Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival

I’m just back from the Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival held at the Midland Hotel, overlooking beautiful Morecambe Bay. As a crime-fiction fan, it wasn’t a surprise that the first thing I noticed about our 1930s art-deco setting was the magnificent spiral staircase that featured in episodes of Poirot. The venue got me straight in the mood for the crime fiction weekend ahead.

Polari Salon

Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival proper started on Saturday but it was a delight to arrive in time on Friday for the supplementary Polari Salon readings by LGBT+ authors. First up was Derek Farrell reading from Death of An Angel. I fell a little in love with unlikely sleuths Danny and Lady Caz and signed up to Derek’s newsletter on the spot. I’ve been looking for a good comedy crime series and I think this could be it.

Next up Lesley Thomson, author of The Playground Murders, set the scene with descriptions of those 1970s death-traps known as children’s playgrounds. The older members of the audience realised how lucky we were to survive our childhood.

Paul Burston, organiser of the event, read from his new novel The Closer I Get, a thriller told from the viewpoints of a stalker and the victim. Paul also explained the disturbing real-life background to the story.

Finally, Icelandic crime fiction queen Lilja Sigurðardóttir, gave us a sneak preview of Cage, the final part of her Reykjavik trilogy. The passage she read featured a corrupt banker and a drugs mule who meet as inmates in a women’s prison. Lilja’s deadpan humour about life in Iceland made me chuckle.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen

Saturday opened with a fascinating panel of authors who have set their crime novels at the end of the world. Lesley Kelly has a killer pandemic decimating Edinburgh (which sounded so far up my dystopian street that I’ve ordered the entire Health of Strangers series).

Ceri Lowe has written Paradigm, a climate-based catastrophe Young Adult trilogy that features a live-body version of cryonics. Folks get frozen and later defrosted according to when their skill sets are needed, leading to such conundrums as what to do when grandchildren are the same age as their grandparents.

Matt Brolly’s Zero is set in a bleak world of zero tolerance where criminals – whatever their offence – are paraded around in glass pods prior to their execution. (Matt also mentioned his forthcoming detective series set in Weston-Super-Mare. As Weston is my nearest seaside, I ordered The Crossing immediately.)

The three authors, moderated by Tom Fisher, discussed why readers are so fascinated by apocalyptic novels. Consensus was that we like to imagine we’d be the one to survive in an end-of-the-world scenario and we like the idea of apocalypse as an ending that ultimately leads to a new beginning.

Bring Me Sunshine on the Ivories … with a Candlestick in the Library

Between panels, while authors signed books, we were treated to lovely jazz and easy listening piano playing. Bring Me Sunshine, the Morecambe and Wise signature tune and the theme of this year’s festival, could be heard a few times throughout the weekend. A nice touch. As was Ben Cooper-Muir’s display of Cluedo sets. Who knew the board game had so many versions?

Let Them Lead the Way

The second panel on Saturday, ably moderated by Anne Coates author of the Hannah Weybridge series, featured three authors who write mysteries for children. Until recently, before I became a fulltime author, I was a school librarian. In my last week in the job, I bought books by all three of these panellists for the school so it was a thrill to hear from them in person.

Sharna Jackson introduced us to High-Rise Mystery, the first in a series featuring brother and sister sleuths who live on a London estate.

Sarah Todd Taylor’s Max the Detective Cat series stars a puzzle-solving puss who eavesdrops on nefarious acts and ne’er-do-wells in a theatre. (Top prize for dressing for the occasion goes to Sarah in her magnificently bookish dress.)

Nicki Thornton set her first Seth Sippe fantasy mystery in The Last Chance Hotel. Book two sees the sleuthing kitchen boy move to The Bad Luck Lighthouse. With the audience looking out on the treacherous mudflats of Morecambe Bay this setting seemed perfect for a mystery story.

The panel debated the issue of age advisory guidelines on children’s books. All were agreed that age plays only a small part in what makes a particular book suitable for a particular child, but acknowledged that most purchase decisions are made by parents and other adults who might appreciate the guidance.

All three expressed delight at meeting children on school visits who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their works and are brimming with ideas for sequels.

Time Out

The final panel of the morning was Discussing Dyslexia but I slipped out at this point to spend some time with my husband, who’d given up his long weekend to accompany me on my book pilgrimage to Lancashire. We called in at Morecambe’s Heritage Centre and looked at the memorabilia about the numerous big names who performed at the Winter Gardens before they were famous. We also read the tribute to local boy Eric Morecambe and watched a fascinating amateur film of Morecambe’s 1950s seaside heyday.

My husband then made the most of the outbreak of sunny weather with a walk along the coast to the pretty village of Heysham while I returned to the festival.

Detecting the Social

William Shaw, author of Salt Lane, devised and moderated a lively panel event to kick off the afternoon. Mary Evans, Sarah Moore and Hazel Johnston – a team of academics and crime-fiction fans – have written: Detecting the Social: Order and Disorder in Post-1970s Fiction. The book looks at society through the lens of crime fiction. Completing the panel was Gytha Lodge, author of She Lies In Wait. (I’ve read it; it’s a good’un. See my review here.)

The five panellists spoke fondly of crime fiction and lamented how it is undervalued in the literary world. All were of the opinion that a fictional detective doesn’t just solve a fictional crime, but also investigates real-world society.

The academics revealed they have plans for a future book on the role of gender in crime fiction, an idea well received by the audience. A starting point for their study might be William Shaw’s revelation that he gets more letters of criticism about the actions of his female detective then he ever received when he was writing about a male detective.

Partners in Crime

The Morecambe and Vice audience provided the background noises and enthusiastic applause for a live recording of Adam Croft’s Partners in Crime podcast. Co-host Adrian Hobeck talked about his work as an audio book narrator. He told us he will turn his voice to most things but declined the opportunity to narrate leprechaun eroticism. He wasn’t sure he’d get the accent right in the more … erotic scenes.

Experience is the Mother of Wisdom

Final panel of the day was debut author Noelle Holten in conversation with prolific writer Lin Anderson. Lin read the prologue from Time for the Dead that starred Blaze, a clever and adorable tracker dog.

Winner Winner

On Sunday I appeared at my first ever author panel alongside three other authors. We talked about how we won prizes early in our writing careers.

Alison Belsham successfully pitched her way to first prize at Bloody Scotland with an outline of what became The Tattoo Thief.

Robert Scragg got the thumbs-up at a pitching opportunity on Creative Thursday at the Harrogate Festival. This was a big step on the road to publication for his Porter and Styles series.

Margaret Kirk won the Good Housekeeping First Novel award with Shadow Man. (Read my review of Shadow Man here. It was one of my favourite reads of 2018.)

I talked about winning Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition with my first ever short story which eventually became my novel, The Good Teacher. (An apt book to be talking about at the Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival given the similarities between my book’s cover and the festival’s Eric Morecambe broken specs logo.)

Despite our being unmoderated, my experienced co-panellists kept the conversation moving and we spoke to a wonderfully supportive audience.

Time Out Again

I slipped away again to spend the afternoon with my husband. Despite the pouring rain, we ventured to Lancaster for a tour of the castle and a visit to the Maritime Museum, both well worth the trip.

Thank You

Morecambe and Vice Crime Writing Festival organisers Tom Fisher and Ben Cooper-Muir, together with their hardworking team, did a fantastic job. A big thank you to them all. Despite the rain, the festival brought the sunshine.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is the crime fiction author of The Roommates, The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. The Perfect Neighbours is a Kindle Top Ten bestseller and has sold over 100,000 copies. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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