Special Report: CrimeFest 2012

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For Crime Fiction Lovers in the UK, the CrimeFest convention held in Bristol is one of the key dates on the crime writing calendar. Authors from around the world headed to the city for this year’s event which began on Thursday, and we managed to send an investigator to the Bristol’s Marriot Royal Hotel yesterday to see what it was like. OK, so we’d missed out on dozens of sessions on Thursday and Friday, including live interviews with Frederick Forsyth and Jeffery Deaver, but Saturday had the loaded schedule and did not disappoint.

The Killing
The highlight for us was a session devoted to the hit Danish TV series The Killing. Crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw conducted an on-stage interview with the show’s producer Søren Sveistrup, and author David Hewson who has written a novel based on the programme. Sveistrup produced the show in an unusual fashion – he planned the story roughly beforehand but wrote the story on the fly as the first series was being made. None of the actors or actresses was who killed Nanna Birk Larsen until the last episodes were filmed.

Hewson had the challenge of turning the now iconic story into a book, and sat down with the DVDs faithfully rendering the plot, characters and setting in words. “I tried to become possessed by the characters, and write what they’d say in English,” he explained.

Unlike his Costa series, set in Italy, the author adopted a very sparse and minimal approach to the prose in The Killing. He doesn’t embellish or elaborate too much, nor does he share many of the characters’ thoughts, though he revealed that the ending is slightly different to the TV show. He tried to capture as well as he could the state of limbo the Birk Larsens find themselves in – the nightmare – after their daughter is killed, and while Lund hunts down the murderer.

PD James
At over 90 years of age and the author of more than 20 books, Baroness PD James was by far the most charming author to take the stage. She may sit in the House of Lords but she’s very down to earth and was full of priase for other writers in the genre. Many crime fiction books, she said, deserve to be treated as literature, while at the same time pointing out that thanks to the popularity of the genre at the moment, perhaps some crime novels published today would not be published were they not crime.

For her fans she revealed that her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley is to be made into a television programme by the BBC. She wrote it as a crime sequel to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, one of her own favourite authors. James also talked a little of her disappointment in the way her Cordelia Grey novels had been adapted for television. And, she mentioned that if there’s to be another Adam Dalgleish book, readers discover that he and his wife have produced a daughter.

Her discussion of how times have changed during her career was intriguing. She noted that when she started writing an unmarried mother would be sent off to a home to have her baby which would most likely be given up for adoption. Today, we give a single mother a council flat and enough money to live on. Society’s views on sex, marriage and divorce have all changed drastically, and we have greater freedom. “But is it a more equal society?” she asked.

Lee Child and Sue Grafton
Lee Child was on stage in the morning and talked a great deal about how One Shot, one of his 16 Jack Reacher novels, is being made into a Hollywood movie with Tom Cruise playing Reacher. Robert Duval and Warner Herzog – yes, really – also appear in the film. And if you go and see it  pay attention when Reacher is being released by the police because Lee Child makes a cameo as the desk sergeant giving the hero he created back his toothbrush. There may be another Reacher movie on the way. Meanwhile the next book in the series will be the 17th, entitled A Wanted Man, out in August.

Like Lee Child, Sue Grafton made the journey over from America to speak. Her Kinsey Millhone mysteries have been written alphabetically starting with A is for Alibi. She’s written quite a few now and, in fact, the next one due is V is for Vengeance. She’s a quarter of the way into the W edition and she also revealed that Z will be for Zero. Grafton’s father was an author in the 1950s and she told the audience how much she’d learned from him. However it was a bad marriage that led her to become a crime writer – during her divorce from her second husband she’d sit awake at night thinking of ways of killing him. Of course, she is a law-abiding citizen… still, we’re not going to get on the wrong side of her.

Panel discussions
Another aspect of the festival, aside from the book signings and the opportunities for authors to pitch to agents, was the panel sessions. I went to one entilted Crime Fiction as Social Commentary or Entertainment and the panel included Peter James, James Sallis, Sophie Hannah and John Curran. It was a little disappointing that the panel generally dismissed the topic straight away and avoided talking about any social commenatary that may or may not appear in their own books.

Agatha Christie expert John Curran challenged his fellow panel members, asking them if they didn’t have a social responsibility in the way they depicted violence and gore. They generally said that they try to describe it realistically. Peter James is a great speaker and as Crime Writers’ Association chair is an enthusiastic advocate of the genre, and he talked about social programmes he’s involved in. It was also fantastic to meet James Sallis, over from the Arizona. However the panel would have been more interesting if they’d talked more about how social issues are portrayed in crime fiction alongside the plot, storytelling and psychology of the characters. After all, many of the books we enjoy most have a grain of social commentary in them – from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to The Girl in Berlin, from The Cold Cold Ground to Dust Devils.

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