Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival Brought Me Sunshine, by Rachel Sargeant
Ever thought of going to a crime fiction festival but not really sure what to expect? I felt the same, and given my tendency to shyness, I couldn’t imagine plucking up the courage to attend one. That was until I heard about Morecambe and Vice. With a name like that, how could it be anything but fun?
I took the plunge. And fun it was. I’m just back from this year’s festival and I can’t wait to go back next year. A hundred or so crime fiction readers, writers and bloggers and 45 invited authors descended on the small seaside town of Morecambe on a rainy weekend in late September. The event was held at the Midland Hotel, overlooking beautiful Morecambe Bay. As a crime-fiction fan, it wasn’t a surprise that the first thing I noticed about our 1930s art-deco setting was the magnificent spiral staircase that featured in episodes of Poirot. The venue got me straight in the mood for the weekend ahead.
Although it was possible to buy tickets for individual talks, most visitors bought day passes for £25 or weekend passes for £40. As an author participating in a panel, I was allowed to watch other panels for free. Many guests stayed at the Midland Hotel but those of us with smaller pockets found reasonably priced hotels nearby.
The Festival proper started on Saturday but it was a delight to arrive in time on Friday for the supplementary Polari Salon readings by LGBT+ authors. First up was Derek Farrell reading from Death of An Angel. I fell a little in love with unlikely sleuths Danny and Lady Caz and signed up to Derek’s newsletter on the spot.
Next up Lesley Thomson, author of The Playground Murders, set the scene with descriptions of those 1970s death-traps known as children’s playgrounds. The older members of the audience realised how lucky we were to survive our childhoods.
Paul Burston, host of the event, read from his new novel The Closer I Get, a thriller told from the viewpoints of a stalker and the victim. Paul also explained the disturbing real-life background to the story.
Finally, Icelandic crime fiction queen Lilja Sigurðardóttir gave us a sneak preview of Cage, the final part of her Reykjavik trilogy. The passage she read featured a corrupt banker and a drugs mule who meet as inmates in a women’s prison.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
Saturday opened with a fascinating panel of authors who have set their crime novels at the end of the world. Lesley Kelly has a killer pandemic decimating Edinburgh in her Health of Strangers series.
Ceri Lowe has written Paradigm, a climate-based catastrophe Young Adult trilogy that features a live-body version of cryonics.
Matt Brolly’s Zero is set in a bleak world of zero tolerance where criminals – whatever their offence – are paraded around in glass pods prior to their execution.
The three authors discussed why readers are so fascinated by apocalyptic novels. Consensus was that we like to imagine we’d be the one to survive in an end-of-the-world scenario and we like the idea of apocalypse as an ending that ultimately leads to a new beginning.
Bring Me Sunshine on the Ivories … with a Candlestick in the Library
Between panels, while authors signed books, we were treated to lovely piano playing. Bring Me Sunshine, the Morecambe and Wise signature tune and the theme of this year’s festival, could be heard a few times throughout the weekend. A nice touch. As was the display of Cluedo sets. Who knew the board game had so many versions?
Let Them Lead the Way
The second panel on Saturday, ably moderated by Anne Coates, author of the Hannah Weybridge series, featured three authors who write mysteries for children. Until recently, before I became a fulltime author, I was a school librarian. In my last week in the job, I bought books by all three of these panellists for the school so it was a thrill to hear from them in person.
Sharna Jackson introduced us to High-Rise Mystery, the first in a series featuring brother and sister sleuths who live on a London estate.
Sarah Todd Taylor’s Max the Detective Cat series stars a puzzle-solving puss who eavesdrops on ne’er-do-wells in a theatre. (Top prize for dressing for the occasion goes to Sarah in her magnificently bookish dress.)
Nicki Thornton set her first Seth Sippe fantasy mystery in The Last Chance Hotel. Book two sees the sleuthing kitchen boy move to a lighthouse. With the audience looking out on the treacherous mudflats of Morecambe Bay this setting seemed perfect for a mystery story.
