Gadding about

Zoë Sharp

You may have noticed that I’ve been somewhat absent from the T’interweb in general for the best part of a week … Oh, so you hadn’t noticed? Ah …

Anyway, I’ve been gadding about somewhat, taking advantage of the several days of hot weather that I fear will constitute summer this year.

As well as teaching a crime writing workshop at the Central Library in Derby on May 19th, and talking to two combined local writing groups over an extremely fine lunch at Soulby Village Hall on May 29th, I’ve been at the CrimeFest conference in Bristol.

This year was the fifth anniversary of the event, which grew out of Left Coast Crime in Bristol back in 2006. This year was the busiest yet, with sold-out tickets and standing-room-only panels. No doubt this was helped by the stellar line-up co-chairs Myles Allfrey, Donna Moore and Adrian Muller had organised.

And here are the CrimeFest Angels (left to right) Adrian, Donna and Myles, looking, I suspect, as you may not have seen them before …

As always, conferences like this are a heaven-sent opportunity to network and exchange information, as well as gossip, drink, and giggle. It was a great chance to catch up with old friends, like Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver, and meet other favourite authors like Frederick Forsyth, Sue Grafton and James Sallis for the first time.

I was lucky enough to be on two panels at CrimeFest, one moderated by Stanley Trollip (one half of the writing duo the Michael Stanley with his partner Michael Sears) on Law or Justice? How does your Protagonist Choose? Also on the panel were Gerard O’Donovan, James Sallis and Andrew Taylor. In the emails that circulated afterwards I commented that I was honoured to be among such distinguished writers and felt I must have been included for light relief. To which Andrew Taylor responded that he felt I was there to add gravitas. (Nice sentiment, Andrew, but I know my role is simply to lower the tone …)

The second panel was the one that had me just a little nervous. I was tasked with moderating Lee Child, Sue Grafton, Brian McGilloway and Jacqueline Winspear on the topic of Kicking Ass: Spirited Protagonists and Tricky Situations. It was only as I was putting the panel info together, using my moderator’s Word doc from last year as a guide for layout, that I realised the format my introduction would take, listing the connections between the five of us.

(left to right: Brian, Sue, Lee, Jackie, & me, pic courtesy of Kate Kinchen)

It was a fun panel, absolutely packed out, and nobody objected when I warned before the audience Q&A that anyone mentioning a certain Mr T Cruise could pick a window because they would be leaving.

On the Thursday evening — and against my better judgement after dire performances in previous years — I was suckered into joining the quiz team of Faber editor Katherine Armstrong. Along with fellow authors Chris Ewan, Tom Harper, Claire McGowan and Tom Wood, I persuaded them to moderate our expectations by picking a suitably downbeat team name — The Greek Ministry of Finance. But to our amazement (well, mine anyway) we were a close second on the night, winning a bag of books and the DVD of Jim Sallis’s movie, Drive. All the more exciting for being totally unexpected.

It was a relief to meet my fellow judges from the Flashbang Flash Fiction competition and discover that they almost all agreed with my choice of winning entry. We had an entertaining dinner out on Friday night during which we all of us foolishly agreed to come back for a second attempt next year.

Of course, when it comes to what really goes on at such conferences, you have to be there. So, if you want to know why Simon Kernick is denying the comment he made to me in the bar on Saturday night, even though I took a photo specially, or why Adrian Magson won a Man-card (provided by Kate Kinchen) for his sterling moderating performance, or even who had the most awkward panelist going and how they avoided fisticuffs, you’re going to have to go along and find out. I should also mention that Peter Guttridge celebrated his birthday in fine style at CrimeFest, not only with cake and candles, but also by winning the Criminal Mastermind contest on the Sunday.

Finally, in what was to be a complete contrast to all the rushing about, I stayed with friends in Wiltshire on the way down and went out for a very stately and sedate pub lunch in their 1912 FN. All that and sunshine, too. Who could ask for more?

So, ‘Rati, what’s your favourite conference or convention? What makes it so special? If you haven’t been to one, why not and would you consider it? And if you are a regular, what do you feel you gain from the experience — besides a large bar tab and a lack of sleep?

This week’s Word of the Week is comity meaning courteousness or civility, from which we also get comity of nations, Latin comitas gentium, the international courtesy between nations in which recognition is accorded to the laws and customs of each state by others; a group of nations adhering to this code of behaviour.

14 thoughts on “Gadding about

  1. David Corbett

    I'm jealous, Zoe, for all the things you wrote, but also for your chance to visit with Donna Moore, who is one of my favorite people in the world. And I've seen you in action, so I can't help but think you were a brilliant moderator and panelist.

    Jackie Winspear is another of my favorite people. I get to see her at least once a year at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, which is probably my favorite conference — it's student-based, not fan-based, and is all about craft and making connections for fledgling writers.

