Tuesday 31 December 2019

2019: People

I've enjoyed the company of some marvellous people this past year. A single blog post simply isn't sufficient to express my appreciation of everyone who has contributed to my 2019, but I would like to take the opportunity to mention some of those who have played a part in my writing life this year, helping to make it both memorable and very happy.

Let me start with my colleagues in the CWA. The Windermere conference in April was, for me, the perfect way to say goodbye as Chair of the Association and return to the ranks. In my time as Chair I benefited hugely from a very supportive set of Board members, and special mention has to be made of Dea Parkin, the Secretary, and Linda Stratmann and Maxim Jakubowski, my two Vice Chairs. At Windermere there was also the chance to take part in panels with such friends and fellow writers as Peter Lovesey, Christine Poulson, Marsali Taylor, Mike Craven, and Kate Jackson.

Alibis in the Archive was a lot of fun, with a roster of wonderful speakers, and the weather was so good on the Saturday evening we were out in the gardens until well after ten o'clock. The weekend raises funds for the CWA and also the Detection Club, which continues to flourish; I spent a good chunk of the year liaising with members over the compilation of Howdunit, a book you will hear much more about in 2020. One of the contributors to Howdunit is Peter Robinson. Because Peter spends half the year in Canada, sometimes I see very little of him, but this year was a pleasant exception; we had breakfast together at Gladstone's Library, lunch in Toronto, and a Detection Club dinner at the Garrick Club (not all on the same day...) The guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Club at the Ritz was David Brawn of HarperCollins, whose company I enjoyed on numerous occasions, not least at Bodies from the Library, where it's always a pleasure to chat to the likes of John Curran and his hard-working team of organisers, Tony Medawar, Dolores Gordon Smith, Kate Jackson, Moira Redmond, and Nigel Moss. I want to make particular mention of Nigel, whose support and encouragement for me in my various endeavours has been of great value in recent years.  Kate, Chrissie Poulson, Moira and Brad Friedmann and I had tea in the Courtauld the day before - photo below.

I'm also very appreciative of the support of my agent, James Wills and my various publishers here and overseas, including David Brawn and the team at Head of Zeus, who kindly invited me to join them at the CWA Daggers Dinner in October. It was great fun to meet the PPP and Sourcebooks team in Scottsdale and Dallas and as the year comes to a close, I'm thrilled that two more book deals with them are in the course of being concluded. As for my American writer friends, I want to say a special if necessarily very selective thank you to Verena and Shawn of Malice Domestic, Shelly Dickson Carr and her brother Wooda, and Kathy Boon Reel, all of whom have shown me numerous kindnesses.

I've often said, and I'll keep on saying, how much we owe, as book lovers, to librarians. Quite apart from Jan Macartney in Douglas who hosted my 1920s murder mystery (the photo shows me with the cast), Louisa Yates and the team at Gladstone's Library, and Rebecca, John, Jonny, Maria and Abbie at the British Library, I've enjoyed meeting a host of people working hard in libraries up and down the country in the hope of knitting communities together and spreading the joys of the written word.

Murder Squad, founded by Margaret Murphy, continues to go from strength to strength. We had a great time in the north east in the spring and next year sees the twentieth anniversary of the group. We've planned quite a few events to celebrate and who knows, the celebrations may spill over into 21st celebrations as well! It's great to see fellow Squaddies doing so well in their writing careers and I was thrilled when Kate Ellis won the Dagger in the Library. The holiday we had with Kate and her husband Roger in Puglia was thoroughly enjoyable and a return to Italy is on the cards for next year...

Then there were the whodunit fans I met on two trips on the Queen Mary 2 and in Oxford and the readers I came across at events here and overseas. To say nothing of the amazingly enthusiastic young mystery fans of Shanghai. As I say, these reminiscences are bound to be selective, but to everyone who has played a positive part in my year, and in particular to my loyal readers and family, I say a heartfelt thank you. 


Monday 30 December 2019

2019: Places

This year I've travelled to some delightful places in connection with my writing, both in Britain and much further afield. 2019 got off to a good start with the Essex Book Festival at Southend, which also gave me the chance to visit Mersea Island, associated with crime writers such as Margery Allingham and Andrew Garve.

