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Tuesday 5 April 2022

Report: Mystery Fest 2022 by Carol Westron

 Saturday 12th March 2022


Third Floor, Portsmouth Central Library

It was great fun to get back to Mystery Fest as a real life conference although we were disappointed that Judith Cutler and Edward Marston were unwell and unable to join us. Hopefully they are feeling better now and we will have the pleasure of seeing them at Mystery Fest 2023.

History Mystery Panel

The first panel of the day was the History Mystery Panel, moderated by Carol Westron, with Jeff Dowson, and (standing in for Edward and Judith) Helen Hollick and Alison Morton. It was a lively, humorous panel, covering periods from Victorian Gosport in 1850, through to Bristol just after World War 2, London and Devon in the early 1970s, and the Alternative History world of Roma Nova.

From left to Right: Helen Hollick, Jeff Dowson, Carol Westron
and Alison Morton

Our Guest of Honour  Priscilla Masters interviewed
by Linda Regan

In a discussion that ranged from Cilla's happy childhood as one of seven children, adopted by an orthopaedic surgeon and his Classics graduate wife. Priscilla trained as a registered nurse in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. She moved to Staffordshire in the 1970s, had an antiques business for a while and had two sons. Priscilla talked about how she started writing in the 1980s in response to an aunt asking her what she was going to do with her life! Winding up the Serpent was her first DI Joanna Piercy story, which was published in 1995. There are now fifteen books in the series. She has also written several medical standalones, and a series set in Shrewsbury, featuring coroner Martha Gunn. Her most recent series features Dr Claire Roget who is a forensic psychiatrist who has some very unpredictable patients. Her involvement in the antiques business, produced a series of books, and she gave us some fascinating insights into the initial inspiration for her recent thought-provoking stand-alone novel, The Subsequent Wife.
The first Contemporary Crime Panel was moderated by
Dot Marshall-Gent
, with Linda Regan, Leigh Russell, Chris Blackwater and Jeff Dowson

From left to Right: Dot Marshall-Gent, Jeff Dowson, Leigh Russell, Chris Blackwell and Linda Regan

Each panel member described their research for their books and the impact that their protagonists’ jobs had on the characters’ mental health. Leigh Russell explained that she is always fascinated by the villains and probes their thought processes and motivation. Everyone agreed that Chris Blackwater had discovered a perfect contemporary twist to the traditional ‘marooned in a country house’ mystery by isolating his characters on a North Sea oil rig, cut off from the outside world by storms.

Comedy/Cozy Crime Panel

After lunch, the Comedy/Cosy Crime Panel was moderated by Linda Regan, with Helen Hollick, Leigh Russell and Carol Westron. Linda queried why traditional publishers still reject comedy crime at a time when laughter is very much needed to combat anxiety. The panel all agreed that both comedy and cosy crime had an important therapeutic role, whether it was Helen’s 1970s cosy crime or Carol’s contemporary comedy-cosy mix; and Leigh revealed the exciting news that she had just signed a contract to write a cosy crime series.

From left to Right: Helen Hollick, Linda Regan, Leigh Russell,
and Carol Westron

 Expert Witness

This year’s Expert Witness was
Dr Nick Pamment
of the University of Portsmouth who gave a PowerPoint presentation about Youth Offending. It is clearly a subject about which he feels passionately, and he explained how sometimes young people can be trapped in the Justice System for committing quite trivial offences and by falling into bad company continue deeper into a life of crime. Nick illustrated this by giving the example of a 12-year-old boy who was prosecuted for stealing a pack of dog biscuits.

The Second Contemporary Crime Panel was moderated by Peter Tickler, with Graham Minette, Alison Morton, and local author Christine Lawrence.

From left to Right:  Graham Minette, Alison Morton, Christine Lawrence,
and Peter Tickler

The panel discussed how, as well as doing conscious research on specific points for their books, their life experiences informed their characterisation, plots and settings. Peter’s knowledge of life in Oxford and its environs enriched his books, while both Alison and Christine had careers that have added credibility and detail to their characters and plots.

Mystery Fest was attended by a large and enthusiastic audience who were obviously delighted to be back at a lively real-life event, and took the opportunity to chat with the authors and buy their books from the bookstall.

Photographs by Jack Halsall

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