April 2022: Torquay
Venue: The Imperial Hotel
by David Whittle
I felt a sense of mildly suppressed excitement setting off for my first CWA Conference. It had been a long time coming, of course. I’d booked originally for 2020 and, like all of us, had suffered two postponements. Not even the absurdly over-crowded train from Birmingham to Exeter dampened my enthusiasm.
Having rashly volunteered to take over the Midlands Chapter from Sarah Ward just before the pandemic started, I was keen to meet some of my flock in the flesh as well as seeing old friends. As I got off the train at Torquay, a lady with a suitcase asked me if I knew where the Imperial Hotel was. ‘You’re not going to the CWA, I suppose?’ I asked. She was, and we walked together along the seafront. This was the first CWA event Wendy had been to, she explained, and was slightly apprehensive. I told her not to worry. All CWA members that I’ve come across are extremely welcoming, and after five minutes she would feel she’d known most of them for years. And so it proved: I never saw her except with others all weekend.
At registration Michael Jecks and his organising team signed us in. Having travelled light, I was slightly dismayed by being presented with what seemed to be about half the British Library, but the generosity of at least 15 publishers and a number of other sponsors was very impressive. Before long we were off to the Torquay Museum (and a welcome drink) where Basil Greenwood, the director, spoke to us briefly about the collections. Most members headed for the Agatha Christie section which displays sets from the TV Poirot series, but the museum has much else to recommend it. We were served with canapés of Falstaffian size. Most of us wondered whether we would need an evening meal.
But before too long we split into groups and headed for various restaurants. The fish one I went to by the harbour was excellent, as was the repartee. Then it was back to the hotel bar where I fell in with bad company, managing to escape shortly after midnight.
The serious stuff started at 9am on Saturday. Harry Tangye talked entertainingly about his experience as an armed response officer as well as VIP protection and road death investigations. He was followed by Chris speaking about the Border Force. Given the nature of his job, he had to be fairly cagey about what he could and could not discuss. The last talk of the morning came from Andy Costello, author of ‘Boxing Clever’. He was a junior chess champion, joined the police, learned martial arts, took to alcohol and drugs and ended up in prison. If I had any hair it would have been curling, and he certainly made me feel as if I’ve led a very dull life (thank goodness). All three speakers generated plenty of questions.
After a rapid lunch we set off on various excursions. I went to Greenway, Agatha Christie’s house (when in Rome etc), on a suitably atmospheric coach from the 1960s. Others took a guided walk around Torquay and places associated with Christie which was clearly enjoyed. Some members, I gather, just lounged about for the afternoon.
And then the Gala Dinner. Before the meal we had a slick video of the Dagger longlists after which conviviality took over. There was a most congenial group on my table, and I admired the ability of the husband of one eminent member to summon bottles of wine from the ether without any apparent external agency. Victoria Dowd entertained us afterwards, speaking mostly about Agatha Christie. It won’t surprise you that there was soon a general move to the bar and lounge, and my descent into bad company continued. This time it was 1am before I got away.
Not for that reason (I confess it was a gathering of fellow subversives in the lounge), I missed the Sunday morning talks. The first was given by Sarah Burton from the Society of Authors, and Linda Mather reported that a lot of ground was covered in a short time, with valuable discussions about the challenges facing authors, such as the role of publishers in marketing books and royalties lost to dodgy online sites. The final talk of the conference was ‘Successful Self-publishing Explained’ by Karen Charlton and Karen Menuhin. Now that the CWA is admitting self-published authors, this was particularly timely.
Many members hared off quickly after this, but a few of us hung round for another night to enjoy Torquay. Michael Jecks and his team must be congratulated on organising a thoroughly enjoyable and informative conference, with just the right mixture of talks and conviviality. Members of the CWA are great company, and I encourage you to come to York in 2023.
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