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Friday, 4 June 2021

Welsh Crime Fiction Festival 2021 Gwyl Crime Cymru 2021

by Radmila May

 Held online 26 April –3 May 2021

Although this is not the first crime fiction festival to be held in Wales,
see the report on the
Cardiff Crime and Coffee Festival,
 
this online event was on a much larger scale and organised through a wide number of bookshop venues in different Welsh towns and cities. It was sponsored by Aberystwyth Town Council while individual events were partnered by local bookshops from which books by appearing guests could be purchased online.
How Do You Like Your Crime?
was the title of the first session, the partner bookshop was
Cover to Cover, Mumbles.

It was introduced by
Crime Cymru Associate Member
Amy-Louise Williams
.

The Speakers were:
Cathy Ace,
G B Williams, Martin Edwards

Cathy Ace
, who would describe herself as a ‘cosy crime’ writer, has two series. One being a series of traditional mysteries featuring Cait Morgan who travels to various interesting locations and finds herself solving mysterious deaths, the other featuring the women of the WISE enquiry agency, their members being from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England who are called upon to inquire into events at various rather grand locations. Cathy has also recently published a one-off, The Wrong Boy. When asked how she came to love crime, she replied that, having begun with Nancy Drew and the Famous Five, at her mother’s instigation, she then progressed to Agatha Christie and so forth. She is currently working on another Cait Morgan; when asked whether she was a ‘planner’ or apantser’, she told us she is definitely a planner, working everything out beforehand from the method of murder to the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ and from there to detailed plotting before starting to write.

G B Williams, having previously lived in England, but who is now settled in Wales, began her writing career by submitting four manuscripts to romance publisher Mills & Boon but on being told that she had too much plot decided to switch genres to one which had plenty of plot, ie crime. Her first three novels in her Locked trilogy featured prison officer Ariadne Teddington and ex-Detective Charlie Bell currently in prison for murder, while her latest, The Chair, is set in Wales on and near the snowbound mountain, Cader Idris, and features a man on the run from his criminal past and a local vet with a secret she does not want revealed. Gail starts with an idea but then may decide to change course. She admitted that she was not a fan of Agatha Christie but had preferred sci-fi etc and now also writes ‘steampunk’ (a form of fantasy fiction) as well as thrillers.

www.gailbwilliams.co.uk

Martin Edwards
is, of course, one of the best-known and most prolific of today’s crime writers. He began with a series (so far 8 books) featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin (being himself a Liverpool lawyer of considerable standing and experience specialising in employment law and acting for many high-profile clients) and then moved on to a series set in the Lake District. He has now started a series set in the 1930s Golden Age (Gallows Court; Mortmain Hall). In addition he is heavily involved with the British Library’s Classic Crime series, writing thoughtful introductions to many of the titles and editing numerous collections of short stories and writing many off his own bat. He is recognised as being a skilled and thoughtful writer and has received critical acclaim.  And in addition I would describe him as possessing a quiet but undoubted charm which make him highly pleasant company.   
                                                  www.martinedwardsbooks.com  

It’s Personal: When Character Becomes Plot.
This session, the partner bookshop being
Chepstow Bookshop,
was introduced by Alis Hawkins.
The other speakers were
Emma Kavanagh, Mari Hannah and
Alison Layland
.

Alis
Hawkins,  was  brought up in west Wales. She read English at Oxford before training as a speech and language therapist. She asked each writer to introduce themselves and their latest novel with a brief ‘elevator pitch’

 www.alishawkins.co.uk

Emma Kavanagh, 
a former police psychologist, is interested in discovering how people
survive a ‘worst situation’. She had begun writing standalone psychological thrillers but has now turned to series. Not only is she a ‘plotter’ but sets everything out on a spreadsheet! For her, stories begin with characters.

