The Crime Writers’ Association

April 2023: York

Venue: Raddison Park Inn Hotel

An Overview by Matthew Booth

The old adage says that time flies when you’re having fun and, like many old sayings, it is true. And that probably explains why this year’s conference, held primarily in the Park Inn by Radisson in York, seemed to fly by in a matter of moments. But what moments they were.

After initial registration, where the usual bag of goodies was provided (the generosity of all contributors to these welcome bags of intrigue and information cannot be exaggerated and my thanks go to all of them), a welcome drinks reception took place at the Mansion House, including a brief history of the CWA from ex-Chair and archivist, Martin Edwards, who gave an insight into the founding of the association and how the organisation has grown over its “70 years of Thrills and Kills”.

Saturday’s events kicked off with the first of three fabulous talks.  Veronica Bird OBE, gave us a fascinating insight into the life in the prison service and the challenges, drawn from her experiences as the first female governor of HMP Armley, and to include her service in Holloway, Styal, and Brixton, amongst others, as well as her visits to Russian prisons as part of her mission to improve conditions.

Our second speaker, Detective Superintendent Vanessa Smith, of the West Yorkshire Police, gave an insight into the highlights of her career, from confronting suspects armed with knives, chauvinism, to an on-going battle with human trafficking battle (including her representation of the UK at The Hague in discussions on how to deal with the problem) – all delivered with a down-to-earth modesty which made it all the more impressive.

A short break for tea and coffee pre-empted the final talk of the day, from Barry Strickland-Hodge, a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, a Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, and other posts which the Red Herrings word count prohibits me from mentioning in full.  In an amusing and erudite talk, Barry gave a keen insight into poisons, their traceability, their effects, and their availability.

A sandwich lunch offered much-needed fortification for those of the delegates who ventured on the two Bloody York Walks.  Knowing York and its history well, I opted out, but Kate Ellis assures me it was a suitably macabre dip into the city’s criminal history.  She says:

“Our journey began at the Blue Boar Inn (one of York’s alleged 365 hostelries – one for each day of the year) where Dick Turpin’s body was taken after his execution. In times past, it was customary to hold inquests in pubs, often with the deceased present – although this didn’t seem to put the customers off their ale. We then repaired to the courthouse where we learned about some notable York murders, including Harry Hewitt, who slaughtered his adopted parents in 1904, and was acquitted by the jury through lack of solid evidence, although the police were convinced he was guilty of the particularly gruesome crime.”

Saturday evening soon came round, with the formal announcement of the Daggers Longlist being announced, before the conference moved to the York Castle Museum, for the Gala Dinner.  There are stunning venues and then there are stunning venues – ours was the latter, being the façade of a Victorian street, complete with hansom cab.  I didn’t know whether I should be wearing a top hat and cloak, twirling a moustache, or a deerstalker and cape, puffing on a pipe.  Either would have been appropriate. Excellent food, excellent wine, and excellent company made for a wonderful evening of discussion and chat, topped off by our guest speaker, Simon Brett OBE FRSL, who provided one of the entertaining, erudite, and engaging speeches for which he is now well-known and highly regarded.  On our return to the hotel, those of us with appetite for more drinks and chat stayed up past the witching hour but, eventually, everyone found their way to bed.

Sunday morning began with a talk from Alice Murphy-Pyle, Head of Marketing at HarperNorth. Alice gave some invaluable insight into what publishers are looking for, current trends in the crime genre, as well as providing an overview of HarperNorth’s submission process and marketing strategy.

Steven Keogh, a former Metropolitan Police detective, set out for us the tropes which crime fiction gets wrong all too often when compared to the real thing.  By using a hypothetical murder, Steven went through the various steps and processes of how a genuine detective would approach the crime, comparing it throughout with how fictional detectives do so.  It turns out people like Morse and Luther aren’t as clever as they think they are…!

Our own Karen Charlton rounded off the conference with a follow-up talk to her Torquay speech on self-publishing. This time around, Karen went into detail about how Bookbub and similar online marketing tools can be used to maximise both sales and (that dirty word!) profits.

A few final words, particularly of thanks to Jean Briggs, Fiona Veitch Smith, Helen Marsay, Karen Charlton, Jason Monaghan, Frances Brody, Dea Parkin and others who assisted in making the conference so successful, brought proceedings to an end.

All in all, it was a conference to be remembered.  Filled with content, in a superb location, with a programme which offered something for everyone.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

Here’s to next year…

(with thanks to Gary Stratmann for the photographs)


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