It was a pleasure to find myself moderating a Crimefest panel featuring some of my favourite writers. From the left it is Christopher Fowler, me, Jill Paton Walsh, Helen Smith, and Martin Walker. The subject was ‘The Contemporary Cosy: Is there Life Left in the Golden Age?’ and I asked everyone if they considered themselves to be a ‘cosy’ writer and if there is even something a little perjorative about the label? I’m not altogether happy myself to be classified in that way. It makes me feel like a maiden aunt. I hope there is a bit more edge than that to my writing.
Martin Walker’s novels feature Bruno the chief of police in a small town in the Perigord region of France and there is something hugely reassuring about the country setting, and the wonderful descriptions of food. But he’s not afraid to tackle contemporary issues. His new novel, Children of War, for instance, opens with an undercover Muslim cop is found dead.
Helen Smith’s witty novels, peopled by eccentrics, are, she told us, written purely to entertain – and they do. She avoids avoid sex, drugs and swearing altogether and in that respect is happy to be considered cosy.
Jill Paton Walsh is perhaps the closest of us all to the Golden Age as she was actually invited to finish a novel by Dorothy L. Sawyers, Thrones and Dominions, by Sawyer’s son. Her most recent novel, The Late Scholar, takes Harriet Vane and Peter Whimsey up to the 1950s. She wants to provide readers with an escape from mundane reality, but the restoration of moral order is important, too.
Christopher Fowler’s marvellous Bryant and May series have an element of the macabre, but part of the charm of his novels lies in the way they draw on the traditions of the Golden Age. His suggestion that ‘traditional mystery’ might be a better term than cosy is a good one.
This, for me, is one of the great pleasures in life: a long train journey and a good book is a prospect to relish. It wasn’t a very long journey from Sheffield to Bristol and it involved a tedious change at Birmingham, one of the most inconvenient and dreary stations I know. But I did have a good book – Asa Larsson’s The Black Path – and it was a beautiful spring day, the may blossom was out, and I looked up at one point to see a deer in a field gazing at the train.
I was on my way to Crimefest and had only brought one book with me on the principle of bringing coals to Newcastle. Not only does Foyle’s have a conference bookshop here, but we were given a bag of books when we registered, by Kathy Reichs, Simenon, and others. There is absolutely no chance of running out of things to read. I didn’t bother to bring my e-reader this time. I am going to have rather a heavy case on the way home.
I was on panel yesterday talking about forgotten authors and mine were Emma Lathen and Harry Kemelman. Great fun. If you are interested in finding out who the others are, you can go to Crimefest.com which has the whole programme up online. Today I moderated a session on ‘The Contemporary Cosy: Is there still Life in the Golden Age.’ I always feel a bit nervous beforehand, but the panel, Christopher Fowler, Martin Walker, Helen Smith, and Jill Paton Walsh were all great – and so was the audience. My bit is over now, and I can relax and enjoy meeting old friends and making new ones.
I do have some exciting publishing news, but it deserves a blog all of its own so I’m going to carry that over to another day. Suffice it say that I’ll be raising a glass tonight.