From Fan to Panellist – A 2023 CrimeFest Journey by ANDREW HILL

Written by Andrew Hill

About a dozen years ago, I made a leap of faith and booked to go to CrimeFest in Bristol. This was in the days when it was at the Bristol Marriot Royal Hotel. You know, the one with the swimming pool, terrace where everyone gathered, never enough bar staff in the evenings and authors smoking at the front entrance!


As a crime fiction fan, I was concerned that authors would be a standoffish bunch, and whilst I would be attending plenty of panels, I probably wouldn’t get to talk to any of them.


How wrong I was. The authors were engaging, funny and friendly. I talked with Paul Finch, Simon Kernick, Danielle Ramsey and, without knowing who he was, Mick Herron. I still blush when I recall asking him if he was an author. Having now read the Slough House books, I’m a huge admirer and have even introduced them to my brother in Canada.


With Sir Ian Rankin and Lee Child

(Harrogate Crime Festival)



Over the next few years, I returned again and again, discovering new authors, smoking at the front of the hotel with Ali Karim and Steve Mosby and chatting with an array of authors on the terrace and in the bar. Yes, I know, I’ve mentioned the bar twice already, but crime writers do what crime writers do. I drank too much and stayed up way past my bedtime to talk and laugh with Kevin Wignall, Ayo Onatade, Tom Wood and Sarah Pinborough.


After a few years, Mike Stotter asked if I would consider reviewing for Shotsmag. It took my poor brain all of a microsecond to make the equation: Reviewing + Free Books = Happiness. Needless to say, I was on board. And here, dear reader, is where it gets complicated. Don’t get me wrong; I got the opportunity to read some fabulous books and debuts from the likes of Rod Reynolds and Tony Kent. However, the occasional book also got me thinking that writing might be my thing too.


with Martyn Lewis, Mike Stotter

Ali Karim and Peter Rosovsky


I loved writing short stories when I was younger, though I find them really tough now. Almost as bad as trying to write a synopsis! I wrote magazine articles but had always primarily been a reader up to then. So, I put my ‘big boy pants’ on and started writing my first crime novel, Dead Drift.


My degree is in Geography, not English Lit, so the writing was sometimes tortuous. I really didn’t have a clue, and I’d look at the previous day’s work and wonder how a dyslexic monkey had got hold of my laptop. Creative Writing Courses? Writer Groups? Not for me. I’ll tough it out and do it my way. Male ego to the fore. Plough my own furrow and do my own thing. I tried plotting, but that didn’t seem to work and still doesn’t to this day. I’m a proud ‘pantser’. I did character outlines, which helped me keep straight and narrow to a certain extent. 


My rather bloated manuscript ended up at 96k+ words. But publishers would naturally recognise it as a work of genius and be beating a path to my door, waving huge advance cheques. Let me make it clear now. I write for the pleasure, of telling a story and hope that my readers enjoy the yarn. Earning a crust was very much down the list of why I write, hence why I still work in property to this day. Strangely enough, having sent it out on submission to a few publishers, all I got were rejection letters.


I stuck my MS in a drawer and walked away from it for a while. Work, a relationship break-up (from a partner who told me that my novel would never get published) and some financial matters got in the way. Oh, and drinking. I took up drinking seriously for a while. If it was good enough for Hemmingway and Behan, by Grabthar’s Hammer, it was good enough for me. I reread my MS and on the eve of that year’s CrimeFest decided that the ending was awful and that I needed to rewrite it. I recall telling Steve’s Mosby and Cavanagh this and got a joint, ‘Well, just fucking do it’ back. So, I did the rewrite and got a professional editor onboard, and that’s when things started to turn around. My manuscript trimmed down to a little over 86k words. I also gave up drinking and still haven’t touched a drop since. My editor, K.T. Forster, also very wisely suggested that a character change gender. It was a ton of work, but absolutely worth it. A salutary lesson to any budding author that an editor wants your book to be the best it can be, so listen to them. I sent the MS to a few more publishers, one of whom nearly signed me.