The panel debated the issue of age advisory guidelines on children’s books. All agreed that age plays only a small part in what makes a particular book suitable for a particular child, but acknowledged that most purchase decisions are made by parents and other adults who might appreciate the guidance.
All three expressed delight at meeting children on school visits who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their works and are brimming with ideas for sequels.
I slipped out to spend some time with my husband, who’d given up his long weekend to accompany me on my book pilgrimage to Lancashire. We called in at Morecambe’s Heritage Centre and looked at the memorabilia about the numerous big names who performed at the Winter Gardens before they were famous. We also read the tribute to local boy Eric Morecambe and watched a fascinating amateur film of Morecambe’s 1950s seaside heyday.
Detecting the Social
Author William Shaw devised and moderated a lively panel event to kick off the afternoon. Mary Evans, Sarah Moore and Hazel Johnston – a team of academics and crime-fiction fans – have jointly written: Detecting the Social: Order and Disorder in Post-1970s Fiction. The book looks at society through the lens of crime fiction. Completing the panel was author Gytha Lodge.
The five authors spoke fondly of crime fiction and lamented how it is undervalued in the literary world. All were of the opinion that a fictional detective doesn’t just solve a fictional crime, but also investigates real-world society.
The academics revealed they have plans for a future book on the role of gender in crime fiction, an idea well received by the audience. A starting point for their study might be William Shaw’s intriguing revelation that he gets more letters of criticism about the actions of his female detective then he ever received when he was writing about a male detective.
Partners in Crime
The Morecambe and Vice audience provided the background noises and enthusiastic applause for a live recording of Adam Croft’s Partners in Crime podcast. Co-host Adrian Hobeck talked about his work as an audio book narrator.
Experience is the Mother of Wisdom
On Sunday I appeared at my first ever author panel alongside three other authors. We talked about how we won prizes early in our writing careers.
Alison Belsham successfully pitched her way to first prize at Bloody Scotland with an outline of what became The Tattoo Thief.
Robert Scragg got the thumbs-up at a pitching opportunity on Creative Thursday at the Harrogate Festival. This was a big step on the road to publication for his Porter and Styles series.
Margaret Kirk won the Good Housekeeping First Novel award with Shadow Man. (One of my favourite reads of 2018.)
I talked about winning Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition with my first ever short story which eventually became my novel, The Good Teacher. (An apt book to be talking about at Morecambe and Vice, given the similarities between my book’s cover and the festival’s Eric Morecambe broken specs logo.)
We were asked to give a mention to someone who made us think of “Bring Me Sunshine.” We raved about the benefit we had from sharing feedback with fellow writers and I thanked bloggers for the fantastic job they do in supporting authors.
Despite our being unmoderated, my experienced co-panellists kept the conversation moving and we spoke to a wonderfully supportive audience.
Time Out Again
I slipped away again to spend the afternoon with my husband. Despite the pouring rain, we ventured to Lancaster for a tour of the castle and a visit to the Maritime Museum, both well worth the trip.
To give an idea of the full range of panels on offer to guests, here’s a list of the panels I unfortunately had to miss:
Festival of Festivals – running a literary festival; Til Death Do Us Part – being married to a crime writer; Femmes Fatales; Let’s Talk Mental Health; and All That Remains – forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black.
Sunshine Was Brought
This small, friendly festival lived up to its fun name and was organised superbly by Tom Fisher and Ben Cooper-Muir, together with their hardworking team. Despite the rain, Morecambe and Vice brought me lots of sunshine.
About Rachel Sargeant
Rachel Sargeant is the author of The Good Teacher and The Perfect Neighbours.
Her new psychological thriller The Roommates comes out in ebook on 24 October and in paperback on 28 November. It is set at a university during freshers’ week. Four students. Four secrets. One devastating lie.