www.emmakavanagh.com/home/

 Mari Hannahhas won many awards. Before she took to writing she was a probation officer but, after an assault, turned to writing. She has several series, one of which features DCI Kate Daniels, the latest being Without a Trace, in which a plane en route from London to New York disappears. Kate’s lover was on that flight but the disaster is outside her jurisdiction and she is not allowed to enquire further. But that is not something she is prepared to put up with. And that is dangerous for her. She is also a ‘plotter’ but has not advanced to spreadsheets.  

    www.marihannah.com/

Alison Layland,who has a degree from Cambridge in Modern and Mediaeval Languages and is now a freelance translator, wanted to write a novel with an ecological theme. The theme of the powerful and timely Riverflow is the devastating effect of climate change and is set on the banks of the River Severn on the border between England and Wales.

  www.alayland.uk/ 

Adapting The Works And Characters Of Jane Austen For Crime Fiction.
From time to time Jane Austen’s novels have been adapted, most notably by P D James (Death Comes to Pemberley), although I actually preferred Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd who also wrote several other stories in which her series detective, Charles Maddox, solved mysteries connected with other famous 19th century writers such as Bram Stoker (Dracula), Charles Dickens (Tom-All-Alone’s; The Solitary House) and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein). In this session, partnered with
           Gwisgo Bookworm, Aberaeron,
introduced by Amy Williams, debut author Annette Purdey Pugh talked with fellow historical writer, Lindsay Ashford, about her recently published novel, A Murder at Rosings, Rosings of course being the home of one of the most dislikeable of the characters in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the victim being another particularly dislikeable character. Although A Murder at Rosings is Annette’s first published book, she had been writing for many years, winning prizes for short stories and poetry at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Lindsay Ashford has a degree in criminology and has been a journalist. She has written a series featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rees and a number of novels beginning with The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen in which after the writer’s death at the early age of 41 her friend, Anne Sharp, governess to her brother Edward’s children, suspects that there may be untoward circumstances and that Jane was about to uncover a dark family secret. Lindsay had discovered letters from Jane Austen who had described her own symptoms towards the end of her life in a way which Lindsay, with her forensic knowledge, had thought could be symptomatic of arsenic poisoning. Subsequently Lindsay was told that a lock of Austen’s hair had tested positive for arsenic, arsenic then being a component of a number of medicines used at the time. Lindsay has gone on to publish several novels, less in the crime mode, the most recent being The House at Mermaid’s Cove.
 Debuts, Daggers And Diplomats.

Philip Gwynne Jones
, author of the Nathan Sutherland series set in Venice, introduced thespeakers in this session which was partnered with Chepstow Books. Philip’s protagonist, NathanSutherland, who has been described as an ‘accidental hero’, is the British Honorary Consul inVenice, a position which offers no salary and a certain degree of responsibility towards thoseBritons who find themselves in Venice with a problem for which they need advice although there is often little he can offer in the way of practical assistance. The first four titles in the series wereextremely well received (and have been reviewed in Mystery People, see the website); the last is The Venetian Legacy, just published, in which Nathan and his newly-wedded wife Federica are honeymooning on the island of Pellestrina in a cottage belonging to Federica’s late father Elio with spectacular views across thelagoon of Venice. The weather is good and the seafood is the best in Venice and all would have been ideal had it not been for the attentions of the Venetian Mafia, the Mala del Brenta.

https://philipgwynnejones.com

The other speakers were Abir Mukherjee, Louise Mumford and Trevor Wood.
Abir is the author of a series of novels set in Raj-era India and featuring Captain Sam Wyndham of the Calcutta Police and his second-in-command Sergeant ‘Surrender-Not’ Banerjee. His first novel in the series, A Rising Man, won the CWA Historical Dagger Award; his other novels have also won various awards. Abir himself hails from Glasgow, although he now lives in Surrey. His aim in writing the series, apart from providing an exciting read, is to examine the role of the British in India with regards to both the British and Indian populations. Asked when he first developed an interest in crime fiction, he told us that he was about 14 and liked the idea of a good person upholding a bad system. The fictional detectives whom he most admires are Bernie Guenther, from the novels by the late Philip Kerr, and Hercule Poirot. When it comes to his work methods he would not, he said, describe himself as a planner but he does edit his work on a daily basis.

