When Covid 19 clips your wings, why not plan a crime festival?
By Beverley Jones, author of The Beach House.
Remember last summer, when we were all staying home, protecting the NHS and clapping for carers? Little did we know how thoroughly Covid 19 would affect us all in so many ways. But crime writers would hardly be affected, surely? Squirreled away in our attics scribbling plots, hoarding scraps of paper with poisoning methodology or the Contempt of Court act on them, we already work from home and are anti-social beasts, right?
Well, not really. Think back to the hazy days of June and July, before I’d even heard of Zoom and no one realised they needed to curate their background bookshelves so very carefully. My novel Wilderness, ironically a psychological thriller about a couple’s deadly, 1500-mile road trip across the USA, was released in paperback just after the first lockdown hit, and everyone became really familiar with their back yards, gardens and the number of steps to the end of their street. Suddenly, all events were off, bookshops were shut and those lovely face-to-face meetings with readers that make it all worthwhile were a no-no.
Luckily, I’d already done my ‘research’ for my seventh novel, The Beach House, due out in June 2021, way back in 2019, when I took another road trip to the Pacific Northwest of the USA. It was crafting the story about a woman who thinks the wild coast of Oregon might be an ideal place to escape a deadly event in her Welsh childhood, that gave me a mental escape to the forests and seashores, if not an actual one.
But how does a crime writer continue to stay sane when inspiration is curtailed and interactions are minimised? The surprising answer might be swapping the Oregon shores for the Ceredigion coastline and helping organise a crime festival – specifically the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, 2022.
Go big or go home (again)
It started way back in 2017, when crime writers Alis Hawkins, Matt Johnson and Rosie Claverton founded the Welsh crime collective Crime Cymru, to support Welsh crime writers who pen their novels in English, and to promote that fiction across the world. It struck them that, for some reason, despite the fact it’s home to bestselling authors such as Clare Mackintosh and Belinda Bauer, and TV dramas like Keeping Faith and Hinterland have attracted international fans, Welsh crime writing is not as well-known as its UK counterparts or Scandi-noir neighbours. That’s something they want to change.
It might’ve seemed ambitious to plan a crime literature festival as the world adapted to ‘essential travel only,’ but with the optimistic attitude ‘go big, or go home’ (again), Wales’ very first international crime festival started to take shape.
A year on, and the planned guest list for 2022 already features household names like Anne Cleeves, Peter James, Mark Billingham, Clare Mackintosh, Elly Griffiths and Abir Mukherjee.
‘The 2022 festival will open on April 29th, with a torch-lit dragon parade, starting in Aberystwyth town centre and finishing at the castle,’ says CWA member and Dagger Award Nominee Alis Hawkins, chair of the festival organising group.
‘On the Saturday night there will be a Noson Lawen (a party with live music) for authors and members of the public – a chance to chat to famous faces. Then, on Sunday evening, we’re planning a champagne reception, at which, the winner of the inaugural Crime Cymru First Crime Novel prize will be announced. There’ll be panels and workshops all week, a great chance to meet some favourite crime authors and find some new ones in a unique setting that will showcase Wales and its writers alongside household names.’
Crime Skills Meet Crime Fiction
It’s not been easy trying to grip a logistical exercise like this on Zoom screens, from poky back bedrooms (me), enviable home offices (Alis) or anywhere the kids or our working from home other halves are not. Getting people to even look ahead, let alone commit to being involved has been half the battle but persistence has paid off.
‘This enterprise has definitely required imagination and energy,’ says former Met Police Officer, and festival co-chair, Matt Johnson. ‘In fact, it’s taken all the traits of a crime writer, plus skills developed over many years as a detective, and a willingness to acquire new ones – like website design, to pull it off. Find, persuade, book!
‘Enthusiasm can only get so far, however. The festival group has been very fortunate to receive the mentorship of Dr Jacky Collins from Newcastle Noir festival and Vanessa O’Loughlin (Sam Blake) from Murder One festival in Dublin. Their advice has been invaluable. We’ve also employed a solutioneer, Nellie Williams, who has run the Glanusk Show and is part of the Wales Week team.’
In September 2020, I joined the festival team, to help with the publicity, dusting off my old newspaper journalist hat and police press officer jacket to gather contacts, write releases and start shouting loudly that Wales’s first crime festival is on its way and it’d be a crime to miss it! (You never lose the taste for a headline pun, apparently).
But we’re not waiting until 2022 to share the excitement. Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol will be fully online, from April 26 – May 3, 2021, offering armchair detectives an early opportunity to enjoy a Wales’- based crime festival, with guests such as the bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels, Lee Child and his brother Andrew Child, from home, absolutely free.
You can browse the event list and book your free ticket by visiting www.GwylCrimeCymruFestival.co.uk or join us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @GwylCrimeCymruFestival and @Crime.Cymru for a chat.
We hope to connect with you from the safety or your sofa soon, and to see you at the seaside in 2022.