Apologies for not having posted my thoughts on yesterday’s conference quite so promptly as the Puzzle Doctor, but I was not so bright eyed and bushy tailed as him, I think. After all I did spend nearly 10 minutes trying to figure out where my house keys were this morning. Quite a novelty to be locked inside your own home…
Anyways on with my conference report.
The first panel of the day was: Unearthing ‘Bodies from the Library’: Golden Age Short-Story Anthologies, which had a panel featuring Christine Poulson, (as moderator), Martin Edwards and Tony Medawar. Sherlock Holmes seems to have been an influential creation for both Martin and Tony, who both cited one of his cases, as the first short story that really grabbed them. Martin also let slip that as a child, it was one such story which inspired him to write one of his own, complete with introduction, (good practice considering his future career). It was also interesting to hear about the criteria Martin and Tony have for selecting stories for anthologies. For Tony it was important that the story got to the point or rather the puzzle quickly, whilst for Martin range and diversity was key. Both panellists then went on to talk about how they go about tracking down lost or undiscovered stories.
Next up was John Curran’s talk on ‘The 1930s Crime Files,’ which were unusual dossiers, first produced by Dennis Wheatley and J G Links. Instead of a novel or a short story the reader would be presented with documents, photographs and physical clues to muse and puzzle over, in order to solve the given mystery. The photos often had well known people from the time in them and the physical clues ranged from samples of hair and blood stained fabric, (one hopes it was fake…), to a perfume scent. It was also great that Curran brought along two examples of such dossiers for people to look at.
The third talk was by Rachel Reeves, MP, who looked at a forthcoming British Library reprint, The Division Bell Mystery, which was written by MP, Ellen Wilkinson. Not only did Reeves provide interesting contextual information concerning the early years for female MPs and Wilkinson’s personal life, but she also discussed various features of the novel’s setting. I wasn’t aware this was an impossible crime story, but from the way Reeves described it, it sounds like it might be, so I am eager to give this story a go.
After the first break we dived into the world of Francis Durbridge, with a panel not only featuring Melvyn Barnes, who has written on Durbridge’s career, but also Stephen Durbridge, Francis’ son. Dolores Gordon-Smith entertainingly moderated and David Brawn was also on the panel to share about Harper Collins’ reprinting of Durbridge’s books. What I was most surprised by was how popular Durbridge was and still is around the world, with fan mail having come from as far flung places as Fiji and New Zealand. I am hoping to get around to sampling some more of Durbridge’s work in the coming weeks, in particular some of his TV productions, as I enjoyed The Game of Murder very much.
Following this panel, we had Martin Edwards’ talk on Richard Hull, one I was very much looking forward to, given how much I enjoy Hull’s work. Quite envious that Martin has managed to collect all of Hull’s novels, but then one expects no less… One of the many things I took away from this overview of Hull’s career was the way Hull made quite ironic self-referential remarks in his novels, even having a character named after himself in one of them.
Post lunch we had a vintage radio play to listen to, this time being one of the Ellery Queen productions. It had quite a metafictional plot, with a murder taking place during a production of the Ellery Queen show and it was interesting to find that they had a guest armchair detective who came in each session to share who they thought did the crime.
Another talk I had been eagerly anticipating since I had seen the conference programme, was Tony Medawar’s talk on Christianna Brand, an author I have read a handful of books by, but definitely a writer I want to try more of. So it was exciting to hear that next year is going to see the reprint of a short story and also possibly a hitherto unpublished novel by Brand. We also heard about a tantalising mystery within Brand’s own life – a large period of time where Brand stopped writing, only explaining that she did so for private reasons. But other than that we know no more… It feels quite apt for a mystery writer to have a mystery surrounding them.
Simon Brett and Len Tyler took the next slot looking at the rise, fall and return of Golden Age detective fiction and the non-fiction studies which have appeared along the way. Brett and Tyler make an entertaining duo and I hope there is more to come from them in future conferences. This was also a monumental panel for me, as I asked my first question! Took me four years but I got there eventually …
Jake Kerridge then went on to talk about Michael Innes and his sleuth Inspector Appleby. Not really a fan of Innes or his work, but Kerridge is an enjoyable speaker so that didn’t really matter. One thing I was quite shocked to hear was that Raymond Chandler enjoyed Innes’ work, which felt odd given Chandler’s views on reality in detective fiction.
After the second coffee break, Dr Jennifer Palmer looked at, ‘Why was it ‘The Body in the Library,’’ which I found to be quite a thought provoking session, as I hadn’t really considered the use of the library as a setting before this point. She covered a wide range of examples from vintage mystery fiction, several of which I haven’t come across before and I definitely think she had the best power point pictures of the day.
Following on from this we had Dolores Gordon-Smith looking at Agatha Christie on her travels. Whilst I knew the broad outlines of Christie’s various and numerous travels, it was good to hear additional personal details about, especially Christie’s trialling experience of having to buy holiday clothes.
The conference as usual ended with a desert island panel discussion, with the panellists this time saying which detective they would most like to have with them. The range of reasons behind the choices were quite illuminating, from the more carnal, to the practical and conversational. It was particularly entertaining when Christine Poulson said she was trying to look for the Ray Mears of the GAD world. My favourite choice was by Jake who chose Georgina, Nigel Strangeway’s wife – very good choice given that she was an explorer after all. We also all now very convinced of Dolores Gordon-Smith’s crush on Paul Temple. Say no more…
This year’s conference also involved just a modicum of self-promotion as early bird copies of the Pocket Detective were available for conference participants and it was great that it sold so well. The organisers were also very generous in allowing me to promote Coffee and Crime with flyers in the goodie bags and contributing the first prize for the competition. The name of the winner escapes me, but whoever they may be, I hope you enjoy it! On the flyers was a promotional 10% discount code, valid for one month, but since I am feeling in a benevolent mood, for those unable to attend the code is aptly called: BODIESFROMTHELIBRARY – So don’t miss out!!
Of course what made this day all the more special were the opportunities to meet up with friends and fellow bloggers, as well as with some of panellists. It’s a quite a moment when you’re listening to someone telling you about the time they met Christie when they were a teenager… Equally quite something to be listening to John Curran talking about the time John Perry said that Curran was ‘the Agatha Christie anorak.’ Definitely something Curran needs to get a printed on a T-shirt… Suffice to say I didn’t share any personal anecdotes, mainly because none of them are mystery related and/or seem to involve me getting stuck in places or stuck to things.
So another great conference and I can’t wait for next years!!