https://abirmukherjee.com/ 

Debut writer Louise Mumford was born in and lives in South Wales. Sleepless, her first novel comes from her own considerable problems with insomnia, something which has troubled her all her life. As a child, unable to get to sleep, she feasted on Enid Blyton stories such as the Famous Five. Her novel is about Thea who, hoping to find a remedy for her sleeplessness, becomes involved a medical trial in which, it appears, she is effectively imprisoned and every aspect of her life controlled 
Trevor Wood
is a playwright and journalist who served in the Royal Navy for 16 years. He then undertook an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. His debut crime novel, The Man on the Street, is set in Newcastle and features rough sleeper veteran Jimmy Mullen who is grappling with PTSD becomes involved in uncovering the mystery of what has happened to the a young girl’s father who has disappeared, something in which the police are not interested. The novel, although written as a one-off, has been followed by two more in the same series and has been optioned for TV by the makers of Line of Duty. Trevor is now working on a standalone. Like Abir, he would not describe himself as a planner but does edit daily.

Welsh Language Crime Fiction.
Although this session was partnered with
Penrallt Gallery Bookshop, Machynlleth,
it was conducted in Welsh, two of the three writers,
Myfanwy Alexander and Gwen Parrott, who spoke have titles also available in English.

Gwen Parrott now lives in Bristol but was born and brought up in North Pembrokeshire. She
has written a three-volume series featuring school teacher Della Arthur and set in the 1940s: Dead White. Red Haze on the Horizon, Beyond the Pale. Two of Myfanwy’s novels are available in English, Bloody Eisteddfod and Burning Issue, both featuring series detective Daf Dafis. Her novels are set in Montgomeryshire where she grew up.

Why Look Back? Historical Crime Fiction.
Three well-known prize-winning authors who write in this field took part in this session: Katherine Stansfield, who has written several novels set in Cornwall in the 1840s (with elements of the otherworldly) and herself is from Cornwall but now lives in Cardiff, introduced Elly Griffiths and Shona (S G) Maclean. Books by all three
authors have been reviewed in
Mystery People. This session was partnered by
Browsers Bookshop, Portmadog.

Elly’s claim to a Welsh connection is through her Welsh grandmother whose name, Ellen Griffiths, Ellie adapted first for her well-known series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, set in Norfolk, and has gone on using for her crime fiction novels including those set in Brighton in the 1950s and inspired by her grandfather, a well-known music-hall artiste on whom the series character, stage magician Max Mephisto, is based. Elly chose to set the series in the 1950s which was the period when the music hall as entertainment began to decline. Asked about where she got her ideas from, she said that she would begin with a place or an event. She told us that, during World War II, Churchill had drawn on the skills of the well-known illusionist Jasper Maskelyne who had devised a number of highly effective illusions which could, and did, deceive the Germans; he and his colleagues were known as The Magic Gang. It is during the war that Mephisto first meets Edgar Stephens who is now a detective with the Brighton police and who enlists Mephisto’s help in solving a series of murders.                
Shona Maclean’sprize-winning two series of novels are all set in the seventeenth century with a background in the civil wars of that period. The first four (the Alexander Seaton Quartet) were set in Scotland and Ireland while the next five, all featuring the eponymous Damian Seeker, are set mostly in England although the latest, The House of Lamentations, also occurs in Bruges. Seeker is an investigator and enforcer for Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Britain; however, Shona has deliberately kept Seeker’s details obscure (including whether his name is really Seeker) but, she told us, his mother was Welsh. At the time Wales was markedly loyal to the Royalist cause and Jesus College in Oxford, which had (and has still Welsh connections) was a hotbed of royalist supporters at a time when that was highly dangerous. Shona is now working on another novel.

