Now that the bunting is down and the hangovers have dissipated, it’s time to take a look at one of the big events in the crime calendar. Bestseller DAVID MARK shares his blurry memories from CrimeFest 2016.
“Well done!” bellowed Ayo, her eyes shining like freshly-sucked boiled sweets. “I told you! I’m so pleased. You deserve it.”
I accepted the hug, because she’s Ayo and she smells nice and she was wearing a blue dress that looked bloody lovely. But I had no idea what she was talking about. I’d only popped in to the main room at the Marriott because there were rumours of free drinks. I hadn’t bothered joining the great or the good for the Crime Writers Association Dagger announcements. Experience had taught me there was little point.
“You’re on the longlist,” she explained, as she realised I was even more clueless than usual.
“Which longlist?” I asked, pulling the face I tend to pull while doing The Times crossword or talking to my accountant.
“The Gold Dagger! Dead Pretty is on the longlist!”
“Really?” I asked, a little confused. “That’s a crime thing, yes? And it’s good, I imagine. Who else is?”
“You’re hopeless,” said Ayo, and I have endeavoured to take this as a compliment. “Go check the list. Stephen King is on it …”
The above conversation is probably the reason why much of CrimeFest is a blur. Something rather fabulous and exciting happened to me, and as a result, my brain has rather shut itself down in case it does anything destructive, like imagining what it would be like to get onto the shortlist. As such, I have managed to transform four days of Bristol-based tomfoolery into a blizzard of distorted images and half-remembered anecdotes. My notes include unhelpful phrases like ‘The Painted Man and Sex Bitch’ and ‘say thankyou to Felix Francis’, which make as much sense to me as they do to you.
But first, a minor confession. For the first time since embracing sobriety, I was attending a festival without being completely full of whisky, which is like asking a car to drive from Hull to the South Coast without petrol. I would like it to be known that while I will now live longer and experience better sleep, I am also a lot less fun. So if I bored you with stories about going into little antique shops or the different flavours of speciality tea that I am experimenting with, I’m sorry.
So … CrimeFest. Well, it definitely happened. I was definitely there. I spent six hours in a frigging Suzuki Swift battling back-roads and sat-navs when some bright spark decided to close the Midlands. And I definitely recall staying in a little apartment ten minutes from the Marriott. And I remember Ayo’s blue dress. Apparently I was on a panel as well. And I chaired another one, during which I accused a very pleasant little American woman of being from a country responsible for most of the world’s evils and had fun saying the letter ‘p’ into a sensitive microphone that turned my every utterance into a machine-gun blast.
Anything else? A lady kept touching me whenever she walked past. I compared notes with Mark Billingham about our most chilling experiences with a certain crime ‘fan’. I drank a lot of fizzy water and got cross when I noticed there was a panel about violence towards women in crime fiction that didn’t include a single male contributor …
I’m struggling, now to be honest. It was a fortnight ago and I’m on a lot of medication. Oh yes! I saw a drunk man squaring up to a busker while he performed an acoustic version of ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ – revelling in the absurdity of the moment as he tried to placate his attacker with kind words while simultaneously shouting ‘Hit Me’ for the crowd.
Panels? I’m sure I went to some. I was a juror for the fabulous Making a Murderer debate, which saw Steve Cavanagh and Neil White make the case both for and against Stephen Avery – unlikely ‘star’ of Netflix. I was very much in the ‘not guilty’ camp, as was judge Sophie Hannah, who kept order wonderfully in front of a packed house and who famously told Neil not to ‘be mean’ to the prosecution.
I’m sure there’s more. If I were still a journalist I would probably give you a full and detailed report of exactly what happened, but that would be deeply tedious and not at all in keeping with my slapdash approach to life in general.
Suffice to say, it was all very CrimeFest. It was chaotic and disorganised and raucous and Kev Wignall stayed up until about 6am with a hardcore of drinkers and an Irishman whom nobody seems to be able to identify. I signed books, I talked crime and I signed up for Bouchercon in Toronto without really intending to. It was just another year. And apparently, Dead Pretty is longlisted for a Dagger. It must be true. Ayo told me.