Thursday, April 2, 2015

Quais du Polar

About six weeks ago, Michael Stanley received an invitation to some event or other in France called Quais du Polar. 

Not likely, we said.  The most recent of our French translations came out four years ago and would likely be unavailable anyway.  And flying to and from France would be very expensive.

Then we took a closer look.  It turned out that the invitation came with airfares and all expenses for four nights in Lyon.

I emailed Cara, saying we had been invited to Quais du Polar.  Her response was “Wow!”

So I accepted the invitation.  Michael decided to honour a commitment he’d made to go bird watching in KwaZulu-Natal.

So, let me tell you a little about this festival I’d never heard about.  Did I say ‘little’?  This year the attendance was expected to be about 65,000.  And we think Bouchercon with its 2,500 to 3,000 attendees is big.

First, ‘polar’ means thriller in French.  So this is a festival devoted to mysteries and thrillers.  It is now eleven years old and comprises a variety of events. 

As with most such festivals, there are author panels with simultaneous translations into French and English.  Most of these were held in the gorgeous Palais du Commerce.

Ceiling of the main hall at the Palais du Commerce

Palais du Commerce

Palais du Commerce at night

The main hall with book sellers setting up

Palais du Commerce again

I was on a panel entitled Enfer et damnation or Hell and Damnation – how one writes about countries that have endured substantial trauma.  There are also individual interviews with famous authors – Michael Connelly, Elizabeth George, John Grisham, Val McDermid, and Ian Ranking were some of the English-writing authors you will have heard of.  Of course, there were huge names from France and other countries too.

The Salle Tony Garnier where my panel took place

There is also a film festival, mainly of films based mysteries and thrillers.  These are often introduced by the author of the original book.  So Michael Connelly, for example, introduced The Lincoln Lawyer.

There are visits to related places in Lyon, such as police headquarters and the forensics lab.  There are plays, lectures, master classes, and a city-wide murder mystery to be solved which, I was told, attracted 10,000 participants.  There is also a whole series of events just for children.

I was blown away!

From an author’s perspective, it is an opportunity to get in front of a huge reading public.  Only about 80 authors are invited from around the world and, in addition to any panels, each author gets about 8 – 10 hours of time to sign books or chat to interested readers. 

For readers, it is an opportunity to browse hundreds of titles, and meet and talk to authors.  And buy books – tens of thousands of books.  I must have signed 150 of them, and the English language editions, of which there were only a few, sold out quickly.

These piles were constantly replenished.
The lines of readers waiting to get in stretched a long way.

More waiting

The grand hall bustling with readers

French readers, it seems, take their time before deciding to buy a book.  They read the whole back cover to find out about the story and the authors, and they often browse inside as well.  Some also asked questions.  It was fun, and sometimes embarrassing, to try to answer in French.  But then, most people who asked questions could also speak English.

There were a few other benefits to accepting the invitation:  Lyon is a gorgeous city, founded by the Romans, situated at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers.  It is known as the gastronomic capital of France – how bad can that be? – and I got to ride the TGV trains at 200 miles an hour, quiet and smooth.  How I love trains!

Lyon from The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière


The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The huge wheels for the funucular that takes one to Fourvière
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière from the town

There are several carousels in Lyon - all working

Probably one of the most famous statues in the whole of France is situated in a fountain in front of Lyon's City Hall.  This massive bronze structure is the work of Frédéric Bartholdi, whose name you probably know!  He began work on the statue after finishing New York’s Statue of Liberty. 

Of course, the best part of such events is the people.  I met a variety of authors from different parts of the world including Gunnar Staaleson from Norway, Paulo Lins from Brazil, who wrote City of God, and Claude Mesplède of France, known as le pape du polar (the Pope of thrillers).  I happened to enjoy three meals at his table and was amazed that almost everyone who walked past came and paid respects to him.  He is a literary icon in France. 

With Claude Mesplède - lepape du polar

There were also agents and journalist to schmooz with.  As well as publishers.

Jennifer Platt from the South African Sunday Times

So, if you happen to be in France when Quais du Polar is taking place, take the TGV and enjoy a lovely city, great food, and a world of mystery and thriller authors.

Stan - Thursday


  1. Stan, what a great experience! I hope we will get all the details next time we all meet up.

  2. Stan, encore WOW! Brilliant recap and so glad you went! What an honor but of course you deserve to be there in Grand Palais du Commerce. Drool, sounds amazing. Lyon is the gastro gourmet place so 'dish' on the meals svp. Did you get to the Resistance museum in the former prison made famous by Klaus Barbie? xx Cara

  3. Wow! Looks and sounds wonderful, Stan, thanks for the report!

  4. What I want to hear are Claude Mesplède's raving about the South African phenom (the enon part didn't make it) he got to spend time with! What a well deserved honor, guys. Congratulations!

  5. What I want to hear are Claude Mesplède's raving about the South African phenom (the enon part didn't make it) he got to spend time with! What a well deserved honor, guys. Congratulations!

  6. How cool! I'd never heard of this conference, and it sounds absolutely spectacular. What a wonderful opportunity (and in such a lovely location, too).