What happens at Crimefest . . .

People often ask me what happens at these things – these things where 100s of crime fans (readers, bloggers, authors, editors, publicists, agents and anyone else who finds their way there) gather in a hotel for the weekend… and I always say a few words about how you can go and watch loads of talks by lots of very interesting people, talking about interesting things… many of them are funny, and it’s a very entertaining experience. but I must confess – I rarely make it to many of these interesting and entertaining talks because I am usually elsewhere.

The bar.

Because this is where the real action happens. This is where the real stories are told. From the minute I arrived in Bristol on Friday, I was bombarded with excited, happy faces of the many, many authors who generally spend their days locked in their garrets penning beautiful tomes (or perhaps in Costa, mainlining espresso, or at home on the couch, trying to get their families to shut the hell up so they can actually write something). On the train there, I found out I had been reviewed in The Sun. As this was my first ever national newspaper review, I was ridiculously excited, bought two copies at Bristol Temple Meads, and proceeded to tell everyone “I’m in THE SUN, I’m in THE SUN”. I then moved onto the terrace of the Marriott Bar, where somehow, and I don’t know how, I started talking about that controversial book Maestra. This became the day’s theme (along with the word ‘glistening’), and it is extremely interesting what interesting people will tell you when you ask them probing and interesting questions.

I’m not going to list all the people I talked to, as that would be ridiculous (mainly because I need to protect the innocent, but also because there are some I will surely forget… and there are some I may choose to forget, but that’s another story) – I talked (and laughed) for 16 hours straight. Yes. 16 hours. I got there at 2pm. You work it out. I talked about lots of authory things, like the world of publishing, and how hard it is to write things and the excitement of new book ideas, and marketing plans, and books I’d read. I talked about homemade cornish pasties, chess sets, and the new (nude?) version of Top Gun that I have cast (with a very low budget, but including travelcard for zones 1-6) using several crime authors as the leads. I talked about… things. Things that were in Maestra, mainly. I drank pink cocktails (paint stripper, raspberry & Jif), I made faces at the camera (I draw the line at sharing that photo publicly. I have a reputation to uphold, you know). I hugged (and stroked the hair of) so many people that I have sore arms. I was given a life-saving chocolate Mini Roll from the ancestor of all chocolate. I saw the actual Dr Who. I stole someone’s gin. I broke a new record in late-night revelry, along with a fellow Scot who is always there for me when it starts to get light outside and people think we’re actually up for breakfast.

Then I got up on Saturday* and had a day of quiet reflection**… and I had lunch ***, then did a panel about ‘dark pasts and complex characters’ with James Carol, Julia Crouch, Matthew Frank and Hilary Bonner, where I got a murmur of interested woos from the audience when I said my thing with secondary characters was to give them a couple of lines in one book, then give them a starring role in the next (I know, I’m a genius). I went out for dinner in a Cuban restaurant with a zillion of my best friends, where dancing girls and the world’s worst piano player threatened to ruin my zen. I spent lots of time with my favourite bloggers, one, in particular, who likes to stay up as late as I do and never shies from a probing question. I talked about childrens’ books and cashew nuts and there was horrible, horrible wine. I was trained in high-and-low-fiving (I was not a good student), I sniffed a shoe. And I got my hair plaited at 3am by one of the loveliest and prettiest (porniest?) people in the world.

On Sunday, despite very little sleep (again) I had breakfast with lovely friends, already starting to feel the comedown that was threatening to make an appearance. I had tea in the lounge, trying to squeeze out the final minutes of my time there, chatting about how I started writing ten years ago (on a train from Beijing to Moscow) and about ears and prostitutes and potato waffles. I chatted more, I said goodbyes… and then I got the train home with a beautiful blue-haired lady.

Amazingly, I still have a voice. Some lost theirs.

Then I came home, back to reality… back to work, but bursting with excitement about my writing plans for the rest of the year, and the rest of my life… and thinking it’s not long until Harrogate, where we can do it all again.

