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Sunday, 5 November 2017

Having a ball at Bouchercon 2017

by Marsali Taylor

A skyworth of star authors, lots of interesting panels, fun events, and a comfortable and capacious venue in the centre of Toronto made for a wonderful Bouchercon 2017.

The conference opened on Wednesday 11th October with a number of tours for attendees: a Conan Doyle tour of the Toronto Public Library, a bus tour to Niagara Falls and a Ghost Walk. Thursday began with an introduction to Bouchercon and an author Speed Dating event. After that, it was panels all day, and a variety of evening events. Throughout the weekend there were ‘A chance to meet ...’ sessions every twenty minutes in the VIP room, and panels for the Anthony Award nominees. There were individual interviews with the Guests of Honour, who included Louise Penny, Megan Abbott, Christopher Brookmyre, Chris Grabenstein, Howard Engel and reviewer Margaret Cannon, and big names like Linwood Barclay, Kathy Reichs and Yrsa Sigurdurdottir appeared on panels.  In all, there were over 700 authors attending, taking up 90 pages of the glossy A4 conference programme issued to attendees in a handy Mystery Writers of America backpack. 

The conference took over the entire lower concourse of the Sheraton Hotel, with seven generously-sized venues in use (each of them well-filled for the events I attended, and with the doors left open so people could dip in and out), a large room set aside for new and second-hand bookshops and signings, several tables with help-yourself tea, coffee and iced water provided by a variety of sponsors, and ample, handy washrooms. The sessions were each an hour, with a half hour in between sessions, so that you could buy your book and get it signed without missing your next session, or just spend time saying ‘Wasn’t that great!’ to fellow attendees. The atmosphere was really friendly, with a good mix of authors, unpublished authors and readers – a total of 1800 people attended the event.

Thursday evening’s event was the Opening reception, which included the Barry, Derringer and Macavity awards presentation. This event was sponsored by Harper Collins / Harlequin, and was followed by Pub Games with Felony and Mayhem.

The first panel I attended was on Friday morning, ‘UK Crime’ led by Lisa de Nicolits, with Cathy Ace representing Welsh mysteries, Ruth Ware speaking out for the Cotswolds, and Craig Robertson and I flying the Scotland flag (I sweltered gently in my best Shetland jumper). de Nicolitis had prepared very thoroughly for this panel, with starting introductions and quotes from each author, and then discussions of various points which we had in common, like our use of history, and the British idea that a cup of tea is the solution to any shocking discovery or human dilemma (‘And whatever it looks like or tastes like, you have to drink it,’ Ace warned the audience). Our audience was warm and appreciative, and several people came up afterwards to say how much they’d enjoyed it – one said to Lisa later that it had been one of the best discussions of the weekend.

At 11.00, I headed to the chandelier-lit Grand West Ballroom for Mike McCray’s panel on ‘Sweet Revenge’, with authors Elizabeth Heiter, Stuart Neville, Emilie Schepp, Victoria Helen Stone and Michael Wiley. The authors described their books, then discussed what made revenge so fascinating in literature.
They agreed that it was a flawed concept, but that the personal emotions involved made it an excellent topic for a crime novel. Authors also spoke about why they’d chosen their protagonists, how they put themselves into the mind of an avenger, and research they’d used for that.

Irishman Neville felt that revenge is a flawed concept, which leads only to more violence; Stone and Wiley agreed that it was good to indulge in fantasy revenge. Heiter said that revenge is very personal, a lot of heavy emotion, which makes for interesting characters, and Neville pointed out that revenge is a self-driving plot with consequences for the protagonist, who is, Heiter pointed out, often as outside the law as the original perpetrator – ‘but you’re cheering for them,’ Schepp said. Revenge, Wiley pointed out, was the mainspring of some of the oldest stories going, the Greeks, Hamlet – we may now say honour crimes are not acceptable, but that idea of lost honour is still buried inside us, and emerges in a time of crisis.

