This weekend was Martin Edwards’ fault. At last year’s Bodies From The Library conference, he made a suggestion that I consider going to the Gladstone Library in 2018 for the Alibis In The Archive event. So I kept an eye open for information about it, signed up for notifications and managed to get a ticket (they sell out very quickly!) I generally don’t go to crime fiction conferences, as my interests tend to only cover a small subset of what the talks tend to be about. This one, though, the draft programme seemed to be right up my street.
So on Friday afternoon, after teaching my last lesson of the day, I jumped into the car and headed up the M6 Toll. Until my phone told me to take the M6. And then the M54… After changing its mind several times, due to the unpredictable Friday rush hour traffic, I pulled up at the Gladstone Library just in time to get prepared for my epic performance.
You see, I’m always a bit concerned that my natural reaction at this sort of event is to sit quietly in the corner. Now people who’ve met me might think this is odd, but it genuinely is the case. So when a request came round for volunteers for a murder mystery play, I threw my hat into the ring as a way of getting a bit more involved. Now admittedly “acting in a play” actually meant “reading a witness statement” but you get the idea. I got the chance to meet my fellow conference-goers/actors and had lots of chats about my stunning portrayal of the troubled, tattooed, possibly drug-addled and possibly murderous Andy.
The next day, the conference started formally, in the Theology Reading Room of the library, with a sumptuous performance of A Crime In Rhyme by the author of the piece, Simon Brett. If you have never heard Simon perform this masterpiece – a fairly clued, hilarious murder mystery one-man play, told entirely in rhyme – it truly is something special. If you ever get the chance to hear it, then do take it. It’s fantastic.
Following that (which would be a challenge for anyone), was Andrew Taylor on some real-life crime cases that helped to inspire tales from the Golden Age and Martin Edwards on collecting crime fiction – he brought some prize pieces from his collection, but didn’t show us, as he promised me the previous day, his Slippery Dick. Sarah Ward followed that with a talk on crime (and other) fiction from her home base of Derbyshire. After lunch, Ruth Dudley Edwards talked on her approach to writing, Michael Jecks spoke on writing historical crime fiction, including on how far a horse could travel in a single day, and then Ann Cleeves’ favourite pathologist Professor James Grieve spoke on his time in forensics and how crime fiction gets it right and wrong. Mostly wrong. After that we had a question and answer session with all of the speakers, and I’ll apologise again (especially to Michael) for the awkward questions.
The final morning, Jessica Mann, author of the study of women in crime writing, Deadlier In The Male, spoke on that topic, conducting a fascinating conversation with the room rather than just talking to us. Then Martin Edwards, with the assistance of Peter Lovesey and Sheila Mitchell, spoke about the archives of the CWA and the Detection Club, and then Peter Lovesey entertained the room about his favourite crime writer, the apparently awful James Corbett. I actually don’t need to say “apparently” because Peter regaled us with plenty of examples of Corbett’s writing – I can see why Peter enjoys this dreadful writing so much…
The talks were all excellent, but the additional benefit of the relatively small size of the conference was the chance to interact with the speakers. I had the pleasure of chatting to many of speakers, in particular getting to know Michael Jecks properly (and getting a long-promised drink from him). I also had the privilege of a cup of tea on the final morning with Peter Lovesey, an utterly charming and delightful man. And he signed my first edition of The False Inspector Dew…
Should you get the chance to attend this conference in the future – there’s one scheduled for next year. It was an absolutely fantastic weekend and I can’t wait for the next one. In the meantime though, next week it’s The Bodies From The Library. See some of you there?