Monday 31 December 2018

2018: People

Over the past couple of days, I've indulged myself with reflections on this year's writings and travels, but it remains true that people matter more than publications and places. And today I'd like to mention (inevitably in a highly selective way) some of the people who have, in various ways, made this such a lovely literary year for me. The photo above, taken in Reykjavik after an excellent dinner, and including colleagues from Germany, Russia and the US, reflects the international cameraderie of crime.

From the day when I started this blog, I've endeavoured to spread the word that writing can give great enjoyment in all sorts of ways, whether you are an author or a fan or (like me) both. Over the years, I've become increasingly conscious of the ways in which writing and reading can be extremely valuable in therapeutic terms. But I'm also acutely aware that the writing life can be a tough one. I've not talked much on this blog about my role as CWA Chair, but I can say that one thing I'm especially pleased about is the work we've begun within the CWA, and in collaboration with other organisations, to try to support writers facing mental health challenges. 

This work wouldn't be possible without the contribution of many good people. The CWA Board members and staff do a great deal for fellow writers, and it's a privilege to work alongside them. The CWA Daggers Dinner was, as I've said before, memorable for me personally, but it was also a chance to socialise with some wonderful men and women who play a key part in CWA activities; some of their photographs illustrate this post. Back in February, the northern chapter of the CWA celebrated its 30th anniversary with lunch in the Crown Hotel, Boroughbridge, where it all began with Peter Walker, Reg Hill, Bob Barnard et al.

The same's true of friends in the Detection Club, whose company makes our dinners so pleasurable. I've also enjoyed working with some lovely people in publishing: David Brawn at Harper Collins, the team at the British Library and that at Head of Zeus as well as my agent James Wills and the Watson, Little folk. I talked about libraries yesterday, and my admiration for the librarians I work with is unbounded. I must make special mention of Louisa Yates and the team at Gladstone's Library, who look after the British Crime Writing Archives on behalf of the CWA and the Detection Club, and ensure that Alibis in the Archives is as smoothly organised as it is convivial.

Now that I'm no longer a full-time lawyer, I've had the chance to catch up with people from my school and university days, and this has been a source of delight this year. I mentioned Tim Benson yesterday, and the fact that two guys I last saw at Oxford more than forty years ago took the trouble to turn up at the launch of Gallows Court was a real treat.

One of the crime festivals I most enjoy is Malice Domestic, and over the past few years it's been great to become good friends with the Board members who do such a fine job: Verena, Joni, Shawn, Tonia, and the rest of the crew. I won't be able to make it in 2019 (though I have a good excuse, more of which another day!) but I'll be there in spirit.

Bouchercon takes place in a different venue, with different organisers, each year, but it's a great opportunity to catch up with people from various parts of the world, as well as fellow Brits. These things are always a whirl, but at St Petersburg I had the chance to have meals with some terrific writers, the likes of Art Taylor, Bruce Coffin, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Shelly Dickson Carr, Gigi Pandian, Paul Charles, Elly Griffiths, and Ragnar Jonasson, and a host of other good companions, as well as wandering around the town with Kathy Boon Reel.  Moments to treasure. 

Speaking of Ragnar, I'm so glad he persuaded me to visit Iceland. The photograph at the top of this post was taken there following a get-together of the International Association of Crime Writers. Naturally, I can't resist including a photograph of the only Prime Minister I'm ever likely to share a panel with, Katrin Jakobsdottir. And yes, that was her own copy of The Golden Age of Murder

Last but certainly not least, can I say that, for all the downsides of technology, and for all the failings of social media, blogging and connecting with people across the world who share my love of crime writing has been an absolute blessing. Through this blog, I've been able to get to know a great many people I'd never otherwise have come across, and that's been wonderful. Some of you I'll never manage to meet in person, but the positive messages that you send really are a boost to my morale. And all writers need morale boosts. So - thank you!

As I say, this is a time of year when I feel a bit of self-indulgence is in order, and I'm fortunate to have pleasant memories to look back on. For me, 2018 has been a very happy and lucky year, something I don't take for granted. Tomorrow, a new year begins, and who knows what ups and downs it will bring? But I look forward to it with hope. And sometimes, hopes are fulfilled. On that note, here's a picture taken of me, waiting for the announcement of the CWA Dagger in the Library!

Sunday 30 December 2018

2018: Places

In 2018, I was lucky enough to travel a good deal, both in Britain and overseas, and my trips yielded some magical moments. An unforgettable evening for me was spent at the Grange City Hotel in London in October. I was hosting the CWA Daggers Dinner, and presented the CWA Diamond Dagger to Michael Connelly, and Red Herring awards to four worthy winners in Ali Karim, Ayo Onatade, Mike Stotter, and David Stuart Davies.

And it was a great thrill also to be on the receiving end, and to be awarded the CWA Dagger in the Library. Quite simply, it was one of the best moments of my writing life. Sue Wilkinson, the chair of the panel of librarians which took the decision, said: "We chose Martin because he has a very varied output, covering both Golden Age mysteries and modern psychological suspense.  He has done a great deal to popularise crime writing, and through his editing of anthologies has brought a lot of long-forgotten crime stories to new audiences.  In addition, he is also a passionate advocate for libraries." I'll cherish this accolade in years to come.

