Tuesday, 1 December 2015

SO NOIR AND YET SO FAR - TO SHETLAND with VALERIE LAWS

Me at Eshaness, Shetland

Literary festivals aplenty both hither and yon have been honoured with my presence and performance, among them several Crime Festivals. The venues for these are becoming more and more atmospheric Noir-wise, especially with the burgeoning popularity of Scandi Noir. Last November, I was at Iceland Noir, snowmobiling on a glacier, enjoying the spectacular landscape in the four-ish hours of almost-daylight, and meeting some luminaries of Icelandic crime fiction, some of whom are now translated into English. This November, I again headed North, to Shetland for the eponymous Noir instigated by Ann Cleeves who has a series of novels based there, now on TV.
View from my hotel bathroom...

View from my hotel bedroom... bit wet out there.
The festival got off to a thrilling start, with storm Abigail throwing our tiny planes with their cute little propellers all over the sky, until they stopped flying altogether (perhaps the rubber bands got tangled inside). The ferries were off too, as the waves were monstrous, and so some delegates and attendees were either very late or didn’t make it. I do love small planes, when the sole cabin crew asks those in the front row if they’d be willing to assist with an evacuation in the event of a crash – I wonder if they ever say no. The elements weren’t finished with me though, as my hotel turned out to be actually standing in the sea, just above the water, and all night massive waves hurled themselves against my bedroom walls in an attempt to join me, however the icy draughts were already in residence courtesy of the old ill-fitting sash windows.

My and the fest's first panel
Through the rain, we slogged off to Mareel, a brand new very posh arts centre, where you could watch seals bobbing about outside the café window, and the festival panels had an enthusiastic audience of locals. Many Scandinavians had come and I was part of the first panel of the festival with Arne Dahl (now on TV also), Lilja Sigurdardottir, and chair Jacky Collins from my home town talking about ‘where we get our ideas from’, which sounds groan-inducingly clichéd but in fact was a good starting point for discussion. It was lovely to catch up with the Icelanders again. A mix of big names and less well known writers continued for two days of panels, the evenings spent in socializing at receptions put on for us, at one of which Ann’s DI Jimmy Perez aka Douglas Henshall came as a surprise guest.
Douglas Henshall, Helen Grant (short story comp winner) et moi, Town Hall reception. 

Some of the panels got quite argumentative and feisty, especially about violence against women in crime fiction. It was interesting to hear top writers talking about their agents or editors insisting they changed things about their stories and even characters, and how they seemed to accept this. Interestingly a couple had been forced to make their (female) characters younger. I wonder why… There are plenty of unfeasibly old male ‘tecs still chasing scumbags on TV and film. While I accept that editors sometimes know best, and that writers should be open to changes which will tighten the story etc, I suppose this kind of interference is something indie authors can avoid, though no doubt to many it’s well worth it for the big advances, the book tours, and the fame! Interestingly there was some discussion of book length, and it turns out that some publishers are indeed insisting on very long crime novels, with the result of too much filler and not enough killer – Golden Age novels were slim volumes by comparison with not a word wasted.

One pleasant surprise for me was that my book The Operator actually sold well – all but one were snapped up – often festivals are poor for book sales as there are just so many writers and so many books, and so little suitcase space for taking them home.
Typical view of heath and water

We had a glorious gift of a day on the Sunday, when the wind stopped completely and the sun shone, for our bus tour round Ann’s Shetland locations, a chance to see mainland Shetland properly, and very beautiful it is. Lots of moorland, and water, water, everywhere, the sea and the land enmeshed, the human element very Scandinavian, like Shetlandic itself, so that it was very like Iceland with Shetland ponies but less lava. Another joy of the internet is meeting facebook friends, two of whom I met in Shetland for the first time in person, Welsh poet Sheenagh Pugh and film festival force of nature Kathy Hubbard. The next storm got going again just in time to make the journey home interesting, on an even smaller plane. Lovely. But could someone please invite me to a crime fest somewhere hot next time perhaps, just for variety?
Cute Flybe planes: left, outward, right, home. Aww!

Find out more about my various projects and productions on valerielaws.com (books, art installations etc)
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14 comments:

Dennis Hamley said...

Fantastic, Valerie.

Susan Price said...

Great post, Valerie. I envy you your Shetland trip, even with the cold drafts... I've just come back from a Scattered Authors Conference on Somerset, where it blew a gale - 'whole trees in motion' for the entire three days.
You had added crime writers, Shelties and seals...

Leela said...


Sounds a wonderful visit to Shetland. I love Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves's Shetland Noir.

Like you say somewhere hot would be more my cup of tea!

Jan Needle said...

jealous!

Mari Biella said...

Sounds fantastic, Valerie - and Shetland looks absolutely beautiful.

AliB said...

ooh, am jealous on all counts :)

Kathleen Jones said...

Sounds really great! I'm a big fan of Ann's Shetland novels and would love to go there.

Lydia Bennet said...

Thanks all for your lovely comments, it is indeed a lovely place! Next Nov is Iceland Noir again, the next Shetland Noir won't be till 2018, but it's quite easy to visit at different times of year.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Sounds like an excellent event - and a great mixture of writers too. Crime festivals seem to do it so much better than others or that's my impression. I wonder why? Know what you mean about somewhere hot. I keep hoping somebody will invite me to the women's fiction festival in Matera, but so far, nobody has!

Lydia Bennet said...

ooh you should propose yourself Catherine!

Alison Boyle said...

Glad to hear you didn't have to cart the copies back and no doubt a nice feeling that new readers have found your writing.

Chris Longmuir said...

I'm really envious but it's my own fault for not going. Mind you, I think I would have run scared from the small planes. Someone would have had to hold me down and put up with my screaming heebie jeebies. But it sounds as if you had a fab time.

Lydia Bennet said...

but that's the beauty of small planes Chris, the engine noise inside is so deafening you could scream all the way there without causing a nuisance!

julia jones said...

Love your post title (as usual - you are very good at these) - and love the post as well though I've come a bit late to say so