And that, my friends, is what really happens at Crimefest.



  1. *It already was Saturday, by several hours
  2. **hangover from hell
  3. ***drank loads of Coke
  4. Photographer credits: Jo Penn, Steve Dunne, Liz Barnsley, Sophie Goodfellow, Fergus McNeill (I think…)
  5. THANK YOU to everyone who made this such a memorable weekend – old friends and new – the most supportive, friendly and funny people I have ever met
  6. THANK YOU to the fantastic organisers of Crimefest, who work ridiculously hard to make us all so happy 🙂
  7. If you want to know more about the panel events, try these:
    1. Vicky Newham – Crimefest 2016 Observations and Highlights
    2. Rebecca Bradley – Doctor Who Meets #Crimefest16
    3. Alis Hawkins – Crimefest 2016
    4. Matt Johnson – My First Ever Crimefest
    5. The twitter hashtag – #Crimefest16
This is my fab review in The Sun! As well as the full eBook still being 98p, Willow Walk is now available as a FREE extended e-sampler – click on the image to go straight there… Also – both Black Wood and Willow Walk are now available as eBooks in all worldwide English territories (US/Canada/Australia/NZ/India) – you’ll find it on your local Amazon/Kobo/etc.

Crime Scene Britain and Ireland by John Martin

Delighted to share a Friday guest post from John Martin. I met John at Crimefest at the weekend, and his book sounds like the definitive reference volume for all fans of UK crime fiction. As Richard Cox says: “It’s what crime fiction readers have been looking for – probably without even knowing it.”

Blurb: This book is for all readers of crime fiction. Dividing Britain and Ireland into twelve regions, the author describes the work of contemporary and historic crime writers and their novels where the setting of the novel is crucial, giving the story context and local relevance. While regional crime novels go back to The Hound of the Baskervilles, identifiably regional crime within specific cityscapes and landscapes only came into its own twenty years ago with Ian Rankin, John Harvey and Val McDermid. Their work, together with hundreds of others, and thousands of titles are described in this volume which will be essential for the serious crime reader.

Over to you, John…

I have spent most of my working life around books. For almost 30 years I was a librarian in public libraries, specialising in stock selection and reader development, and I have been a lifelong crime fiction reader. Since 2002 I had been giving talks on crime fiction to library groups, and arranging author visits to libraries to encourage reading. When I was a victim of county council cuts and forced into retirement in May 2012, I had little idea of what I wanted to do, but I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to turn one of my talks into a book, despite never having written anything longer than a University dissertation. I shall always be grateful to Ross Bradshaw, radical bookseller and publisher at Five Leaves Bookshop/Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham, for giving me that chance – taking a punt on an unknown, if enthusiastic, writer.

For the discerning reader there is a huge variety of British crime fiction to choose from, and my career in libraries had shown me that readers were often uncertain as to what to read next. Readers want to have some empathy with the characters in a novel, and they also want to picture the setting in their mind. For crime fiction, perhaps more than most genres, the setting of the book is crucial. A crime is often the product of the society around it, and that in itself is heavily influenced by the environment. The setting evokes emotion and knowledge in the reader, which helps to give the narrative a framework. Colin Dexter’s wonderful Morse novels used the backdrop of Oxford, it’s Colleges and architecture to give the murder mysteries a certain air, a certain mystique which would have been quite different if the setting had been urban Manchester, or the Scottish highlands.

The book is divided into thirteen regions (7 in England, 3 in Scotland, 2 in Ireland plus Wales on its own). I have had to make some contentious decisions as to boundaries, and so The Cotswolds are included in the West Country, Bedfordshire is in The Midlands and Aberdeen has been added to the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It covers the whole history of crime fiction from 1860 (the earliest book included was published in 1862) to 2014 and contains mini-essays (400 words or less) on more than 500 crime novelists, who between them have written over 5000 crime novels during the last 150 years.

