There's something strangely 'wildlife documentary' about seeing a herd* of crime writers milling about outside a burning hotel in Bristol at half nine in the morning. Even if no one's sure whether or not we're actually looking at a scene from the towering inferno or some pain in the arse Corby trouser press related incident. Three fire engines, one of those fancy laddery jobs, and a woman in her bathrobe, what more do you need to put a smile on your day?
Yes it's day two and no sooner have the bold men and women of Bristol City Fire Brigade confiscated a rogue trouser press and the contents of someone's mini bar, than it's time for my second panel: 'Had I But Known -- Clichés in Crime Fiction'. Oh yes, two panels, I have no shame. Today's is a lot better than yesterdays, even though I went to bed last night at pretty much the same time I'd gotten up the day before to catch the red eye flight down here. It's about five minutes into the panel when I figure out why I've been invited to participate in this one, rather than 'Sexy Monkeys I Have Known (But Not In A Biblical Sense)'. You can play Cliché Bingo along with me if you like:
Chilly, but beautiful pathologist? CHECK!
Feisty female trying to make it in a man's world? CHECK!
Hardnosed DI with some sort of bizarre personal problem? CHECK!
Romantically entangled female in peril? CHECK!
Serial Killer? BINGO!
I win the forty-three-piece crockery set and half a dozen complementary steak knives.
I feel like standing up and saying, "Hi, my name's Stuart MacBride and I'm a clichéholic." The panel involves lots of giggling, more full frontal nudity, and after a disturbing discussion about the contents of Steve Brewer's beard and it's down to the signing room. Only unlike yesterday, this time there are people who actually want things signed! Hurrah! Obviously the early morning fire alarm has addled senses and encouraged a rash of hairy book buying.
Next up is the panel on Serial Killers and Psychological Thrillers which is interesting, and a little disturbing to boot. Especially when Keith McCarthy tells everyone how long it takes him to do a post mortem: 45 minutes. Bloody hell, how much of a clip do you have to be going at to get someone's insides out of them, examined and back in there again in three quarters of an hour? It takes me longer than that to make lunch.
And speaking of lunch, there's just time to order some before heading off to see Simon Kernick interviewing Lee Child. Well, that's what we think anyway. The hotel has other thoughts. So, childless I slink back to my room to fire up the laptop and please my editor (if you know what I mean).
Tonight Agent Phil and I are going out to dinner with the other HC authors (Mike, Alex, Steve and James), Sarah (the editor I've been pleasing all afternoon -- just don't tell She Who Must), Fiona our publicist and her mate Bianca. But first we're going to scam free drinks at the International Thriller Writers' Cocktail Party. Bwahahahaha... If there's any time you need to attract the attention of a large number of crime writers, throw a party with free drinks. Moths to the flame, flies to a mouldering corpse, members of parliament to dodgy sexual practices and stacks of used banknotes, that's us with free booze.
The party's being held to announce the Thrillers Shortlist, which I don't have to worry about, because I met Ali downstairs in the bar when I arrived on Thursday. We were talking about blurbing books, reviewing stuff and getting free books in the mail, when he told me that he's been one of the judges for the ITW Thrillers and had to wade through a phenomenal number of free books (180+ so the appeal was probably wearing thin for him).
"Oh," says I, "I think St. Martin's Press put me up for that."
He shakes his head sadly. "Nope, I didn't get anything in, for anyone from the UK."
So I'm happily hoovering up all the free drink I can get while the nominations are being read out, safe in the knowledge I don't have to pull on one of those fake smiles when I don't get shortlisted -- as they say: 'you've got to be in to win', and the same thing goes for loosing.
So it takes a wee while before the fact my name's just been read out for 'Best First Novel' filters through. More drinks! OK, so I know I haven't got a Shaved Monkey's chance in Rickards bedroom of winning, but it true what they say, it's nice to be shortlisted. I must be less tall than I thought. Maybe I'm shrinking?
After dinner it's down to the bar -- being St. Patrick's day the Barclay Monster is in full swing, and so is Declan Huges and Pat Mullan, jez, feck and begorrah-ing for all their worth while the rest of us put on dreadful Irish accents in a rash attempt to fit in. Then it's the big measure off where we find out that contrary to popular belief Whelk Boy is lying about his height after all. Only not in the way people think...
He claims to be between five seven and five eight, then insists that this makes everyone else in the room shorter than they really are. Safe in the knowledge that it'll upset people, dent their egos and deflate their libidos (leaving more hot shaven monkey action for him)**. But if he's five seven, I must be five nine tops. OK, It's been a while since I was last officially measured -- coming out at six foot on the nail -- and I'm prepared to believe I've shrunk a bit with age, but not three inches! So when I get home I get out the measuring tape: five foot, eleven and a half inches... Lying, whelky bastard!
So if ever a strange looking little bloke sidles up to you with jelled hair, tiny goatee an Eastbourne accent and faint whiff of mollusc, wanting to 'measure you up' run for the hills. It'll only end in tears otherwise.
Friday's time for bed: three am.
* What is the collective noun for crime writers? A 'drunk'? Or, if it's the usual crowd of miscreants: Kernick, Banks, Rickards, Guthrie, Barclay, Marshal, Wignall and Weinman, a 'Filth'.
** And no -- I'm not being figurative, I'm talking about genuine monkeys, or sometimes apes if he can get them drunk enough on banana wine and riled up with lemur porn.