McCray asked the authors if they set out to write a revenge story, and Schepp said she’d wanted to explain what made a strong character – her revenger is a former child soldier. Revenge wasn’t in every book; her character wanted to know ‘Who am I really?’ Heiter said she had to write about what interested her, and she also needed to think about her series arc, but she did find revenge cropped up in every story; the carrying motive for the series is her protagonist wanting to find out what happened to her friend who’d been in an abusive relationship. Neville didn’t set out to write revenge , but felt the motivation of the protagonist was almost always about the self-worth of the aggressive male killer. Wiley felt the strongest impulse to revenge was connected with children. Stone said that revenge was only a temporary solution for the character – if they reach that, then what? Also, if a character is out for revenge then they’re painting themself as a victim – they can’t see past their anger to reality, and the author has to be aware, and make the reader aware, that there are other points of view. Heiter agreed that you needed to think about afterwards – there’s a ripple effect. ‘Revenge is about never giving up,’ Schepp said, and described her own revenge on the publishers who didn’t bother to read her submission; she decided to do it on her own, and in six months she was Sweden’s most successful self-published author.

Asked about their favourite revenge films, Neville went for Get Carter, Heiter and Wiley went for Hamlet, and Stone and Schepp agreed on 9 to 5.

An audience member asked about turning a personal story into a revenge tale, and Stone advised her to get lots of advice, and make sure the bad guy is nuanced – and change the details so it really isn’t recognisable. After that there was a discussion of killing methods, and the panel agreed that revenge was about putting the other person into a position of powerlessness. Was revenge best served cold? – Stone felt there was a difference between her two revenge stories, in that one was the avenger acting in emotion, the other was plotting, and the authors agreed that the villain of the story was more likely to be cold and calculating, not the protagonist. The level of revenge, they felt was driven by the characters and genre.

Another audience member asked how the authors put themselves into the mindset of a revenger. Neville said he used true life experience from the Irish Troubles. His 2007 book was based on events in Belfast at the time, with the Stourmont agreement, and old prisoners released – many people felt that justice was affected for expediency, there was a lot of anger at men with blood on their hands being given highly-paid positions. He mentioned the ‘Nothing Squad’, an IRA torture squad for suspected informers, and the head of it turned out to be the biggest informer they had, who’d betrayed them completely – but you had to remember that every villain was the hero of his own story, and you had to see the world through his eyes. Heiter and Schepp agreed that empathy with their characters was important. Stone said she was always fascinated by infidelity, the way women project their anger on the other woman who ‘led him astray’ instead of looking at the man and their own lives.

The panel ended with the authors telling us about their WIP.

After lunch I went to Juliet Grames’ panel on ‘Cultural Immersion: mysteries steeped in different cultures’, with Shannon Baker, R.J. Harlick, Lisa Leiberman, Gigi Pandian and Susan Spann. Baker’s series are set in the wilds of Nebraska, where the cattle to people ratio is 50:1, and there’s one law enforcement officer for a huge area. Harlick’s series is set in the wilds of Quebec, among the First Nation people; Lieberman’s series is set in 1950s England, but she talked particularly about her latest book, set in 1960s Hungary. Pandian’s detective is a present-day professor exploring mysteries to do with missing artefacts from colonial history, and Spann’s mysteries are set in sixteenth-century Japan.

This fascinating discussion covered the different jurisprudence systems in each country, the difficulty of avoiding cultural appropriation, the way an outsider can see a culture differently, and the importance of research. I left the room wanting to read the books of every author on the panel.

Grames began by commenting that these novels weren’t just stories, or even armchair travel; each series involved a totallly different jurisprudence system. Crime was different in every culture – the morality behind it, the motivation, how it was committed, how the perp was caught and punished. Baker described her law enforcement officer; he had nobody to report to, and one weekend off each month, when a travelling deputy covered. A Nebraska sheriff was elected for four years, and had twelve months after being elected to take a twelve week course at the Police Academy. Spann explained that medieval Japan had two systems of justice. The Samurai had a very rigid honour system; a blod feud would kill one person from each family; a duel killed only one person. Women could also be samurai, but they used a different set of weapons, unless they were an only daughter brought up as a son. However for everyone else, there was a complete system of police, judge, courts, different for each cultural setting, which she reflected in her books. Pandian said her novels focused on theft, and how different cultures deal with their history – what constitutes a treasure: age, money value, knowledge rather than an artefact? Lieberman spoke of 1960s Budapest where a crime was defined by the authorities – for example, poetry was forbidden, as it meant the mind was not restrained by the state. It was a crime to think for yourself; by contrast, spying and informing on others were encouraged. Harlick described the work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the North West territories among the close communities of the First Nations. She was particularly impressed by the court authorities who went out of their way to help a young woman who was tried by video conference for assault on a bad boyfriend. There was also community justice among the First Nation people.

