Yes, I know I said I wasn't going to go to the CWA awards thing this year, but HC asked me to come down and charm some booksellers, so I did. And thus began two days of transportation horror. Every single trip I've taken, from leaving the house to getting back into it again has been a complete and utter disaster. Usually in the baking heat of a sweltering London.
So consistently crap was my travelling streak that I even managed to be late for the Daggers. The inimitable Alex Barclay* was staying in Kensington too, so we decided to share a cab. So far so good -- we'd get to the event in plenty of time to down our complimentary 'welcome convention freaks' glass of champagne and catch up with the usual crowd of miscreants. Nope. What we ended up doing was being frozen in a traffic jam of epic proportions. Eventually the Barclay (she's a plain girl, but she makes do), and I clambered out into the boiling hot London evening and legged it up the Strand. Only to find most of it cordoned off with police tape and very strained looking policemen. Which mean a last-minute, frantic dash along back streets -- trying to get to the dinner before they got to the tea and coffee at the end -- wondering if any minute now we were going to hear a massive boom, the sound of shattering glass and car alarms.
If you're ever tempted to go scampering along through the alleyways of Central London, while wearing the full evening kilt ensemble: don't! There's about four and a half achres of wool in a kilt and it gets very, very hot under there. Heat leads to sweat, sweat leads to chafing, chafing leads to suffering... Alex didn't fair much better -- being dressed from head to toe in black wool -- but I didn't ask after the state of her thighs as She Who Must disapproves of such conversations.
And believe it or not, we got there just in time to miss the free fizzy and be hurried into the dining room with the last dregs of guests. Inside it was shoehorn time, the tables packed so closely together the waiting staff had to go single file and squeeze between the seat backs. If you'd yelled, "FIRE!" in there, half the UK's crime writing contingent would have been crushed to death.
The food was good, though the Wine Fairy was a bit too elusive for my liking, and then came the speeches. Now, let me give you Stuart's Top Tip For Speechifying:
If you've based your speech round what you think is a really cool theme that'll make you look dead clever and erudite, for God's sake tear it up and start again! You know the kind of thing: the Best Man gets up at a wedding and recites some bowel-twitchingly awful poem (and they always are) about the grooms exploits? Just gonnae no dae that? Eh? Just gonnae no!
Best speech of the night goes to Otis Twelve, who was self deprecating in his rumbly deep American accent and very, very funny. "People told me I wasn't smart enough to be a writer. Well, I've just spent over eight thousand pounds to win a five hundred pound prize. I'm a writer." Maybe you had to be there and suffering from the preceding speaker.
But what pissed me off no end was when someone from Duncan Lawrie Bank got up to say a few words before the last two awards. Now call me old-fashioned, but if someone's stumping up a cheque for £20,000 to award one of your peers for their book, the least everyone else can do is shut the fuck up and listen to the man for five minutes. He's paying what, £4,000 a minute for the privilege? Not too much to ask, is it?
Anyway, if Mr Twelve gets Stuart's Best Speech Of The Night Award** then the oddest goes to Anne Cleaves who'd lost her voice and had to get someone else to speak for her. Shame, it would have been a lot more fun told through the medium of interpretive dance. Or balloon modelling. Still, Anne is a lovely lady so good on her for winning. (and everyone else who picked up a pointy Dagger too)
Afterwards there was a Dynasty-style wine in the face episode (which I missed) and a trip to a seedy wee basement dance bar thing (which I didn't, but rather wish I had). There's nothing more garaunteed to make you feel like a complete and utter tit, than standing in full black tie and kilt get up, in a room the size of a living room, full of people flailing their limbs around to pounding dance music. Still, one did one's best and boogied. After all, if you already look like an idiot, you've got nothing to lose, right?
Time back to hotel: 02:15
Drunkenness level: sober
To be honest -- I liked it better last year. The Brewery was a bigger venue, so everyone didn't look like a colony of penguins, squeezed shoulder to shoulder in their black tie getup. It was a lunchtime so everyone could go to the pub and hang out with their mates afterwards; this time the event didn't finish till about 11:45 and the Waldorf shut the public bar about fifteen minutes later. WTF? Hello, large number of crime writers, in the same place, with publishers, booksellers, publicists and enthusiasts? They could have made a bloody fortune.
* People try to imit her, but they can't face all the weirdness involved.
** Prize purely titular and does not come with a cash bung.