                                https://twitter.com/SGMacleanauthor 

Katherine Stansfield, novelist and poet, grew up on Bodmin Moor where her atmospheric novels are set with an atmosphere where the real world blends with the otherworldly. Her protagonist Shilly, born into desperate poverty, forms a friendship with private detective Anna Drake and the two women, Anna with her knowledge of then-modern methods of scientific investigation, and Shilly, with her awareness to happenings that are not of this world, combine to solve a series of mysteries in a world where the gallows was an all too present reality.                  

www.katherinestansfield.blogspot.com

The Plot’s The Thing.
In this session, partnered with
Penrallt Gallery Bookshop. Machynlleth,
Mark Ellis
talked with Vaseem Khan, Sam Blake and
R.G. (Robyn) Adams.

Mark is from Swansea; formerly a barrister and entrepreneur, took up writing full time in 2004. He has a fictional series set in wartime London in which the main protagonist is Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin working in Scotland Yard. Not only was Britain embroiled in World War II but there was an immense growth in criminal activity during that time. Mark begins each story with just a few plot ideas and before starting actually to write he engages in extensive research online and in reference books and such sources as the Kew Public Records Office and, if necessary, he travels to the locations where some of the story is set.

Vaseem Khan is the author of two crime series set in India: the Baby Ganesh Agency series set in present-day Mumbai, and the Malabar House series featuring India’s first female detective Persis Wadia. In the Baby Ganesh series, Inspector Ganesh, accompanied by his faithful elephant, investigates a number of murders. In the Malabar House series Persis has to compete not just with her misogynistic colleagues but with the patriarchal society that was India in 1947 when the series is set. Vaseem is very much a ‘plotter’, he told us, taking 3-4 months to work out the sequence of events, but when this is done he can work very quickly. His aim in writing is to present India to a UK audience.           

  http://vaseemkhan.com

R.G. (Robyn) Adams is the pen name of a former social worker with 30 years’ experience across all areas of social services. She lives in South Wales. Allegations is her first novel; it has been optioned for TV. She is currently working on a second one, The protagonist in this novel is a young and inexperienced but determined social worker, Kit Goddard, who has to deal with a situation in which she has to remove three young children from the family of a local business man who has been accused of the historical abuse of two girls which the police are currently investigating. Robyn assured us that she does not use the facts of real life cases but that the procedures that Kit follows are as they would be in reality. Robyn referred to the fact that, in fiction, social workers generally are not favourably depicted; she hopes through her writing to redress imbalance.

Sam Blake’slatest novel is The Dark Room in which two women, Rachel Lambert and Caroline Kelly, find themselves in a hotel in Hare’s Landing, West Cork. Each is there for a different reason – Rachel is investigating the death of a homeless man in London, while New Yorker Caroline’s career as a journalist is threatened by a law suit – but both sets of events turn out to be inextricably intertwined. Previously Sam Blake has published an Irish police procedural series (the Cat Connolly trilogy) before moving into psychological suspense sam is actually a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin who has founded the website Writing and also Murder One, the Irish international crime writing festival, among various other writing-connected activities.

www.samblakebooks.com

Series, Standalones And Beyond
Jacky Collins (Dr. Noir), founder of the Newcastle Noir Festival), formerly a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria
University, who is currently based at Stirling University and an experienced interviewer, talked with three
well-established crime writers –
Peter James, whose phenomenally popular Roy Grace series, set in Brighton, is now being adapted as a TV series; Icelander Ragnar Jonasson, and Chris Lloyd who, although born in Wales, has spent many years living in Spain but has now moved back to Wales. The interviews were partnered by
The Great Oak Bookshop, Llanidloes.

