CrimeFest 2019 (Day 3) and Comparisons

The final day was supposedly a short one, since it finished at 1 o’clock, allowing us plenty of time to catch our trains or even have a nice lunch (yes, it’s all about the food with me!). However, it was packed full of goodies.

The Domestic Noir panel before the murrderrrs started…

The first panel was on the Domestic Noir, and I am not the only reader who has grown somewhat weary of this label and also of the steady output of psychological thrillers conforming to this type, which can end up all sounding very samey. Luckily the authors on the panel not only didn’t conform to the stereotype, but they were also expertly moderated by the hilarious Michael J Malone, who knows how to ask those audacious questions to which you really want to hear the answer! Plus, no one can say ‘Murrderrr’ in a more Taggart like fashion.

Elizabeth Mundy’s amateur detective is a cleaner, because cleaners know so much about the most intimate household details. She is also Hungarian, because it allowed the author to use some of her grandmother’s stories, swear words and cooking recipes. Vanessa Savage’s latest book The Woman in the Dark nearly veers into horror territory as a couple move into a very creepy Victorian seaside home (the original title of the book was going to be The Murder House, but then James Patterson published a book with that title, how inconsiderate!). Will Carver mined his own experience of marriage breakdown to write his disturbing story of a dysfunctional couple and the consequences of their deadly boredom. Louise Beech also used her personal childhood experience of feeling abandoned by her mother to create the central character in Call Me Star Girl.

I liked the conclusion of the panel that if you are going to base any of your characters on real-life people, put in their very worst traits, because they will be reluctant to recognise themselves in that (or may not be self-aware enough to do so).

The second session I was unable to take notes, as I was torn between two panels and tried to attend each of them for 20 minutes or so. The first was entitled Down with Patriarchy and featured Anne Coates, Alison Joseph, Christi Daugherty and Jane Shemilt. The second was a bit more free-for-all, entitled Close to the Edge: How Far Would You Push Your Characters?. It featured the near-legend Gunnar Staalesen, Kate Rhodes (one of my personal favourites), Caroline England (whom I admit I’ve never read) and a newcomer to me, working police officer and writer Charlie Gallagher.

The really fine Crime Science vs. Crime Fiction panel.

The last session of the day I did take notes: it was about crime science vs. crime fiction. It featured Vaseem Khan, who is untroubled by the veracity of the fact that his baby elephant never seems to cause trouble by pooing when his detective is conducting interviews (but is otherwise a bit of a forensic expert, as he works at the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science); Dr Georgina Meakin, who is a colleague of Vaseem’s and researches the transfer of trace DNA; Abi Silver, a lawyer turned legal thriller writer; and Robert Thorogood, creator of the anything but realistic Death in Paradise TV series, moderated by Barry Forshaw, who does not shy away from difficult questions.

It was a bit of an eye-opening session, although the panelists started from a well established fact, that you don’t want to let too much accuracy get in the way of a good story. After all, a scientist setting up endless samples and having 6 month’s backlog of evidence to analyse, or a solicitor compiling reams of paperwork do not make for riveting reading (or viewing). At the same time, the scientists were slightly annoyed by the misunderstandings about their profession perpetuated by shows such as CSI. For example, juries nowadays place far too much importance on DNA evidence and expect it to prove things beyond any reasonable doubt, when the truth is far more messy and open to interpretation. I also found out that Death in Paradise was conceived as a deliberate antidote to the scientific sterility of CSI and that you shouldn’t expect to get the whole truth and nothing but the truth in court, because in fact you will only get the version of the truth presented by the storytelling lawyer. Robert Thorogood demonstrated just how hard it is to squeeze a whole story and investigation into just 54 minutes, which is why he moved all the science bits to be analysed off the island. Last but not least, the predicted boom of cyber-crime and the sophistication it has already reached was frightening to both Vaseem Khan and the audience.

How does it compare?

I haven’t been to a huge amount of crime or even more generic literary festivals, but I have been to a few in France and Switzerland, and I’ve been to Henley, Hay, Newcastle Noir and now CrimeFest here. So what are the similarities and differences between countries and types of festival?

Early morning by the canal in Bristol.

