I have had three days brain-deep in all things literary. A distraction that came when sadness was weighting me down, for many reasons. I was safe in the company of writers at Litcamp: the fragrant Vanessa Gebbie, the truly lovely Alison, incomparable Sara (of Asalted), gorgeous Kerry……. Litcamp made me feel like a professional, a contender. I was cheered by an ‘excellent’ verdict from Steve of Willesden blog infamy on a short story of mine. My god, I needed that. I needed it all….even the daft and the delusional at the event who made me giggle. Including someone who thought that if their mother told them their book was fab, that was all they need to continue. Ahem.
My head full of books and the infinite possibilities of language, I also attended two days of the Reading Crime Festival – a first for Reading and initiated and run by the borough librarians. It began with a writers’ workshop with Cath Stanicliffe, where my daughter (aged 11) rather surprised a roomful of adults by conjuring up her own method of murder: stuffing snow down someone’s throat. I may have to sleep with one eye open from now on. Bless her gothic soul. The day continued: literary discussions, writers explaining their craft, a talk on the role for coroner….all very juicy. There was very much an old tale repeatedly told by the male (usually bearded) writers: ‘I had a good lunch with an agent/publisher and then later had several films made of my books………’ To the aspiring crime writers there it sounded wonderful, easy. It took Frances Fyfield to be honest and admit that it was ‘Easier in my day…it is hard for people to get published now…it is a different business.’ A friend of mine, after a particularly turgid reading from one of the crime writers, was tempted to ask him if he thought that he would get published nowadays. I stopped her…it was a little too blunt, even if true. Fyfield at least could see beyond her own accomplished world and realise the current market.
There is also a great friendship between some crime writers. Bored, Fyfield rang up Val McDermid one morning to ask her what she was doing. (I love that image) ‘I’m bleaching spoons,’ she was told. Increasingly Fyfield’s honesty was so fresh….she hates the actual discipline of writing and will often resort to mundane displacement activities. Hurrah! Someone else! Someone widely published!
Speaking of the spoon-bleacher, Val McDermid was a delight, in every way. In smiling Scottish brogue, she held a huge room of people like a professional actress. Passion shone from her. Writing was everything. ‘Ah, I saw they called this the ‘Big Author Event,’ she laughed. ‘Why do they not say FAT and be done with it!’ I asked a question at the end about whether the growth of crime fiction may in fact be due to our perceptions of a lawless society. Quick, articulate. clever – she explained how a crime book is a contained and controlled entity, a moral universe. The real criminals out there, she said, were far worse than even our imaginations could muster. Things are not solved, people are not saved. From someone who writes the graphic scenes in the ‘Wire in the Blood’ series, that was a terrifying thought. Afterwards, I dutifully bought her new book and shuffled up for a signing. I gave my full name and she looked at me curiously, with some recognition at the name. The moment seemed right and so I thanked her for choosing my story in Mslexia some time ago, when she judged the submissions. I specified which one. ‘That was a lovely story,’ she smiled. ‘Very moving.’
Very moving. Very moving. I wrote it on my mirror in eyeliner when I got back and in the morning, thought how batty that was of me. Vowed that if I ever become successful I will try and endorse writers still climbing: it means so much.
On the Sunday evening at the final event, Mark Billingham and John Harvey rolled through the doors from the pub. Much banter and silliness, much use of the words ‘Fuck’ and ‘Bollocks’ between the two daft beggars. Mark Billingham read from his new novel and proved that a writer who can read well, tell stories…will be a successful one because he can also do the circuit, entertain. He later slagged off John Banville (‘I hate these up themselves authors…he told me that its perfectly possible to read a book with a dictionary by the side….what!!!!!!!!!!”) Agatha Christie and Jeffrey Archer were also for the chop. The Crime Writers’ Association has black tie award events at £90 a ticket, full of old buffers. ‘But did you know,’ he said, ‘that the Australian equivalent is called the Ned Kelly Awards and they have a stripper.’ It was that kind of blokey nonsense. John Harvey, who was much more drunk and was intellectually freefalling, talked about the Paralympics for no reason, then decided that the first few pages of his new novel wasn’t good enough and ripped it up. Went to read something else and then discovered that he had actually ripped that up instead. All fun and games. The death of the short story…how there was no market....blah blah…came up and John Harvey even admitted that he had to approach a small press to take a recent novella, despite the fact that he has published many books and has a ‘name.’ Billingham praised the short story and everyone bemoaned the fact that they are not supposed to sell.
So many treats at that festival…including a plant forensic scientist who looked as if he were being played by an actor. Tweed and dusty moustache, guffawed in all the wrong places as if he did not mix with people much, lived with his microscope. He once had to collate evidence from a rape case (that was one where he laughed, inappropriately) and the police gave him a dress from the victim. ‘Now if there were evidence to collect, it would not be on a dress.’
He then came up with a great book title for his memoirs:
The Answer Lies in The Knickers.
- Julia Bohanna
- Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'
- ► 2009 (13)
Prizes and Writing Awards
- Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
- Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
- Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
- 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
- Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
- Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
- Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
- Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
- Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
- Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
- Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
- Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
- Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
- Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
- Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
- Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006