I’ve just come back from Crimefest 2016 and I thought I’d share some of what happened.
Had the weirdest experience of my life, but to explain why this is weird I have to give you some context. I’ve been an editor for a while now and I actually managed to achieve some repeat customers. One of these is Tana Collins, I’ve edited two of her police procedurals so far but as she lives in Scotland and I live in Wales, it’s all a very at-a-distance kind of thing.
But on Thursday (the first day of Crimefest), I’m sitting near the back of one of the panel rooms, busy typing on my tab, writing out the first paragraphs of the first scene of my third Locked series novel. Then I hear this querulous voice saying “Gail?” Look up and there on the row in front is Tana Collins. This wasn’t so weird, as I’d learned through Facebook that she would be attending so was fully expecting to see her. The oddity was what happened next. Tana said meeting me was one of the highlights of the weekend that she was really looking forward to. The girl really needs to raise her standards if I’m a highlight. But there again why shouldn’t I be?
Thing was, I had been looking forward to meeting her too. It’s one of the oddities of being an editor, that you get to know a writer’s work, but you don’t always get to know the writer. However, in this case, Tana and I have become friends and I hope that knowing one another will help the working relationship too. I’m looking forward to her next Carruthers novel and don’t worry, I will be telling you more as her books come out.
I started with this as it happened on day one. Through the rest of the days, I attended many of the panels, and a number of things come across quite strongly. Here are the headlines to save boring you:
- Research – do lots
- Strong female characters
- Most protagonists have specialised backgrounds
- Sense of place, especially an international sense of place.
Here’s what I was thinking:
- I’m not sure I do that much research. Don’t get me wrong, I do check my facts. Especially when I’m editing – so don’t go giving a sports fan the wrong tattoo (Tana!) as I will check. But I don’t spend hours agonising over research for my own books. So clearly this is an area where I need to up my game.
- I do have strong female characters, but I’ve never sold a book led by one. No one at this point is allowed to point out that I’ve never actually sold a book period, okay? But I’ve written a load of female leads, yet it was a male lead that got me an agent.
- Most of my lead characters don’t have specialist backgrounds. Yes a couple or more of them are police officers, which is specialist, but also necessary when writing police procedurals, but I really try to make my characters like the person you’re going to sit next to in a pub, ordinary if you like, or not. Most of my characters are bumbling around trying to make sense of things, beige people in colourful situations.
- A sense of place. The book that got me the agent is very carefully constructed to never reveal where it is. On the other hand, the vast majority of it takes place in a prison, so there is a sense of place, just not a named location. Similarly, book two is out in the civilian world, but I never give a town name and I’ve made up the street names. Besides, again, most of the action takes place in a single room – while cutting in the police scenes on the street outside. There again I tend to set my stuff domestically, i.e. in areas of the UK that I know. This is definitely something I am going to have to work on.
Which all left me rather deflated. This is, in a way, another thing I find at these conventions. I start out excited and then it goes downhill. It seems every panel members is (a) younger than me [not at all true, but it feels like it] and (b) had a great career before becoming a published author. I have a job I don’t like and the slog to publication is like wading through the Bog of Despair. I’m also starting to either love or despise autocorrect. I wrote this paragraph on my tab and the last line came up as Bognor of Despair which I find oddly amusing – sorry Bognor I’ve never actually been to Bognor so have no idea if that’s fitting or not. (And before anyone tells me I’ve got it wrong, I just Googled it so I know it was actually the Swamp of Sadness, but I thought the autocorrect was worth sharing.)
Also, I note that for a lot of people these festivals are a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones. That’s something else I appear to be deficient at. I talk to people when I’m at these things but I don’t find it easy and I don’t generally come away with lasting friendships. Tana, please note that you are excluded from this category as we knew one another way before Crimefest.
However, anyone who reads my blogs will know that I suffer depression. I might also have mentioned that I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy to help with this. One of the tools I’ve learnt is to recognise the trigger points and head-them-off-at-the-pass so to speak.
So I looked back on the above and I re-evaluated.
The result is, why shouldn’t Tana meeting me be a highlight for the weekend? Okay I’m not a famous author, but I am someone she’s worked with and someone who’s spent time getting to know and care about the people in her head – the ones she put on paper at least. I was looking forward to meeting her too, so it’s great to know that she was looking forward to meeting me. This is a GOOD THING, I tell myself and try not to go scurrying for cover as good things make me nervous, always looking for the scorpion sting.
I’ve also realised that I need to seriously up my game writing wise, and that’s what I plan to do, but that’s going to be the subject of my next blog. The rest of this is going to be about weird things that happened at the Gala dinner.
I sat where I was told to and with no one I knew (except hubby of course) and as you do, got talking to them. The gentleman to my right had a very strong Australian accent, but as I got talking to him, I found out that he was originally from Kent, same as me, just a few miles apart actually.
Then we got talking to another lady, not giving names as I haven’t that person’s permission. And this is where it got really weird – she’d already heard of me – yep, you guessed it – through Tana. That’s never happened to me before. But my husband told me after that as soon as he saw her, he thought he’s seen her somewhere else. Turns out that that is altogether possible – during the conversation we discovered that she works in Swansea, as do we.
Then, just to prove that I really am a Duchess of Geekdom, the guy across the table, (again no names in the absence of permission) and I start peeling back the onion layers of my geekiness and talked about Dr Who, science fiction of all types and ages. Anyone else old enough to remember “Come Home Mrs Noah”? No? Just the two of us then. There was talk of superhero movies, comic books and other oddball TV.
In other words, we had a really good time. Thank you all who helped make this my favourite Crimefest so far, and proving that I don’t have to leave festivals downhearted. And I hope to stay in touch with several of you through the coming months/years.