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Authors in November – CSI Portsmouth

So what is CSI Portsmouth? It is an event which has been running for 3 years now organised by Pauline Rowson, crime writer who has written about the full day here. CSI Portsmouth is part of the Portsmouth Bookfest and was an interesting mix of the fact and the fiction, the real and the imagined.

I only attended the afternoon session, but I can see from Pauline’s review of the day, the morning was just as interesting and lively.

Held at the John Pounds Centre which was one of the better venues I have been to (take note please Portsmouth Library Service) it was a very well packed audience of a mixture of men and women and all ages. In this instance I took my mum, who has never been to an event such as this before but is a fan of crime fiction! The main reason was so we could hear Ann Cleeves talk as we have read one of her Vera novels and obviously seen the wonderful programme on ITV with the even more wonderful Brenda Blethyn.

So what did Ann have to say? Well she likes to write a good story as that is want people want [how true – Jo] and her interest is in Scandinavian Crime. Which is having an effect on many of the books published in this country.

I can see why Ann liked these books – the setting. If you have read any of her work, she has a real feel for place and setting and this makes her novels work. When it comes for these novels to be transferred to the small screen, Ann held this fact as important and in the case of the Vera novels it does work. Ann humorously admits that Brenda Blethyn’s accent is a bit ropey now and again; but the setting and the story are good so that is what matters. Her new series Shetland which starts on the BBC some point soon, again has the setting and probably will rival something of the bleak setting of anything set in Scandinavia.

Pauline Rowson was the other author, whose crime novels are set in the Solent and Hampshire which is my home county. Again I felt setting was very important to Pauline but as the books are set in an area I know well, my view might well be skewed somewhat. I have yet to read any of her work but if they compare to Graham Hurley who also sets his books in my local vicinity then I  will hopefully enjoy them.

Making this a very different event was the fact that there were ‘experts’ on the panel. Those who deal with the truth behind all the fiction that readers consume. A policeman who specialises in hi-tech crime (think computers but try not to think that a greater percentage of his work is taken up with pedophilia). Technology has helped in many ways but also makes other avenues for criminals to use.

A lecturer from the university who has a great interest in fraud and interviewing victims as well as the perpetrators. He gave an example of how easy it is for fraud to affect your life, even when you think everything is okay and you have been reimbursed the taken money. He gave an example of a man who had fallen to a victim of fraud, for around the sum of two hundred pounds on his card. He got the money back and thought nothing more of it. Until a year later, when his house was raided early one morning and his computer taken away, along with himself. The card had been used to buy child porn. He was cleared, but the whole street where he lived made their decision and would end up crossing the road with their families when he approached. Small frauds can have large effects. Is technology as good as we all think?

The final ‘expert’  an University professor was interested in stalking and also in how the internet is making it easier for people to access information for stalking.  He was also interested in the concept of the link between reading/watching too much crime that might make us actually commit crime ourselves. The conclusion of his findings and something I agree with, it there is probably not much of a link, but it is probably a debate which will run and run. One of his observations featured the much loved crime writer Agatha Christie who wrote over 100 works which although were not as graphic as what perhaps we are used nowadays it explained one thing – anyone can commit a crime. Race, Class, Gender, choice of weapon etc is almost irrelevant. This got many nods from the audience and the authors.

This was an afternoon with a difference, it brought a different approach to listening to authors. Personally I felt it was too long but Cheryl Buggy who is the station director of a local radio station (apologies I have never tuned in, being a stalwart Radio 2 girl!) did an excellent job in asking the questions and keeping the discussion going. It was also obvious that the authors picked up many ideas for future novels.

Perhaps if the afternoon was broken into two it might have been better. I only say this compared to other events I have been to as it gives more variety and audience interaction.

As I was not there in the morning, my views are only from the afternoon session but it was a bit too heavy on the experts for my liking and I would have liked to have known more about the authors and their work. How they started writing, why chose the genre they do, books they wish they had written, books they like to read, their writing day, the list is endless. But not to the extent where I felt they were promoting their books too much.

Pauline Rowson, mentioned her latest novel and when her next novel was due out and even when an expert mentioned ‘real life’ scenarios that were similar to her novel, the book was quoted. For me it was a bit too much, too much of the hard sell. I had already made my mind up to buy a book and still did so despite this and now I feel rather hypocritical about my observation, but felt I had had recent experience to compare it to.  Having seen many authors in the last few weeks this really stood out for me. None of the others did this, although they mentioned their work, they seemed to be more interested in the reader and what they thought of their first book, their latest and all those in between as well as the shared books that might have been read.

I am aware that this day is very much Pauline Rowson’s concept, and do not want to appear overly critical, as it was a very good afternoon and the inclusion of the local college who had a crime scene set up, with students studying Forensic Science as well as the opportunity to have fingerprints taken made it a concept which can only grow as the years go by. If you are a fan of crime fiction it is definitely the place to come and visit. I look forward to seeing how this crime scene evolves in 2013.