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Thursday, 5 July 2018


Portsmouth Central Library
by Carol Westron

The rescheduled Mystery Fest took place on 2nd June and the weather was perfect. Although, as the organiser, I felt a moment of panic when I arrived at Portsmouth Central Library and saw police crime tape sealing off the steps to the right of the building. I never found out what had occurred to need a police presence, but they let us – and the audience - into the library. First crisis averted!
The day started with a panel of contemporary crime novelists discussing the question, ‘Why crime?’ and trying to work out why crime fiction has such an appeal to both writers and readers.

Jeff Dowson moderated a panel consisting of Leigh Russell, Peter Tickler, Judith Cranswick, Christine Hammacott and myself. Then we had a lunch break and enjoyed some delicious scones with jam and cream and allowed the audience time to browse the bookstall, which was run by Colin, the owner of the Hayling Island Bookshop. It also gave the audience a few minutes to fill in the answers to the free quiz, which offered three clever winners a prize of the book of their choice from the bookstall.

The University of Portsmouth has an outstanding Forensic and Criminology Department and two ex-CSIs, Paul Smith and Colin White now university lecturers gave us a brilliant talk on the reality of the CSI role, as opposed to their fictional counterparts. It was both amusing and informative and most of the crime writers in the audience were scribbling notes. The university also provided an entomology stand with some interesting information about insects and forensics.

 Four short talks followed, in which  

Gaynor Baker talked about Agatha Christie and Spiritualism;  

Dot Marshall-Gent described what it was really like to be a  policewoman in the 1980’s.

Peter Tickler told us about crime writing set in Oxford and 

Leigh Russell shared her secrets for writing a successful crime fiction series. 

 All the talks were fascinating, but my favourite moment was Dot’s ‘show-and-tell’ in which she showed us a policeman’s truncheon and then held up a policewoman’s for comparison. It was less than half the size! How else would it fit in the policewoman’s handbag?

Photo courtesy of Claire Forsyth
The final panel was a History Mystery panel, in which Linda Stratmann, William Shaw, Barbara Nadel,  Nicola Slade, Jeff Dowson, Leigh Russell and I discussed setting the scene in historical crime fiction, why we chose the periods we wished to write about and how our protagonists opened up a window to the time for our readers. . 

It was a very full day but immense fun. It was great that several members of the audience asked me if it was going to happen again next year, which it is, on Saturday 9th March, assuming that next year the Beast from the East does not pay us a return visit.
Other photographs in this article courtesy of  Jack Halsall.

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