Friday, May 3, 2019

Death By Panel

Went to book launch on London.
Set out looking like this.

This is a blog written on the move with a distinct lack of pictures. And a lack of internet. We paid extra for a hotel room with Wi-Fi but they have had to send a man to the roof to get some signals to bring back to our room and we have no tele and no nothing until then.
The photos are all on the small camera and my tablet has no input for a card reader.
We have 50% of everything and none of that is compatible.

I am in London and nice things are happening. I cannot speak of them or I may be put in a cupboard and never seen again.
While on these travels this time I am reading two books on my kindle (easy jet and hand baggage only dictates one pair of shoes and no books. The two hardbacks are back at the house awaiting my attention) in preparation for the panel I am chairing at Crimefest.
The panel is about writing a long series, the perils and the pitfalls, the joys and comfort of it. I will walk in with at least twenty questions, I will have read the books, looked at websites (once I get some internet) and read reviews.
I hope the panel will gel, and chat amongst themselves. I hope the audience will find us witty and informative. I know two of the authors on the panel will be good, as I have chaired them before, and I suspect the other two will be as well as they have been on the circuit for a while and, as yet, I have been given no red flags that they are tricksy. They will be professional will do their job of being interesting properly.

When we wander away from the wondrously creative and generous people that are crime fiction writers, things can get a little different, a little more testy as some other writers have got egos the size of the moon and they want to do and say, what they want to do and say. So sitting here in a hotel room at numpty o’clock with no internet, I am taking time to reflect on the worst and the best I have chaired, or appeared on.

The worst introduction at an event was ‘this is Caro Ramsay, I read her book but it was not to my taste.’
Cheers mate.
A while ago I was left in a side room while the event I was invited to attend went on elsewhere. So no nice glass of champagne for me.

The worst chair I did was years ago, for two authors who totally ignored me. They had spoken to each other the night before so they knew what they were doing. But they had no intention of telling me.
If they had spoken to me I would have told them about Glasgow audiences. But they did what they did and bored the knickers off everybody. To save the event, I tried being a big funny (ha ha not peculiar) and got a few laughs but the woman on the panel thought I was making fun of them, and they complained bitterly about me afterwards. These two authors were also rude and dismissive of the sound crew, the runners, the ticket girl. Three other people had refused to chair the event, and now I know why. 

I wasn’t making fun of her but there’s a level of pretension that makes an audience’s hackles rise. Especially in a city with no pretension and these Hampstead types were thinking they were talking down to a Glasgow audience in an attempt to educate the masses. As an author, its wise to prick your own pretentious before anybody else does it.

Wittering on about the lack of lactose free Yaks milk at Glasgow airport just gets people’s backs up, especially the yaks!
And don’t get her started on biodegradable mascara.
There is a joke in entertainment circles in Britain about ‘where comedians go to die….? The Glasgow Empire!’
It was an old theatre, long closed, where the crowd were tough, lively and rarely sober. Acts who were not as good as they thought they were had their shortfalls pointed out to them.
I think that any good chair is aware of that audience tumble weed moment and they should steer a panel to a furrow more amusing or informative.

I think some of the bloggers were present at the worst chairperson of all time panel. The one who thought that all Europeans speak the same language, and that we have bears in Scotland. (I think she was getting confused with the snaggle toothed haggis.)

First rule of chairing, if you are not sure, ask it as a question? As a very wise chair did in Bouchercon when asking an English cop about the structure of the English police service. And I could tell that the audience appreciated it, making notes that most Detective Chief Inspectors are now little more than desk bound accountants.

Some panellists are nervous. Some panellists are not aware that they have talked for 40 minutes of a 50 minute session. (Any ideas how to politely interject??? no, Tasers are not legal here!) 

And what about the panellist who says nothing? Or gives one word answers, slightly snuffy, as if they have better things to do with their time. Nerves I can understand. If I think they are a little nervy in the green room, we talk, we come up with a plan to reassure them that nothing untoward will happen. But being stroppy? Well, don’t agree to do the bloody panel then.

How does the audience feel when there is fall out on a panel? Good hearted disagreement is fine but I get slightly uncomfortable when it starts getting a bit nasty and it would seem that people are now very content to be offended by just about everything. Twice recently, as the chair simply asking a question…. So you have said A, many people still think B? And let the interviewee counter that point i.e. making a point that the audience might like to make…. And I got heckled by a snowflake in the audience.

For example. I personally protest against bullfighting in Spain but if the person I was interviewing was in agreement with my own personal view and that was the point of the talk, I would be happy to ask ‘But what about the argument that it is a Spanish tradition and nothing to do with us?’ And I wouldn’t expect to be heckled.

I killed the lady who did it, in my latest book, slowly and painfully. And fictionally.
Was there a lovely panellist on your panel in St Petes last year, Stan? She was an American living in Japan and she said the Japanese simply said ‘my view is different to yours’ and just leave it at that.
So I have a week to read 4 books, write 40 000 words, do the day job and be in Bristol by Thursday morning….

Good job there’s no internet!

                                                     Me, when  I arrived at the event.
                                                          It rained a wee bit.

Caro  Ramsay ( heading home to  DRY Scotland!)


  1. That was a very good panel in St Pete, Caro. And I also loved the Japanese statement of position.

    I remember a panel once (Anonymous convention, anonymous panel moderator, where there was only one panel at a time = big audience) where Michael was a panelist. Usual 45 - 50 minutes for the whole thing. The moderator introduced that panel for over 15 minutes. I would have thought that seeing 150+ audience members with their heads buried in their hands would have been a subtle signal that something was amiss.

    Shall we stir things up next week?

  2. When faced with a panel of prodigious self-important egos, I just smile to myself and think--in a gender neutral way--"Thank G-d I'm not married to the *&^%^," and let the time just slip on by. Though I must say, that for the moderator who thought your book not up to the moderator's taste, I'd have been attempted to apologize and promise with your next book to provide crayons.

  3. And then there is the moderator who began by reading a two page biography of himself. And worse yet, the panel Nazi: the moderator who sent the email welcoming the participants and gave us the rules. Rule 1: we had to meet him 15minutes before the session. There were six other rules. When we met, he told us the rules again. Then, when the session started, he told the audience the rules. The rules added up to this: he would ask the questions, which we would answer in alphabetical order in 30 seconds. I got him two years running in that conference. I never went back to the conference again.