Thursday, 20 August 2015

Love & Crime at St Hilda's -

Andrew Taylor - St Hilda's 2015
It is hard to believe that St Hilda's has been going strong for 22 years.  It is also hard to believe that it is again over for another year.  But this in fact the case.  This year St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Conference took place between 14th and 16th August.  The Conference was dedicated to the memory of P D James who was a staunch supporter of the Conference and who had attended on a number of occasions.  Anne Cleeves was the Conference Guest of Honour and Andrew Taylor was Chair.

The River Cherwell - St Hilda's 2015
For longstanding attendees the art to enjoying St Hilda's (or I should say my art to enjoying St Hilda's) is by turning up early enough to wander into town and have some lunch with friend's (trying hard to ensure that you sit by a window) and watch as other fellow attendees arrive in Oxford for St Hilda's and wave at each other frantically as they wander past!  For me my other enjoyment about St Hilda's is that I normally have  a pretty good idea where my room is going to be and I believe that I have only been wrong twice.  The first time being when I gave my first paper at St Hilda's and Eileen Roberts and Kate decided that as a speaker I should have an ensuite room.  Not that I minded have the ensuite room which was wonderful.  I just missed what I and a number of others who normally have rooms near to one another called "our corridor" . The second time this happened was last year when due to the fact that there were other students still in the halls I was put somewhere else.  My normal room is always in the main building in the South block.  The reason that I like being there is because I have a gorgeous view of the River Cherwell as I look out the window. What's not to like? 

St Hilda's actually starts when we all congregate @ 6:45pm for early evening drinks before dinner.  It is a chance to dress up, catch up and generally look forward to the conference.  This year the Conference dinner speaker was Simon Brett.  If you have ever heard Simon speak then you will understand that he can have you in fits of laughter in minutes.  However, as much as Simon made us laugh and smile he also shared with us all some of his treasured memories of P D James as well. It was a wonderful after dinner speech.  As per usual most of us made our way into the Senior Common Room or SCR as most of us know it by to relax, drink and talk before slowly meandering our way off to our various rooms. 

Ayo Onatade - St Hilda's 2015
St Hilda's always kicks off in earnest on the Saturday morning just after 9:00am after a welcome from Kate Charles.  This year I was giving a paper.  The title was Crimes of Passion: Detecting Couples - the Light and Dark Side of Love and Crime and my talk was partly on the different ways in which love has been used as a motive for murder and also the various detecting couples or sleuthing teams. I along with Alison Joseph were first up.  Alison's paper was on the romance of the lone detective.  The full title of the paper was Heavier than Broken Hearts: the Romance of the Lone Detective.
Natasha Cooper & Len Tyler (L-R) St Hilda's 2015

After a coffee break it was the turn of Natasha Cooper and Len Tyler.  Natasha Cooper talked about The Dark Side of Love using Scott Turow's first novel Presumed Innocent as a reference point. One of the points that she made was the fact that murder always had its roots in failed relationships. The title of Len Tyler's paper was Revenge: When it all Turns Sour and as an example of the ultimate revenge Len Tyler discussed the case of John Wayne Bobbitt and Lorena Bobbitt. 

After lunch, the next two papers were presented.  The title of the first paper was Reader, I Murdered Him  and was given by Ann Granger.  She spoke about how she became a crime writer after initially starting out as a romance writer.  She kept on putting murder etc in her romance novels and she kept on being asked to take them out.  She explained that she realised that she would prefer to write crime novels instead.  The second speaker was Nicola Upson and the title of her paper was Devices and Desires: The Tangent of Love in English Crime Fiction.  Of course the eagle-eyed amongst you will recognise the P D James connection.  Nicola Upson spoke not only about her friendship with PD James but also the encouragement that she received from her.  She also talked about deciding to use Josephine Tey as  a character and the doubts that she had about doing so. She explained that she received a lot of access to Tey's friends especially with the first book.    She believed that Tey would have hated to have anything written about her and that she would have not have liked the biography that has been done and is due out soon.  Ann Granger on being asked which author (if she were to make them a character) would she choose?   She said that she would choose Charles Dickens but that she would be frightened to use an author as a character and would not do so.

