Memorable Moments from Lyon Crime Festival

DSCN6589Did you know that 70% of crime fiction editors in France are women?  That is just one of the surprising facts that I found out at the Quais du Polar in Lyon this last weekend.

What I also found there: a great intimacy between readers and writers, a fun-filled atmosphere, resilience to stand in the queue despite the rain and cold, and plenty of memorable quotes and valuable nuggets of information such as:

1) The Festival in Figures: 4 days, 70 authors, 35 panel discussions, 5 live recordings of radio programmes, 5 literary prizes (less to do with money, more to do with prestige and a spike in sales), 10 films introduced by authors, 10 theatre performances and an estimated 60,000 visitors.

ClaudeMespledeClaude Mespl√®de was the President of the Readers’ Jury and the true beating heart of the Festival. ¬†Passionate about crime fiction since the age of 10, he has edited anthologies of crime fiction, written the definitive Dictionary of Crime Literature and been instrumental in setting up the Toulouse Crime Festival.

UrbanPanel2) The Urban Panel: The urban landscape as a scene of desolation, poverty and deprivation, with petty crime and trivial, sensationalised news items. This is crime fiction at its grittiest, providing rich social commentary. Young writers Rachid Santaki and¬†J√©r√©mie Guez write about the Parisian ghettos from personal experience, Petros Markaris mourns the amnesia and almost casual descent into violence and indifference of Athens, John Burdett shows a side of Bangkok that the Thai Tourist Board would undoubtedly not approve of. ¬†It is left to Swiss writer Jo√ęl Dicker to round it off with a critique of the American media reporting on crimes in his runaway success of a debut novel ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’. (Oddly enough, Dicker has become a bit of a media buzz himself – however, in the picture I took of the panel he is not visible, so you cannot judge for yourselves if he is indeed as good-looking and boyish looking as he is hyped to be).

3) Quotes about writing, sources of inspiration and the joys of being read:

It’s not about faith or inspiration, it’s about work. (David Khara)

I never wanted to write anything else but crime fiction. Writing a story that grips people, with strong characters, seems to me such an art and an achievement. (Sylvie Granotier)

When a community and a society is starting to lose its conscience, perhaps a writer has a duty to act as the collective memory. (Petros Markaris)

PetrosMarkaris
Petros Markaris

The banality of evil is what makes crime fiction so interesting. ¬†We are always surprised to find a killer in our midst, which is why we always say ‘Who could have imagined X doing such a thing?’ But we never know people well enough to see what lurks beneath the surface. We seldom dare to look deep enough within ourselves even. (Jo√ęl Dicker)

I started out with crime fiction because it was something I liked reading and I thought I might be able to do it. But I didn’t think I would stay with it for so long. That’s because it is a genre that also allows you to say something true about men and women, and about the society in which we live. (P.D. James)

Amateurs wait for inspiration, the rest of us go to work. ¬†You can’t be in it just for the money – I don’t chase the money (although it’s nice when I get it), but the readers’ hearts. However, Dickens, Shakespeare, Dumas all wrote for money. ¬†The idea that a writer has to be ¬† lofty and above commerce is a very modern one. ¬†All I want to do is entertain. ¬†If a reader takes my book to bed with them for 15 minutes and is still reading it at 5 in the morning, I have more than accomplished my mission. (Harlan Coben)

Diniz Galhoz
Diniz Galhos

Us younger French writers feel more like global citizens: we can write about America, about Japan, about anywhere in the world. A good story remains a good story, no matter where it is located. (Diniz Galhos)

The authors of obscure literary fiction who say ‘You have readers, but I have my dignity’ are kidding themselves if they think that their notion of success is any different from my notion of success. ¬†Everyone wants more readers. (Jeff Abbott)

ElsaMarpeau
Elsa Marpeau

90% of present-day French crime writers have been influenced by American fiction, especially Elmore Leonard.  I am not sure that all those traditional differences between Anglo-Saxon and French literature still apply. (Elsa Marpeau)

Only bad writers think they are good, all others are insecure. ¬†Your book is never quite what you want it to be. That’s what motivates you to write the next one. (Harlan Coben)

But above all, I found ornate, sumptuous and unusual locations, just right to celebrate literary delights!

Hotel de Ville, Lyon
Hotel de Ville, Lyon

MainHall
Main Hall

And here is my book haul from the festival.  I really made an effort to restrain myself.

DSCN6594

Deon Meyer: Thirteen Hours

ThirteenHoursCoverThis is the first South African crime fiction novel that I’ve read, but on the strength of it, it certainly won’t be the last. ¬†I have to admit it’s all thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise and her Global Reading Challenge. ¬†That is the greatest value of book bloggers and reading challenges – they push you just beyond your normal everyday boundaries. ¬†And you discover that in many cases these boundaries were entirely in your own imagination. ¬† Why had I never explored South Africa before (although I have a deep affection for the country, having been there several times on business trips)? ¬†Because it is so much easier to fall into the familiar authors and patterns of reading, obviously, but perhaps also because I feared that the very real, everyday brutality of South Africa would make its crime fiction unbearable to read.

That is, however, far from the truth.  Deon Meyer does not make for comfortable reading, but there are no graphic scenes of torture or gratuitous violence here (unlike some other books I have read recently).  Instead, the Afrikaans writer gives us a very perceptive picture of the tensions and contradictions in the South African society, beneath the initial optimism and affirmative action of the Rainbow Nation.  His main detective, Benny Griessel, a middle-aged, doting Dad, is an Afrikaaner, but his colleagues are Xhosa, Zulu, English, coloured.  They have two cases to solve.  The first seems an open and shut case: the murder of a music producer in his own Cape Town home, his drunk wife found passed out next to him with no memory of the previous evening.  Griessel, a fellow (recovering) alcoholic, cannot believe that the wife, a formerly successful singer in her own right, could have shot him. But before he can get too deeply involved, he is called to another crime scene.  A young American backpacker has been found murdered outside a church, and there soon are indications that a second girl is on the run for her life.  Traumatised by what she has witnessed, she dares not trust anyone, least of all the police. While dodging the ruthless pack of men pursuing her, she manages to place a call to her father back in the States.  And so the American Consulate and local politicians put pressure on the police to find the missing girl, although no one knows why she is being hunted down with such ferocity.

Although this book (and Deon Meyer more generally) is being touted as an edge-of-the-seat suspense writer in the Harlan Coben, Lee Child and Simon Kernick, I actually found Meyer’s style more relaxed. ¬†It’s not that there isn’t enough exciting action throughout the book, but there is also plenty of breathing space. ¬†The pacing is such that we have time to meditate on corruption and justice, to find out more about Griessel’s family situation and to discover Afrikaans music. The social commentary is ever-present, yet never overdone, never slowing down the action. ¬†And I admit I am biased: Cape Town is one of my favourite cities in the world, but I loved the atmospheric recreation of its different neighbourhoods and felt I was running alongside the girl up the steep slope of Lion’s Head.

What a great introduction to South Africa – if you are going there for a visit, this book will probably tell you more than most guidebooks, as well as being far more exciting and enjoyable.

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