Dispatches from Bristol: CrimeFest 2013

I’ve just returned from four days in sunny Bristol at CrimeFest 2013, which was a grand adventure from start to finish. It’s impossible to do justice to the richness of the event in one post, but here’s a glimpse of some of the panels and highlights. I’ll also build a list of links to other CrimeFest reports at the end of this post.

I attended a number of mainly international panels (see below), but could have done with cloning myself to get to a few more. Those on Twitter can search for the hashtag #crimefest13 for my live tweets and those of other delegates.

Death Overseas: Valerio Varesi (Italy), Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Iceland), K.O. Dahl (Norway), Thomas Enger (Norway), Stav Sherez moderating. Showcase of international crime writing from three countries.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives I: Pierre Lemaitre (France), M.J. McGrath (UK/Arctic), Adrian Magson (UK/France), Dana Stabenow (Arctic), Jake Kerridge moderating. Exploring the advantages/disadvantages of writing crime set in Norway and the Arctic from an ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ perspective.

Native and Outsider: Different Perspectives II: Roberto Costantini (Italy), David Hewson (UK/Italy/Sweden), Thomas Enger (Norway), Derek B. Miller (U.S./Norway), Barry Forshaw moderating. As above, but with a focus on Italy and Norway.

The Tourist Board

The Tourist Board Never Said Anything About This! Quentin Bates (Iceland), Stanley Trollip (Botswana), Xavier-Marie Bonnot (France), Jeffrey Siger (Greece), Martin Edwards moderating. The sensitivities of depicting positive and negative elements of a particular national setting or identity.

Cold War: An Infiltrating Chill: Tom Harper, John Lawton, Aly Monroe, William Ryan, Martin Walker moderating. A wide-ranging discussion of the Cold War and crime fiction set before, during and aft…actually, it seems that it’s not over yet.

Fresh Blood: Debut Authors: Alex Blackmore, J.C. Martin, Fergus McNeill, Tom Vowler, Rhian Davies moderating. Exciting new crime authors discussing their work.

How Does (English) Crime Translate? Ann Cleeves (author), Charlotte Werner (Swedish publisher), Erik de Vries (translator), Daniel Hahn of the British Centre for Literary Translation moderating. The mechanics of selecting crime for or from other national markets, and the processes involved in translation.

The Translation panel

Interesting observations from the panels and beyond

A number of writers view crime novels as a ‘social novel’ engaged in an exploration or critique of society, or of pressing social issues (Dahl, Varesi, Trollip, Stabenow). In contrast, Enger says he has no political or social agenda: telling a good story is the thing.

Settings are often viewed by writers as characters in their own right (Bonnot, Stabenow, McGrath, Trollip). Cities are sometimes better for depicting isolation than the countryside (Dahl). Marseilles is more Italian than French (Bonnot).

Some authors need to write in the place where their novels are set (McNeill/Bristol). Others feel that they write better elsewhere, because they can ‘see better from a distance’ (Miller/Oslo).

Lemaitre thinks it’s perfectly possible for a British ‘outsider’ to depict a France that is more ‘real’ than his own.

Icelandic crime writers face a challenge in terms of reflecting reality, as there’s an average of one murder a year in Iceland (Sigurdardottir). By contrast, the Arctic has the same per capita murder rate as South Africa or Mexico (McGrath).

A number of authors are engaged in explorations of historical legacies, such as World War II or the Algerian War (Magson, Varenne, Hewson, Ridpath). 60 years is nothing in terms of dealing with the legacy of the past (Costantini, citing Italy as an example).

Britain was not occupied during World War II (with the notable exception of the Channel Islands) and therefore didn’t experience the war in the same way as other countries such as France or Norway (Hewson).

Crime authors who write on twentieth century history have a variety of motivations: a desire to understand the previous generation and its role in making our world (Monroe on the Cold War); the challenge of writing about a society in which truth and justice are flexible concepts (Ryan on Stalin’s Russia).

British Cold War spies were often not uncovered due to the class system and upper-class loyalties: a public school boy who is a member of a posh club has perfect cover (Monroe). All on Cold War panel agreed that the Cold War is not over (citing the current situation in Syria).

Swedish cover of Blue Lightning

Crime fiction provides the biggest market for literary translation in the UK (Hahn). Speed is the key element when translating, especially in Europe where readers may otherwise buy the English original (de Vries). It’s a struggle to introduce translated authors in Sweden due to the dominance of Scandi crime, but it helps if their novels are set in the Shetlands… (Werner).

Describing violence is less interesting than exploring a character’s reaction to violence (James Oswald).


There was lots of buzz about Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, and this blogger did her very best to spread the word about Derek B. Miller’s exceptional debut novel Norwegian by Night. James Oswald’s Natural Causes was also frequently mentioned both as a must-read and a significant self-publishing success story. The series has been picked up by Penguin, whose advance the author rather unusually spent on buying a tractor for his farm.


Seeing Barry Forshaw present the inaugural Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, set up in memory of Maxine Clarke. The very deserving winner was Liza Marklund with Last Will, translated by Neil Smith (Corgi/Transworld 2012). Barry also won the prestigious HRF Keating Award for his editorship of British Crime Writing: An Encyclopaedia. Congratulations!

