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