Crime Writer’s Association Conference 2019

Apologies for the quietness on the blog this week, but it has been a busy one! It began with two library talks, which I

Shamelessly stolen from Martin’s FB page. But it is the view from the hotel the conference was situated at.

mentioned last month and culminated in the annual conference for the CWA that was taking place in Bowness. It has been a hectic weekend, but I decided that I would share some of my thoughts on the talks that were held. Given my enthusiasm for older crime fiction, I was quite a blank slate for most of the presentations, which focused on modern police procedure and the legal system. However, this did not handicap me in anyway and I have definitely learnt a lot. However, to take things in their proper order…

On the Friday night there was a brief talk by Martin Edwards and Mike Craven on the crime fiction set in the Lake District, whilst on Saturday, first up was a husband and wife double act by Dr Charlie Wilson and DC Vicki Wilson, who are a forensic pathologist and police officer respectively. Between the pair of them they busted a number of myths which surround their profession, that have been bolstered by fictional depictions of them. Suffice to say TV and book representations rarely ring true in terms of what these jobs entail; even down to the clothes they wear. Never will you see a forensic pathologist wearing a white outfit, as in reality their scrubs are appropriately red. Equally, much to the distress of several in the room, inspectors don’t actually interview suspects or witnesses – a job predominately done by detective constables. Instead Inspectors hold more of an office based job, awaiting the evidence and information found out by others. Though it was appreciated that this would not make for a very entertaining crime fiction novel. DC Wilson also explored the often poor quality of the evidence they have to deal with, such as with fingerprints and CCTV. Both speakers used real life cases to demonstrate their points, though such examples did not really suggest much intelligence on the part of criminals working in the Manchester area. DC Wilson actually caught a burglar one time because he had not appreciated that since it had been snowing, there would be a footprint trail from the crime scene back to his own home. In some ways I think the criminals of fiction seem to be far cleverer, as I can’t see the culprits mentioned in these talks being able to plan and execute many of the crimes committed in vintage crime fiction.

On the Sunday morning Ian Anderson talked to us about the major incident room and the use of HOLMES in an investigation, (the latter of which being a computer system, brought out after the eventual capture of the Yorkshire Ripper, used for organising and recording evidence collected in a murder investigation.) Anderson used some of the cases he had been on to explore how a modern investigation is conducted, including the deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay. He also touched upon the use and difficulties of using covert surveillance, as well as the high amount of evidence which remains unused and does not form part of the eventual court trial.

Barrister, Alison Heyworth followed on from this and her talk title was: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Criminal Justice System and the Myths about those who Inhabit it. I really enjoyed her talk, finding out about the legal system from the inside. Her talk moved from the sad to the hilarious and I thought it interesting how she pointed out the mental health issues barristers often face, (that being one of the sad moments of course). The ambiguous role technology plays in the courts was also intriguing, with the unsurprising adage that it’s great… when it works!

During the weekend there were also two talks by David Donachie who is the Chair of the Society of Authors and Annette Crossland, who is a literary agent.

All in all I found there was plenty of food for thought and it was also a nice surprise to find my puzzle book as one of the gifts in the goodie bag. Certainly, helped me out when I had to introduce myself to people. It goes without saying that it was great to meet up with the likes of Martin, Christine Poulson and Sarah Ward and I look forward to seeing them again in June, at the Bodies from the Library conference. Not sure where the next CWA conference will be, but fingers crossed it won’t be Cornwall!*

*Not that I dislike the place, it’s just a bit of a trek if you are live in Northumberland.



  1. Hi (whats your name by the way?)

    thank you very much for this interesting report of the confetence. I read your mails always with great joy and iinterest. My daughter and me are fans of english crime fiction, specially of course Agatha Christie. I try to get the books you talk about as audible books. Sometimes it is possible and I hope they will bring more. May be you can wright some more details about the talks, that where held in the conference. Looking forword to your next email and I wish you a nice Easter holiday.

    Very kind regards from a sunny but very cold Cologne Karla

    Outlook für Android herunterladen


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Karl,
      Glad you enjoy my posts and I second your hope that more vintage crime novels will make it onto audible. I believe the British Library Crime Classics series is making some of their books available in this format.
      Not sure what further information you were hoping for about the talks, but here are a few more nuggets of information I gleaned from the talks:
      Forensic Pathology for Crime Fiction Authors by Dr Charlie Wilson
      – There are only 40 forensic pathologists on the Home Office list for England and Wales and they deal with about 2000-2500 cases a year.
      – They go through the same medical training as ordinary doctors. The speaker took 15 years to complete his training, though he did say it could be done in 11.
      – They don’t just deal with dead bodies, but also live cases as well, where a victim is alive but unconscious and may not be likely to live. Dr Wilson actually met his wife on such a case.
      – He also confirms that time of death cannot be precisely decided upon. The time of death is between the last time the victim was seen and the time the body was found.
      Detective Skills for Crime Fiction Authors by DC Vicki Wilson
      – She once tracked down a culprit by a witness description that mentioned Rockport boots, as she and her colleagues knew which area of Manchester the culprit was likely to be living in, having observed the general fashion trends of each district.
      – She also missed a murder once, as two bodies in a flat were initially presumed to be a double suicide. Though in fairness the stage of decay the bodies were found in, meant this was quite an easy error to make. Thankfully it was picked up during the postmortem.
      – Unlike in TV cop shows, CCTV images cannot be enhanced or edited once they have become recorded material. The only way to influence the footage is to do it at the time of recording, i.e. live material.
      Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Criminal Justice System and the Myths about those who inhabit it by Alison Heyworth
      – Alison looked at the improvements made within the system, in particular the increase in gender and racial diversity.
      – She also looked at why cases may collapse; a common reason being due to errors made over evidence which should have been disclosed to the defence which was not.
      – There is a time limit for how long people can be held in custody pending trial, which is 182 days.
      – She also shared some anecdotes about the more eccentric judges, though their breed is dying out, such as one which having fallen into a canal or river before work, ended up taking his clothes off and conducting his cases only in his judicial robes.
      Literary Agent by Annette Crossland
      – Her key piece of advice was to not become a literary agent!
      – She also looked at potential trends within publishing, including a rise in historical thrillers and domestic noir.
      – One example she brought up with the novel Gone Girl, whose author had written four more novels under a different name before that title. None of these had been successful and Gone Girl was actually her last ditch attempt apparently at making it as a writer.

      Hope this helps.
      All the best,


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