An event at Middlesbrough Library fitted in with a research trip for Mortmain Hall, which took me to Flamborough Head and Ravenscar on the Yorkshire coast as well as the old fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay. Mortmain is a fictionalised reworking of Ravenscar, a place that's always fascinated me, and the Hall is an eccentric Gothic reimagining of the old Hall (above photo).

Next, the CWA conference at Bowness. We arranged a variety of library events in the run-up to the weekend and these took me to Ulverston and Ambleside. At Ulverston I was glad to make the acquaintance of fellow crime writer Zosia Wand, with whom I spent a delightful afternoon much later in the year when I was researching south Cumbria locations for the next Lake District Mystery. The Saturday AGM marked the end of my stint as Chair of the CWA. It's a demanding but rewarding role and I handed over the Creasey Bell to an admirable successor in Linda Stratmann. A week or so later I returned to the Lakes for more location research and also an event in Cockermouth with M.W. Craven, this year's Gold Dagger winner, and Paula Daly, two of whose books were adapted for television in the late summer.

In May, Murder Squad had a weekend of events at a superb venue, The Word in South Shields, and again there was the chance for some sightseeing in places like Tynemouth and the strangely named but interesting Seaton Sluice. An invitation to speak at a festival run by the National Trust to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their acquisition of Agatha Christie's home at Greenway in Devon was irresistible and spending the ovenight in Greenway was truly memorable. So were the steam train trip and river and ferry journeys around the river Dart. We stopped off there and back with friends in Wells, giving a chance to explore Glastonbury Abbey and Tor as well as various other places in Somerset and Devon, two gorgeous rural counties.

My interest in the work of E.C.R. Lorac took me to Lunesdale in north Lancashire a couple of times, where I enjoyed meeting a wonderful lady who actually knew Lorac when she was young, as well as her family; this was a very rewarding experience. So, in a different way, was the pleasure of guiding two groups of American whodunit fans around Oxford, when I found myself doing commentaries during river cruises, leading pub crawls and various other improbable things. And I fulfilled a long-held ambition by taking a trip on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway in gorgeous sunshine.

Literary festivals are becoming increasingly popular in Britain and those I attended this year were varied and excellent. At Slaughter in Southwold I spent time with Mick Herron and Kate Ellis before venturing on a tour of Suffolk - a lovely county that I want to revisit. A trip to Newark gave me the chance to look round the old castle there as to pop over to Lincoln and see a wonderful array of Crime Classics in the local Waterstones'. The Rye Arts Festival, where I spent a day with Simon Brett, Lynne Truss, and William Shaw was brilliant, and so was the opportunity to explore parts of Sussex and Kent that I was previously unfamiliar with. One stop in Kent at a fantastic location gave me the idea for a book that may well become the follow-up to Mortmain Hall (once I've written the Lake District book!) Similarly, my long-awaited return to the Isle of Wight introduced me to some memorable places, including an old priory that sparked my literary imagination. And even some more fleeting festival engagements, such as an event with Zoe Sharp in Rochdale proved highly enjoyable (once I'd recovered from the traffic gridlock around Greater Manchester).

Having received the Dagger in the Library, I was determined to take part in as many library events as possible to show my support for these wonderful places. And I include independent libraries, such as Gladstone's Library, where I hosted the Alibis in the Archives in wonderful June weather (along with such terrific writers as Aline Templeton, Michael Ridpath, and Peter Robinson) and the British Library, where I did an interview with Christine Poulson talking about Cyril Hare. In terms of public libraries, those I visited included Wigan and Droylsden in the north west, while I was thrilled to return to the Isle of Man and host a 1920s murder mystery; this enabled me to spend time in the very pleasant company of Douglas Stewart and the Douglas librarian Jan Macartney  I'm hoping to return to Douglas next year.

As far as overseas trips were concerned, I had holidays in Sweden and Italy and working trips to New York City, Scottsdale, Dallas, and Toronto, the latter to give a lecture about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. And then there was Shanghai, an unforgettable experience which I raved about quite recently.

So I've been very fortunate to see some marvellous parts of the world, and to remind myself of the wonders of Britain as well. And after all that travelling, it's no wonder I feel the need to crack on with Hannah Scarlett's latest cold case, set partly in Bowness, partly on the evocative south coast of Cumbria...