Sunday 29 March 2009

St Hilda's

I’m really pleased to have been invited to Oxford, to speak at the St Hilda’s College Crime and Mystery week-end in August. This is an event which I’ve attended two or three times before, although not for a few years. St Hilda's was, until recently, a college exclusively for female students. Val McDermid is an alumna, and in fact she and I were contemporaries at the university, though our paths did not cross until many years later.

My previous visits to the St Hilda's week-end have been pretty memorable – I met Anne Perry and Susanna Gregory here for the first time, for instance, and remember a hugely enjoyable visit to an Inspector Morse exhibition with the likes of Colin Dexter and Andrew Taylor, as well as a delightful lunch with a retired tutor from my old college.

The two principal organisers are Kate Charles, a former chairman of the CWA and a much under-rated writer, and Eileen Roberts, who spent a good many years at St Hilda’s and retains her connection with the event, which is especially popular with American crime fans, as well as members of Mystery Women. It was at St Hilda’s that I was encouraged by those great crime enthusiasts Lizzie Hayes and Ayo Onatade to follow Andrew Taylor’s lead and become an honorary Mystery Woman. Which I remain to this day!

The topic for the week-end (at which the speakers deliver papers with a unifying theme) is ‘the wages of sin’, and in due course I’ll have to think about an interesting way of addressing the subject. Any suggestions of an angle that readers of this blog would find appealing will be gladly received!


Anonymous said...

I was a contemporary of Val McDermid's also - same college and even, for one year, same corridor. "Wages of sin" - how about how good St Hilda's is as a nurturer of best-selling crime fiction authors, or has that one already been done? I sense there is scope for a gently ironical talk about the wages of crime-fiction authors. (Or, perhaps, reviewers ? ;-) )

Dorte H said...

What springs to my mind is that British authors have retained a sense of history: they are proud of their culture and literare and are not afraid to show it with references and quotations (e.g. Sayers & Gaudy Night). Today it is possible for Danish authors too (cf my review of Susanne Staun´s Original Sin two days ago), but since the 1970s ´progressive´ authors have discarded the past as irrelevant. The good side of this is that I have learned to love British literature, and I am only slowly returning to Danish books :)

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Maxine, when exactly were you there? To think our paths might have crossed long ago!
The wages of sin suggestion is helpful, thanks.
Dorte - certainly, some British authors have a good sense of history - an example I'd pick is Peter Lovesey, who is immensely knowledgable. Harry Keating is another. And I'm very glad you love British literature. I look forward to getting to know a bit more about the Danish.

Anonymous said...

OK, let’s forget all that about “the wages of sin is death,” though the phrase was chillingly prophetic in Bonnie Parker’s poem The Trail’s End. Let’s focus on those ‘crims’ and sinners who escape exposure, betrayal, criminal prosecution, professional disgrace, Whitehall watchdogs and STDs to profit from their wickedness. In particular, let’s take a peek at their souls.

So, they’ve got away with it. Wealth, power, position, property, an expensive mistress or toyboy perhaps. Entry into exalted circles. But conscience aside, are they truly comfortable down there, in the psyche, the soul? Smart enough to hoodwink others but unable to hoodwink themselves, inescapably aware of their shabby masquerade and inferiority, alcohol merely a brief anaesthetic.

Or is there a way out? A generous donation to medical research or an orphanage will help. A swish new bungalow for long-suffering Mum, a talented nephew funded through college. Now we’re halfway to sainthood, positively aglow with worthiness. Hoodwinked at last, guard dropped…

Which probably takes us right back to Bonnie Parker.

Over to you, Martin. Any use?

Martin Edwards said...

All ideas help, thanks, though I must admit I don't know 'The Trail's End'.

Paul Beech said...

“The Trail’s End” is on a fascinating website called Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout. Bonny was no Emily Dickinson but her verse certainly boosted the legend, and the website is worth checking out (

I’m a crime reader with an interest in the psychological aspects. In my anonymous post, I was suggesting that, metaphorically at least, there might be some truth afterall in the old maxim that “the wages of sin is death,” rather like a self-fulfilling prophesy. Could it be that those sinners sniggering up their sleeves as they savour the fruits of their success are already on self-destruct? And how might the psychological process be mapped?

Best wishes, Paul

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Paul, both for the idea, which I'll give further thought to, and the link, which I'll check out.