To Belfast Last weekend for the Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival held in The Europa Hotel and back home laden with books by writers mostly new to me. I realize that I have been in a rut, buying or borrowing only familiar writers, but listening to the panels of speakers at the Crime LitFest and browsing through the piles of books on the stands, I uncovered a whole new world.
And what a world I found at Noireland. Talks and panel events took place from Friday night to late Sunday afternoon and I was able to dip in and out as I wished. I managed to catch most of them. They ranged from An Englishwoman, An Irishwoman and a Scotswoman walk into the Noir which brought together the witty trio of Belinda Bauer, Jo Spain and Denise Mina, to a discussion between two of the top writers in the genre, Stuart MacBride and Adrian McKinty in conversation about their writing life.
Various panels of writers took to the stage to discuss themes that ranged from The Victim, which looked at the human being at the heart of the crime, through True Crime and Podcasts, Gothic Crime, The Outsider (the loner, one of the tropes of crime fiction), Chillin’ like a Villain which explored the nature of the Villain in crime, Political Villainy, right down to our very own Brexit Means ….. And if you think it was all serious, “Catch yourself on” as they say in Belfast, this was all about the craic and the jokes fell fast and furious even as the crimes discussed were bloody and nerve-jangling.
Difficult to chose a favourite session but I think I have to put in ace position the late evening reading by actor Adrian Dunbar of two spine-tingling chapters from John Connolly’s new novel, “A Book of Bones”. Hard though it was to disassociate the man from his TV character of DCI Ted Hastings in Line of Fire his inspired reading meant that he owned the narrator’s character within a few seconds of him starting to read. A cliché I know, but you could hear the proverbial pin drop.
This was a masterclass in reading aloud and holding an audience, but the man is an actor and a Northern Irish citizen so he was at home.
Another highlight for me was Anthony Horowitz talking about his writing career which spans books for young adults, the Alex Rider books, his Sherlock Holmes novels, Foyle’s War on TV, his writing for Midsomer Murders, his James Bond novels and how he was chosen by the Fleming Estate to write these. Fewer people will know that he is a wonderful raconteur and notable wit when on stage.
Writers like Eoin McNamee, Haylen Beck, Claire Allan, Dervla McTiernan, Stuart Turton, Gerald Brennan, Sarah Vaughn, M.J. Arlidge and Will Dean who had flown in from his home in Sweden, ranged over topics such as how they get into their victim’s heads, the human being at the heart of the crime, the extremes that motherhood can drive a woman to, and how true crimes have influenced the writing of crime novels.
The final session was Ann Cleeves in conversation with Brian McGilloway talking about her long career in writing and how she came to develop the characters of Jimmy Perez in Shetland, and DCI Vera Stanhope in the long-running Vera. A fascinating insight into the workings of a true crime writer.
I haven’t named every writer who took part in the Festival: I have listed them below, but a special mention must go to No Alibis bookshop in Belfast without whom this would not have taken place. The owner, David Torrans, is passionate about books, specializes in mystery and detective fiction and is involved in the community to the extent that he also uses the bookshop as a community venue for literary events and concerts, Van Morrison being just one who performed there.
Books bought from No Alibis Bookshop are free of postage in the UK so if you want to check out what’s available, log on to noalibis.com, buy a book and support an independent bookseller. If you are in Belfast, you’ll find the shop at 83 Botanic Ave, Belfast BT7 1JL and they even open on Sunday mornings.
Eat your heart out Amazon.
Other writers appearing at the Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival and not mentioned above:
Eoin McNamee, Haylen Beck, Claire Allen, Asia MacKay, Elodie Harper, Dervla McTiernan, Stuart Turton, Laura Purcell, Caroline Lee, William Ryan, Martyn Waites, Aidan Conway, Declan Hughes, Adam Handy, Thomas Enger, Renee Knight, James Swallow, Douglas Lindsay, Mason Cross, Steve Cavanagh, Karen Hamilton, Elly Griffiths, and D.B. John.