Grames’ next question looked at cultural appropriation, and the use of cultural objects without context – who has the right to write about what culture? Spann felt it was really important to get details right. She’d done twenty years of research now, and her biggest compliment was when a Japanese critic named hers as the only accurate books written by a non-Japanese person. She preferred to write from the perspective of a character, but that was no excuse for getting details wrong - if she wasn’t sure she had a detail correct, she’d cut it. Baker said the Hopi, featured in her books, were the oldest and poorest tribe, but believed they were responsible for the balance of the world. Their youth drain meant they could no longer do their ceremonies, and the white people stole their kachina masks to put in museums. She’d asked a Hopi elder about their secret ceremonies, and he replied simply, ‘If you know it, it’s not a secret.’

Leiberman spoke about how an outsider can see the stories a country likes to tell about itself; in Hungary, on National Day, the remembrance of a defeat in 1848, she felt there was a narrative of victimhood. In the same way, the town museum tells stories of torture, with the emphasis of ‘the Germans / Soviets made us do it’. She recounted how in one village she’d visited there had been a wealthy Jewish population. In 1944, with the Hungarina Iron Clad soldiers helping the Nazis, they were herded into their beautiful synagogue and kept there without food or water for three days before being loaded into trucks and taken to Auschwitz. None returned. She visited the restored synagogue – ‘I felt I couldn’t breathe in there’, and found afterwards that local people were avoiding her. Those people had materially benefited from the Jews being taken, and feared accusations.

Pandian agreed with Spann about the importance of research: ‘Always talk to other people, seek out people who know before you visit the place, do a fact check, and ask them to look at the book afterwards – I had one thing which I was told was technically correct, but just not done.’ Harlick said there was very little written about the Algonquin people. They met their first Europeans in 1700 – now almost nobody speaks the native language, and they’ve started cultural schools to raise the visibility of the native cultures. All the bad things we’ve done are becoming apparent – the Hida people were reduced from 30,000 to 2,000 by disease. She did her research by talking to people of that culture, and asking them to check her books. She mentioned the scandal of the residential schools of the 40s and 50s, which took children from their tribes for six to seven years, to be immersed in the ‘superior culture’, and the impact that had on the families. She didn’t want to preach, but to expose what had been done.

This was a fascinating panel which left me wanting to read the books of every author on it.

My next panel, at 3.30, was the Canadian Panel, moderated by Kevin Burton Smith, and starring ex-pat authors Hilary Davidson, Paul E Hardisty, Jennifer Hillier, Ausma Zehanat Khan and David Morrell.
This panel began by discussing the ‘Canadian persepctive’ in their very different work, then looked at some Canada / US differences. They agreed that Canada wasn’t ‘dull’ but felt that the ‘nice’ image wasn’t altogether true either; there were some things people preferred not to look at. This was a very interesting discussion which shed light on how Canadians see themselves.

They launched straight into the question of the writers’ Canadian perspective. Hillier felt that in spite of Canada’s ‘nice’ image, she was with Margaret Atwood – the flag wasn’t a maple leaf, it was a bloodstain on snow. Hardisty had spent time in war zones, and felt the theme of social justice came out in his books – they were so lucky to have that in Canada. His Canadian perspective was a sense of bewilderment and shock. Khan and Davidson agreed on the multi-culturalism of Canada, and the way different peoples mix – ‘In my New York block,’ Davidson said, ‘the residents are all white, and the staff all black.’ Hardisty felt Canadians were very polite – he’d seen a sign saying please don’t use airbrakes. It was like the Jesuits, saying if you had a child till he was six he was yours for life – people raised in Canada were more civil, more peaceable, it made you see the US in a different way from how they see themselves. Davidson agreed – she felt the US were more US focused, where Canadians were Brits with American accents, and more aware of the rest of the world – it was a small population for the size of the country, but it included people from all over the world. ‘Canada’s the home of the pre-emptive apology,’ Hardisty said. ‘Australians think that’s the craziest thing.’

