Sunday, 18 August 2019

St Hilda's Crime Fiction Weekend Part 3

(L-R Andrew Taylor, Natasha Cooper & Sarah Hilary) ©Ayo Onatade
After a brief introduction the first full day at St Hilda’s saw Andrew Taylor talking about Josephine Tey. The title of the paper being A Gathering of StrangersThe Crime Fiction of Josephine Tey.  Josephine Tey is one of the two authors that have influenced Andrew Taylor the other being Patricia Highsmith so it was quite apt that Sarah Hilary who was the second author taking part in the first session gave a paper on Patricia Highsmith.   Andrew Taylor spoke about Josephine Tey’s first novel The Man in The Queue. Interesting to note that crime writer Catherine Aird has a family connection to Josephine Tey.  Andrew Taylor suggested that if you were going to start reading Josephine Tey then he would suggest that you either start with Brat Farraror The Franchise Affair.  Sarah Hilary’s paper was entitled Uncomfortably Naked: Patricia Highsmith’s Talent for Perversion.  As Sarah explained Highsmith is a particular hero of hers.

After a brief coffee break the second session in the morning saw Nicholas Utechinn who is
Nicholas Utechinn ©Ayo Onatade
the historian for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London talk about why Sherlock Holmes was a gamechanger and an historical perspective of Sherlock Holmes and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle.  The title of his paper was‘I Suppose I am The Only One in the World’ – Sherlock Holmes  Challenges.   Holmes of course was seen as the first “forensic detective”.  He was well known for the way in which forensics played a part in his deductions. We were also informed that Sidney Paget drew over 300 drawings for the Sherlock Holmes short stories and that the Strand Magazine loved the Sherlock Holmes stories when they were first published. They way in which Holmes solved his case showed why he was the supreme gamechanger.  Nicholas Utechinn expressed the view that whilst he did not mind the parodies that were written about Holmes he was not keen on Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  There are also around 423 active Sherlock Holmes societies around the world and the first Sherlock Holmes film was shown in 1903 but it only lasted around 11 seconds. The title of the film was Sherlock Holmes Was Baffled.  An interesting titbit of information is that Nicholas Utechinn is distantly related to Basil Rathbone who played Sherlock Holmes in 14 Hollywood films between 1939 to 1946 as well as in a radio series.

After Nicholas Utechinn, Scottish author Graeme Macrae Burnet spoke about ‘The Small World of Simenon’.  As Graeme talked about Simenon he explained that as he was doing his research he read around 90 of his books.  Simenon.  Simenon of course was a prolific author and published around 500 novels and numerous short works. Graeme informed the audience that the first Simenon book that he read was Belle, which was not in fact a Maigret book.  In Belle, Spencer Ashby, a teacher, is charged with the murder of Belle, the daughter of a friend of his wife's wife, whom the couple has been sheltering for a month and who is strangled in his room.  Did he or did he not commit the crime?   In Belle we see the world through the eyes of Spencer Ashby and the debilitating effect that accusation of murder has on him.    French reviewers have called Graeme himself “Le Simenon écossais”. Both papers saw us listening to two authors explaining in their own ways not only the importance of their work but also the reasons why their work is so important within the genre and why they are in fact game changers. 

After lunch saw the papers take on a more non-fictional slant.  First, Scottish author Lin
Lin Anderson - ©Ayo Onatade
Anderson spoke about Forensic Fact and Fiction and the way in which she incorporates fact into her novels and her interest in forensic science. Her interest in forensic science led her to take a Diploma in Forensic Science.  At the time that she did the course she did it along side another author Alex Gray and they were the only two authors on the course. Lin Anderson and Alex Gray are the joint founders of Bloody Scotland. She also explained how her character Rhona MacLeod came into being.    One of the points raised by Lin was the fact that people go back to series because of the characters that they want to know more about.  

Professor Niamh Nic Daeid who spoke after Lin Anderson explained the complexities of forensic and real crime scenes. She also gave a
Professor Niamh Nic Daeid ©Ayo Onatade
fascinating talk on the history of forensic science (which started over 150 years ago) and the changes that were/ have been taking place.  One of the other issues that got mentioned was the way in which crime books and television programmes (better known as the “CSI effect”) have complicated trials as some people tend to believe what they have seen on television (e.g. when watching CSI) or read in a crime novel. It was explained that DNA is not found in all cases and that there have been times when counsel have had to state at the start of a trial the fact that there is no DNA! The other problem that tended to arise in trials where there is DNA is the fact that the expert witnesses are not always asked the correct questions so as to elicit the answers that are needed to explain the DNA properly.  CSI Investigators also need to learn how to communicate properly. One view that was also expressed was the fact that with the rise of forensic science it had invariably lead to the “death” of the amateur investigator.  

An exciting piece of news that was revealed was the fact that Val McDermid has been heavily involved in a new crime drama called Traces which is due to be shown on UKTV Alibi Channel in November. Traces is set in a forensic laboratory and has just finished filming. 

Mick Herron - ©Ayo Onatade
The second set of papers given in the afternoon saw Mick Herron talking about the late great Reginald Hill and his books including those written under various pseudonyms with a paper entitled ‘From Cluedo to Ludo – The Changing Games of Reginald Hill’ As Mick Herron explained, Reginald Hill did not play by the rules when it came to his writing.  Furthermore, Reginald Hill was always excited not only by other crime writers but also “serious” writers.  When thinking about Reginald Hill’s books and the way in which they were written included a lot of social history covering the last quarter of the 20thCentury. 

Will Dean (who was the last speaker of the day) spoke about Peter Høeg’s novel Miss Similla’s Feeling For Snowwhich was first published in 1993 in the United Kingdom.  A sense of place is very important for Will Dean (which is one of the reason’s why he likes Miss Similla’s Feeling for Snow) as a sense of place anchors him to the story and he eloquently expressed what it was like living with snow and ice for months on end in the remote Swedish forest where he currently lives.  For him it is cheaper to fly to
Will Dean - ©Ayo Onatade
Spain for a meal than for him to eat out locally. 

Will believes that Peter Høeg’s book not only bends and stretches the boundaries of the genre but also deals with Denmark’s post-colonial legacy.  A similar author that does this is Abir Mukherjee with his Sam Wyndham and Banerjee series set in the Raj era of India.

According to Will Dean, Peter Høeg’s agreed the ending did not work very well and Henning Mankell agreed that the one book that he would have loved to have written Miss Similla’s Feeling For Snowexcept for the ending.

The first full day at St Hilda’s is always full of wonderful papers, insightful questions and is one of the reasons why I keep on returning year after year to the crime weekend. 

The evening started with a drinks reception (this time on the lawn) which was then followed by dinner. As part of the evening entertainment at the P.D. James dinner a special mystery whodunit entitled The Game Changer, which had been written by Natasha Cooper (the Chair of the weekend this year) was performed in the dining room by a number of the speakers.  It was down to everyone else to see if they could deduce who the murderer was! Yes I do know the answer and no I am not telling just in case it is performed again elsewhere. 

Longstanding attendees of course know the drill and we all once again ended up in the SCR after dinner for the rest of the night until sleep called.

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