|13 October 2007
Crime Convention: Ruth Dudley Edwards had a ball at this year's Bouchercon crime writers get-together in Alaska - a circuit the Irish now triumph on.
'Join the Army, see the world, meet interesting people - and kill them" was a popular pacifist badge in the late 1970s, but you could equally well apply it to writers of crime fiction. We convene at conferences in exotic places, meet old friends and make new ones, perform for readers and then pillage our experiences to commit more murders. It was at a convention in Indiana that I first got the inspiration for my latest and 11th crime-novel, Murdering Americans, which is set on a mid-Western campus.
On the plane from Minneapolis to Anchorage, Alaska, at the end of last month, I had five hours to get to know Dubliner Declan Hughes (latest book, The Colour of Blood), whom I had met briefly at a crime-gig (Bodies in the Bookshop) in Cambridge a couple of years ago. Feeling half-dead after travelling for around 12 hours, we were en route to Bouchercon - the oldest and biggest crime convention, which is named after the late Anthony Boucher, writer, editor and critic of mystery fiction. Such events proliferate. Some are static, eg Malice Domestic in Washington DC, Magna cum Murder in Muncie, Indiana, and the annual Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in Yorkshire, but, like Bouchercon, events such as Left Coast Crime are peripatetic. I've met bestseller John Connolly in Indiana and, I think, in Las Vegas - or maybe Toronto. To my disappointment, Ken Bruen, whom I greatly wanted to meet, had to drop out, but, hey, we'll probably catch up in Baltimore or Hawaii.
In Britain, those who don't read crime mostly and inaccurately lump us together as writers of thrillers or whodunits: in America our books all come under the misleading banner of mysteries, though they distinguish between hard-boiled - John, Declan and Ken - and cosy - Reginald Hill, me and anyone else who avoids explicit sex or stomach-turning violence. (Mind you, in self-defence, I should add that in my case, as a satirist, cosy definitely doesn't mean inoffensive: a favourite comment from a critic was that I was "an equal opportunities satirist - rude to every persuasion".) So Declan was on a panel discussing with fellow toughies how far they would go in describing sex or violence (thespian that he is, he gave inter alia a brilliant reading about the attempt of a psychotic Dublin criminal to carve up a cop with a scythe) while my contribution was to crack jokes with cosier panellists about where we put our characters and why.
We like each other, do crime writers. Unlike romantic novelists, who allegedly are a coven of bitches, driven to nastiness by having to produce saccharine books, crime writers get their frustrations out on the page and get their revenge on their enemies vicariously. So our conventions involve delighted reunions and happy new encounters. We find each other not just friendly and agreeable, but interesting, because we come from a bewildering variety of backgrounds. A random selection of crime writers might include a vet, a banker, a lawyer, an actor, a nurse, a murderer, a teacher and a journalist. We also get on well with our supportive readers. And while there are sharks and opportunists in every profession, most of our editors, publishers and booksellers truly love the genre and enjoy its practitioners.
AMERICANS ARE ENTHUSIASTS, so though I made a pittance out of my books - particularly in the early days - it was readers coming up to have their books signed and beg me to write another that kept me going. It was at conventions that I met my new agent and my new publishers, Poisoned Pen Press. Indeed, this time, because my genius of an editor was a guest of honour, she had brought with her from Arizona almost her entire publishing firm, so I now have bonded personally with everyone with whom I deal in that small organisation. It was in Vegas that one pair of American booksellers told my publishers they should publish my whole backlist and in Bristol that a bookseller from Cambridge harangued them on the same subject. The result is that the whole backlist is being reissued steadily in both the US and the UK.
Of course there is a lot of fun along the way. I had a great time dancing in Muncie, gambling in Vegas and visiting glaciers in Alaska and everywhere there is much carousing with the raffish wing of writers and readers and others in the trade. I'm reeling from jet lag, but that won't stop me from going to Magna Cum Murder shortly to explain to the attendees why I decided to satirise and kill the locals.
Ten years ago, the Irish were hardly visible on this circuit and I was classified as a Brit. Now we're being indecently successful: in Alaska, Declan Hughes carried off the best first novel award for The Wrong Kind of Blood at the Shamus Awards, with Ken Bruen winning the best novel slot for The Dramatist.
Ruth and her fiction agent, Jane Conway-Gordon in Alaska
Ruth Dudley Edwards