4500 miles from Delhi, India lies Bristol, England. Wikipedia informs the inquisitive must-know-it-all types, like me, that there are thirty-four other places on planet Earth named Bristol, twenty-eight of which are in the USA. It was Bristol, England where we set our sights on Friday 25th May 2012. Not Bristol Tennessee or even Bristol, Nevada — now according to official records, a ghost town. Population nil.
My wife and I are the insanely fortuitous recipients of an amazing first-out-of-the-virtual-hat prize which consisted of an access-all-events CrimeFest 2012 Pass, return rail fare, and two nights B & B, courtesy of the incredibly worthy Dundee based charity, Million For A Morgue (MFAM). We caught a dinnertime train from Sheffield, and disembarked at Bristol, Temple Meads late in the afternoon in good order, eager to get stuck into CrimeFest 2012 – the 5th international crime fiction convention for writers and buffs alike.
Headlining this year’s crime-fiction extravaganza were the authors Lee ‘Jack Reacher’ Child, PD James, Sue Grafton, Frederick ‘The Day of the Jackal’ Forsyth, Jeffery ‘The Mortician’ Deaver and the Swedish writing duo of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström. That is not to say that these were the only authors in attendance at the salubrious convention venue, ahem, ‘our hotel‘, the Four-Star, Bristol Royal Marriott. Be assured, there were scores, nay legions, of crime fiction writers at the event, many of whom we met in lifts; amongst them, author of the Charlie Fox novels, Zoë Sharp – my first true name-drop. I must now confess, I will not hesitate to continue to name-drop, every chance I get.
Starting with the first foray out of our room finds us swinging by Friday night’s Crime Writer’s Association (CWA) Dagger Shortlist Announcement Reception (those of us in the ‘know’, by the way, just call it ‘The Daggers’.) On our way down in the lift we metaphorically rub shoulders with our first author, the epitome of geniality, Peter Guttridge, former crime fiction critic for the Observer and author of the ‘Brighton Trilogy’.
Peter is toting a glass of red wine and smiling a lot. I like him. We share a joke. Something to do with his less than seamless passage from bar to reception. Or was it the other way around? Not sure. Moving on. At the reception we find another Peter, and another ‘Brighton Man’, Peter James, author of twenty-two novels and current Chair of the CWA, is our host for the night.
Once seated with a glass of complimentary booze, compliments of some benefactor or other whose name I have already forgotten, I notice that stood off to our left is novelist and former TV director, Claire Seeber. I try not to eavesdrop on Ms. Seeber when she congratulates one of the nominees, but I do note she looks a lot like that actress in that film with what’s-his-face who was the baddie in that movie. Juliet Stephenson! That’s it. She looks like Juliet Stephenson. You must remember the film? The one where the widow cries a lot and it’s all pretty sad and grim and oh WOW, look who just came and took a chair in front of us?
Okay, it’s not exactly a David Beckham moment, but to us Crime Festers who know our Michael Connelly(s) from our Dennis Lehane(s) it’s pretty flaming momentous. To be honest I do have to nudge my wife and whisper, ‘It’s Lee Child love.’
‘Oh right,’ she replies, rather nonplussed.
Do I sound a little star-struck?
I don’t do I? Not a bit of it. No. In fact, I’m overjoyed we’re right here in the thick of it, loving every minute, and drooling over Saturday morning’s star attraction, Peter Guttridge interviewing the above mentioned Lee Child (arguably CrimeFest’s hottest attraction of 2012).
I fall asleep that night thinking that despite its myriad corridors and many fold convention rooms, the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel feels like a small world.
Saturday morning, much like Friday, arrives hot and sunny (not that you would notice either weather feature with blackout curtains and air-con). We check Saturday’s schedule and decide to skip the first ‘panels’ of the day — Merchant One hosts ‘Idiosyncratic Protagonists: Creating Believable and Unique Characters’ and Merchant Five there’s ‘Début Authors – An Infusion of Fresh Blood’ – mostly because already missed most of them anyway.
Instead, we get freshened up and head directly for the Kings Room and the day’s ‘Main Event’, Child versus Guttridge. Guaranteed to be a sellout I reckon. And it is. So much so we find ourselves at the back of the packed arena. I would, in fact, not wanted to take a seat nearer the front. Nearer to Lee Child that is. A seat that a die-hard Lee Child fan would better utilise.
I am blissfully happy where we landed – at the back. And anyway, the mikes are excellent and my new best mate, Peter Guttridge, appears to be his ‘usual’ affable self, so all is well with the world especially as Lee Child lives up to his billing.
Two words he says at the outset: TOM CRUISE.