The Petrona Award, now on its way to Liza Marklund in Sweden

Hearing the International Dagger shortlist being announced, which includes German crime writer Ferdinand von Schirach’s The Collini Case. Full details are available over at Euro Crime.

Attending the Sherlock panel, which featured Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat and Sue Virtue in fine form. We learned and laughed a lot.

Eating lunch in a graveyard. Bristol Cathedral is a stone’s throw from the CrimeFest hotel, and features a lovely little cafe and landscaped garden/graveyard, where you can enjoy a peaceful cuppa.

Attending the second meeting of the Icelandic Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association. I’m not quite sure how I ended up there, but it was very convivial and the Icelandic chocolates (Noi Sirius Konfekt) were delicious. Many thanks to Ragnar Jonasson and Quentin Bates for their hospitality!

l to r: Ann Cleeves, Ragnar Jonasson, Susan Moody, Barry Forshaw, Michael Ridpath, Quentin Bates (Icelandic chocolates on the table and empty seat reserved for Yrsa Sigurdardottir).

Last but not least, meeting old friends, making new ones, and seeing the faces behind the Twitter avatars of a number of writers and bloggers for the first time… It was all hugely enjoyable, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

CrimeFest blog-links

Crimepieces – CrimeFest Day 1CrimeFest Part 2

Detectives Beyond Borders – CrimeFest 1, CrimeFest 2, CrimeFest 3, CrimeFest 4

Do You Write Under Your Own Name – CrimeFest 2013 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Graskeggur (aka author Quentin Bates) – CrimeFest Report: All Over Bar the Tweeting

Mystery Fanfare – CrimeFest 2013 Award Winners (all except The Petrona)

Sherlockology – Highlights from CrimeFest – Creating Sherlock

Vicky Newham – My Experience of CrimeFest 2013

For tweets on the event, see the hashtag #crimefest13

24 thoughts on “Dispatches from Bristol: CrimeFest 2013

  1. Thanks for this lovely and informative overview of Crimefest. I just finished House of Evidence by Ingolfsson; interesting to hear about only an average of one murder a year in Iceland. Ah well, crime fiction is just that, fiction. Looking forward to the post with links, having sampled Sarah’s post on Day 1.

    • Thanks, TracyK. Yrsa did also point out that because the figures are so low, any increase or decrease can completely throw the stats (e.g. if they are two the folllowing year it’s a 100% rise). Perhaps the crime writers are just writing about the really murderous years!

      I’ll add links to the bottom of this post as they come in…

      • Oh I did not get that about the links added here. I will be checking back. I am reading more international and translated fiction, so it is all very interesting.

      • Yes, I’ve popped a couple on already and will keep adding as I see them come in. That way everything will be in handily in one place.

        Because there were parallel sessions, no one person will have covered everything, so it’s worth checking out different bloggers’ posts for individual reports of particular panels.

        Glad to hear that your reading is heading in an international direction. So much good stuff out there!

  2. What an excellent selection (or should I say smorgasbrod?) of panels – it all sounds so interesting. Thank you for reporting back and I hope to make it there one day!

  3. Thanks, Mrs. P, for such a wonderful summing up of what must have been a fabulous event. I loved the ‘phots, and it sounds as though there were some excellent panels, too.

    • Thanks, Margot – it was a really great four days with excellent panels and moderators. Rhian did a fine job with her two debut author panels.

    • That’s a shame, Bill. I know how frustrating this must be. I’m eyeing up the dates for next year and wondering if I’ll be able to make it due to exam marking commitments (it’s a bit earlier than this year – 15-18 May 2014). It would be lovely to meet you one day, on either side of the pond!

    • I think we just struck very lucky, Peter – it’s been a pretty miserable summer in the UK up until now.

      I’ve just added in links to your informative and enjoyable posts. Denise does have a lovely turn of phrase!

  4. These panels all look great and I wish I could have been there or watched them streamed online, a good fallback plan. The one thing that concerns me is that there isn’t really diversity with authors from Africa, Asia, including the Middle East, Latin America, and Indigenous or Native authors from all over the world. Especially in the Native and Outside panels, it would have been good to reflect immigrant experiences through through writing. I wonder if invitations are sent out to authors from various countries and continents. Certainly mystery readers are reading a lot more global books from all over the world, Japan to South Africa, Cairo to Buenos Aires — and so much more in between. Or else we end up with a Eurocentric (and over here, U.S.-centric) representation of crime fiction. A very good aspect of globalization is that we as readers are able to choose books from nearly everywhere and writers have appeared from every corner of the globe, too. Is anyone working on improving diversity?

    • I think you make a fair point about diversity – this could perhaps have been more far-reaching, and I’m not sure how high on the agenda creating a truly diverse international programme was for the organisers. I suppose there are logistical challenges as well (fewer authors translated from some countries; difficulties in booking them if they live a long way away). But there was some discussion about crime novels told from Inuit perspectives (McGrath and Stabenow), and one of the debut writers, J.C. Martin, moved to the UK from Malaysia during her youth and spoke of being drawn to writing on a part of London that is very ethnically diverse.

  5. Pingback: (A Belated) Best of the CrimeFest 2013 « Raven Crime Reads

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