Review: Noirwich 2019 proves passion lies at the heart of the perfect crime
PUBLISHED: 14:58 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:01 17 September 2019
George Alagiah, Louise Doughty and Sara Collins were just a few of the names to grace the stage at this year's Noirwich, co-produced by the National Centre for Writing and UEA
I will begin this review - as most crimes usually end - with a startling confession.
I've never really read a crime novel, don't watch crime-centric TV shows or films and even just a few seconds of Crimewatch usually renders me unable to sleep for a week.
Then why, you might ask, was I so excited to attend Noirwich, dubbed the 'perfect' crime-writing festival, set right here in the city?
It was partly the line-up. From George Alagiah delivering the Noirwich Lecture to Sara Collins, debut author of The Confessions of Frannie Langton (a book I've seen in shops everywhere) and Louise Doughty, creator of Apple Tree Yard (a book which inspired the TV show which I did, indeed, watch), I was enticed. Add that to an intimate setting, mainly at the National Centre for Writing's base in Dragon Hall, and I simply couldn't say no.
I attended several of the events over the Friday and Saturday and was struck, throughout, by how much love there was - for the audience, for the characters, for the stories - at a festival about crime, murder, subterfuge and terror.
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Henry Sutton, professor of creative writing and crime writing at UEA, chaired a number of the events, provocatively asking each of his guests whether crime stories were really about love - a sentiment, I think, which was carried through the whole weekend.
Frontline journalist George Alagiah has been a fixture on my TV for as long as I remember - certainly for as long as I have been watching BBC news, or been politically engaged - so it was a real pleasure to hear him speak in person on the Friday evening, in a lecture and Q&A session which mixed current affairs with tantalising excerpts from his debut novel, The Burning Land.
"Fiction," he said, "has allowed me to get beyond the facts. Fiction has allowed me to get closer to the truth than I was able to as a journalist." He described the actual process of using words as a joy and moved between living memories of his frontline dispatches, where he said he's seen a million tiny miracles, to the playfulness of fiction and the power of politics. He spoke passionately, with empathy, good grace and humour and proved, to me, that the old adage isn't true: you SHOULD always meet your idols.
Kicking off Saturday's events was First Offenders, where debut novelists Sara Collins, Nicola Rayner and Kate Weinberg formed a panel and shared readings and insights into their publishing journeys. Although each of these debut authors had strong, independent, feminist voices, it was Sara Collins' reading that was the most powerful, transporting readers back in time with excerpts from her tale of historical injustice.
This event was quickly followed by a lively discussion between stalwarts of the genre, Erin Kelly, Julia Crouch and Lisa Jewell. Together, they questioned the impact of a book defined as crime and the need for a good twist, sharing valuable insights into how they find inspiration, structure plot and re-draft their work.
UEA alumni and festival headliner Louise Doughty took to the stage later on that afternoon to discuss her newest novel, Platform Seven. She revealed the unglamorous way she began her research - on night patrol at Peterborough Railway Station - and talked, illuminatingly, about coercive control, possession and a writer's relationship to their characters.
Yet Noirwich, now in its sixth year, is about more than the sum of its individual events - it's about the atmosphere, too. The gardens in Dragon Hall were open throughout the day, with food stalls, tea, coffees, cakes and a pop-up bookshop from Jarrold's allowing readers to meet their favourite authors. It was, all in all, a chance to escape a little - much like the books we turn to.