Burton Smith mentioned US weather maps, which stop at the 49th parallel – ‘which is why most Americans think Vermont has a sea coast ...’ then moved on to ask if there was a common thread to Canadian crime fiction. Davidson felt that in the 1920s, the heydey of invincible hard-boiled American PIs, writers like Ross MacDonald had his hero damaged in many ways – he was more sensitive to the nuance of characters, and aware of the wear and tear on the bodies and psyche of people who deal in crime, from witnesses to law enforcement officers. Morell felt that being an outsider in the US gave him a different perspective. He said that in 1966 nobody in Canada knew anything about Vietnam, and he wanted to know, and so went to the US, but found himself watching events there with a foreign horror – there were hundreds of riots, he expected Civil War, and fighting in the street such that photos of America and Vietnam could be confused – in his novel of a returning Nam Vet, the conflict with the police is a mirror of what he saw happening. He also saw how the 1967 Expo in Montreal was the first time Canadians became proud of Canadian culture and literature – that was a big change.

Burton Smith asked about little things that caused authors problems when they were writing. Khan said she was born in England, and the first thing her editors did was take out u from words like colour and change s to z. Hillier had had difficulties translating the Canadian AA – ‘it ended up roadside assistance’ and in the States, Catholic schools were private, not state-funded. Davidson had had no end of teasing in her New York newspaper office about her accent, but took credit for introducing the term ‘snorky’ (elegant, well-dressed) to the US. As a journalist writing for different clients, she was consious of using her American or Canadian voice. Hardisty’s books are set in exotic locations, and his protagonist was South American – but he tried not to use the word ‘deek’ (to fake an opponent out of position, in ice hockey). Ah, ice hockey, Burton Smith said, did anyone use it? Yes, Khan said, her main character was a keen supporter of the Maple Leafs, so there was a lot of hockey in her books.

The first audience question wondered if panellists had any idea why Canadian crime wasn’t more popular in the US. Hardisty felt it was an image thing – ‘Canada’s seen as dull, whereas Nordic Noir is huge because that’s seeen as sexy.’ Hillier agreed Canadians weren’t exotic enough and Davidson felt that there was an appetite for stories set in other places; Americans felt Canada was too similar. Morrell thought that the cultural underpinnings of Canadian novels were different from those of the US – the US self-image had immigrants coming together in this melting pot to create a new world, ‘whereas Canada,’ Burton Smith said, ‘was more like a stir-fry.’ One big difference between the US and Canada for writers, Davidson said, was that Canadian authors get royalties from libraries, and you’re paid for Arts Festivals – in the US there’s just not the support or funding for authors.

Loooking at the idea of Canada as ‘dull’, the panel recalled the horror felt at the trial of a couple who snatched children, and the Montreal massacre – ‘it’s not supposed to happen in Canada.’ Hardisty made the point that ‘it can’t happen here’ is all relative – society everywhere is now casually inured to violence through constant exposure to it. Davidson felt we needed to know how to deal with mentally ill people. The previous treatment was appalling, but then patients were emptied into the streets. She had experienced an ill veteran who’d tried to set fire to their office. It was a hideous experience, ‘but a reminder that we don’t like to look at the homeless or mentally ill – it’s a conversation we need to have.’

I found this a really interesting discussion on what Canadians feel is special about their persepective, and the way they see themselves.

Friday evening kicked off with an International Reception, where Cathy Ace, current president of Crime Writers of Canada, introduced us to an impressive line of former presidents, including the association’s first president from thirty-five years ago, Tony Aspier. After that guests from Australia, England, Finland, France, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand were invited up on stage to be presented with a blue ribbon labelling them ‘from a far away land.’

That was followed by a splendid banquet hosted by the Wolfe Pack, then the Noisy Auction, which raised funds for Frontier College, a Canadina Literary Organization founded over a century ago. After that, publishers Atria and Simon & Schuster invited all attendees to ‘dessert and cocktails’ in the Grand Foyer, and a very tempting spread of cakes it was too, along with a chance to chat to fellow-attendees until the tables were needed for the Pub Quiz, organised and hosted by the Crime Writers of Canada.

My first Saturday panel was ‘Critters of Crime’, moderated by Michael Kurland, looking at ‘K-9s, cats and cows – and their role in mysteries’ with authors Jen J. Danna / Sara Driscoll, Janet Finsliver, Margaret Mizushima, Kelly Oliver and Eileen F. Watkins.

