A Minister for Propaganda Elf writes: “The first thing to be said about Bristol’s Crime Fest 2008 was that there was really no need for the good burghers of Bristol to go to all the bother of erecting statues (right) of the Grand Viz. Still, it was a nice touch, and his black, twisted heart pumped briefly in gratitude on Friday lunchtime, when the miserable curmudgeon finally deigned to put in an appearance.
“Friday afternoon was something of a dispiriting experience, it has to be said, as the most frequently mentioned phrases at the panels the Grand Viz attended were ‘sales force’ and ‘marketing strategy’. Meanwhile, every single writer at the BCF was adamant they were paupers who couldn’t even afford an unheated garret, while the industry in general, as we all know, is loud in proclaiming that books are a bust, people don’t read anymore, the business is leaking capital, yadda-yadda-yah.
“It did occur to the Grand Viz that expecting imaginations – those of reader and writer – to be fired by the strictures of accountants is probably asking too much, and that the relentless homogenisation of the industry to maximise profit is short-term thinking of the most self-destructive kind, and a business practice that could be broadly equated with strip-mining. Ever the romantic, the Grand Viz couldn’t help but fondly remember the bloated corporate monolith the music industry had become before Johnny Rotten started gobbing all over his audience, and wondering if perhaps the books industry, given recent technological innovations, is now primed for a 1976 punk DIY revolution that bypasses the traditional structures, or at least forces the contemporary model to recalibrate its approach in mediating between artist and audience.
“Mind you, that was very probably because the Grand Viz was spending too much time in Mickey No-Mates mode, other than with his trusty sidekick Insatiable Ego, because the fool had forgotten to make arrangements to meet with anyone in Bristol. But lo! Along came a spider, aka the Book Witch, to whirl him away into her sticky social web and introduce him to the mellifluous Rhian, for whom no vowel is so soft and sweet it couldn’t do with another coat of honey. Then Donna Moore passed by. When the movie is made of the Grand Vizier’s life, he wants and needs Diane Lane to play Donna Moore.
“Out to dinner, then, with Ms Moore, the ever-radiant Ms Witch, the disgustingly youthful Chris McEwan, and Pat, an American lady taking the Grand Tour and deigning to drop in on Bristol to share her stories about Lawrence Block and the Mitford sisters and sundry other weird and wonderful experiences. Allan Guthrie was there too, but he’s shy, so the less said about him the better. Oh, and a lovely woman called Kate, whose first words were, ‘You had a baby recently, didn’t you?’ Yes, ma’am, we most certainly did. Her name is Lily (right) …
“Then it was back to the hotel for a dry sherry or two and a wee chat with Karen Meek and Maxine Clarke, which was rather disconcerting, as Maxine turned out to be more in line with the harsh-but-fair dominatrix-type the Grand Viz had been hoping Karen Meek was, whereas Karen was the bubbly, vivacious blonde he’d always presumed Maxine was. Perceptive stuff from Ireland’s third-most relevant crime fiction blog, eh? Ms Witch disappeared entirely, sadly, given that it was her 29th birthday, although it’s entirely possible she had to leave before midnight and the whole coach-into-a-pumpkin malarkey kicked in. A pity. Sample quote from Ms Witch’s Bristol update: “Next after the psychics came the comedians, and it worried me slightly that I had had dinner with three of the four [comedy award nominees] on the panel. The losers, I have to point out.”
“Anyhoo, the rest of the evening was something of a blur, happily, until the shutters came down at 2am. Seriously, people – what’s up wid dat? A hotel bar stuffed with crime writers and readers and YOU CLOSE THE BLUMMIN’ BAR AT 2AM?
“Up at the crack of dawn-ish on Saturday, then, for a panel hosted by Donna Moore that included Shy Al Guthrie, man-child Chris McEwan, man-mountain Martyn Waites and Tony ‘Bet-On’ Black. Huzzah for the restoration of the Grand Viz’s will to live, as the panel had fun (gasp!) talking about series characters with nary a whisper of marketing ploys or cynical exploitation – albeit within the context that the self-perpetuating series character is the industry’s holy grail. Still, it was a huge advance on the bean-counting and ledger-fiddling of the previous day. Plus, Ms Moore was wearing some eye-watering shoes. And Shy Al Guthrie’s ‘homework’, an excerpt from a possible blockbuster in the criminally underrated ‘bucolic erotica’ sub-genre, had the Grand Viz wondering anew at the sexual potential of turnips. All in all, a marvellous success. Oh, and afterwards Ms Moore presented the Grand Viz with a copy of her tough-to-get debut GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET, with which he was well pleased.
“Leaving the venue, we had the good fortune to bump into Norm from Crime Scraps. Your secret’s safe with us, ‘Norm’. And don’t listen to the critics – THE ENCHANTRESS OF FLORENCE is one of your best novels yet.
“Lunchtime on Saturday being a good place to snip the weekend report in two, we’ll leave it at that for now. One last pertinent thought on what might well be the most important issue the crime fiction industry will have to face in the immediate future. To wit: has anyone else noticed Shy Al Guthrie’s (right) eyelashes? Like kitten’s whiskers, they are. Enough to make a Grand Vizier kick a hole in his stained-glass harem window. Peace, out.”
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.