Crimefest 2016 – where the pen is bloodier than the sword!

Crimefest 2016 – where the pen is bloodier than the sword!

The annual International Crime Fiction Convention was held at the Marriot Royal Hotel in Bristol this year between 19th and 22nd May. Annie Johnson went along.

The event celebrates the crime-writing genre in all its gory glory and has become one of the biggest crime literature events in Europe. It is an informal and friendly gathering that appeals to the die-hard fan of the genre, as well as those who occasionally dip into the huge crime fiction catalogue. The event centres on a series of panels and interviews with guest authors along with writing workshops and opportunities for aspiring writers to ‘pitch an agent’.

The panel subjects ranged from ‘Deadly Duos: Partners & Sidekicks’ to ‘Strangled by Smartphone: Crime in the E age’ and every conceivable crime genre in between. Panellists and moderators were all acknowledged writers and provided a wonderful insight into how the novel is created and how plot and character are formed.

Attracting readers, editors, publishers, reviewers – and of course novelists – from the UK and across the world, gives a jam-packed three days of all that a mystery reader or writer could wish for.

Whilst the event was informal it was most definitely very well organised. From the friendly and efficient greeting at registration, to the helpful signposting throughout the day, things ran very smoothly – no mean achievement for such a large gathering. There was a 20-minute break between each session to allow delegates time to switch rooms, top up on tea and coffee, and to facilitate the consequential comfort breaks.

Meeting the writers

My colleague and I attended the Saturday event, and we had a difficult task in deciding which panels to attend. Starting off with ‘Deadly Dames: Women as killers, investigators and victims’ we heard from four authors, who whilst having a female as the central protagonist in their novels, their settings and themes varied considerably. It was interesting to hear views on how women are perceived in both fiction and factual crimes.

Our next session was ‘Once upon a crime: Long long ago’ which discussed the trials and tribulations of setting crime stories in the past. The panellists all set their novels in a historical context ranging from the 1940s back to the 17th century. Clearly thorough research was a vital part of the writing process for the panellists.

Being keen to ensure that their characters and plots were appropriate for the time period in which they are set, writers explained how they use research documents (such as court reports and newspapers) to help them to assess the tone and pace of the day to day language used and so create the right historical voice for their characters. A common message from both these sessions was the need for characters to be able to stand-alone and to be an integral part of the narrative.

Spooks and spies

The highlights for us both were ‘James Naughtie and Adam Sisman: Le Carre, Spies, Fact and Fiction’ and the interview of Ian Rankin by Jake Kerridge of the Telegraph.

Adam Sisman is an award-winning biographer who has just published a much talked about biography of David Cornwall (John Le Carre). He was an engaging speaker who had some amusing anecdotes on how the biography writing process works and specifically on his interactions with David Cornwall.

James Naughtie is perhaps best known as a presenter of Radio 4’s Today programme. His second novel ‘Paris Spring’ has recently been published with much critical acclaim. He spoke of how he had used the events of these student riots as the setting for his second novel and how he felt that the events of 1968 saw the start of enormous social and political change across the world. As you can imagine, he was a captivating speaker being erudite, amusing and eloquent – a born storyteller.

The interview with Ian Rankin was the one we really enjoyed. Given his critical success and many awards, it would not have been too surprising if Ian Rankin had given a workmanlike performance. However, that was most definitely not the case. He started the interview by giving a reading from his latest novel, which is due to be published later this year. It was captivating to hear Rebus read by his creator. Ian Rankin was engaging, entertaining and informative; relating how he uses his wife to sense check titles and give his manuscripts the once-over before sending them to his publishers.

To find out more about the event visit