It started with losing my voice, moved to launching a book and ended with an ‘award’. That’s the top and tail of my Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto. For those who don’t know what Bouchercon is, it’s the biggest mystery/thriller (crime/thriller to us of a UK persuasion) convention of its type in North America. Seven panels running at the same time, with up to five authors on each panel from dawn to dusk – all over three and half days – that’s a hell of a lot of crime (mystery).
I’ve not been back to Toronto since I briefly lived and worked there in the eighties – when I delivered pizza, helped at rock concerts and worked for a brewery – sometimes I think my working life has gone backwards since then.
So, this time around, accompanied by my wife, Lesley, we landed in Toronto late on the Wednesday night, fought with the airport over a rip in our luggage, got in to the hotel late, ate and fell asleep.
It was a sparrow fart start. I’d signed up to be a ‘speed dating’ author. Some forty plus authors had agreed, in some form of mass madness, to ‘pitch’ their wares to sacrificial readers. I was partnered by the lovely Jamie Freveletti.
Jamie and I – early morning.
Kilted (I promised my publisher that I would wear the kilt at some point) our mission was simple. Starting at the unholy hour of 8.00am Jamie and I had two minutes each to tell our table of readers about ourselves and our books. Then a bell rang and we both moved to the next table to repeat our spiel. We did this twenty times, by which time my voice was sounding distinctly Morgan Freemanish. I’ve never lost my voice before (my friends think this is a tragedy) but, by around two o’clock that afternoon it had nearly vanished. On any other day this might have been an inconvenience. With a panel to moderate that evening it was slightly more than that. In an attempt to rescue some semblance of speech I undertook the following:
- Heather Graham gave me what can only be described as industrial strength, prescription grade throat sweets.
- Rexall (the Canadian pharmacy chain) furnished me with cough sweets and Benylin.
- I sat in the shower for two hours breathing steam.
- I stopped speaking.
- I prayed.
When it was clear that none of this was working, Craig Robertson did the knight in shining armour bit and promised he would take on my duties if my voice vanished completely. I was moderating a panel on ‘Dark Minds’ with Daniel Palmer, Alan Jacobson, Carolyn Arnold, Andrew Grand and J.T. Ellison. I arrived at the room and, apologising for my voice to both my panellists and the audience, I croaked out questions. Craig waited on the substitute bench for a call that would never come because my panel were stars. Recognising my limitations, they flew like jet fighters and made the whole thing a doddle. God love them all – the panel was great.
Left to Right – J.T., Daniel, Andrew, Carolyn and Alan.
Later that evening I was supposed to play the role of John Buchan, as the ‘Ghost’ of Honour, with a small speaking part at the opening ceremony. But, by then, the last of my voice had given in and I was left with a husky rasp that resembled, as Chris Brookmyre told me, a Glasgow gangster – which may have been appropriate for my role had anyone in the room known what the hell a Glasgow gangster sounded like. Craig stepped in and, after bedecking himself in his wedding kilt (he was flying to LA to get married to the delightful Alexandra Sokoloff after the convention – so just happened to have one in his bag), he took on the part of John Buchan. I can only thank him here for being such a brilliant understudy (or more truthfully a better actor).
I retired to bed that night hoping my voice would find me in the middle of the night.
With nothing official on the cards for Friday I dropped in and out of some panels and generally hob-nobbed. With little sign of my voice this wasn’t easy. I therefore used the time to distribute oversized book marks for Falling Too on what were called ‘the bumf tables’. A rather thankless task as, within a day, the tables were so full of other bookmarks, business cards and promotional material that my efforts had vanished beneath the waves and required frequent rescue to make them visible.
I took a little break from the convention to have some Lesley and I time. We walked down to Ontario Place. It’s a pleasant enough spot to wander about – but not a must-see for the average person visiting Toronto. For the two of us it holds a special place. Thirty-two years ago we stumbled upon a Canadian singer called Gowan who, on a small stage was, memorably, lying across a grand piano, playing the keyboard backwards. The memory has stuck with us and we wanted to re visit the place.
Lesley and I – near where Gowan played in 1985 (I think)
With my voice still on walkabout I hit the sack early once more.
Another day of sitting in on panels and an evening set aside for my book launch. I say book launch but it was really just meant to be a few drinks to celebrate that Falling Too had been published by Down & Out Books (a huge thanks to Eric Campbell for all his support). I booked a corner of an Irish Bar called Quinns and sent out the word to a few of the authors. The biggest mistake I made was not taking any photos because amongst the authors who were there, in no particular order, were – Chris Brookmyre, Mark Billingham, Craig Robertson, Alex Sokoloff, Carolyn Arnold, Andrew Grant, Antti Tuomaninen, Thomas Enger, Wendy Jones, Caro Ramsay, Alex Gray, Harley Jane Kozak, Jay Stringer. Karen Sullivan, was present also along with a host of others – and Donnie McGruther – who was celebrating his birthday that night.
There was also one Mr Craig Sisterton, a Kiwi with a penchant for whisky, who contributed, in no small part, to my hangover the next morning with a round of Glenlivet at some point in the evening. We manged to see the close of two bars – Quinns and, when they threw us out of there we retired to the hotel bar to be ejected in the wee small hours.
Me and my book.
The last day of the conference and I wanted to attend the Anthony Awards (the big crime awards at Bouchercon) as Jay Stringer was up for two. Unfortunately he didn’t win, but he did brilliantly getting shortlisted in two categories. However there was a breath of an award for me. Greg Herren picked up the Anthony for the Best Short Story Anthology with Blood on the Bayou. One of the stories in the anthology, a Detective Sarah Tracy story called ebdgea, is from myself. So, in a way, I won a ‘fraction’ of an Anthony.
I’m in this book – somewhere.
Lesley and I concluded the day with a hazy trip up the CN Tower where I fulfilled a promise to my UK publisher to start photographing my new Craig McIntyre book, Furthest Reaches, in some ‘out there’ places.
My poor book, clinging for life to the CN Tower.
And, to top it all, we finished our time in Toronto by visiting a friend that we had met way back when Lesley and I were but burnished twenty year old children wondering how in the hell we had ended up being so lucky as to be working in Canada.
Did I also mention that we saw a Kiss tribute band play, ate way too much pizza, drank in the coolest bar I’ve been in for a while and consumed so much Tim Horton coffee that I own shares.
Here’s to St Petersburg (Bouchercon 2018).