Capital Crime is into the last couple of events as I start making notes for this piece. Robert Harris has just been interviewed by Steph McGovern about his new novel, The Second Sleep (reviewed here last month) and everyone is taking a break and/or a beer. Soon the exclusive screening of Widows, directed by Steve McQueen (2018) will finish off the day. The author of Widows, Lynda La Plante, and fellow British writer Peter James were in conversation with Barry Forshaw earlier in the day.

One of the Capital Crime organisers, Adam Hamdy, told me at the opening party that the crime writing community was welcoming and friendly and that the weekend would fun. Panellists had been encouraged to enjoy themselves and certainly the first panel I saw this morning kicked off in that spirit:

‘Crime on a Global Scale’: Vaseem Khan, Leye Adenle, Abir Mukherjee, Craig Russell, David Hewson and moderator Shaun Harris. Verbal jokes don’t necessarily translate into print so I won’t bore you with my attempts to repeat them. I will say poor Shaun Harris, the only American on the panel, took some stick over Trump and, unusually, Canada came up, Justin Trudeau got a dishonourable mention or two. Abir Mukherjee and Vaseem Khan are podcast sparing partners, a well-oiled double act. We got to hear about the writers’ novels but soon strayed into off piste storytelling. Who brought up the subject of Johnny Depp’s weird perfume ad I can’t remember, but it led to a survey of the room, it was a flop with the female members of the audience (just the ad – not Johnny). David Hewson explained how he came to write a murder mystery set in the Faroe Isles. He was reliably informed the rights for another Sarah Lund thriller (The Killing) would be no problem. He knuckled down and came up with a complex theory about how Sarah came to wear the famous Faroe Island wool jumper but, of course, the rights fell through. So he wrote Devil’s Fjord, a Faroe Islands mystery instead. Nothing is wasted for a writer. We finished off with a couple of gruesome tales drawn from research. The Parsee ritual of leaving the dead in the open in ‘towers of silence’, on sacred ground once outside the city but now in the heart of Mumbai, has led to vultures dropping bones on balconies of the surrounding flats – vultures are messy eaters. David Hewson related a story about a mayor in Calabria falling out with the N’dragheta (the mafia), who promptly cut his head off. You do not want to know where they left it! And, Abir Mukherjee swears he gets his best ideas in the sauna, don’t know if that’s a transferable skill.

‘The Human Cost of Crime’: Don Winslow and Ian Rankin in conversation with Chi Chi Izundu was, in truth, a darker thing altogether. Discussing the impact of crime, not just on the victim, but also on the policemen and support staff who investigate, as well as the killer and their family. Don Winslow’s novels deal with the drug wars in the borderlands and there have been literally hundreds of thousands of deaths over the years. Without going into detail, Winslow pointed out that the knowledge he picked up over the years leaves an indelible mark. Ian Rankin turned down an invitation to interview Ian Brady for a programme called Evil, he didn’t want Brady anywhere near his head. Both writers get their inspiration from the real world but while Rankin feels his writing is a cathartic experience, Winslow feels he carries the troubles of his characters home with him at night. Winslow is in favour of legalising all drugs. After fifty year of the war on drugs, if this is winning he’d hate to see what losing looks like. It should be a health issue not a criminal one. The last question led to a discussion on inter-generational crime. Don spoke of visiting jail to see three generations of the same family in the same prison, now more than ever it could also be grandmother, mother and daughter. Winslow also made a poignant comment about hearing the shots that kill people in Mexico on the American side of the border.

In ‘The Genesis of an Idea’, Anthony Horowitz and Adam Hamdy tackled how ideas are nurtured and developed from seed to fruition. There was too much to properly cover here but they did give some advice: don’t try to force an idea, let the unconscious work behind the scenes, be relaxed (as far as possible). If it’s good enough the idea will make sense. Adam Hamdy said he gets a gut feeling and knows something is right. Anthony Horowitz is working on an idea for a crime programme in twelve ten minute bites for a phone audience Eight Bodies in a Mexican Morgue (loosely based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None). Both stressed how writing is hard work, when he’s working Anthony Horowitz starts at 7:30 and finishes at 22:00, seven days a week. At his retreat in Crete this summer he worked even longer hours – no distractions. Both preferred books to screenplays but noted that the latter was an important collaborative process. Adam noted that a psychologist had told him that exercise, enjoying nature, and playing Sudoku (or some spatial problem solving) were all useful for writing a book.

I managed to get in a fantastic interview with Leye Adenle, a man with real presence and a future crime writing superstar. It’ll be a few weeks but watch out for that one, he has a lot to say about corruption and Trump and Johnson too. I also did a follow-up interview with Joe Thomas, a little extra material for an interview that’s in the pipeline and we’ll have that for you before the end of October too. Then there was ‘Whose Crime is it Anyway’, the Capital Crime quiz. I cover that in day two.
That was Friday, but it all kicked off on Thursday night with:

The DHH Literary Agency New Voices Award

Designed to give a leg up to budding authors, this award was launched at the opening drinks party. The shortlist of ten entries, unpublished works, was chosen from 300 entries by Capital Crime ticket holders, who had a chance to read the entries online and vote before coming to London. Adam Hamdy said, “The entries were of a phenomenal standard”. Of the ten authors shortlisted, two received honourable mentions:

Victoria Goldman for The Redeemer and Patti Buff for The Ice Beneath Me.

However, and fortunately without the Britain’s Got Talent rigmarole (if you were being unkind you’d say everyone wanted to get back to the bar), the winner was announced as:

Ashley Harrison from Washington for THE DysCONNECT – A Kristen Shah Thriller – Kristen Shah has taken a leave of absence from the Cyber Threat Task Force in order to undergo psychiatric treatment. But when a shadowy terror organisation shuts down the Internet and throws America into chaos, she’s called back into service to lead the investigation. In a global manhunt that climaxes in a shocking and deadly confrontation, she alone must piece together a puzzle that only a broken mind can solve.

In a brief interview Ashley told me:

“As for winning the New Voices Award… I feel incredibly fortunate. In fact, it still doesn’t seem real. As you know, breaking into publishing is very difficult. But I’m thrilled to be able to announce that, as of today, [Monday 30th September], David Headley of the DHH Literary Agency is officially my agent.”

He added:

“I would like to say one more thing. The New Voices Award gives unpublished authors a chance to get their work seen by the public. Capital Crime and DHH Literary should be commended for creating such an amazing opportunity.”

Congratulations to Ashley Harrison. Both Adam Hamdy and David Headley encouraged the shortlisted authors to pursue publishers for their fantastic work. So maybe Ashley or one of these writers will be the next big thing. The other shortlisted novels were: Susy Apsley – One for Sorrow, Gavin Dimmock – The Kerning, DC Smith – The Last Bird, Eric Bishop – The Body Man, Steven Coombs – Lucas, Fraser Massey – Whitechapel Messiah, and Nathan Velayudhan – The Undetective Agency.

Paul Burke
October 2019