discussions to staid Q&A. It’s great when people chip in and don’t solidly agree with each other, although I was on a panel where one of the panellists pretended to agree with the rest of us beforehand, and then ambushed us with conflicting arguments when we were actually in front of the audience. Interesting technique …

    And now, the reveal you’ve all been waiting for:

    Paul Johnston was not at school with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He was at school with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Well guessed Sarah W, Jake, and Becky.)

    LC Tyler has never sold ice cream. (Well guessed, Becky)

    Christopher Wakling can’t walk on his hands. (Well guessed, Sarah W, and Jake.)

    Anne Zouroudi was never an extra in ‘Jane Eyre’. (Erm, nobody guessed that.)

    So, still three of you level on two correct answers each. Whoever emails me first, I’ll send them a book!

  23. Anne Z

    Hi Zoe (sorry, can't write in the two little dots like you do..),

    Great post and pretty accurate summary of Crimefest 2011, and I 100% agree you look sensational in that dress. For my part, I am basking in a warm glow of smugness for being the most competent liar on our panel.

    Anne x

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