Malice, Mayhem and a Mystery road trip
At the beginning of May I headed west for Malice Domestic, a US convention for lovers of traditional crime writing. It was a chance to launch SILENT VOICES the first Vera book to be published in America, to enjoy a brief burst of spring sunshine and to catch up with a lot of old friends. I sailed through BWI airport on the way in and that set the tone for my whole stay - it was friendly, hassle-free and beautifully-organised. The convention is held in Bethesda Maryland, an affluent, laid-back town within easy commuting distance of Washington DC. Frances Brody, a UK writer of intriguing post-world war 1 mysteries, was on the same flight as me. She was a Malice virgin so it was a joy to introduce her to the stalwart board volunteers, who plan, programme and take care of the conference every year, and to get to know her better.
On the first night, we showed an episode of VERA on a big screen and the audience ate pop-corn and marvelled at the wonderful Northumberland landscape. Over the convention weekend it was clear that there's a great affection for Brenda Blethyn's portrayal of the character. And David Leon has a growing number of fans too! I met my Minotaur editor and fellow authors, but the most important conversations were with the readers who've supported me since I was first published in the US very many years ago.
Sunday afternoon saw us in Annapolis, guests of mystery writer Marcia Talley, whom I've admired since hearing her speak at St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Conference in Oxford. She'd set up an event for Frances, me and two of her American friends in the local yacht club. We ate Maryland crab cakes, drank wine and looked at the magnificent view over the bay. The room was packed, the questions were intelligent and brilliant Kathy Harig, an indie bookseller, came hotfoot from Malice to set up the book stall. That night we stayed in Marcia's home and early the next morning we were on the road again.
Marcia drove and Frances, Elaine Viets and I cheered her on. I'd heard of Elaine of course but I'd never read her and I'll be changing that now. She's an ex-investigative journalist and she has her own radio show. She had us entertained for the five hours of the drive and I was almost disappointed when we arrived in time for the librarians' tea held in Oakmont before the main event.
The Festival of Mystery in Oakmont Pennsylvania has been running for many years and has a huge following. Imagine a cross between a village fete and a car boot sale. Forty crime writers sit behind rows of tables where their books are piled. There's a queue round the block before the doors are open. In the hall new authors are introduced over the crackly PA system to the gathered crowd. And we sell. By the dozen. The biggest thrill for me was meeting a couple who'd driven for 10 hours from Tennessee to buy my new book. What an ego-trip! Then it was back to the bookshop for pizza and beer. The next day it was back to the UK, restrained readers and reality.