Crime Scene Britain and Ireland: A Readers’ Guide is a book of which I am very proud. It was published by Five Leaves in October 2014 (£9.99) and has received wonderfully positive reviews from Martin Edwards and Barry Forshaw. It was shortlisted for The Keating Award at CrimeFest 2015.

* * *

John Martin is an author and speaker on crime fiction. He will be appearing at the “Lowdham Book Festival” & “Leicester Writes” in June, and at “Everybody’s Reading” (Leicester’s Festival of Reading) in October. Find him on Facebook:  John Martin –  Crime Fiction Connoisseur.

My first author events

I’ve been pretty busy since my last post, despite being on ‘holiday’ from work (i.e. waiting for a new project). As well as working on book 2 (of which I have made some progress, and shifted to a more sensible deadline of the end of June), I’ve had my first two author events. Exciting!

The first one was online – where I took part in THE Book Club‘s first ever Book of the Month event. Black Wood was chosen by the readers, who first selected the genre (psychological), then the book – I was up against Mel Sherratt and Megan Abbott, and in the end it was a very close thing!

Where I won by a mere 6 votes!
Where I won by a mere 6 votes!

A Q&A was held on 30th April (after a month, where the members of the club had to download and read my book) and then the fun began. I say fun, it was 5h of hard work, as hundreds of readers left comments, feedback and questions and I had to keep up with it all, discussing the book not only with those who enjoyed it, but those who didn’t. I did three competitions – one to win a signed book, one for a tote bag and the third for a character name in my next novel. Overall, it was great fun but not for the faint hearted – but what it taught me (apart from the fact that most of these readers were used to reading far gorier books than mine) is that people who might not like my book might still like me, so I think I managed to convert some detractors who are now looking forward to the next book. From the feedback received, i think the readers really enjoyed it too.

* * *

Then came my first real life event – a panel at Newcastle Noir over the bank holiday weekend.

This was held at the historic Lit and Phil building in Newcastle, which has the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen. This is me outside 🙂 I didn’t take any photos inside, but there are some on their website here.

Me on the programme!
Me on the programme!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, and after meeting up with some of the other authors, attended an event that is always worth seeing – Mark Billingham and Martyn Waites in Conversation. I’ve seen these two before, and I love the way they use their skills as actors and comedians to talk about their lives and their books in the most hilarious of ways. That evening, it was a night out with the other authors (again!). Yes, it was a late one.

Music, beer and conversation in a classic venue
Music, beer and conversation in a classic venue

The next day, we had a quiet morning, before having Sunday lunch and on to the next event – Steve Cavanagh, Clare Donoghue and Peter Murphy. This was a fantastic panel about the legal profession and how these authors have used it in their books. Steve, in particular, was hilarious – especially as he told us he only became a lawyer as he joined the wrong queue at university!

It was great to see my books on display at the shop run by Helen from Forum Books

Then it was off to prepare for the last panel of the weekend… The Girls! Me, Eva Dolan, Susan Wilkins and Kati Hiekkapelto, chaired by Sarah Ward.

I wasn’t really nervous at all, until I sat down and looked at the audience while Jacky, the organiser, sorted out the microphones etc. Once I started though, it was easy to be led along by the excellent questions from Sarah and the responses from the other panelists. We all got on well and seemed to cover a variety of issues, keeping things entertaining by quips from Eva Dolan – who was asked at the end if she’d ever considered switching from crime to comedy! The weekend was topped off with a trip to another bar, and a late night sausage roll from Greggs… only in Newcastle!

I loved the whole event and it was great meeting up with authors, reviews and readers – only sorry I missed the other panels, I will definitely go back next year. My first two events were a great success – and I can’t wait for the next one – Crimefest in Bristol, next weekend!

Happy New Year – Happy New Writing

Hello again…

Well after a flying start at the end of last year, I’ve become a bit slack with the blog… sorry about that! At the end of November I had intended to write about my experiences of NaNoWriMo, but I felt so drained after it that I ended up not writing much at all… So what happened? I bailed. Yup, I’m a NaNoWriMo ‘loser’ so I don’t get the winners’ badge. But am I bothered? Not really.

