Authors are just like you and me: Crime writers are slightly to the left of that.

It’s lit-fest season and hordes of crime writers and crime fiction fans will be making their way to Harrogate for this year’s Crime Writing Festival where mingling, pitching and socialising will be done with maybe a touch of alcohol thrown in. It goes on for days…

On Saturday 13th July at the BeaconLit Fest I pretended to be Jane Wenham-Jones. Now, according to Wikipedia: ‘Jane WenhamJones is an author, journalist, presenter, interviewer, creative writing tutor, and speaker who lives in Broadstairs, Kent, a town that appears in two of her novels.’

Clearly that’s not me, so perhaps I should explain.

If great big literary festivals aren’t your thing, too far away, or beyond your pocket (‘impoverished writers are us‘), then it may be worth your while checking out a more intimate literary festival. Last year I popped along to the very friendly BeaconLit Fest in Aylesbury Vale and this year was invited to be on their crime panel. The day before the event I had a request to also be the last minute stand-in for Jane Wenham-Jones who, through no fault of her own and a set of circumstances well beyond her control, couldn’t make it.

(photos courtesy of Leigh Russell and Timea Cassera)

After the crime panel comes that dreaded moment waiting to see if anyone wants to buy a book and get it signed. They did.

So there I was, already feeling a bit of a fraud for appearing with ‘proper’ crime writers – Leigh Russell, Dave Sivers and Alison Bruce, when blow me I was going to wing it by facilitating a Q+A session in the morning about ‘What makes a book tick?’ with Morgen Bailey (editor, writer, speaker, competition judge).

‘No problem,’ I told Morgen, not having a clue what I was about to let myself in for. But, as we’ve developed quite a friendship and facilitated writing workshops together, I trusted her to steer me right. What a blast we had and all in support of local community libraries.

What goes on at a local literary festival?

Well, I can only give you insight into this particular one, as they are all different. BeaconLit is held at the villlage school in Ivinghoe – a pretty part of the world where Midsommer Murders is often filmed. How very apt.

Here’s what happened:

  • Rock up and receive a goody bag and a free bottle of beer – excellent! The charitable event is sponsored by local business and one of them happens to be a brewery. Raffle tickets were in every programme with chance to win book prizes at each session. (The raffle took on a life of its own during the day and made me chuckle more than once).
  • Grab a drink, check out the programme of events and say a cheery hello to Noelle Holten and a few other people I recognised. Got temporarily stuck in the toilets – well it is a school for very young children…The cubicles were tiny.
  • First up in the hall was Dave Sivers also pretending to be Jane Wenham-Jones but not really looking the part. He introduced the audience to a panel of New Voices. West Camel (writer, editor, reviewer) and Fiona Vigo Marshall (journalist, publisher, writer) discovered that they had tunnels and magic in common, whereas Noelle Holten (writer, publicist, reviewer, blogger) was there representing the grittier side of life as a crime writer where her career as a probation officer really stood her in good stead. They all have fascinating and award winning backgounds.
  • After a break and signing of books we met the wonderful Quentin Bates (writer, journalist,’I write about fish’… and translator). What a fascinating man he is. After his A’ levels he went to Iceland to take up a job that he thought would see him through his gap year. ‘What kept you there?’ Big smile … ‘I failed my exams’. In his words he stayed for a decade and ‘went native’. He’s now written the first ever crime series set in present day Iceland.
  • Then Morgen and I were up: We took our spare brains with us just in case…’Welcome to the Morgen and Morgan Show.’
  • This was followed by the most literary part of the day in my opinion. The results of the short story competition with the winning stories read out.
  • Lunch was a whirl of chat and sandwiches during which my mother -‘The Bongo of Great Age and Wisdom’- flirted with Robert Daws – (parents, they never cease to embarrass).
  • When it was time for the Crime Panel, the audience were in for a treat. Alison Bruce was the ringmaster/mistress, and what a fine job she did! We were awarded green, yellow, or red cards dependent on the nature of our answers. I confessed to having no middle name and the B in AB Morgan standing for ‘Bongo’ – my nickname. I confessed to halloween shenanigans, I confessed to … well you had to be there. Needless to say we laughed a lot and mostly at my expense.
  • The laughter continued with Robert Daws (actor, broadcaster, writer and trumpet player) as he was interviewed by BBC journalist and presenter Adina Campbell. The anecdotes and cock-up confessions spilled forth, keeping us all entertained and giggling. Poldark, Outside Edge, The Royal, theatre, radio … What a treat. His books, crime novels, are set in Gibraltar – clever idea that, considering the laws are British.
  • Then finally to round off the excellent day, a chance to talk about opportunities in the world of indie publishing, with Morgen Bailey once again in the chair talking to Lesley Lodge, Jane Davis and Georgia Twynham
  • Then home, kiss ‘The Bearded Wonder’, fuss the dog, shower, beer, in that order.

Phew: a packed programme, but so relaxed and cheerful it went by in a flash. I hope Jane Wenham-Jones didn’t mind me stepping in, it would have been nice to meet her. Maybe next year…

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