Monday, 22 August 2016
St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Week-end
I've just returned from Oxford after taking part in the St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Week-end -the 23rd year this conference has taken place under the admirable stewardship of Eileen Roberts and Kate Charles. The company of fellow readers and writers was very convivial, as always, and the weather was kinder than the forecast had threatened. Talks were chaired by Natasha Cooper with her customary excellence, and although other commitments meant she had to leave early, Andrew Taylor was the perfect substitute to bring on from the bench.
There was a varied group of speakers, including Andrew (who discussed historical crime fiction), Marcia Talley (very good on "cozy crime") and Sarah Weinman, whose topic was domestic suspense. The international guest of honour was Lee Child, and the Friday night dinner speaker was Ted Childs, the ITV guru responsible for Inspector Morse. Val McDermid was the after dinner speaker on Saturday. I learned something from all of them.
My talk was "Trending - Why is Golden Age fiction fashionable again?" I shared a platform with Carol Westron, who talked about "rules" during the Golden Age. And here let me tell a perfectly true story. I was first asked to speak at St Hilda's a long time ago; my topic was Balliol's crime writers and I was very nervous. I felt the content was okay, but (although people said nice things about the talk) I felt my delivery of the material was flawed by anxiety.. The truth is that, although I've done a lot of public speaking and advocacy in my twin careers as solicitor and writer, it's not something that has ever come naturally to me. Perhaps it's odd, but I find reading from a prepared text harder than talking without notes on a favourite topic, and making it up as I go along. But I've spoken at St Hilda's several times now, and I'm glad to say that it's become progressively easier for me. This year I worried less in advance about my presentation than I have done previously. So I've gained confidence - but it has taken a long time, perhaps longer than most members of the audience would guess.
As ever, the social side of the week-end was hugely enjoyable.. Before the conference began, I was glad to have the chance of dinner with my old friend Ann Cleeves, and on the Saturday night, those at my table included two superstars of the genre, Lee Child and Val McDermid, along with Andrew, who is one of the contemporary crime writers whom I most admire.. It was really rather memorable, and for me it was - quite genuinely - an honour to be part of it all.. .