Twenty-seven days after CrimeFest ended it’s still buzzing round my head for three very good reasons.
The first is that I walked away with 29 more books than I arrived with. 12 physical and 17 digital. Of the physicals, 8 are signed copies from authors who were there, and 4 were in the goodie bag. Of the signed ones, I had already read four (see the sason, below), and am very much looking forward to reading the others, especially The Khan, by Saima Mir. Saima is from Bradford, as am I, and as Bradford prepares to be UK city of culture in 2025, the huge success of her novel is a great boost for our city’s literary traditions, from J.B. Priestley through to A. A. Dhand (one of my favourite writers).
I am also hugely looking forward to reading The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson. I saw Nadine speak on two panels, and she brought them alive with her enthusiasm and humour. The way a writer speaks is so often a reflection of the way they write, so I am expecting a treat there. And I have a very special signed copy of Trevor Woods’ Dead End Street. I met Trevor briefly in 2017 in Norwich, and his all-round loveliness and generosity of spirit that exudes from the pages of his novels is very much who he is. He demonstrated this again by chatting at the bar with me and my OH for ages, and then buying a copy of my own novel, Hunted, and running around on the last day to find me and ask me to sign it for him. He found me, and I did.
In the four weeks since leaving CrimeFest I have read eighteen books, of which five more were from my CrimeFest haul. Twenty to go. Other highlights so far – The Game, by Scott Kershaw, and Off Target, by Eve Smith. Both thrillers, both very different, but equally compelling.
The second reason CrimeFest is still in my mind is that I was on my first panel, which was nerve-wracking and wonderful. Nerve-wracking because my fellow panellists were Kia Abdullah, Holly Watt, Sarah Sultoon, and our moderator was Stanley Trollip. I had heard of them all before I learned I was on the panel, but had only read one of Stanley’s stories, one written in partnership with Michael Sears, under the name Michael Stanley. In preparation for the panel I read a book written by each of them, but loved all of them so much I ended up reading both of Sarah’s (The Source and The Shot), all three of Holly’s (To The Lions, The Dead Line, and The Hunt and the Kill), one of Kia’s (Next of Kin), and three of Stanley’s (Wolfman, as Stanley Trollip, and Dead of Night and A Death in the Family as Michael Stanley). If I’d started reading their work sooner, I’d have read the rest of Stanley’s and of Kia’s. Loved them all, as harrowing as most of them are. So much talent sitting on a platform in Bristol, with me in the middle of them. Hope I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself in their august company. Our chat in the green room before the talk was lovely, and I wish them all every success with books current and future. Hope to see them again.
The third reason, was the announcement of the shortlists for the CWA dagger awards. I had a personal interest, because Hunted was longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) dagger. My interest in that dagger was increased as Sarah Sultoon, on my panel, was also longlisted, for her first novel, The Source. And my fellow UEA alumnus, and fellow published by Hobeck books, Mark Wightman, was also longlisted for his debut novel, Waking the Tiger. It was increased further as another of the panelists, Kia Abdullah, was longlisted for the Gold dagger for Next of Kin. And it was increased still further as two graduates from the UEA MA in Crime Fiction, which I did, were on the longlist for the Debut dagger. Laura Ashton Hill and Katherine Black.
I don’t like crowds. I’m not good in them. I seek their edges. I was at CrimeFest with my OH and several other friends who are authors. They are, mostly, less concerned with crowds. They sought the centre of the room. I scuttled to the back. They recognised my discomfort with the centre of the room and joined me at the back.
The announcements came. Hunted didn’t make the shortlist. I wasn’t too disappointed, as I’d looked at the others on the longlist and felt there were at least seven others more likely to progress. I was right in that I didn’t, but I was half-wrong in the ones I thought would. The Source didn’t make it. I was very surprised. It’s a great book. The Shot is even better. But Mark Wightman’s Waking the Tiger did. I was right about that. All the best to Mark for the announcement on June 29th in London.
I was disappointed that Kia’s Next of Kin didn’t make the Gold dagger shortlist. I haven’t read most of the other novels longlisted, but Next of Kin is so well written, so emotive, and so clever. I thought it was a shoo-in.
And when the Debut dagger shortlist was announced, in (surname) alphabetical order, the group I was in, who all know Laura Ashton Hill, deflated, as the first person read out was not her. Then exploded as the second person read out was her. We had been alphabetising on the Ashton, not the Hill. I read a lot of Laura’s work during my two years at UEA, and she is one of the finest writers I have had the pleasure to meet. Commiserations to Katherine. I’m sure I’ll be reading her published novel soon anyway.
So, in closing, the CWA dagger winners will be announced on 29th June. Best of luck to Mark and Laura. Commiserations to Sarah, Katherine, and Kia. And read everything by all of them, cos if they made the longlist, they are worth the time.