April 2013: Bowness-on-Windermere
CWA 60th Anniversary Conference
Venue: Belsfield Hotel
Organiser: Diane Janes
Report by Bernie Crosthwaite
1953 saw the coronation of Elizabeth ll, the first FA Cup Final to be televised (Blackpool won) and the end of sweet rationing. Watson, Crick and Franklin discovered the structure of the DNA molecule, John Christie was hanged for the murders he committed at 10 Rillington Place, and Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel. It was the year the Korean War ended and the Crime Writers’ Association began.
93 members gathered at the Belsfield Hotel, Bowness-on-Windermere at the end of April to celebrate sixty years of the CWA. On arrival we were handed a goodie bag containing books (over 450 were given away) and an informative booklet by Linda Stratmann called Cumbrian Crime (Kendal seems to be a particularly dangerous place to live).
We set off on a cruise around Windermere in brilliant sunshine, but in true Lake District style the weather turned suddenly, complete with bouncing hailstones. But the free-flowing sparkling wine meant that nobody minded. Peter Walker, who celebrates fifty years with the CWA this year, gave us a warm-hearted welcome. Before dinner we had our little grey cells tickled by a crime-related quiz, the winning team receiving champagne for their table.
The Golden Age of Detective Fiction was the title of an entertaining and informative talk by Martin Edwards on Saturday morning. Crime novels written between the wars offered more than puzzles, crosswords and locked room mysteries. Dorothy L. Sayers and Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles) tackled darker themes. Stories about serial killers and the ethics of altruistic murder began to appear. Sigmund Freud was a great fan, as were poets T.S. Eliot and W. H. Auden. In fact the tight structure of a crime novel can be compared to poetry. German playwright Bertolt Brecht was about to start a crime series when war broke out (thus, said Martin, we were robbed of The Caucasian Chalk Outline of a Body).
Most of the great writers of the Golden Age were British, and the queen of them all, Agatha Christie, is the most successful novelist of all time. As she once wrote, ‘Wars may come and wars may go, but murder goes on forever.’
After coffee, tax expert Barry Kernon gave writers sound advice on tax matters in a calm, clear, authoritative manner. He warned against putting rounded up figures on your tax return (they look suspicious). As for that launch party, you might get away with claiming the cost of room hire, but probably not the free champagne.
Next came a fascinating account of a harrowing rape case – a 76 year-old woman attacked in her own home in Carlisle. Retired police detective Jeff Ashton was frank about the mistakes made in the investigation before he came on board: a poor initial interview with the victim; a concentration on blood stains that proved to have no match on the database, while ignoring finger and footprints; sidelining vital evidence from CCTV; an inadequate house to house. And crucially, the crime scene was released too soon and washed down, with the loss of potential clues.
There was one lighter element to the story: the victim, Evelyn, insisted that her attacker had a ‘tiny red deformed penis’. Two possible suspects matched up in this regard but not in others and had to be discounted. When the perpetrator was finally arrested his sexual organ proved to be ‘within normal limits’. It seems that Evelyn was comparing him with her late husband (who wasn’t known as ‘Big Gerald’ for nothing).
After seven months and over 700 mouth swabs (at a discount price of £90 each, normally £150) the police had made no progress and Evelyn’s health was deteriorating. Jeff and his team felt under huge pressure. After a review of the CCTV, the case was featured on Crimewatch. This led to the immediate arrest of David Duthie Gillen. Evelyn’s health improved and the police team were commended by the judge.
Two excellent activities were offered in the afternoon, which was gloriously sunny. A small brave group went sailing on Windermere. Chrissie Poulson said, ‘It was great. It was like being in the middle of an impressionist painting with the light sparkling on the water’. Roger Bullock was equally enthusiastic: ‘Brilliant! The best afternoon activity at any conference, ever.’ A larger contingent went to Holehird Gardens, run by the Lakeland Horticultural Society. The gardens are set in a stunning location overlooking Windermere. This enjoyable excursion was topped off with tea and cakes at a nearby hotel.
There was some lively discussion at the AGM about CWA income, CWA awards and whether Red Herrings should become available publicly, with confidential information confined to website or newsletter. The majority voted against this proposal. Officers were elected, and finally, outgoing chair Peter James handed the Creasey Bell to new chair Alison Joseph.
The Gala Dinner was a fitting celebration of sixty years of the CWA. We began with drinks and live music, then moved into the elegant dining room overlooking the lake for an evening of good food, plentiful wine and stimulating conversation.