Peter, before creating his protagonist Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, had written several standalones but it is the Roy Grace novels, described as plot-twisting page-turners that have led him to have 17 Sunday Times No 1s, to be W H Smith’s ‘best crime writer of all time’, and global book sales of over 20 million. Peter described how an ordinary event can inspire a ‘what if scenario’ such as when he was waiting for his wife outside a shop and he wondered ‘what if she didn’t come out’! Peter told us that he liked to have readers’ comments on his books and takes them into account.           www.peterjames.com

Ragnar Jonasson is a best-selling Icelandic author, known particularly for his Dark Iceland series in which there are now 6 titles. He has won a number of international awards and also co-founded the Reykjavik International Crime Writing Festival. He has translated a number of Agatha Christie titles into Icelandic. In addition he has a law degree, works as an investment banker, and teaches law at Reykjavik University.

       www.ragnarjonasson.com

Chris Lloyd, as a result of his moving to Spain immediately after completing his degree in Spanish and French, wrote a series of three novels featuring Elisenda Domenech of the Catalan police force. He has now, due to his enduring fascination with World War II and the German occupation of France, started a new series featuring Detective Eddie Giral who, as the Nazis tighten their grip on Paris, in the first title in the series, The Unwanted Dead, investigates the murder of 4 Polish refugees.

https://chrislloydauthor.com

Crime Scenery – Can Setting Ever Be A ‘Silent Character’?
This session was also conducted by Jacky Collins. It was partnered by
Browsers Bookshop, Portmadog
.
She talked with Icelandic writer
Yrsa Sigurdardottir and with Welsh crime writer Alis Hawkins, a leading member of Crime Cymru.

Yrsa has been described as one of the finest crime writers in the world. She has published two series, one of which features smart, sexy lawyer and investigator Thora Gudmundsdottir, the other, a series, The Children’s House, featuring Detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja. She has been compared to Stephen King and described as the queen of Icelandic thriller writers. In this session she tells us how important the Icelandic setting is to her in creating atmosphere and setting the scenes where her stories take place, often, for greatest effect, in the darkest winter time.  She is published by Macmillan

Alis Hawkins best-known crime novels are those set in the Teifi Valley in mid-Wales in the 11850s. Her series protagonists are part-blind Henry Probert-Lloyd who acts as coroner against considerable local opposition from those who would like secrets left buried, and Henry’s clerk John Davies. Alis’s plotting and recreation of the milieu of Wales at the time has been highly praised. She told us that the period was one of great upheaval when Wales was suddenly transformed from a near-mediaeval environment to a modern industrial society by such changes as the coming of the railways. Yet there were still aspects of the landscape which had always been present, the mountains, the cliffs, the sea, and these were still a vital element of the setting.

 https://alishawkins.co.uk

Thriller Killer Women.
This session which was conducted by Amy Williams was partnered with
Book-ish Bookshop, Crickhowell,
and featured two writers of thrillers for women,
Clare Mackintosh and B E (Bev) Jones,
each with police connections.

Bev was born in the South Wales valleys, north of Cardiff. She was for many years a journalist, first of all with local Welsh newspapers and then became a broadcast journalist with BBC Wales Today TV News. Later on, she became a press officer for the South Wales Police and participated in criminal investigations, security operations and emergency planning. Her published novels are Where She Went, Halfway  and Wilderness. Her novels have been described as claustrophobic and infused with menace. When it comes to writing technique Bev describes herself as mostly a ‘pantser’ who does a bit of plotting.

        https://bevjoneswriting.wordpress.com

Clare Mackintosh,after a degree in French and Management, joined the Thames Valley Police Force and was with them for 12 years and then left in 2011 to become a full-time writer. Her first novel, I Let You Go, was an immediate  success and was followed by several more. She has now published 10 books, mostly crime-based, the latest, Hostage, will be published this summer. Although not herself Welsh Clare now lives in North Wales with her husband and three children. Clare does plan her stories, and described herself as like an architect, beginning with the basic structure, and going on from there to gradually putting everything together. Her next story will be set in Wales.                                      

While neither writer would recycle a real life case, their work experiences has given them an insight into society which few other people have. And on one matter they both firmly agreed: the classic fiction/TV scenario in which one ultra-smart police officer, assisted by a sidekick, is quite wrong. The investigation of a complex crime includes the participation of numerous officers and others and is often very laborious.

