Sitting at the Capital Crime book signing table in 2022, I spotted book blogger Donna Morfett’s pink hair well before she approached and said, ‘I’ve got you on my radar.’ Little did I know that five months later I would be appearing on a panel at her one-day literary festival: The Darkside of Brighton.
Having arrived early, I stood on the beach in front of the Mercure Brighton Seafront festival hotel trying to finish my hot breakfast sandwich before the grease solidified in the freezing morning breeze, and once again wondered what the hell I was playing at. While the scant personal appearances of my authorial career (three in two years) disqualified me from the title of Panel Virgin, they also failed to elevate me to veteran status. I’ve been told that I can talk the hind leg off a donkey but put me in front of an audience and my inner rabbit comes to the fore, caught in the festival headlights. As is always the case, I need not have worried. The relaxed day meandered through panels with titles such as Newbies, Long Running Series, Branching Out and Psychological, pairing indie with traditionally published and mixing experienced and inexperienced alike. Humour was the order of the day and all attendees seemed welcoming and willing to embrace whoever was speaking, regardless of sub-genre or whether they’d read their books or not.
And so it came to pass that I found myself on the Something Different panel with Louise Mumford and Alan Meredith. Prompted by Donna’s questions, the conversation flowed and humour ran like a warm vein between the more serious answers. Alan supposed his position to the right of Louise made him an angel or God, which I suggested made me the Devil by default. He expressed puzzlement at being at a crime writing festival but I’d read his book Lucas and I have to say that murdering people, even as the result of addiction, strikes me as criminal behaviour. Similarly, Louise’s novel The Safe House may not have murder at its beating heart but that’s like saying Boris Johnson raising a glass of wine in mixed company does not a party make. On the subject of our individual writing processes, my approach is definitely planner not pantser and Louise got me to admit that the chart I use to keep track of my characters and timeline is actually a spreadsheet. What can I say? I’m an ex-civil servant after all. I also revealed that a pond in my garden, long since filled in with rubble and earth, could still be repurposed as a shallow grave if necessary!
If the days ever really existed when an author could bash out a story on a typewriter, deliver the dog-eared manuscript to a publisher, endure a round or two of edits and crack on with the next book while waiting for the money to roll in, then I’m certain they disappeared decades ago. Apart from a fortunate few, most authors these days need to self-promote by pushing themselves forward and engaging with readers, bloggers, other authors and industry professionals. Being in the spotlight is far from my natural habitat and public speaking is not my forte. Tough. I chose to enter the world of novel writing so I have to play by the current rules.
That said, I really enjoyed my panel, watching all the other authors, and the day as a whole, especially the Northern Crime Syndicate’s ‘Whose Crime Is It Anyway?’ hilarious attempt to write a crime story in 45 minutes, probably the funniest thing I’ve seen this year. Pouston, We Have a Problem is the must-read you’ll probably never get to see, but if anyone is thinking of going to Donna’s next literary event being planned for the autumn, I would heartily recommend it.