Sunday, 14 October 2012

Bouchercon, 4-7 October 2012

Last weekend I was at Bouchercon, a mystery writers' conference that takes place every year in a different city in the US with discussion panels, guests of honour and a prize-giving ceremony for the winners of the Anthony Awards. This year it was in Cleveland, Ohio. Around 1500 writers, readers and reviewers attended the conference, with a huge team of volunteers involved in everything from scheduling the programme to assembling the gift bags. An extraordinary undertaking - thanks to chair of Boucheron Marjory Mogg, chair of volunteers Trina Devanney, the programmers, hosts and all those who contributed to ensure it was such a brilliant event.

The opening ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was sponsored by my publisher, Thomas & Mercer, who will be publishing three books in my new mystery series in 2013/14. There were around fifteen of their authors at the event, some of whom I had met before in New York at BEA in 2011 when Alison Wonderland was published in America, as well as members of the T&M editorial and publicity team. They're always a lot of fun to spend time with.

I live in London and had never attended Bouchercon before. I turned up in Cleveland with the forefingers of my right hand stained with black ink, as if I had recently voted in an election in a country reknowned for corruption and low standards of literacy.  This was because my pen had leaked when I took it out of my bag on the plane to fill out my immigration card, and as soon as it happened I remembered it happened the last time I visited America, when I had brought with me exactly the same brand of pen.  Sometimes, if a reader criticises something in one of my books and I vow never to write anything like that again, I worry that I'm too quick to learn. And sometimes I worry that I will go through life without having learned anything at all.

I was torn between washing my hands and leaving the ink stains on my fingers in the hope that they might be mistaken for exotic London gangland tattoos by members of the noir-writing crime community.  I opted to wash.  I hope you will agree I did the right thing because I managed to win the trust of the noir writers anyway by boozing late into the night and shouting very loudly about whatever came into my head (which, by the way, is how I try to win everyone's trust) and never once mentioning, as I begged to be allowed to read on a line-up with them next time I'm in New York City or Portland or Seattle or LA, that I'm writing a cozy mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth. It'll be OK, don't worry too much about a potential culture clash. I have a passage from another novel where a performance poet gets beaten to death, so I can just read that.

Here's a photo of all the books we were given in our gift bags - thanks to the publishers and sponsors who provided them and the volunteers who put them together - plus a copy of The Creeper from Tania Carver, who lives in England but who I met for the first time in Cleveland. I read the advance copy of The Pain Scale by Tyler Dilts on the plane on the way home. It's out on 30th October and it's very good. I read The Creeper this week and ended up staying up late one night to finish it. It came out in the US in August and it's also very good.

I also took a photo of my new agent with the chef of a Cleveland restaurant that specialises in cooking and serving pigs' heads (long story). I love my new agent.  He's as generous and hospitable as my publisher and, between the two of them, I met some great people, had some lovely dinners and had fun at some wonderful social events.

The third group of people I met that I had a ready-made connection to (other than Thomas & Mercer authors and Inkwell clients) were through my friend Lauren Henderson, a crime writer who lives in England and couldn't be at Bouchercon because she was doing publicity in Italy for her Rebecca Chance books. I had only to say to someone in Cleveland, 'I'm a friend of Lauren Henderson,' and they would look after me. It was a kind of open sesame that worked much better than I thought it would, and I have to keep remembering not to say it everywhere I go now I'm back in London, in the hope of getting special treatment or (Judy, you know I'm talking about you) a friendly hug.

I'm afraid I didn't take any other photos at Bouchercon because when I checked into my room in the Cleveland Marriott Renaissance, where the convention was being held, I was shocked to see on the bathroom wall some kind of supernatural device - let's call it a 'looking glass' - that offered a vision of how I might look in fifteen years if I drink too much, don't moisturise and don't take enough exercise: tired eyes, sandpapered skin and lustreless hair. This put me off taking any photos at all while I was there because someone always says, 'Oh no, let me, you get in the group and I'll take it.' And then someone else takes a picture while you're all standing there, and then it's all over Facebook. I was very excited that some of Lauren's friends recognised me from my carefully-selected, quite-flattering profile photo on Facebook.... until I realised that the name tag hanging round my neck had probably helped.

But what was Bouchercon like? Well, it was great. I thought it would be useful to attend. I thought it would be interesting. I never thought it would be so much fun. I made friends there with people who I hope I will know forever, who I'm already looking forward to seeing again in just under a year's time. I have already booked for Bouchercon in Albany in 2013.


Judy Bobalik said...

I was thrilled to meet you. I can't wait to see you in Albany. Be prepared to receive even more hugs.

Helen Smith said...

Me too - I laughed so much. See you in Albany...