The authors began by describing their animals, and what role they played in the novel, then broadened this to look at ways animals could expand plot and give different dimensions to characters. I had been rather put off animals-in-crime books by a bad example of the genre, but this discussion made me want to read these authors’ books, which sounded much more interesting and realistic.

Kurland began by asking the authors why an animal, and what it did in their books. Finsilver had read an article about a dog trained to detect cancer, and she uses different animals in each book to show what animals can do. She also felt their interaction with humans was interesting, and could add humour. Danna / Driscoll’s agent had suggested a PP with canine interest, and she writes about a variety of dog handlers – the black labrador is her own dog. Mizushima is married to a veterinarian, and has always had dogs; her husband’s practice included clients with patrol and protect dogs, so she wanted both a vet and a canine handler in her stories. Her dog is a German Shepherd called Robo, and she wanted to show the variety of work trained dogs can do.

Oliver talked about what different roles animals can play in a novel. Her anitmal titles are metaphorical, and she can also use animals to show a character’s more sensitive side. Her third novel centres on an animal research lab, and she shows the compassionate side of one researcher. Watkins had always had cats, and bonded closely with them. Her agent suggested a series about a cat groomer who solves mysteries, and researching this led her to create a character who both grooms and boards cats, giving her a chance to interact with the owners too – there’s not just one cat ‘catalyst’ (audience applause) for all the plots, which have fun titles like The Persian always miaows twice, Feral Attraction, and Bengal Identity.

The challenges of books with animals? Finsilver said she had to keep thinking about balancing the plot with the animals, particularly keeping minor characters and their pets active during a series. Danna//Driscoll said that in her series, she needed scenarios for the different sorts of trained dogs – some look for dead victims, some living etc. Mizushima felt it was important to keep the dog’s abilities real. Robo was based on a real dog, an exceptional one who’d won a number of annual police dog trials, so she showed him using those skills. Oliver said you had to look after the animals; it wasn’t good to have a detective who was out all day, leaving his dog alone in his flat – Finsilver said she’d once had a reader letter pointing out that in the whole book the pet had never been fed! The lifespan of animals, all agreed, was also an issue. Watkins said there were no feline units, but you could use cats to provide clues, and they can be in danger – for example used as prey in dog fights.

Other challenges, all agreed, were that the pet had to play a key role, and not just be a sideline, and, of course, the animals had to stay alive! Mizushima found this a difficulty with her veterinarian character, who does see sick animals. Fensilver said animals played so many roles in our imagination; the canine titles of her books – Wolf, Fox, Coyote - are metaphors for the villains. Thinking of realism, Oliver felt the problem was the other way round – animals are such a part of our lives that books without them risked being unrealistic. All agreed that they wanted their animal characters to be real animals, not furry humans, and avoided this by keeping to the human characters’ points of view.

All the authors agreed that having an animal around influences human characters. Watkins felt the way their owners treat them is a clue to character, which can tip the reader off to motive, and her cat groomer’s contact with the local veterinarian gave a love interest. Finsilver and Oliver felt they could show the human side of tough characters; for Denna / Driscoll, handler dogs were an integral part of their owner’s life, a limb, a partner, a best friend ... they became a bonded team. Mizushima felt animals lent credibility to why her vet character was in that work. Her canine handler was a damaged person with trust issues, and was learning to trust Robo as a partner.

I had been rather put off animals-in-crime books by a bad example of the genre, but this discussion made me want to read these authors’ books, which sounded much more interesting and realistic.

I follwed this discussion with the packed event on ‘Standalones’, chaired by Craig Sisterson, and featuring ‘Authors who do not write series, or who stopped doing series, or who do them as well as a series.’ The panel included local boy Linwood Barclay, David Bell, Michael Bracken, Kathy Reichs and Kate White.

This was a very relaxed panel with a number of jokes, so entertaining as well as interesting to get an insight on writing standalones and series from such prestigious authors. Topics included setting, research, how a standalone can freshen your series as well as reaching a new audience, and TV / film spin-offs.