One day, in the middle of April 2021 and whilst on a Zoom call in the USA, I got a text from what was to become my current publishers. I’d forgotten that I’d sent the MS to them some months before. The text just asked me if I would be interested in a two book deal. Naturally, with me an erudite, educated writer, I replied with, ‘Fuck Yes!’. I should point out that the sender of the text was a good friend before becoming my publisher. We arranged to have a Zoom chat in a couple of days, and I returned to my Zoom in the USA, where I told my fellow Zoomers of the deal I’d just had offered. One of the people on Zoom is an Emmy Award-winning director, and he sent me another Zoom code for a meeting straight after this one finished. He told me that he knew what I was probably feeling, a massive amount of ‘Oh my God, I’m so happy and a small and nagging smaller voice telling me I wasn’t good enough and I’d get found out’. He was right on the money, and I’ve found that Imposter Syndrome is pretty common among creative people. He told me to ignore the small voice and that I was good enough; otherwise my publishers would never have offered the deal in the first place. I’ll be honest and tell you that the small voice still emerges not infrequently.


There I was, in the early part of the of a pandemic, with a book deal and part of book two of my series already written. So, it would all be smooth sailing from thereon? Not a bit! When Dead Drift came out in early 2022, we had some formatting issues, which were eventually dealt with, and I was not too fond of the cover art that came over in the first place. Though the second was much closer to what I’d envisioned. I think the memory that makes me smile the most was the call from my publisher telling me when the release date would be. My partner and I were out looking at houses together, and after terminating the call, I was very quiet. When my partner asked me why I had gone silent, I replied, ‘Shit just got real.’ 


My publisher organised a blog tour, and I lined up online/You Tube interviews myself. It all seemed to go well, with both Kindle and paperback being in the Amazon Top 50. I still have no idea if that’s even good or not, to be truthful. I even hoped I might get a panel at CrimeFest in 2022, now the festival was back on after lifting Covid restrictions, but that wasn’t to be. There were so many authors queued up from the two previous years being cancelled, and I hadn’t a hope. I still went and had a great time.


This year was different, as I had my second in the series out in February and was surprised and grateful to be offered two panels at the festival. When the details of my first panel came through, I have to confess I was confused as to why on earth I had been allocated to it. The other authors were Caro Ramsey, Will Dean and Kia Abdullah. I knew something of Will and Caro’s work and admire greatly and with envy, but I didn’t know Kia’s, so I looked her up on Wikipedia. It was clear that she had a brain the size of a planet, and boy, she writes a great novel, I subsequently discovered. Remember that little voice I spoke about previously? Well, that was back, but armed with a megaphone this time!


Panelists: Caro Ramsey, (Andy), Heidi Perks,  Louise Mangos

A few weeks later, I was walking in the park with my partner, her daughter and baby son/grandson, I got an email from CrimeFest informing me that Will could not attend and that Heidi Perks would be coming in on the panel instead. There was a moment of sadness that Will wouldn’t be there, tempered by some relief that I wouldn’t have the compete with his luxurious coiffure and then slight panic in not knowing Heidi’s work. We went for coffee in the park and in the café was a box of books and the offer to take what you wanted. My partner suggested that I might like to browse them, but I declined with my TBR pile already the size of Snowdon. She suggested I look several times, whilst I topped up my caffeine levels and eventually I relented. There were about half a dozen Peter James, four or five Lee Child and one other. Yes, it was a Heidi Perks. I immediately took it and my partner claimed second sight.


I was nervous before my first panel on Thursday afternoon, but the other panellists and the moderator, Louise Mangos, made me feel at ease. Once we were underway, the nerves faded, and I was really able to thoroughly enjoy it and the book signing afterwards. The second was the first panel on Saturday morning, and I’d had the opportunity to meet most of my fellow panellists well beforehand. It was a great panel with Luke Chilton, Megan Davis, Jen Faulkner,  Bridget Walsh, and a good few laughs too.


I wasn’t present at the Gala Dinner or the panel that has caused such consternation and as others have blogged, Tweeted and Facebooked far more eloquently than me, I won’t comment on them directly. Suffice it to say that festivals like this must be a safe space for all, and we all have a duty to ensure that, personally and collectively. I have faith that the organisers and their team, who do such a sterling job in organising this event for us, will take the appropriate measures to help safeguard us in the future. 


For aspiring writers, and at the risk of stealing from Galaxy Quest again, ‘Never give up. Never surrender.’ Maybe I’ve also stolen my old school motto, Vincit Perserverantia. Perseverance wins! Follow your dream and write what makes you happy.


I’ll be back next year, and Book Three in the Jack Lunn series will also be out.


SpellBound Books

A.J. Hill

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