Waterstones Deansgate is a good place to go to if you want the attention of several young men at once. (Staff, I mean. And it helps if you’re difficult. Like me.)
I was there to hear Declan Burke and John Connolly – and as it turned out, Barbara Nadel – talk about how they forced hundreds of authors to write essays on their favourite crime writers, and to do so by the deadline. (I have to get back to Waterstones here. Last year I was in that same room to hear John speak about one of his children’s books. It was the children’s department. Yesterday he was there as an adult writer, and it was an adult’s fiction department. Very obliging of them to keep switching.)
Anyway, there we were, around fifty crime fans or so, to hear the gossip about the participating authors of Books To Die For. And how much work it had been putting this wonderful ‘reference’ volume, conceived in wine, together. I believe John said yes to Declan’s idea, while really meaning no. These things happen.
They insulted each other, which was only to be expected. John reminisced about young people, suddenly feeling old doing so. (Having stumbled across a photo of John last week, I can assure you he was himself very young once.)
Apart from age issues, we learned that John has a marvellous black book of contacts, and he really entered into ‘the spirit’ of this job. I’d say they both did.
According to Barbara the participating writers were given very little time to write their essays. A mere six months, which left the editors to hunt people down ‘like assassins’ (hope they really didn’t mean that) after the deadline, literally chasing people across continents.
They had to fact check everything from often inaccurate quotes to people who couldn’t remember their own date of birth or the titles of their books. (It’s always so hard, that.) Both John and Declan gave examples of authors they didn’t know, and also listed some of the more unusual writers that cropped up. (No, I’m not listing them here. Read the book!)
There was a worried moment when it looked like no one was going to pick Agatha Christie, which indicates that people didn’t necessarily go for the obvious names first. Some essays revealed a lot about those who’d written them, and whereas they tried to be really strict on word count (2000), some essays did end up twice as long.
Lee Child wrote the shortest one. Declan and John were amazed that he remembered the cover of ‘his’ book in such detail, and the price he paid, and not much else… Sara Paretsky’s contribution is ‘wonderful.’
In the Q&A I finally had my explanation as to why crime writers are so nice. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards, murdering all day long makes you nice. Although as regards bad reviews, John prefers knockdown fights in the pub. More honest. (He doesn’t read reviews. Except he seemed to have read mine…) We are all so nice, because these days we want to be able to meet an author in the bar, and still be friends. So true. Sometimes.
There was a lovely long queue to have books signed, and I fought for my place last in line with another big fan. We both won. More or less. There were trading cards. With duplicates. We now have to meet up again and swap. And make friends. John also handed out postcards, which left Declan wishing he’d thought of that.
Afterwards I hobbled towards my train at such utter lack of speed that my lovely Irishmen returning to their hotel would surely have caught up with me, had I not been rescued by a tram.