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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Dangerous Authors Meet at the CWA Conference

How do you like my new friend from the CWA Conference
I arrived in Edinburgh for the Crime Writers' Association conference with a suitcase that weighed a ton. However, once I’d offloaded books to Blackwell’s Bookshop it was a lot more manageable.

Hotel check-in went smoothly and I popped up to the seventh floor in the lift only to be faced with a small downward flight of stairs to get to my room. It reminded me of the time that SAW had their conferences in Blairgowrie, odd sets of stairs all over the place. Went down one set and then up another all on the same floor. The Queens Hotel in Harrogate was like that as well. Maybe it’s a feature of old buildings.

I think the poor duck is traumatised
by what he is seeing!
The room, once I got there was lovely. But why do hotels put masses of cushions on their beds. I only wind up heaving them on the floor. Oh, and because it was an Apex Hotel I had a room share with one of their plastic ducks! I found him perched in the shower soap tray

I was on the registration table and it was great meeting everyone as they arrived, ticking them off on the list, and issuing them with halyards while an army of volunteers presented everyone with a goody bag. Inside were some lovely books and a posh notebook as well as lots of other stuff.

As soon as registration was over it was off to the welcome reception with drinks and canap├ęs and Ian Rankin in conversation with Alexander McCall Smith.

Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin
Ian and Alexander had a wide-ranging conversation about Edinburgh and its influence on literature and crime fiction. They mentioned the grave robbers Burke and Hare, Deacon Brodie who was a respectable alderman during the day but who turned to burglary during the hours of darkness, the Stevenson family of lighthouse builders and the author Robert Louis Stevenson who preferred writing to joining the family business. And, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle who was heavily influenced by his time in Edinburgh.

Saturday morning arrived, bright and sunny, and after a superb breakfast, in the company of some of the other delegates, we embarked on the activities of the day.

Tom Halpin and Alex Gray
Tom Halpin, who was formerly the Head of CID Operations at Strathclyde Police and Deputy Chief Constable at Lothians and Borders Police, gave an entertaining talk which he called “Reflections of an optimistic detective”. The audience was spellbound as he regaled us with his experiences of various murders and the conflicting interests that arose during the course of investigations, plus his problems with the police hierarchy. Aly Monroe described his task as “a realistic and moving account”.

After the talk, there was a chance to mingle with the other delegates during the coffee break and to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. The atmosphere was electric and the room buzzed with voices.
Some of the goodies on offer at the coffee break
Lin Anderson and Lorna Dawson
Professor Lorna Dawson, Scotland’s top forensic soil scientist was on next with “The application of earth science to the criminal justice system”. Once again, this was an interesting and informative talk amply illustrated by slides.

Saturday afternoon was free time with two excursions on offer. One group set off for the Real Mary King Close which was a guided tour of the underground streets that lie below the High Street, otherwise known as the Royal Mile. The tour gives a flavour of what life was like in these narrow alleyways and is known for ghostly presences.

The second group was taken to the Writers’ Museum, a seventeenth-century residence close to Edinburgh Castle, which commemorates Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. They then visited The Museum on the Mound which is part of the Bank of Scotland. On this part of the tour, there was the opportunity to see what a million pounds looks like and to try to crack a safe.

Others explored Edinburgh to suit themselves and there is certainly plenty to see in Edinburgh. I think all the delegates were impressed by the city and they certainly seemed to be enjoying everything Edinburgh had to offer.

Creasey Bell presentation to Martin Edwards by Susan Moody
Martin Edwards chaired the AGM which went smoothly. Following the AGM the Creasey Bell was presented to Martin by Susan Moody former chair of the CWA.

The gala dinner was the perfect ending to Saturday. The food was excellent, the company was good, and the evening was rounded off by the guest speaker, the Rt Hon Leeona, Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk, who entertained the company with an informative and witty after dinner speech.

I staggered up in the lift and then down the stairs to my room and collapsed into bed where I slept like the proverbial log.

Chris Longmuir with James Grieve
Sunday started off with a talk by James Grieve, professor of forensic pathology. He is a brilliant speaker who was highly entertaining, describing the highlights as well as the lows of his profession.

After the coffee break, Tom Wood, former Deputy Chief Constable at Lothian and Borders Police talked about “The Legacy of the World’s End Murders”. It was a fascinating account of an investigation which took 37 years before the killer was convicted of the murder of two girls in 1977. His partner in crime was by that time dead. I have a copy of Tom Wood’s book The World’s End Murders. It’s next on my list to read.

Tom Wood’s talk was the last thing on the agenda for the CWA conference, but we weren’t finished. An additional event had been arranged at Blackwell’s Bookshop where 26 authors met readers. It was speed dating with crime fiction authors. I was on a table with the Mulgray Twins and Wendy H Jones, and it was great fun.
Mulgray Twins, Wendy H Jones, and Chris Longmuir
at the Dangerous Authors event at Blackwells Bookshop
Finally, it was time to run for my train. It was the London to Aberdeen train which is about two miles long and, of course, I was at the wrong end of the platform for my carriage. I never knew I could still run!

Absolutely exhausted, I left Edinburgh behind. Roll on the next conference!

Chris Longmuir

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