Libraries play a very important part in my life, and in my writing career. Close to home, it was a huge relief when Lymm Library was saved for the community, and I was also glad to collaborate with the Friends of Stockton Heath Library in the neighbouring village. In fact, I spent a lot of time in some terrific libraries during 2018. There were talks in libraries in Guernsey and (on two separate occasions) Jersey, as well as in places as diverse as Woking and Penketh, Frodsham and Knowsley, Birkenhead, and Sandiway. I loved my first visit to the Highgate LSI, with its unique atmosphere, while Bodies from the Library, at the British Library, was as good as ever; there, I gave a talk about Richard Hull, and was kindly invited to take part in a podcast by impossible crime experts Daniel Curtis and Jim Noy; they are members of a growing new, younger generation of Golden Age fans, and such enthusiasm for classic crime augurs well for the future.

At Alibis in the Archives, at Gladstone's Library in north Wales, there were many highlights during a fantastic weekend. I was so glad that Jessica Mann agreed to take part; she was in great form, and it came as a huge shock when she died just a few weeks afterwards. She was valiant to the end, and had become a very good friend. At the time of her death, we'd been discussing a joint writing project, and losing her was perhaps the saddest time of the year. The other speakers who made Alibis work so well included Peter Lovesey, Andrew Taylor, James Grieve, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Sarah Ward, and Simon Brett.

There were several enjoyable festivals. I shared a platform again with Ruth at Southend for the Essex Book Festival, and with Sarah (and Kate Ellis) at the Lymm Festival. In Salisbury, I talked at the Playhouse about Dorothy L. Sayers, and had the pleasure of spending the night in the gorgeous Cathedral Close. I also gave the after dinner speech to the Sayers Society at Lancaster University. At the French Protestant Church in Soho, I gave a talk to the Oxford University Society, one of the occasions at which I had the delightful experience of meeting again people I'd not seen for decades.

It's simply not possible to accept every invitation, partly because of double-booking, and partly because I really do need to get some work done - sometimes. But I like to accept invitations when I can, and I was asked to give talks by Warrington Lit and Phil Society, the Society of Authors (during the Harrogate Festival) and the Kirby Lonsdale branch of Mencap, which set up a lunch in aid of a very worthwhile charitable cause; my trip to Kirby also gave me the chance to revisit some favourite haunts in that part of the world. Other fun events included CrimeFest in Bristol (where I presented Peter James with his Diamond Dagger, delayed from two years earlier), the ALCS winter reception at the House of Commons, and the CWA conference in Shrewsbury.

At the start of the year, I was invited by the Baker Street Irregulars to give their annual lecture at the legendary Yale Club (see the above photo, with Les Klinger, taken during the Q and A) in New York City. I stayed for three nights at the Yale, and had the pleasure of dinner with Les, plus brunch with Michael Dirda, followed by a trip to the Top of the Rock with its views over the city. Returning to the library theme, I was greatly taken with New York City Library, and seeing the original Winnie-the-Pooh. The trip to NYC gave rise to an invitation to visit Toronto, next April, a real bonus.

I returned to the US for Malice Domestic, and hosted a standing-room only interview with Brenda Blethyn and Ann Cleeves. There was also a sightseeing trip to Washington DC, including dinner at Martin's Tavern, of all places, which I loved. My final American trip was to Florida for Bouchercon. A sunset cruise was a stunning highlight, but there were plenty of other fun things to do with fellow crime writers and fans.

The Tallinn HeadRead Literary Festival was a great experience. My literary commitment was to take part in a discussion about the Golden Age with Sophie Hannah and Jason Goodwin, and the organisers also laid on several trips which enabled me to see more of the area. And then there was Iceland Noir in Reykjavik, and participation in a panel moderated (very well) by Iceland's Prime Minister, an expert on Agatha Christie. Like Estonia, Iceland is a lovely country to visit, and I enjoyed exploring.

There were plenty of other places that linger in the memory, including Avebury Stone Circle (on a beautiful day in late summer), Delamere Forest, a boat trip to Puffin Island off Anglesey, and my first visit to the Ritz Hotel, hosting the Detection Club's main dinner of the year. Tim Benson, an old schoolfriend, took me behind the scenes at the Royal Academy (which will feature in my next novel) and the Anglo-Saxons exhibition at the British Library was full of interest. Leo and Cassandra McNeir kindly invited us to stay with them, and this gave me the chance to visit Stowe, Buckingham, and Bletchley Park.

Further afield, I went to Amsterdam and Gothenburg for mini-breaks with the young Edwardses and to Germany on a coach tour, visiting places like Wurzburg, Speyer, and lovely Heidelberg. I've mentioned before that I like to write stories set in places I've visited and researched, and this year I've managed one which combines two trips. The story is set in Jersey and Bletchley Park and it's been accepted for an anthology of historical fiction to be published next year. So it's not all hedonistic swanning about! Though I admit, there's been quite a lot of that in 2018, and very pleasurable it's been too...