Sisterson began by asking the authors why each had done their first standalone. Barclay said he’d done a series of four comic thrillers, which had collectively sold about 83 copies, and his agent suggested something different. He’d tried several ideas, and had them turned down, when he woke up at 5am with this one: suppose a teenage girl woke up to find her entire family gone? He sent his agent that at 8.30, and got a reply five minutes later – ‘Great! So what happened?’ ‘I’ve no idea...’ Barclay confessed, but his agent wasn’t worried: ‘You’ll figure it out!’ White also had a standalone suggested by her publisher – her books were selling, but a standalone could fuel a series sales as well as bringing in a new audience. She found it hard initially – she knew her own character and setting – but had to go out and research something different, which she felt re-energised her writing. Reichs also was encouraged to do a standalone by her publisher, and was also resistant, but then she enjoyed creating her heroine and liked the idea of her persuing a case for personal reasons – ‘before I knew it, I was writing the book.’

Sisterson suggested that a missing person is a great hook, and worse than murder for the people involved, because of the uncertainty, and Bell agreed. His novels are all standalones, but the series theme is disappearances, which are more open-ended – is the missing person unable to come back, or just not wanting to? The mind fills in blanks by imagining what’s happened. Barclay felt the ‘what if’ was the elevator pitch, and Bell said it brought out the little kid in him: ‘What if you had a pirate in a submarine in space...?’ You have to write a character who will sustain the book and answer the question.

Bracken felt that series novels can become like MacDonald’s – the clients know what to expect, and the burgers are always the same. He didn’t want, as a writer, to keep repeating himself. Also, it’s hard to maintain protagonist changes over a series – a standalone gave you a chance to keep fresh. However the authors agreed that they did leave the opportunity for a standalone to become a series, if they wanted – Barclay had brought back the characters of No time to say goodbye in another book, but only one. The series was the town, not the characters. Returning to disappearances, he felt they could only be standalones – otherwise you’d be asking, ‘Which relative will go next?” It was a big stake issue – a missing person is as big as it goes.

Sisterton asked how the authors went about building a new world for each book. Bell felt he wrote about the same kinds of places, a small to middle-sized town, not based on any one place, so that he could add whatever he needed. The more he wrote, he felt, the more ideas he had, but he did stick to a blue-collar middle-class milieu. It was the characters who told him what to write. Reichs was enjoying a new character who was completely different from the cerebral, professional Tempe: ‘she’s got a completely different set of street skills, and guns – it’s great fun.’

There was a short discussion of the need for balance, comercially speaking; White felt you couldn’t have too long a gap in a series, and Reichs agreed – you had to keep your series readers with you, and you had to keep in the world of your series as well, by not leaving too long. Authors also agreed that writing a standalone could help bring you back fresh to your series, and remind you of the important blocks of storytelling, plot and pace – you see all the fresh bang and twists in the standalone, White said, and that reminds you to create those elements in the series. ‘A series can be comfort level,’ Oliver said, ‘you need to make sure that each book is just as compelling as a standalone.’ Barclay felt he learned from every book – and made a new mistake each time.

Barclay said he got the hook first, the ‘what if’ then looked at the circumstances of that ‘what if’ to create his characters. The authors agreed you had more freedom to put your character in jeapordy in a stand-alone – a series character can’t die, but a standalone one might, so you could create tension with that. Also, Reichs added, you don’t have to keep checking back for details of your character.

So, Sisterson asked, you’ve got your hook – how important is setting? Hugely important, White replied; she’d spend a month sitting in a cafe just playing with ideas. ‘Hang on,’ Barclay interposed, ‘was that sitting or setting?’ Setting, New Zealander Sisterson emphasised, amid laughter. Reichs said she was familiar with all her ‘sittings’ – she had to know a place, the sense of how it smelled and sounded. Bracken had lived in multiple states, and was now in Texas; he liked to have been to a place, and to build relationships with other writers so that information could be traded. Barclay said he tended to go for a self-contained place that could hold the action, but like Bell, he preferred it not to be real, so that he had more freedom. In his head, he admitted, Promise Falls, NY, was Peterborough, Ontario. A small place, Bell added, where everyone knows each other, and so almost everyone will be tangentially affected by the murder. White’s books are set in NY, where she lives, but she tries to research a place, then go there – she had one book set on Islamorada, Florida, and the only detail she added once she’d been there was a gecko on a tree. Bracken pointed out that you could write off research travel against tax!