Alison Joseph indicated that she is writing a series of novels with Agatha Christie as a protagonist and wondered where one drew the line. The issue of the legal ramifications of using a real person were also mentioned.  Ann Granger pointed out that using a real person would hamper her.  It was however pointed out that one cannot slander the dead. Natasha Cooper pointed out that we all write novels that we think we completely understand. Te question was raised as to whether anybody could write a fictional book with PD James as a character?   Nicola Upson revealed that a character in her next book had been named after Pd James and that the character would (like PD James) be working in a theatre in Cambridge. One of the last points mentioned by Ann Granger was the fact that Georgette Heyer was not appreciated enough and it was thought that the reason for this is because she wrote too many books.
Val McDermid St Hilda's 2015

The last two speakers on Saturday were Frances Fyfield and Val McDermid.  The title of the paper being given by Frances Fyfield was The Usefulness of Hatred whilst Val McDermid's was Love: The Perfect Motive for Murder. in her she pointed out that 45% of women are killed by their partners. Questions are always asked after the papers are given or comments made. In answer to one of the questions, Frances pointed out that hatred in crime fiction is useful and that is was sometimes more useful than others. Val McDermid in response to a question was interested in knowing which was harder, to forgive the unrepentant or to hate the repentant? It was felt that hatred is a complete negative option.  Val McDermid pointed out that revenge can sometimes take things out of your system.

Always after the final two speakers on the Saturday afternoon then there is always time for attendees to get their books signed. This year as a result of the anthology that I did with Len Tyler which was published last year I found myself in the rather strange position of being asked to sign copies!

The after dinner speaker on Saturday was Canadian author Alan Bradley who is best known for his books featuring Flavia de Luce.  He gave a very humorous after dinner speech about book reviews and reviewing.

The common practice on Sunday morning is for there to be free time for punting, going to church, reading the newspaper, relaxing and so forth until mid-morning when the conference lecture is given.  Yes I did sneak off to relax and no I am not telling you were I snuck off to. 

This year the Conference Lecturer was given by Ann Cleeves who was the Guest of Honour.
Ann Cleeves - St Hilda's 2015
The title of her lecturer was Love in Amsterdam: Nicolas Freeling, Sex and Sentimentality.   Part of the title coming from Freeling's first novel in the Van de Valk series the 1962 book Love in Amsterdam which was also known as Death in Amsterdam. In her lecture Ann Cleeves pointed out that Nicolas Freeling and his protagonist Van de Valk predated the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. 
She explained that he began writing after being sent to jail for three weeks and that it was Nicolas Freeling that triggered her love of translated crime.  However, when he killed off his protagonist unlike with Sherlock Holmes he refused to bring him back. After giving her lecture questions were asked and one of the questions that was asked by Andrew Taylor was whether or not she was tempted to set a novel further afield from the Shetlands?  In response, Ann explained that she did not like doing research unless she could do it somewhere like the South of France for three months tax free! Otherwise she preferred the North.  She went on to explain that she could not get into a book unless the atmosphere and tone was right. Also that very tiny details brought things to life, showing not telling. Ann also stated that a sense of voyeurism is what translated fiction was to her.  One of the best points that was made was when Ann made the point that she did not understand how one could be a writer if they did not use public transport.

It was also considered whether the war had been good for Nicolas Freeling's novels?  It was also pointed out that because crime fiction was now so broad that we could now go back and read the early work such as those from the "Golden Age" period.  Natasha Cooper said that she would rescue the early Gavin Lyall novels. 

Kate Charles - St Hilda's 2015
Unfortunately I did not catch the end of Ann Cleeves's lecture or the two that were given after lunch being Tom Harper whose paper was Love of Money: The Root of all Evil and Jo Hines whose paper was entitled Deadlier Than the Mother as I had to leave early for once..  

The dates for St Hilda's next year is from 19th August to 21st August 2016 and the theme is "The Question of Genre - What is Crime Fiction?".  The Conference speaker and Guest of Honour is Lee Child!  What a coup!!!.

Watch this space for more information about next year's Conference!
Ayo Onatade & Val McDermid - St Hilda's 2015

all pictures copyright Ayo Onatade @2015

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