Generic literary festivals of course appeal to a broader audience, but the crime fiction readers are a passionate and knowledgeable lot, always willing to recommend or try new authors and titles. So it feels much more like a tribe, particularly when it’s more concentrated on a particular type of crime fiction, such as Newcastle Noir. (But not too narrow, like Iceland Noir, which is mostly Scandi). Besides, crime writers are very funny and nice people – I think they let all of their darker side out in their writing, so they are really quite pleasant to be around.

Of course Quais du Polar has the beautiful backdrop of Lyon, but Bristol and Newcastle proved quite fun cities as well. However, the festival does not take over the city like it did in France, and there aren’t many additional activities beyond the confines of the venue (although Newcastle Noir did include a guided tour of the town, a bit like the mystery trail organised in Lyon). There aren’t any family-friendly activities either – probably because, unlike in France, the local council cannot afford to become involved. There were more opportunities here to mix informally with the authors beyond the signing tables, which was rather lovely. The panels in France (and Switzerland) tend to be much more serious, with quite a high-level (occasionally pretentious) discussion of themes, social influences, politics and so on. Here in the UK the aim of the panels is to entertain – if you are a natural performer, if you come across as charismatic, at the end of the panel the attendees will make a rush on your books. I felt that I was asked to confront my own prejudices or assumptions far more in Lyon – the writers made me think deeply (perhaps because the moderators were usually journalists and literary reviewers, who’d had time to prepare extensively).

However, I really enjoyed going to both UK crime festivals, probably more than the general literary festivals, and will write about Newcastle Noir soon. I’d sent a report about it to another website the very next day, but they still haven’t published it, so I may have to publish it myself on my blog. Depending on my finances (they are expensive to attend, plus I left Bristol with 11 books, and would probably have got more except that my luggage had severe limitations), maybe Harrogate or Bloody Scotland next year?

13 thoughts on “CrimeFest 2019 (Day 3) and Comparisons”

  1. I am so glad that you enjoyed this as much as you did, Marina Sofia. So many great panels and lots of wonderful people, too – how could you miss? I appreciate your sharing your experience with us so generously, too.

  2. I can see the appeal of a festival with a focus on a genre you love, definitely – and most of the more general ones I’ve looked at seem not to cover the kind of books I like. Trouble is with me that I have such a strange range of reading I’m not quite sure what kind of festival I would attend… Look forward to your thoughts on Newcastle! 😀

    1. Tell you what: I would LOVE a Literature in Translation festival. There doesn’t seem to be one – obviously, they don’t expect it to be a huge seller. It’s nice to have eclectic tastes, though, and that’s why Hay and Edinburgh (or Morges and Geneva) are perfect.

  3. Yes, I also enjoyed attending this festival vicariously. But reading about it hasn’t helped the TBR list. And I keep desiring cake!

  4. I’ve really enjoyed following along with this, Marina, especially as the Fowey Festival is currently running practically next door to me and I haven’t been to a single event. (There’s still time, I suppose, but it’s fading fast.) I heard about a crime fest in London the other day which I’m sure you are aware of. But just in case – https://www.capitalcrime.org/ 🙂

    1. Yes, you should make the most of local events, cuts down on expenses. London will be a relief, although to be honest, London doesn’t need any extra events. It’s already heavily skewed in London’s favour!

  5. Thanks for these posts – I’ve enjoyed my vicarious trip to the festival! I’m ashamed to admit I never make it even to Bloody Scotland which is practically on my doorstep. It’s so much easier when someone else does the work and distils it down for the rest of us… 😉

  6. I love these summaries. Saves me travel and hotel funds. But cake and books — yes! Also, chocolates and frozen yogurt go quite well with the crime fiction genre.

  7. Thanks for sharing this.

    Interesting comparison between Bristol & Lyon. I never thought that the themes of the panels were that serious in Lyon but I trust your word on this, you’ve been to both festivals.

    *sheepish* I must say that I found the panel rooms a bit bland compared to the Chamber of Commerce or the City Hall in Lyon.
    I suppose the city of Bristol has great rooms too, it would be nice to lend them to the festival. That’s not a huge cost.

    I think that the city of Lyon sees Quais du Polar as a way to attract tourists and attention to the city. (it seems to work) And yes, there is probably more public budget for cultural events in France than in the UK.

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