How did readers respond to stand-alones vs series? Reichs said that people bought it, and the feedback was positive – she added that when ‘Bones’ went first on air, there was a negative feedback to the books, because they were different. White said she had a letter most weeks from a reader saying they’d checked out the standalone, but when would there be another Bailey? But you were bringing in a different readership – it was a tricky balancing act. Barclay spoke of the need to wrap up each book – he’d had annoyed reactions from people who felt the stories in his trilogy were unfinished.

The final audience question asked how much control did authors have, and want to have, over sales to TV or film? Reichs said it depends on the contract; she’d had several offers for a Tempe Brennan series, none of them right, until she finally met this producer. They agreed she would have input, though not control – yes, their Tempe was younger and taller, but she wanted a character-based show with humour, and she felt they’d achieved that. You needed to understand, going in, what you were agreeing to. Barclay said he just wanted the money! Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher wouldn’t stop him reading the books ... just don’t watch the movie.

This was a very relaxed panel with a number of jokes, so entertaining as well as interesting to get an insight on writing standalones and series from such prestigious authors.

Saturday evening included a repeat of the Ghost Walk, the launch and signing of the 2017 Bouchercon Anthology, and dancing to the big band sound of the Advocats.

It wasn’t over yet. The 20-on-20 sessions began at eight am on Sunday morning, and the first panels were at 08.30. I was on ‘Reviewers recommend’, moderated by Judy Penz Sheluk, and in the distinguished company of this year’s Fan Guest of Honour, Margaret Cannon of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Andrew Gulli of Strand magazine, Erica Ruth Neubauer of Publishers Weekly and Crimespree, and Steve Steinbock of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The piles of over 200 books a month they described made me feel an amateur with my 4-6 reviews monthly; on the other hand, I was the only panellist who really did plough right through even the worst book before reviewing it. We all agreed our greatest joy was to open a book, read the first page or two, and think, ‘This person knows what they’re doing – I’m going to enjoy this!’ Our greatest frustrations were poor editing, where a decent book was struggling to get out, and would have, with more help. Who did we review? Not the big names, Cannon said, they don’t need my advertisement. Gulli’s column was often themed, so he’d bring in relevant authors. He agreed that yes, it was hard for authors not published by the ‘Big 5’ to get reviews, but said that if small publishers could produce an eye-catching cover and a good title, yes, he’d look at it – after that, it was up to the author to hook him. Did we ‘pan’ books? Yes, Cannon said, if they deserved it, and she didn’t care how famous the author was, or how much other reviewers liked the book – and no, we generally didn’t read other people’s reviews before writing our own. Our own favourite book, from any genre, was a hard one – ‘You’re asking me to choose between my grandchildren!’ This panel began with a small audience, but people arrived during the session to give us a full house, and they seemed to enjoy the discussion.

The Anthony Brunch began at eleven, and was followed by the Anthony Award Ceremony. The award for Best First Novel went to Jo Ide for IQ, Mulholland Press; Best Paperback Original was James W Ziskin, How to kill friends and implicate people, Thomas & Mercer; the Best Short Story went to American Guest of Honour, Megan Abbott, for Oxford Girl in Missippi Noir, Akashic. Tbe Best Young Adult Novel was given to April Henry for The Girl I used to Be, Henry Holt; the Best Anthology went to the Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren for  Down & Out. The Best Critical Non-Fiction Work was awarded to Ruth Franklin for Shirley Jackson: A rather haunted Life, Liveright, and the Best Novella went to to B.K. Stevens for The Last Blue Glass: Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, April 2016; Dell. Finally the big award for Best Novel was presented by Margaret Cannon to the Canadian Guest of Honour, Louise Penny.  

That was it... a final speech from the joint chairs of this year’s co-chairs, Janet Costello and Helen Norton, thanking all the fifty-five volunteer members of their committee, the readers who’d come in such numbers – they felt it was a readers’ conference – and the writers who’d come from all over the world to meet them. The next Bouchercon will be held in St Petersburg, Florida, from September 6-9th, with big names like Karin Slaughter, Sean Chercover, Sara Blaedel, Mark Billingham and Ian Rankin already signed up. Booking is open now! 

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

A review of her recent book Ghosts of the Vikings can be read here.

1 comment:

  1. What a thorough review! It was indeed a great conference, and I am looking forward to the St. Petersburg event.