Monday, May 01, 2017

Conference Time

For the past few weeks most of my waking hours – and quite a few when I should have been sleeping – have been occupied in helping to organise the Crime Writers' Association Conference, held this year in Edinburgh.

When you volunteer for things like this you really don't have the first idea how complicated it is and how many details have to be thought through. Luckily our committee was headed by the wondrously efficient Aly Monroe and included Marianne Wheelaghan whose charm can persuade the birds off the trees and, more importantly, people to donate gifts for our goody bags (you may remember them from their guest posts on Type M) and somehow it all got done.

The CWA is, I think, unusual in that the conference is nothing to do with selling books and only members of the association attend, with their guests. It started in the days when there were no crime festivals and writing was a lonely business, and the idea was to get to know each other, have a good time and attend lectures that would give useful insight into the arcane workings of police procedure, forensic science, psychological assessment, judicial process and other related subjects.

We chose for our theme 'The Jekyll and Hyde City.' Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson were both born here and Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin, whose books typify these two faces of Edinburgh, spoke at the Welcome drinks party. We had visits arranged to see round the sinister underground streets, walled in and built over in Plague times, as well as to the writers museum dedicated to the three great names of Scottish literature – Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.

A rumour may have reached you that the weather in Scotland is not always as clement as one might hope but on this occasion Edinburgh really did us proud with three beautiful spring days. Having visitors is always good for you; it makes you look around you and see the beauty that you take far too much for granted: the castle, dominating the skyline; Arthur's Seat, the brooding, extinct volcano; the medieval tenements of the old town; the elegant Georgian squares of what is called the New Town but which, since it was built in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, ought really to be called the Not-Quite-As-Old-As-The-Old-Town town.

Our lectures this time were from police officers, a pathologist, and most interesting of all a top forensic soil scientist, Professor Lorna Dawson. She gave a most fascinating lecture about the information that can be gained from as little as a smear of mud on someone's clothing. Most amazing of all was a clip she showed us from a programme on the BBC. They had given her a challenge: she was handed a boot that the presenter had worn on a walk and the only information given her was that it had been somewhere in Scotland. She had to say where. It showed her going through the various processes – initial inspection, microscopic examination, elimination of certain soil types, forensic analysis. We watched on a map of Scotland as she eliminated more and more areas until eventually there were only two possible sites and she chose the right one, a small wooded area in central Scotland. It was a stunning display of forensic power and I wasn't the only one who was frantically scribbling down information that may well appear in the next book.

We were privileged, too, to have the Lord Justice Clerk – Scotland's second most senior judge – as a very witty speaker after our Gala Dinner. I'm actually boasting here; she was one of my former pupils so I was able to exercise some of my former authority in persuading her to do it. Even if it did make me feel about 103.

It was incredibly hard work but there's a great satisfaction in looking back after it has all gone according to plan. There's great satisfaction, too, in knowing that it's someone else's turn to organise it next year!

PS As a follow-up to my last post, I too like Sybil, found the work I had lost. That vital notebook was hiding in a cupboard, pretending to be one of a pile of old diaries. What a relie.


Sybil Johnson said...

The conference sounds really great. I know from experience how much work goes into putting one together. The presentation from the soil sample expert sounds fascinating.

I just got back from Malice Domestic myself. Glad you found your notebook.

Aline Templeton said...

Thanks, Sybil. It was a relief because there was indeed a lot of material in it that I'd have found it hard to replicate.

I keep thinking about going to Malice Domestic myself but one way and another it hasn't happened.