What I learned at CrimeFest – novel writing

This weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and went to CrimeFest for the very first time. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, CrimeFest is a convention for readers and writers of crime fiction. There are over 100 participating authors and in excess of 40 panels, along with a gala award dinner, quizzes and, this year, a Eurovision pizza party.

I haven’t been before, partly because I have social anxiety, and partly because I envisaged the event being huge and, having mobility challenges, was worried about how I’d get around. However after going to, and loving Theakstons Old Peculiar Festival in Harrogate (and you can read my post on Harrogate & disability here) I decided to be brave when I was asked to speak on a panel with David Jackson, Helen Fitzgerald and Mason Cross, chaired by the wonderful Robin Morgan-Bentley but more on that in a moment.

Firstly, a note about the venue. CrimeFest was hosted this year by the Mercure Grand Hotel in Bristol. I’m aware the venue has changed from its previous location, and may again, but the takeaway is that it’s small. Not in a vast exhibition hall as I’d imagined but with panels taking place in one of three conference rooms, all close together, with a bar downstairs to sit and chat in. There’s plenty of parking in Bristol and rooms to stay in (we didn’t stay at the Mercure but were a very short walk away). It was super easy to get around with lifts when things were on the first floor and a ramp for where there were unavoidable stairs. Bristol is fabulous and really deserves a blog post of its own.

Back to the panel. Our subject for discussion was ‘Doubt and Suspicion – who can you trust’ (in my books, nobody). This was my first event since the pandemic hit and I’d forgotten, despite all my pre talk angst, how much I enjoy sharing my passion for writing, and, how much I learn listening to other writers. Always.

Writing is a solitary experience, more so these past couple of years and I’ve been feeling increasing tired. Isolated. I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on my manuscript lately. I haven’t been well this year and have put it down to that but listening to the other writers share their challenges has made me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way. Helen made me aware that many writers can’t write at home and without access to coffee shops have found it hard to focus. Although I hate to think of anyone having a hard time (except my characters) there’s comfort to be found knowing that other writers haven’t all been effortlessly producing books.

All writers work in different ways and it’s always reassuring to be reminded that there is no right and wrong way. Helen, Mason, David and Robin are mores structured and have more of a plan when they write. I never plot my thrillers because I can’t but that’s okay. We all end up with a finished product. One thing we all had in common though was that when we begin to write, initially everything focuses around character and, in the first draft, plot is almost secondary. A well developed character is at the heart of every good story.

Stepping away from the computer and switching off when I don’t feel the words flow is something I don’t do enough of and it was interesting to hear that the other writers consider this essential (which it is and something I definitely need to work on). From watching comfort TV and films (Selling Sunset & Sister Act) to exercise everyone seemed to have a ‘thing’.

The biggest lesson I learned however, is that even if you aren’t progressing your story it doesn’t mean that you aren’t productive. I’ve always found myself irritable at the end of days I haven’t penned any words. No matter how much work I’ve put in to my career in other ways, unless the word count on my WIP has risen I feel I haven’t achieved anything worthwhile. Listening to Mason, Helen, David and Robin discuss that research, marketing and even thinking is a valuable use of time has really been a game changer for me.

I’m 7 years into my writing career now, my tenth book is publishing this summer, I’ve sold over a million copies and been translated into 25 languages and I still have SUCH a lot to learn but there’s so much joy in honing a craft and I think, over the past few months, I’d forgotten that. I’ve come away from the festival with (books – hurrah!) renewed enthusiasm, reminded of how much I love what I do. It’s been wonderful to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed live events and I can’t wait for the next one.

It was wonderful to see copies of my books in the CrimeFest bookshop. The digital version of ‘The Stolen Sisters’ is currently in a 99p offer. Download from Amazon here.

7 thoughts on “What I learned at CrimeFest – novel writing

  1. I think it wonderful that you (and the others) willingly share your insights and experience. I think that’s what I admire most about the writing community.

  2. Sounds like you really had a wonderful time! Being able to associate with other writers can boost the spirits of everyone. I thank you very much for sharing your experience.

Thanks so much for reading!

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