It’s not often it is alright to celebrate a rise in crime, but the RBWM Festival of Crime Writing is three weeks of pure indulgence in all things disreputable. Everything from Medieval murders to cosy crime with afternoon tea will go on, and some of the best writers descend to unravel their secrets. We have an opportunity to talk to the woman behind it all.
The Festival of Crime is the brain-child of Lindsey Blake, Director, LibraryLive Ltd. She initiated it while she worked at the Library Services, where she revolutionised Rhyme Time for children, took books to schools spearheading the Summer Reading programs and then introduced successful events, bringing great authors to the libraries.
Lindsey thank you for agreeing to an interview with us, the first question would be why a Festival of Crime Writing? Is crime a passion with you (yes the pun is deliberate)?
I am a great fan of crime writing and, even though I read many other genres, it is always my favourite guilty pleasure that I return to again and again. I love the American writers such as Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke and of course the new “Scandi” crime writers, Jo Nesbo and Stieg Laarson. British crime is brilliant, with Peter James, Peter Robinson, Val McDermid and so many more writing consistently tightly-paced thrillers. It was also a no-brainer because Crime is the most borrowed genre from libraries so we know that we have an audience out there.
Can you tell us a little about each of the authors you have coming, and what you like about their storytelling?
Peter James was our first BIG name to sign up and he is probably the biggest name in British crime writing in the UK at the moment, having just won the Crime Writers Association (CWA) People’s Choice Award for 2011. His books are gritty, urban crime based in and around Brighton with a really likeable middle-aged detective, Roy Grace. They are incredibly fast moving and the kind of books that you read in one sitting. Peter is passionate about libraries and supports many excellent causes including scholarships in his name at Brighton University.
Once Peter was on board it made it much easier to attract other big names such as Lindsey Davis and Sophie Hannah. Lindsey Davis has been on the crime writing scene for 20 years with her murder mysteries set in ancient Rome. She is the winner of a Diamond Dagger from the CWA (their highest honour) and has a massive following of dedicated historical crime fans.
Sophie Hannah is a newer, up and coming, author, but she has already built up a large fan base with her psychological thrillers that have gained rave reviews from critics and fellow writers. Sophie is also a poet and somewhat of a performer, and her one woman show promises to be a real gem.
John Harvey is a wonderful writer and a real old fashioned gentleman who has supported our library events in the past. He is most famous for his jazz-influenced series of Charlie Resnick novels, but has published over 90 novels under various names. We are all more than a little bit in love with him!
There are other intriguing events spanning centuries, what is this about Medieval Murderers?
Medieval crime is a huge market with many authors specializing in this genre. Karen Maitland and Philip Gooden who are appearing at Windsor Library are part of a collaborative group of authors including Michael Jecks, CJ Sansom and Bernard Knight who together write fantastic Medieval crime novels and perform at events such as our crime festival.
I hearing you will be peddling secrets too, who are the accomplices in this opportunity and what insider tips are we talking about?
Yes we have an event called ‘The Secrets of Crime Writing’ which features 3 fabulous female crime writers – Rebecca Tope, Pricilla Masters and Caro Peacock. All their books are cracking crime reads of the more Midsommer Murders style, fantastic and entertaining but not too gorey. The ladies will be talking about how they became writers, what it entails and how to become successful. They are all real characters with many years of writing experience and it promises to be a really entertaining evening.
This is your first festival, what have you enjoyed about organizing it and why should we come to it?
Well it has been a real experience and very inspirational with so many top name authors willing to give up their time to support our library service. Obviously, because I love crime writing, it has been a labour of love but I think there is something there for everyone not just crime fans. History, writing secrets, poetry and laughter – as well as the chance to meet some of the biggest names in UK writing!
You have initiated lots of author events at the library and dressed up as a large blue bear, of all your activities which has been your favourite and why?
My absolute favourite event was The Windsor Orange Night in June 2011 – we invited 6 local authors, publishers and booksellers to champion one of the Orange shortlisted books each, in front of the audience who then voted for their favourite book based on the presentations. We held it on the same night that the Orange Prize winner was selected and announced their winner and our winner at the same time. It was a sell-out event with a waiting list and the atmosphere was wonderful with everyone talking about books, what they had loved and hated, over several glasses of wine.
There is still an image of libraries as stuffy, dull places where you have to be quiet but our Orange night blew that myth away.
What is it about books that you are passionate about?
I love the fact that books can transport you to another world, that books can inspire you and leave you in floods of tears like nothing else. They can transport you to exotic countries or lifestyles, make you laugh, send you into despair, educate you, liberate you. All from the comfort of your armchair.
You have now left the library service and started a library consultancy for schools that promotes a love of reading, what exactly is it you are doing now?
I work with schools to review and revamp their libraries and make reading a central part of their school offering. Schools have realized that children are not reading for pleasure, and this is impacting on their whole school life not just their literacy lessons. Yes they can read but the “tick box culture” of teaching our children to read has turned them off reading just for fun. They are so used to dissecting small sections of text to the nth degree they have lost the joy of the complete story.
I run fun reading groups and make sure the stock in libraries is the very best of literature available for children today, I read the books and recommend them – it’s not that our children don’t want to read, they are wildly enthusiastic about it once they get the bug. There are so many distractions in modern life that books can get neglected, but once you can get a youngster to try some of our fantastic, modern literature they are hooked for life..
Good luck with that, and thank you for the interview, can you say what your plans are for the future?
Well the business is going exceptionally well so far and I think as more schools and parents come to realize the importance of reading on the whole education system there will be scope to expand, if I can find likeminded individuals to join me. I would love to continue to offer fun and entertaining adult events too because, great as it is working with children, as a rule you don’t get to do it over a glass of wine!
Tickets For the Festival of Crime Writing are £5/£4 with advantage card, from Maidenhead or Windsor Libraries
Find out more about The Festival of Crime Writing, and buy tickets online: the RBWM website
Join Peter James on his website: Author Peter James
Join Lindsey Davis on her website: The Official Website of Lindsey Davis
Join Sophie Hannah on her website: Sophie Hannah.com
Join Karen Maitland on her website: Karen Maitland.com
Join Philip Gooden on his website: Philip Gooden.com
Lindsey Blake is a mother of two and a slow but enthusiastic runner, who enjoys drinking wine and singing (one tends to lead to the other [sic]), and runs a book group where actually reading the book is not an entry qualification.
Please join her on her Facebook page here: Library Live