NaNoWriMo – NO!

It started off well with words flying from all directions. I had an outline of the whole book and it changed and grew with every word I wrote, and for a lot of the time, I enjoyed it (anything that can get me out of bed at 7am has to be a good thing, right?). But then I had a bad day. Then I picked it up again. I even wrote a chapter from my sister’s spare room while I was away for the weekend, ensconced in a house with an unruly toddler and a screaming baby (both of whom, I LOVE, by the way…) But then I had another bad day. Really bad. I wrote, but the words weren’t making sense anymore. I was rushing to the finish line, words came out jumbled and wrong and there were too many plot holes and ridiculous coincidences and I started to HATE my main character and everyone else around her.

So at 40,000 words I made the decision to stop. I had two choices: break my neck trying to bang out the remaining 10,000 words over two days to reach the goal and become a ‘winner’, sacrificing my enjoyment of writing and any hopes of the novel being readable OR just stop, put it away, and be happy with the achievement of writing 40,000 in 28 days, which by most people’s standards makes me a winner of sorts anyway. It was certainly the most I’ve ever written, and the furthest I’ve got with a draft novel. I haven’t re-read anything that I wrote yet. I know that a lot of it is toe-curlingly bad, but I still think it has legs. So for now it’s been stuffed into the virtual bottom drawer, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.


So the day after ditching the ‘novel’, I wrote something else. A story called ‘As Black As Snow’ for the first edition of the fabulous What The Dickens! Magazine. It starts on Page 25 if you want to read it 🙂

Then I did pretty much nothing in December, although I did manage a post at my usual haunt, The Black Flag.

Then two things happened: I won a writing diary in an online competition on Mslexia, then I got sent a free book from a publisher after I tweeted about the author’s previous one (it’s not released yet, so I’ll keep that one quiet for now – I plan to review it very soon). I don’t usually win things, so I was pretty excited about both of these 🙂

THEN I spotted a link to Cara Michaels’ WIP500, a new challenge for 2012 with the aim of encouraging writers to produce 500 words a day – every day – for the whole year. Yup – that’s 183,000 words. The thing about this though, is that it can be on any Work In Progress (WIP), not just on one thing like NaNoWriMo. I decided it was the challenge I needed. So far it has yielded me two 100 words stories (you can read them on my Facebook page), plus a new Black Flag post here, half of a story that I intend to submit to an anthology and a story called ‘The Advert’ for Morgen Bailey’s Flash Fiction Friday which will be posted (fittingly) on Friday 13th Jan.


YES! I was awarded an honourable mention in the Five Stop Story October/Halloween competition, and I am still waiting to hear about a story I entered in Writing Magazine‘s 1000 word story competition – fingers crossed (but I’m not holding my breath on that one – the competition is usually very fierce). They did, however, print a letter I sent to them about a couple of articles I read in the last issue. It was a lovely surprise when I opened the magazine this evening and saw my byline 😉


One last thing… I’ve met loads of lovely writers on Twitter since I started frequenting the place in mid-October… and I am now contributing to a joint blog called The Pyjama Club. It’s fun – come and have a look 🙂

Oh wait, one more… I managed to blag obtain a review copy of a great new book by Nicola Morgan by chatting her up nicely on Twitter (again, not yet published – but I will write a review when it is). I am hoping it’s going to be my saving grace for my entry into this year’s CWA Debut Dagger competition (which I haven’t written yet, but I seem to write better with looming deadlines… maybe I should become a tabloid reporter?)

That’s it now… I think… Must get back to today’s 500 words (or more – I think it might be more… A whole novel outline presented itself to me while I drove home tonight…)

Speak to you again soon(ish)!

Susi x

P.S. I think I might go to CrimeFest this year… do a bit of literary mingling 🙂