One Hundred by Quentin Bates

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I see from the little counter at the side of the page that last week’s essay was number 99. That makes this week’s my hundredth appearance on the International Crime Writers’ Reality Check. It’s also two years, almost to the day, since I was buttonholed by a smiling Colin Cotterill at Crimefest, where he mentioned that a friend of his was looking for people to contribute to a blog.

A hundred contributions later at around 900 words each is the best part of 100,000 words. That’s a decent chunk of prose, pretty much a book’s worth.

This week is also Crimefest, and the third time I’ve been there. For those of you who aren’t aware of it, it’s a crime fiction festival that takes place in the city of Bristol. It’s not the biggest or the most prestigious one there is, although it’s getting bigger and better every year. It’s a very decent festival and Bristol is a lively city, crowded with pubs, curry houses and apparently overrun with hen parties and stag nights. Last year, taken out to dinner by my publisher with a group of other authors from the same stable, I had a sudden realisation that I was the only man in the restaurant. There was me, my glamorous editor and a bunch of lady crime writers of varying degrees of hardboiledness, surrounded by squawking hen parties, each in their own themed fancy dress and the unblushing brides-to-be bedecked in L-plates. It was unnerving. I’m sure they all thought we were an unusually restrained hen party and that I was there as someone’s exceptionally broadminded uncle.

This year as both Barbara Nadel and blogger emeritus Colin Cotterill will also be there, maybe a wild night out is required so we can toast our absent blogging colleagues in the champagne that flows freely through the streets of Bristol when the crime writers are in town.

Maybe that’s something of an exaggeration, but crime writers really do like a good time and the bar of the hotel where it all happens is a remarkably jolly place. Having said that, there’s no breaking of windows, nobody’s TV set winds up in the pool and I have yet to be mobbed by groupies, although it could just be that I’m not exalted enough a writer to warrant being pursued.

For people who spend their working days hunched over a laptop dreaming up skulduggery and ingenious murder, crime writers are a thoroughly friendly and affable crowd. I’m told that this isn’t the same in other genres. Poets, children’s writers and purveyors of serious fiction are reputed to be much pricklier than the crime bunch, most of whom appreciate a laugh and a drink, and generally have trouble taking themselves too seriously. Even big names, the fortunate few who can make a full-time living from crime, just blend in to the crowd at the bar.

Then there are the panels. Some of us, like Colin, seem to be naturals, holding an audience captive in the palm of one hand as they drop witty anecdotes and wry observations into the conversation while a few hundred spellbound people sit glued to their every word and laugh at the right moments. Others of us sit at that top table as people filter in to the room and hope there won’t be too many of them as we fidget nervously and pray not to make complete idiots of ourselves. Public speaking isn’t my forte and I can only hope not to gabble, mutter unintelligibly or drop an inadvertent ‘fuck’ into the conversation while the audience tuts and exchanges disappointed frowns.

Publicity is part of the business of writing these days. Publishers expect their tender lambs to go out and talk to their fans at every opportunity, whether it’s a packed room at an event like Crimefest (where the real draw is luminaries such as Peter James, who sell books by the ton and with whom I’ll be sharing a panel) or a dozen people in a remote public library, as I’ll be doing a few days later. Some writers will gladly drive hundreds of miles for the opportunity to speak to a small group, working on the principle that you have to keep buying the tickets if you want to win the lottery. A three-hundred mile round trip can result in zero sales and advanced motorway fatigue, or you might come away with a grin that takes days to fade if the audience turned out to be interested and interesting. It’s impossible to tell in advance and so it’s always as well to take up an invitation to speak to a group of crime readers. You can’t tell, but the one you turn down might have had a stray BBC commissioning editor in the audience.

So here’s to Crimefest. By the time you read this, it will all be over. I’ll have recovered from the cold shock of public speaking on a panel and both the crime writers and the crime readers will have hopefully braved the massed hen parties of Bristol and survived a long weekend of talking, books, food, a drink or three and bungee jumping. nb, one of those is not actually part of what goes on at CrimeFest, at least not as far as I’m aware.

I was worried to begin with when I started contributing to this blog in such illustrious company that after a few weeks I’d run out of things to write about. I’ve surprised myself that it hasn’t happened, although there are a few themes that have recurred and I do try to avoid overflogging my personal hobby horses, but surprisingly it’s the stuff that has been dashed off in a hurry with the deadline looming that normally seems to be the entries that people find interesting and comment most on. Note to self; stop overthinking? That regular deadline is both a curse and a wonderful thing, and it does provide a real impetus to get things going, unlike my own web page blog that is updated at distressingly rare intervals.

So here’s to the next hundred and hoping I can still find something interesting to shout about in a couple more years.

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