Various bloggers have been reflecting on the pros and cons of crime conventions in the wake of Crimefest, and this debate mirrors many of the conversations that go on in the book rooms and bars wherever conventions are held. Two of the main reservations from the perspective of writers and readers are these. For authors, arguably, conventions sell very few books for the panellists attending (other than the star names.) For readers, once you have heard a writer a couple of times, and attended a panel of theirs on a certain topic (‘the importance of setting’ is an example), future panels on such themes can turn out to be samey.
There is truth in both these points, but there are also strong reasons why I really enjoy conventions, long after my first visit to the 1990 Bouchercon in London (when I wasn’t even a published writer.) As a mid-list novelist, attending a convention may not work out on a strict cost-benefit analysis, but I think there are hidden benefits in terms of profile-building – all the more important at a time when market conditions are so dire. From a fan’s point of view – and I’m still very much a fan, as I hope this blog illustrates – there is much fun to be had from attending panels, even on familiar topics. Though I think it makes sense to be selective. Back in 1990, I attended every panel I could. Now, short as a convention is, I tend to take breaks. This does mean I miss some treats – for instance, at Crimefest 2009, I made a mistake by missing the translators’ panel, which everyone seemed to like. However, I did enjoy, among others, the Hakan Nesser interview, and the panel chaired by Maxim featuring the likes of Paul Johnston (a terrific writer, who deserves to be better known) and the witty Declan Burke.
I’ve mentioned before the pleasure of meeting old friends, and of getting to know others for the first time. In the breaks I take, very often away from the melee of the convention hotel, I enjoy having the chance to get to know one or two people better. For instance, from last year’s Crimefest, I recall a thoroughly agreeable lunch with Natasha Cooper. This year, I had a long chat with Chris Ewan, a fellow lawyer and highly promising author, and also got together with Russell James, who wasn’t involved in the convention, but lives close to Bristol and had travelled in for the day. Russell is an interesting writer, whose fiction is very dark, and who has recently diversified into non-fiction with much success – Great British Fictional Detectives is his latest title, and it’s packed with tons of information. I’ve known Russell for years, but we’ve never talked at such length before, and I found him fascinating and informative on the life of a full-time writer after years as a self-employed business consultant.
So are conventions worth it? In my experience, the answer is an unequivocal yes. I’ve never been to one, either here or in the US, that that didn’t teach me a good deal and wasn’t great fun.