Firearms enthusiast Gary Stratmann opened Sunday’s events by exploring the myths and realities about guns. He illustrated his talk with a range of replica weapons that looked scarily real. (Myth – firing a gun is quite noisy; reality – gunfire is absolutely deafening.) Interesting facts abounded. The AK-47 is the most ubiquitous assault rifle of modern times, but its designer Mr Kalashnikov, who is still alive, has never received a ruble from the Soviet government for his invention. It’s true that robbers like to carry sawn-off shotguns but mainly because they scare people more than the full-length version. And if you are thinking of writing a scene where your character uses a silencer on a gun to avoid making a sound, think again: the correct term is ‘suppressor’ and it will not silence the bang, just make it quieter.
Our final talk was given by retired detective Mick Turner, who outlined two absorbing review cases. When two men disappeared in Kingston, Jamaica in 2004, police officers were suspected but insisted they had never left their office. But when Mick reviewed the case in 2009 he was able to use sophisticated technology to track their mobile phones. This proved that they had driven to the site of the victims’ burnt-out car. Their story was blown apart.
Imraan Vohra, a nine year-old from Preston, was found raped and strangled in a local park in 1986. Luckily, swabs were taken and when the case was reviewed in 2001, advances in DNA, particularly familial DNA, revealed the killer as Robert David Morley. There was closure but no justice – he had died of lung cancer some time before.
All too soon the conference was over. Everyone agreed it had been a great success. Peter Walker said, ‘By any standards, this was a superb conference, meticulously organised by Diane Janes and her helpers in a fine hotel that was both friendly and efficient. The extra-mural activities enabled us to enjoy a wide range of Lake District charms whilst the lectures, as always, were memorable and beneficial to crime writers. I rate it as one of the finest conferences I have ever attended.’
Peter James agreed. ‘I thought this conference was truly wonderful. Inspired and faultless organisation by Diane Janes, really strong attendance, and a wonderful atmosphere – and all in a location to die for! Well, hey, it was a crime writers’ event, after all!’
‘It was lovely to see so many smiling faces,’ said the tireless Diane. ‘Most important of all, we made lots of new friends. Someone said the conference is like a great big family party, which I thought was particularly nice.’
The next big family get-together will be organised by Jason Monaghan in April 2014 on the lovely island of Guernsey.
Report by Lucy Santos, CWA Director
When David asked me, in advance of the conference, to commit my thoughts to paper I accepted but a little cautiously. Not because I had any doubt about how excellent it would be but because it really isn’t designed for me but for you, the members.
In fact I had an absolute blast and really enjoyed meeting everyone but, ever the cheat, I asked for contributions from other first timers about how they felt.
This is the first time we have managed to come to a CWA conference. We enjoyed it immensely. Very interesting talks, great hotel, superbly organised by Diane. Excursions to suit everybody – the cruise with the surprise champagne was a hit with us! Will make every endeavour to come to the next one.Helen and Morna Mulgray aka the Mulgray Twins
Excellent venue, brilliant organisation, stimulating talks, tasty food and intriguing conversations. Quite simply an outstandingly enjoyable event!Mwfanwy Cook, guest of member
I felt daunted by the prospect of the CWA conference. It was beginning to drizzle as my train pulled in to Windermere, and I wondered if the weekend would consist of long days staring at mountains through the window of a dreary hotel bedroom. I could not have been more wrong. The weekend started with a boat trip round the lake and a hugely enjoyable chat with Penny Hancock and Sarah Cox. As the weekend progressed I discovered that the CWA has a welcoming ethos and highly established writers always seem happy to chat to newbies, and share the tricks of the trade. It helped that the hotel was wonderful and so was the food. But the thing I will remember most is the pleasure of spending time with a convivial group of like-minded souls.Kate Rhodes – new member
I arrived with the expectation of seeing authors I knew from festivals like Harrogate, Crimefest and Bloody Scotland. With one or two exceptions, however, the majority were strangers to me. But what a friendly and inclusive bunch they were. Some delegates I met had been publishing books and short stories for over half a century. Others were totally new to the association. But the one thing they all had in common was a love of the genre.Mari Hannah, new member
And really these comments do sum up my experiences too. From Diane’s lovely cheerful welcome on arrival to the great talks and activities planned it truly was an excellent weekend.
Bring on Guernsey in 2014!
By Robert Richardson
An outstanding CWA conference produced touches of genius by those (and there were a great many) who entered the attendant competition. As judge, jury, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court in picking the winner, your correspondent despaired of choosing just one from such riches.
The theme was shamelessly stolen from The Spectator, which once asked its readers to come up with sayings apparently capturing some piece of profound folk wisdom, but were actually meaningless; the winner was ‘An owl in a sack troubles no man.’ The challenge was to produce similar efforts with a crime connection.
Inspired by the opportunity to explore their inner surrealism, members did not so much go off piste as leave the mountain altogether. The winner is usually the entry which makes me laugh out loud; this year it happened time and again. It confirmed my long-held view that members of the CWA are delightful people graced with a splendid madness.
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