It was the Bristol Crimefest last weekend, if you hadn’t noticed….
It seems to be a techno-island for folk like me i.e. someone who needs a laptop to get on the internet but are far too mean to pay the fees the hotel charge –it would cost the national debt of a small Caribbean island just to check the inbox. In previous years HWMBI (he who must be ignored) has always rigged up a signal through the moby. But the rooms at the back of the hotel are devoid of signal so I found myself out of email, out of blog, out of my safety zone.
It can prove useful though when folk are looking for you….
We arrived lunchtime Thursday, having joined the Scotties at Glasgow airport. There then was a small invasion.
I saw my old editor from Penguin, a lovely human being who was a bit concerned that her author on a panel had criticised two other authors. She is very polite my editor, and well brought up. I didn’t think the guy was criticizing at all. He was just making the point (as I often do) that there is a bigger suspicion of disbelief in those novels that are set nowhere in the space time continuum (my words). You know the books where the characters hang in the ageless ether, never growing old with Peter Pan children. The author said ageing and a sense of time passing was needed for development of the character. My good friend Alex Grey writes in a time vacuum – well not literally she writes in her loft but you get what I mean. Her detective is ageless and I thought when she wrote the book based on a terrorist plot at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (2014) that she would then have to nail him as an adult of x age in that year, and make him and his missus a year older at the next book. But she didn’t and didn’t want to.
Must get a bit groundhoggy after a while.
My detective has two kids, they have to grow older as the books progress so he has a ‘life’ outwith the crime. He started with a young stroppy teenager and he is now worrying about university fees and driving lessons.
On the Thursday night we were caught up in the tour de force that is Stan the man. Stan the man is like a badly behaved collie, hyper active, highly intelligent and everywhere at once. Stan took the Scotties; Doug, Craig, Mason/Gavin (same person) and ‘Alex the American’ out for dinner. It was out of character for HWMBI to tag along. He has a very low tolerance of crime writers. He has suffered too many moments of creative angst and yearns for the solidarity of his beloved databases.
Mason looking mean...
He thinks Alex is ‘normal’ as they have deep chats about the American civil war. By the end of the evening HWMBI was observing Stan the man, thinking about a whole new PhD on human sanity while affirming his view that folk who hang around crime writers go ‘a wee bit nuts’.
So Stan the man leads us out the hotel to forage for food. He jumps in the front seat of a taxi and says ‘take us to the best curry house in town boy!’ We pile in the back, poor Alex had to fold up under the seats. And the journey went on and on and on and on. After twenty minutes HWMBI was following the progress, or the lack of it on his Sav Nav.
I was thinking, OK I have seen this film. Nobody knows where we are. We are going to be abducted. Never seen again. The driver, Des The Demonic, had locked the cab doors. We were doomed to be picked off one by one….
The restaurant was empty. It was only six pm. Stan told us all he had learned about Des the Demonic. The extension on his house, his dry rot, his flat abroad, his inside leg measurement.
We ate. The food was fab.
Stan still had a pint to drink as we left, Des was coming back to get us, so Stan just paid for the glass and took the pint of lager with him, balancing it – with great skill I must say - on any appropriate surface in the taxi, including the roof.
HWMBI had jumped ship by this time (then there were six). He walked back … ostensibly to give Alex a seat, but really he couldn’t take any more nonsense from the rest of us and was starting to quote Epicurius. He said he could walk it easily according to his sat nav. Bristol’s one way system is horrific.
Des the demonic took us to a speakeasy. A dirty, graffitoed metal door up a close. Interesting social commentary point. To me that was drug dealer alley. To the others it was trendy urban chic.
I often borrow this look!
Use the phone said Des to Stan who was balancing his pint of the bonnet of the cab. Stan picked up the phone, nothing. Alex, being American, knew to pick up the phone and say the word ‘speakeasy’…. It’s like open sesame really, and the doors slid open, a small bony hand reaching round the side like nosferatu going up the stairs.
Alex being glam and wistful
Not being a drinker I bailed out.
And then there were five.
I was back at the hotel four minutes later and met HWMBI going up the steps!
I was moderating a panel the following morning and was on a panel in the afternoon. I put a lot of work in to moderating, trying to read two books of each of the panellists and make notes. I stride up and down the hotel room practising my intro, my exit, my wee bits of paper handwritten as I emailed it to myself and had no access to email. So I do all that – then when I am actually sitting there and speaking to the audience I forget everything and fly by the seat of my pants and it all takes on a magic of its own.
There are always concerns. A panellist who might take over. One who might not talk. One who is a grumpy wee shit. Why do they think it makes them look clever? They just look stupid. Be grumpy and entertaining if you wish but grumpy and monosyllabic is an insult to those who have paid money to listen to you. And it is a listening experience for the audience, so why not speak????
My American and my Norwegian panellists had got side tracked by the sign to the green room and were sitting on a sofa outside the loos … well so they told me. I think they might have been avoiding me!
The Norwegian was the one I was worried about, Hans Olaf Lahlum. Would he understand me? He is a politician, he might talk crap the way all politicians do. His novels are complex and deep, touching on very serious issues, but I wanted the panel to be light. I felt I had to touch on the occupation of Norway in WW2, it was no laughing matter. And in the green room he was a little ‘odd’.
But on the panel he was a star! An absolute star, funny, witty. He made the serious points without labouring them. All the panellists were great - every stick I threw the panel they picked it up and ran with it…. it was very funny!
Highlights…. When I asked if their detective ever refuses to do something that they as the writers request them to do. Hans said that it was only at page 210 that the character had revealed to him, the writer, that he was a homosexual. What the character did to reveal that to his own creator is on page 211, I presume.
I asked them to read out the worst review they had ever had… again generous to be mocked among others but cathartic, we have all been there.
Ruth had the worst review. ‘Not even good enough for the charity shop!’
Stan Not Stan.
Oh one more thing. Stan the man’s name is not Stan. He just gets called that. He is from Edinburgh. That says it all.
Caro 22 05 2015