    But each year there's always a stellar lineup of visiting writers — this year we'll have Don Winslow, Karin Slaughter, Bob Dugoni and Tarquin Hall — as well as an excellent standing staff of local bay area writers, including John Lescroart, Cara Black, Tony Broadbent, Kirk Russell, Rhys Bowen, Sheldon Siegel and former local Tim Maleeny, Doug Lyle always puts on several workshops that are packed — with students and information. And this year I'm giving a seminar titled Deconstructing Chinatown, in which I try to show students how many brilliant writing lessons can be learned from analyzing that film.

    If any of our readers want to think about attending, here's the link:

    Hope you're settling in from the whirlwind. And I hope the nice weather continues for just a bit.

  2. Sheri Hart

    Is it just me, or does Myles Allfrey look a little bit like Stephen in that angels photo? LOL!

    I haven't been too many conferences, but the one I go back to year after year is the Surrey International Writer's conference ( It's a large conference, catering to all genres (incl non fiction, poetry and gasp . . . literary fiction) but somehow manages to feel small and personal.

    I see the same people there year over year and it attracts top authors, agents and editors for workshops and master classes. Love it – highly recommended.

    See you in October SiWCers!

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David

    You're right – Donna is a delight and her panels are always brilliant. And she wears shoes to die for – and that's coming from somebody who spends most of their time in old cowboy boots 🙂

    The panel was fun, and thank you for the kind words about my moderating skills, but with a group of writers of that calibre, all I had to do was point them in the right direction and try not to trip over my own feet.

    The conference you mention sounds very interesting indeed. Jackie did tell me about it when I saw her. And you'll be pleased to hear that although I have never seen Chinatown <gasp> I have just been online and ordered a copy!

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sheri

    LOL, you're right, there is a stunning similarity isn't there? Hmm, I wonder if anyone has ever seen them both together in the same room …?

    I assume that's Surrey in California, not Surrey in England?

    It's always fun to see author friends at these events. There aren't enough breakfasts and lunches to sit and chat with all the people I wanted to talk to, but I gave it my best shot!

  5. Sarah W

    Last year’s Bouchercon was my first full-immersion conference. I decided to go because many of the writers/ librarians/readers/agents/publishers I knew, or whose blogs I followed, seemed to have such a great time there and it was within driving distance.

    I loved it. I took copious notes at panels (and in the bar, I won’t lie), found tons of books to feed my addiction, collected several “I was there when” stories, and met a lot of great people with whom I still keep in touch.

    One of these was this really cool writer whose eAnthology I’d just reviewed. She was looking for the husband she’d temporarily misplaced (a recurring theme, as I recall) but she sat right down to talk to me and eSigned my copy of her book, too. Nice lady.

    The panels were often hilarious and always informative. And I ended up overhearing (bar again, though also, oddly, the zoo) more about the various aspects of this writing business than any ten workshops could have taught me.

    I’m going again this year, even though it could mean flying. And karaoke.

  6. Larry Gasper

    Zoe, I'd have to go with David on the Book Passage Mystery Conference. It's small, focussed on crime writing and incredibly well organized. I like it so much I went twice. I've been to the Surrey conference (which is in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada) but found it too big and not focussed enough on mystery. That said, I learn something from every conference I attend and always end up with more writing friends when I'm done.

  7. Pari Noskin

    I'm jealous too!

    I don't know which would be my favorite convention. I haven't gone in a few years. I used to love Malice and LCC . . .

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Z, you can have some of our summer weather. Currently 97 F, which is a bit worrisome given it's still MAY.

    I WILL make it to CrimeFest. Next year?

    My favorite con is Bouchercon. All the cons are great for the socializing, and RWA and RT are the best for dancing, but Bouchercon just does it for me in the inspiration department. Although for a real genre fix, World Fantasy is the most intensely academic, bar none. It's taken the top of my head off every time I've gone.

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi folks

    Sorry for the period of silence. I've been the kiss of death to technology lately and last night (UK time anyway) the 'Rati site was utterly refusing to let me respond to comments.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah

    It was lovely to keep bumping into you at Bouchercon. You were cunningly placed near the entrance to the bar, I seem to recall 🙂

    Things overheard in the oddest places so often turn out to be invaluable. Definitely worth the risk of getting on a plane, although I'm not sure anything is worth the risk of karaoke.

    And yes, definitely a recurring theme 🙂

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Larry

    I confess that I’ve only visited Book Passage once, on my last tour of CA, and perhaps I am not their kind of author? I keep hearing lots of good things about it, though.

    Making and greeting friends is one of the continuing joys of conferences for me.

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex

    Yes please on the weather front — please send at least a bit of that sunshine east! Although, having just bought a car with no air conditioning except removing the roof, occasional cooler spells are nice too 🙂

    You would love CrimeFest, I think. Very little dancing but plenty of time in the bar socialising and being inspired.

    I confess I haven’t come across World Fantasy … yet. Hmm, sounds intriguing!

  13. Martyn Waites

    Great post, Zoe. But that Charlie's Angles pic – deeply disturbing . . . especially Adrian . . .

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