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Gwyl Crime Fest 2023

It was a dark and stormy night. Somewhere. For me, it was a clement Friday afternoon in Aberystwyth as I found myself wandering along the promenade, chatting with writers and crime fans, wearing a felt dragon around my neck like a Wales Tourist Board endorsed version of Flava Flav. It was the start of Gwyl Crime Fest and this would probably be the least strange thing that would happen to me this weekend...

First, there was a murder...

The festival really kicked off for me with the gala drinks night at the Ceredigion Museum, a lovingly restored Edwardian theatre. I am quick partial to a little Edwardiana (and Victoriana, and anything else you can end in "ana", if I'm honest...) and can't imagine a better venue for the evening's entertainment - a murder mystery play that I co-wrote with Crime Cymru chair Louise Mumford.

She'll tell you she wrote all the good bits. I'll tell you she wrote all the worst bits. It's a working relationship that has been years in the making.

Technically this was my debut as a "playwright" and I was truly delighted with the outcome. It was with no small amount of stress that I sat in that theatre, waiting to see how our mystery would play out. After all, this was a room full of people who either spent their time coming up with fiendish and clever mysteries or who thought that hanging out with those sorts of people was a recipe for a good time. If all of them figured it out, I'd feel we'd failed by making it too easy. If nobody worked it out, then we'd have failed by making it too hard and not leaving enough clues on show for people to pick up on.

In the end, it was only a few groups who figured it out which, much to my relief, I felt was about right.

I have no doubt that I owe a great deal of the success of the play that evening to the talents and hard work of The Wardens Theatre Company, who transformed our script into a living, breathing thing on stage and were absolutely incredible. Quite unexpectedly, they also wandered the theatre during the gap between the cliffhanger and the reveal, staying completely in character to answer questions and discuss "whodunit".

Watching actors bring characters I've created to life isnt's completely new to me but live theatre comes with its own unique risks. I'd not even seen the players in rehearsal, so I was seeing the play for the first time along with everyone else. I can only say that I owe The Wardens a great deal of thanks.

They even asked if they could stage the play again at another event - Louise and I have agreed that this counts as us having our play "our tour".

Then, I did some talking...

My contribution to the Gwyl Crime Festival was a talk on writing crime and mysteries for children. I was blessed with a great partner in crime, Sarah Todd Taylor, and a wonderful chair in Caryl Lewis.

As I typically do, I abandoned the original topic for sojourns into other areas like AI and hypnosis. So, apologies to anyone who wondered if they had wandered into the wrong event! We certainly had a lot of fun during the talk though and we are also hopefully informative and fun to listen to. I suppose I will only really know if this was a success in a year or so when I find out if Crime Cymru will be inviting me back!

Then, I did some listening...

I was fortunate enough to get to sit in on a number of excellent talks from the guests at Gwyl Crime Fest and came away with a list of new writers to seek out on Amazon and read. There are far too many to list, but near the top of the list and in no particular order (unless it's being used as a suspect list) are; Bev Jones, Philip Gwyn Jones, Alis Hawkins, Caro Ramsey, Zoë Sharp, GB Williams, Graham H Miller, and Rosie Claverton.

This list is not only a recommended reading but my list of good people to lurk around in a green room with, eating biscuits and setting the world to rights.

Special mention to Jacky Collins as well, who not only goes by the coolest moniker of all time as "Dr Noir" but is also, like me, an undercover connoisseur of fried chicken and knew where the nearest KFC was when I was desperately in need of a fix. I'm three spices in, four to go. The Colonel's secret will be mine.

It was also a particular thrill for me to get to spend some time chatting with Ben Aaronovitch, who has been a literary hero of mine for a while. I will happily confess that I absolutely adore his books and would have travelled to the festival just to see his talk if I hadn't have been fortunate enough to be invited. They say you shouldn't meet your heroes, but Ben was an absolute delight; kind and funny and very happy to answer questions and hang out. The talk he gave with Abi Barden was fantastic.

And, in the end, it was "The Friendly Festival"

If there is one thing that I'd highlight about the Gwyl Crime Festival, it would be how friendly everyone was.

I don't know what I expected crime writers to be like. Perhaps I thought they would all be skulking around in the dark, plotting terrible things. Perhaps I thought they would all be grizzled tough nuts, hardened by the things they'd seen and the even worse things that they'd imagined. Perhaps I expected a room full of people who you wouldn't want to see walking towards you down a dark alley in the dead of night.

But they just weren't like that. They were all just sort of... lovely? Maybe they get all their inner darkness out on the page. Maybe they are just the most incredible liars. Either way, when I signed up to spend the weekend at a crime festival, I definitely wasn't expecting to laugh as much as I did or to make so many new friends.

Someone, at some point, started calling it "The Friendly Festival", and I can't think of a better description than that.

I really hope they invite me back. Just, not to kill me or anything...

Oh look, it's me and Louise Mumford. I'm the one on the right, who thought it was a good idea to get a fresh new haircut just before the festival and so looks like someone painted my face onto a ball.

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