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Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crime Beat: Our man at the Bristol Crimefest reports…

Michael Sears – he of the writing duo Michael Stanley – is Crime Beat’s man on the inside at the Bristol Crimefest 2012 which kicked off on Thursday afternoon. He writes:

It’s been a great event (so far) and has really solidified its place as one of the major crime readers/writers/publishers/critics conventions. The programme has a stellar list of invited guests and top authors – mainly from the UK, but also good support from the US. The convention was sold out about a month ago, and all the panels are very well attended. No need to worry about getting an audience!

Frederick Forsyth

After a kick-off panel on the role conspiracy theories play in thrillers, and why people find them so appealing (both in fiction and real life), we had the first big name interview – Frederick Forsyth. His initial goal was to be a fighter pilot (achieved at the age of 19), and was then followed by a desire to see the world and become an international correspondent (achieved). He was a correspondent for Reuters and then the BBC. His time in Paris in the De Gaulle era left the first faint stirrings of an idea for a book. De Gaulle was very well protected, and the people believed to hate him known and watched. If you wanted to get to him, thought Mr Forsyth, you’d need an outsider.

It’s well known that he decided he needed to make some money and wrote the book to do that, and that he wrote it in 35 days! He only changed the title: THE JACKAL became THE DAY OF HE JACKAL. I didn’t know that, after multiple rejections, he pretended to be a friend of a publisher to get in to see him personally, then presented him with a five-page synopsis, fetched a copy of the manuscript from another publisher (who hadn’t got round to reading it and maybe never would have) and had a three book contract a week later. Forsyth felt he had been very lucky, but actually it was the publisher who lucked out. THE DAY OF THE JACKAL has sold over 10 million copies.

Turning to current work set in the present day, he described the modern world as “weird, dangerous and bewildering” and admitted that it was hard to explain the technology issues that feature in it simply enough. He insists on visiting the places he uses as settings to get the feel of them. His readers would certainly agree that it works!

Friday Panels

Friday was panel day – two parallel sessions with shorter “spotlight” sessions where a single author would talk about a topic of interest. For example, Scottish author Caro Ramsey, who is an osteopath in her other life and holds a forensic medicine diploma, set us straight on CSI. Mostly rubbish. She pointed out that all evidence can be questioned in court, and the police had to do a really good job to make it stick. Powder residue from firing a gun? Yes, but if you shook hands with someone who shook hands with someone…you’d still come up positive. Better check clothes and the like also. Even DNA can have its problems.

The panels covered topics like genres and subgenres, Taking crime in new directions, historical crime fiction, law or justice (interesting discussion, which Stanley Trollip chaired, featuring big names James Sallis and Andrew Taylor among others); professionals versus amateur sleuths, international cops ( I was on that one with David Hewson, David Jackson and the Anders Roslund half of Swedish duo Roslund and Hellstrom), and a variety of others.

Jeffery Deaver

Then came the next big name interview – Jeffery Deaver. His new book XO is out later this year, featuring the stalker of a young country and western singer. The stalker sends her a fan letter, and gets a standard response – friendly but impersonal, but signed XO (love and kisses). He takes that at face value and it sets off a train of events where she, and anyone close to her, is in big trouble. Apparently lots of twists and turns. It sounds like vintage Deaver!

Deaver had a music career before writing, and he’s written and produced a CD with all the songs mentioned in the book. There’s even a free one on his website to download.
Of course, Deaver is still fresh from the latest James Bond book – CARTE BLANCHE – where he turned Bond into a young present day adventure hero. On the personal side, he described himself as a kid as “a nerd before nerds got to make billions” and said he thought of writing as a business like any other. Turns out he and I agree about favourite mystery author – John Le Carre.

CWA Dagger Shortlists

On Friday evening there was a cocktail party where the shortlist announcements of several of the Crime Writers’ Association dagger awards were announced. The full list is on the CWA website, but the big news for South Africa is that Deon Meyer – who was international invited guest at Crimefest last year – is shortlisted for the 2012 International Dagger (the dagger award for the best crime novel in translation) for his book TRACKERS. That was a great note on which to end the day!


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