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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: More from the Bristol Crimefest

crimefestMichael Sears – our man at the Bristol Crimefest which happened this past weekend – reports:

Saturday started with two more panels. I found myself chairing one on Idiosyncratic Protagonists: creating believable and unique characters. This was my first chairing effort, but fortunately I had an interesting and amusing group of authors – Declan Burke, Martin Walker, Alex Walters, Anne Zouroudi – so it went well. Declan’s extraordinary post-modern novel – ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL – went on to win the Last Laugh award at the Gala dinner, while Anne was fresh from winning the Midlands Book Prize for her excellent THE WHISPERS OF NEMESIS.

Lee Child

lee childThis led into the next big-name interview – Lee Child. I’ve met Lee Child before at Bouchercon in San Francisco, where he was also guest of honour. He’s a charming and modest person. During this interview, he said that when he came to the end of a contract with a publisher, he always thought of it as his last book in case his contract wasn’t renewed. No, he actually meant it!

Of course, everyone wanted to know what he felt about Tom Cruise – not the world’s biggest guy – playing the powerful Jack Reacher in the first film of the series. Lee amusingly told of how he dreaded the first meeting after all the internet fuss, imagining reaching down to Cruise from his two metres. But in the event he found Cruise to be just a normal sized guy. Having the talent to play Reacher as smart and quick was seen to be more important than physical size. Reacher fans may not agree.

Was Lee worried that the film would be too far away from the book, and would the film affect the way he wrote future books? Not at all, he said. They’re different art forms altogether.

He also told us about fashioning Reacher’s character, and his desire to be completely free of constraints. So Reacher travels with nothing but the clothes he’s wearing and a toothbrush. (In the movie he spends a night in jail. When his lawyer arranges his release the next morning, he has his possessions returned by the police. For the symbolism, Lee himself will play the desk sergeant who hands over the toothbrush.)

Asked why he has so many female fans, Lee told us of an afternoon at Poison Pen Bookstore in Phoenix where ALL the participants where women. He asked them that question, and got a variety of answers. His own take is that Reacher is sexually attractive, available, the knight in shining armour who comes and sorts out your problems. And then, best of all, moves on. The ultimate fling with no baggage!

PD James

pdjamesI guess I was a little nervous about the interview with PD James. The “Queen of Crime” – now over 90 – makes few public appearances and I wondered what she would be like. I haven’t read her latest book – DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY – and not being a great Jane Austin fan, the whole concept didn’t sit very well with me. Was Baroness James finally past her prime?

I was stupid to worry. She has a commanding presence and incisive wit. No question: there will be more books and as good as ever.

She was asked about her views on a variety of issues ranging from the role of the House of Lords to the history of crime fiction. Echoing Forsyth, she said we live in a “dangerous age”. Inevitably she was asked to join the debate about Agatha Christie. She responded that she didn’t rate Christie very highly as a novelist, although her dialogue was cleverly used. She paused, and added, “She has given pleasure to millions of people. Let’s keep that in mind. And if you were stuck overnight in a city because of aeroplane problems, and the hotel had only a couple of books by the bedside – one a recent Booker prize winner and the other a Christie, which would you choose to cheer up your wait?”

Asked about her contact with criminals, she said she had visited a prison housing murderers and was interested to discover that many wanted to write although few were very good at it. One man commented: “You and I should get together, Miss James. You have the talent but I have the experience.” I don’t think the baroness was tempted to take him up on his offer.

Sue Grafton

graftonA second generation crime writer, Sue published her first novel in 1967 and a second shortly afterwards. But then she went into TV for many years, and only returned to crime writing with A IS FOR ALIBI in 1982. Since then her series featuring female PI Kinsey Milhone has worked its way through the alphabet, now at V IS FOR VENGEANCE. She is writing W now, what happens after three more letters? Grafton says she’ll wait and see.

I asked Anne Zouroudi a similar question at the earlier panel. What happens to Hermes Diaktoros, (the Greek detective who is the protagonist of her books) at the end of the Seven Deadly Sins she uses as her template? She has just published number six… Well, a reader has suggested the Ten Commandments next and that should give plenty of scope.

The Killing

I’m an inveterate TV non-watcher so I don’t know if this Danish serial has made it to SA on DSTV. There is a great thirst in the UK for anything Scandinavian – partly due to Stieg Larsson, it was suggested. The TV serial has now been made into a book by the excellent writer David Hewson – who wrote – among many other things – MACBETH THE NOVEL. The writer of the original TV script Soren Sveistrup and David joined in discussion about translation between media and the difficulties and rewards. A very interesting two way street.

The Gala Dinner (with Jeffery Deaver as toastmaster) was preceded by a charity event to raise money for a research morgue at the University of Dundee. Innovative idea to take that to a convention of crime readers and writers!

Sunday started with Stanley Trollip’s panel on When Fact Meets Fiction: fusing reality and imagination. The panellists linked this with their work: Stan to the Bushman backstory of DEATH OF THE MANTIS, Michael Ridpath to his conspiracies in Iceland – including the Tolkien connections of WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE, Lyn Shepherd to her ‘reality’ provided by Austin and Dickens, and Laura Wilson to recent history.

Roslund & Hellström

roslundThe Swedish sensation of Roslund & Hellström, who won the International Dagger award last year for THREE SECONDS, were interviewed about their work and about working together. Obviously the latter was particularly interesting for Stan and me. Roslund is a TV journalist and Hellström is a reformed criminal. Both have now given up their day jobs to write full time. Asked about the Larsson effect, Roslund pointed out that he and Hellström have been working together for 15 years. He respected and worked with Stieg Larsson, but Larsson followed them, not the other way around.

They write their books in three stage – research, detailed plot and outline, actual writing. They have the advantage of living most of the time in the same city.

THREE SECONDS is being made into a movie by 20th Century Fox. Asked whether they were consulted about the movie, Roslund commented wryly: “We were told they thought the love story should be further developed. There is no love story in the book.”

After 15 years and seven books, they are currently taking a break from crime fiction and each writing separate books in other genres.

Criminal Mastermind

The final event of Crimefest is Mastermind for crime fiction buffs. Four contestants faced the incredibly knowledgeable Maxim Jakubowski as quiz master. The winner was the inimitable Peter Guttridge by the smallest possible margin from Peter Rozovsky, who writes the Detectives Beyond Borders crime fiction blog which is as good as it gets for international crime fiction comment and reviews.

Crimefest 2012 was enormous fun, great panels, and the line-up of invited guests was spectacular. It will be a hard act for Crimefest 2013 to follow.


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