Snippets and writing tips from CrimeFest22

It’s all over for another year… I spent two days at the international crime writing festival in Bristol,12-15 May 2022. It was my second time at CrimeFest and rather less stressful than my first time in 2019, when I sat on a panel in front of a huge room next to a God of Crime Writing, my hands trembling too much to hold a glass of water.

This time, the main stress was down to getting lost in a maze of lanes around the Mercure Grand just before the start of the first session morning (GPS no help whatsoever), trying to find a seat in the audience not behind a pillar or blasted by an aircon outlet, and trying to recognise authors I hadn’t met before except on Facebook.

Where I stayed

Over the two days I went to an extraordinary number of panels, nearly all of them informative, thought-provoking and/or entertaining. By the end of the first day (thanks to my unnaturally early rising time, and a glass of wine at the CWA Dagger shortlist reception, when fellow Hobeck Books author Mark Wightman was announced in the shortlist for the New Blood Dagger) I was ready to collapse. Somehow I made it with my heavy bag to my Airbnb, a room in a delightful cottage at the top of the hilliest part of Bristol.

Author tips from my hastily scribbled notes

Be careful when deciding to name the location of your novel. If you use a real location and name it, you may be inviting a host of objections to its perceived non-real aspects (eg X can’t be seen from Y street) or upset locals with grisly crimes occurring on their much-loved streets. If you have an unnamed/fictional location you may miss out on local bookshop/publicity opportunities. (From SUSPECT EVERYONE: TIGHT KNIT COMMUNITIES, SMALL TOWNS AND LOCKED ROOMS)

Characters in cozy mysteries and the like are best not killed in too gory a fashion. Being poisoned or struck by falling cheese is preferable to some alternative methods of dispatch mentioned, such as one involving a skull, superglue and scavenging birds. (From VIOLENCE & GORE: SWEET OLD LADIES & SERIAL KILLERS)

Matt W and Alex North on the Shivers and Shudders panel

When trying to creep out the reader, you need to know when to be explicit and when to leave it to the reader’s imagination; also real-life horrors can provide the starting point. Sometimes you end up unintentionally scaring the reader, as did Stella Oni whose Deadly Sacrifice about human trafficking and ritualistic killing was inspired by the 2001 discovery of the torso of a young African boy, popularly known as Adam, in the River Thames.

Panellists Helen Sedgwick and Alex North have also written about human sacrifice. Helen looks at the historical and social aspects of ritual human sacrifice, and mentioned the fascinating example of a person sacrificing their life – apparently willingly – for the good of their community. Alex North, in his most recent book (whose title I can’t remember) has written of two children obsessed with lucid dreaming who kill a classmate.

Demon and Whisper Man cover photos

In Demon, Matt (Six Stories) Wesolowski was inspired by the savage murder of a 12-year-old boy, Sidney Parsons in 1995, by two boys of the same age (the so-called ‘Demonic Duo’) in the village of Ussalthwaite.

(From SHIVERS AND SHUDDERS: CREEPING OUT THE READER)

Vaseem Khan moderating POWER CORRUPTS: ABUSES OF POWER

In a crime or psychological suspense novel, the character who abuses their power may not always be the one you expect. Patients can be in love with their doctors, want certain medication to be prescribed or have other hidden agendas. Doctors can also succumb to temptation. Jane Shemilt, a former doctor, was on two panels I went to (one with Vaseem Kahn, above) discussing doctor-patient relationships such as the one in The Patient. (From POWER CORRUPTS: ABUSES OF POWER)

I’M READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP: FROM PAGE TO SCREEN panel

Lastly, in I’M READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP: FROM PAGE TO SCREEN at the end of Saturday, everyone was in a light-hearted mood (Ann Cleeves, Antti Tuomainen, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and the brilliantly laconic moderator Kevin Wignall). One takeaway from this: if you are a control freak, don’t let the producer change your atmospheric location or transform the look of your main character. Otherwise just smile and take the money.

Dinner with some fellow authors from Hobeck Books

Proof I was there: with some of Team Hobeck on Saturday night


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