|Any colour you like, as long as it's noir
||[May. 7th, 2016|10:31 pm]
A week ago (yes, I know. Sorry about that.) we were at the Newcastle Noir crime fiction festival at the Lit & Phil. I would have told you that two years before that we had been at the first Newcastle Noir; I couldn't understand why the organisers kept talking about this year being the second festival. Later I looked up what I posted about it at the time, and discovered we had been at 'Crime Saturday', a one-day event which was regarded as a precursor rather than a first release or Year Zero of Newcastle Noir itself. Somebody had already coined the name, though.
The weekend was fun, though I don't think I had twice as much fun in two days as I did two years ago in one - two and an evening, in fact, as there was also a Friday evening launch, Gail-Nina Anderson in conversation with Ann Cleeves, a relaxed and genuinely conversational conversation. Next to this item on the programme I have scribbled: "the smell of bread baking". Gail was very impressed by the physicality of Ann's latest novel, The Moth Catcher, and gave this example; it's about creating a setting that feels real, said Ann, but it might tell you something about the character, too, the retired man with time to fill and frustrations to work out in kneading bread. All of which is true, but since my tastes in crime fiction run closer to the classic mystery than the dark and violent noir, I was also happy that the weekend was opening on this cosy domestic note.
I had been selective in choosing which panels to book: the booking system I used didn't offer me an all-weekend ticket, and while I was pretty sure one existed (it did) I decided to take the hint, and allow plenty of free time. So our first panel was 'Icelandic / Nordic' at a very civilised hour on Saturday morning: three Icelandic women and a Finnish man. They included Yrsa Sigurðardóttir ("It's more fun to kill good people!"), described as 'the Queen of Icelandic Crime' and Antti Tuomainen, 'the King of Helsinki Noir' (according to the Finnish press). Over in the Twittersphere, people were taking exception to this royalism. Ewa Sherman (@sh_ewa) tweeted "Queen of this, King of that... In #Finland we have a president! So what next?" and Lilja Sigurðardottir (@lilja1972) replied: "Democratically elected president of scandi-noir'?" Lilja also gave the best - and least expected - answer of the weekend: Jacky Collins, chairing the session, had asked "What do you put into your books to give readers the flavour of your country?". It's not a question I would ever have asked - surely it's the things you don't realise are peculiar to your country that give foreign readers the real insights - but Lilja was falling over herself to grap the microphone and answer: "the elves!" Elves, it seems, a widely accepted as part of Icelandic life, and Icelandic critics reviewing her novel about the Mexican drugs cartel, the caged tiger and the elves had complained that the tiger was unbelievable. Of all the books discussed at Newcastle Noir, this was the one I most wanted to read. But there's a snag: it hasn't been published in English yet - and it's called 'Trapped' (Gildran in Tcelandic), as in that TV series I enjoyed recently.
There was time for a cup of coffee before the next panel, which was called Novellas & Short Stories, but whose true name was 'On Being the Right Size'. Once upon a time, that title would have introduced a discussion of literary craft and what makes a good short story; now we skipped that and cut straight to the realities of publishing - which was equally interesting. Quentin Bates was billed as chairing the panel, but he took a moderator's role, and helped the participants into a very free-flowing discussion. Two of the panel members were new to me, but seemed to have written series of novellas which had been published electronically with enough success that they were now making it into print. The third was established author Cath Staincliffe, who admitted that her books tend to be short, and that she is sufficiently nervous about hitting contractual lengths that she never looks at her word count at the end of the day - and has been very disconcerted by her updated software, which insists on displaying the tally whether she wants it to or not. (Fellow professionals advised: stick a post-it note over that corner of the screen.) The consensus was that a book is as long as it is, that Simenon was a master of the genre and that his books are short - extremely short by modern standards - and that the internet makes it easier to be flexible about the length and pricing of books.
Lunchtime, and we had a lunch date with Frances Brody. Our first plan was to use the vouchers we'd been given for the Union Rooms, but it was a match day and the place was packed, so we went to Mario's, which was quiet and is always good (the waiter was surprised to see us by daylight).
Our afternoon panel was - allegedly - on historical crime fiction, but it never really engaged with the theme. Instead we had three authors (one had had to cancel) speaking well about their books and how they came to be written. As well as Frances, participants were Kate Griffin, author of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, and Clare Carson, who was a bit taken aback that Orkney Twilight, a book in which she attempted to unravel her childhood was regarded as historical. I didn't buy any books over the weekend: the threat of having to pack everything into boxes while we repair and redecorate acts as a deterrent. But these two interested me enough that I went upstairs to the Lit & Phil library to look for them (I found, and am currently reading, the Kitty Peck. It's well done, so far, but too noir for my tastes.)
I have less to say about Sunday, and not just because it's getting late. A walk in the morning around some of the murderous sites of the city, real and fictional, was a useful reminder how much less entertaining murder is in real life: people killing each other in fights, or for small amounts of money, or just because they were drunk. Back at the Lit & Phil, a panel on 'Writing Elsewhere' with - among others - Barbara Nadel, whose first Inspector Ikmet mystery I read long ago and didn't like (it has a very nasty murder scene in it). On the strength of this panel, though, I might be persuaded to try again. Finally, we end as we began with Gail-Nina Anderson in conversation, this time with Val McDermid, always entertaining. After which we lured Gail over to the Union Rooms for a conversation of our own.