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

Saturday treats: Sebastian Bergman / CWA International Dagger / Israeli crime fiction

Three little treats on this lovely sunny day in the UK.

1. For fans of Swedish crime and of Wallander actor Rolf Lassgård: the ‘police thriller’ Sebastian Bergman begins tonight on BBC4 at 9pm. See the second half of this earlier post for an overview and trailer.

Photo from BBC/ZDF

2. CRIMEFEST 2012 – the annual International Crime Fiction Convention – is in full swing in Bristol this weekend. While extremely sad to be missing the party, I’m enjoying tweets on the various panels from @Eurocrime and @NicciPrasa amongst others. The hashtag for the event is #crimefest12.

Thrillingly, the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) shortlists for the following ‘Daggers’ were announced there last night: International, Historical, Non-Fiction, Library, Short Story and Debut. Thanks to Rhian over at ‘It’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery…)’ for a comprehensive listing of all the works shortlisted.  

There are 6 works listed for the International Dagger (‘crime, thriller, suspense or spy fiction novels which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication’):

The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri, trans. by Stephen Sartarelli (Mantle)
I will have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni, trans. by Anne Milano Appel (Hersilia Press)
Until Thy Wrath Be Past by Åsa Larsson, trans. by Laurie Thompson (Quercus/Maclehose)
Trackers by Deon Meyer, trans. by T K L Seegers (Hodder & Stoughton)
Phantom by Jo Nesbø, trans. by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
The Dark Valley by Valerio Varesi, trans. by Joseph Farrell (Quercus/Maclehose)

Further details about the novels are available via the CWA website here.

And over at Petrona, you’ll find a list of all International Dagger winners since 2006, along with a wealth of links to reviews and CWA webpages (thanks, Maxine, for this excellent resource).

3. A guest post on Israeli crime fiction by Uri Kenan at the ‘Detectives Beyond Borders’ blog caught my eye this week. For someone like me, who knew nothing about the history of crime fiction in Israel, it was a very illuminating read. I’m already looking forward to part 2, which I imagine will look at more contemporary offerings.

Peter Rozovsky, who runs the blog, is also at CrimeFest at the moment, and has already posted three reports, which are well worth a read

I hope the sun is shining for all of you wherever you are: have a lovely weekend.