Horrible Histories – Gothic Crime Fiction.
This session, partnered by
Great Oaks Books, Llanidloes,
was led by the author Thorne Moore with authors E S Thompson and Sarah Ward who also writes as Rhiannon Ward. All three authors discussed what they meant by ‘Gothic’ when applied to crime fiction. It could, and often does, evoke a big old house in a remote country setting, often with a colourful and probably rather gruesome past indications of which have seeped into the atmosphere of the house. The central character is often a woman in jeopardy but who is prepared to take matters into her own hands.

Sarah Ward’s latest book The Quickening by Sarah/Rhiannon Ward whose family comes from Wales where she spent her early childhood, is the first in which she ventures into Gothic Fiction: pregnant Louisa is commissioned to take photographs of an old house whose owner, following the deaths of his three sons in World War I, is about to put it on the market. But his wife, grieving for the loss of her sons, wants to organise a séance based on one held there some years before at which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes who also had an interest in the occult, had been present. The séance has deadly results with a possibly supernatural result.                               
   https://crimepieces.com

Thorne Moore lives in Pembrokeshire and has set several novels in Wales, two of which, her Llys y Garn stories are set in the eponymous mansion in North Pembrokeshire. In Shadows the protagonist, Kate Lawrence has the unwelcome capacity to sense violent death. Fleeing the consequences from this she join her cousins in the old family home only to find that this terrible awareness is still with her. In Long Shadows Thorne tells three stories from the 14th, 17th and 19th centuries to which only the house with its circling rooks bear witness.

https://thornemoore.com

E S Thomson'smacabre novels are set in London in the 1850s and feature apothecary and poison expert Jem Flockhart. In the latest novel, Nightshade, Jem, intending to redesign her physic garden, discovers the skeleton of an adult and a child with knife wounds and a collection of macabre objects. In the period in which the writer’s Jem Lockhart are set, the ability of the authorities to examine the cause of the deaths is extremely limited, but when Jem commences her own investigation there are gruesome consequences.

http://esthomson.co.uk

How Much Fact – How Much Fiction?
In this last session of the Festival, partnered with

Gwisgo Bookworm, Aberaeron
,

Alis Hawkins talked with two very successful writers, M W (Mike) Craven¸ author of the Cumbria-set series featuring Washington Poe of the Serious Crime Agency and IT expert Tilly Bradshaw, and Imran Mahmood, whose outstanding first novel, You Don’t Know Me, was published a few years ago and is currently being adapted for BBC novelnovel TV and whose next, I Know What I Saw, features a homeless man who witnesses a murder.  The topic these two writers discussed was to what extent should expertise in a particular subject be revealed in a work of fiction aimed at a general readership.

Mike Craven’sTilly Poe has a command of information technology which beyond the ken of most human beings, and in my review of one title in the series I did state that I would take Tilly’s word for whatever she had found out. But Tilly herself, as many readers have told Mike, is an absolutely charming characters, with a simple, childlike innocence which is totally endearing. It is she, rather than Poe with his tortured past, who gives the novels their particular charm.

www.mwcraven.com/

Imran Mahmoudis a criminal barrister, specialising in legal aid defence cases in Crown Courts and the Court of Appeal involving violent crimes and sexual offences, deeply experienced in the real world and the difficulties in a criminal trial in establishing what is the truth and what a witness genuinely thinks is the truth. What Imran writes about is what he knows and that is what gives his writing its deep authenticity. Imran Khan’s first novel was published by Penguin; his second will be published by Raven Books

 

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.


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