Cue big laughter. Enough said I reckon, but no, there is, it seems, an awful lot more to be said on the matter, and Lee does a great job of it in his thoroughly engaging manner. The whole Tom Cruise furor is sown up rather nicely in the end, when Mister Child promises his army of fans two things:
1) He, Lee Child that is, won’t hold a gun to their heads and say they must go and watch Mister Cruise, currently billed as the ‘biggest’ movie star on the planet, play Jack Reacher, presently the biggest ‘good guy’ in both fame and stature in crime fiction, in the upcoming film adaptation of Lee’s novel, One Shot (ETA – the film has been renamed Jack Reacher.)
You can’t say fairer than that now can you?
2) ‘And I guarantee…’ Lee’s drawl sounds as though it’s at more at home Stateside of the Atlantic, than in his native Birmingham, England; ‘Tom Cruise won’t break into their houses and steal their Jack Reacher collection.’
I like Lee even more than I did earlier, and, a little later in the day, soon after three o’clock to be precise, just as my football team, Sheffield United, kick off another ill-fated play-off final at Wembley I discover I like Mister Child more still.
I will explain shortly. First though, a quick peak at the rest of the morning’s schedule tells me that around twenty minutes after Lee Child is applauded off stage, Merchant Room Five will play host to the thorny issue of ‘Crime Fiction as Social Commentary or Entertainment?’, whilst Merchant Room One explores ‘The Nature of Evil: Where Does it Come From and Why Do We Write About It?’
What to do? Well, as enticing as the above seminars (and all the other CrimeFest events might seem), hot and breezy Bristol, England beckons.
‘Let’s change and go out,’ I say to my wife, gesturing in the direction the taxi which delivered us from the train station. ‘Down to Bristol Harbourside (the famous floating harbour),’ I add hopefully, ‘Maybe get back in time for PD James?’ I tag on, like the lame apology it is.
We make our way to the back to our room that overlooks Bristol Cathedral and the very leafy College Green in order the change clothes, but then stop when I see a wallet-like envelope laying on the richly carpeted floor just inside the door.
‘Oh dear’, I think, ‘looks like official Marriott Hotels stationery to me. Gulp. Am I about to discover that the evening staff miscalculated last night’s room service bill of thirty three pounds and forty-five pence and just to be safe added a naught to it and my Visa card has already slipped into final-phase, irretrievable meltdown?’
Take deep breath, remove A4 letter-headed and read: ‘Emily (MFAM) called…your meeting with Lee Child…15:00 in the lobby.’
It’s decided then. Harbourside for liquid lunch, double-gulp, then back in time for afternoon tea, with none other than awesome and ever-so slightly famous Forensic Anthropologist Professor Sue Black.
Sublime. OMGM. More deep breaths.
We went. It went well.
Lee Child is a very nice sort indeed. Intelligent. Rakishly good-looking. Eloquent of course. A man who genuinely seems to worry if his next book will be a complete turkey whilst secretly hoping it will be his best to date.
Someone who cares about his readers.
Professor Black is funny, charming, witty and warm; me and the Mrs. both got a hug off-of her when we parted company after spending around fifty congenial minutes together with her and Lee Child.
A literary hero and a true life heroine. A man who creates dangerous worlds for us to disappear into only to re-emerge from at will, clean and unscathed, and a woman who immerses herself in filthy worlds most of us, thankfully, will never be forced to suffer.
Professor Black (a truly proud and handsome Celt) helps keep the wolves from our door and I, for one, feel pretty thankful there are people like her, who, on our behalf, do all the horrible stuff we don’t want to face, ranging from victim identification in mass graves in Kosovo, to anatomical identification of criminals in the UK, often pedophiles. Basically, the stuff 99.9% of us could never do.
I wish her and the charity well and hope lots more people give to Million For A Morgue, so the morgue gets built and Sue Black can continue to do her job, and more, importantly perhaps, train others to do it.
To finish on a lighter note I wish Lee Child all the best, too. I really hope his fans give him a break over the Tom Cruise/Jack Reacher question. Maybe try and forget how big a man Jack Reacher is, and go see the film after all?
Sunday afternoon would see us return home. Saturday night, however — post MFAM reception where Professor Black’s skillfully delivered a Power Point presentation which wooed the audience — we’re still reeling from our private audience with Sue and Lee, and are in three minds as to what to do. In the end, we decide to say ‘no’ to a quiet night in watching the Eurovision Song Contest, and ‘no’ to more shoulder-rubbing with the star-studded turns at the CrimeFest Gala dinner. As it seems we are at last all glitz and glamoured out.
Option 3, well, 4500 Miles From Delhi in Bristol, England you will find an ingeniously named Indian restaurant. If you ever visit Bristol and are looking for a first-rate curry, I recommend 4500 Miles From Delhi.