Sunday 21 October 2012

Bouchercon 2012: Hello Cleveland

A few weeks ago, I boarded a flight to the USA to attend my fourth Bouchercon. For those who don’t know, Bouchercon is the world’s biggest crime fiction convention attended by authors and readers from all over the globe.  My previous Bouchercons have been in Indianapolis IN, San Francisco CA and St Louis MO, but I think Cleveland was the most fun of all of them.

The host city makes a big difference to the convention. But possibly not in the way you might think. For a good con, you don’t want a city that’s got too much going on. For example, San Francisco wasn’t a great con; not because the convention itself was lacking – it most certainly wasn’t – but because there was too much to see and do in the city, so people scattered when they weren’t on panels instead of gathering in the bar. Indianapolis, on the other hand, didn’t have much to see other than the adjacent shopping mall, but the hotel bar was jam-packed all day long throughout the weekend.  St Louis might have been the same, but the layout of the convention hotel was strange; the panel rooms were too far away from the bar for things to feel cohesive.

You may spot a theme here: the bar is the most important part of Bouchercon. It’s the social aspect, meeting your fellow writers, that brings people back year after year. Seeing good friends like my Soho stable mate James Benn makes the trip worthwhile. If the bar scene isn’t happening, the convention won’t go down as a favourite.

Cleveland was good in this respect. The hotel was well located, with a decent (if under-staffed) bar, and plenty of other restaurants and hang-outs concentrated in the streets nearby. They included an eatery where you could order half a pig’s head (see photo), roasted, with the brain, eyes and tongue thoughtfully removed, as well as a Scottish take on Hooters called the Tilted Kilt (sorry, no photo). Me and a few other authors did pop in for a pint, but only ironically, of course.

What really made Cleveland for me, though, was the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Museum. It’s a glass pyramid-like structure that stands on the shore of Lake Erie, and it houses a huge collection of rock memorabilia, including a great range of guitars, which for a fanatic like me, is heaven. The actual Gibson Les Pauls played by Duane Allman and Dicky Betts on the Allman Brothers’ Live at Fillmore East; the Fender Strat played by Jeff Beck through much of the 70s; the prototype guitars built by one Lester Polfus before he teamed up with Gibson to create the Les Paul.

The memorabilia ranges from the magical to the macabre: hand drawings by Elvis Presley; the ZZ Top Eliminator car; pieces of the plane that Otis Redding went down in; a telegram from Malcolm McLaren to Sid Vicious’s mother, asking what to do with his body.

If you have any interest in rock music and happen to find yourself within driving distance of, or even a short flight from, Cleveland, I recommend you pay the Hall of Fame a visit. You won’t regret it.

What really makes Bouchercon 2012 stand out for me, however, is my publisher, Soho Press. Soho are one of the best groups of people in publishing, that’s well known throughout the industry. They hustle hard and they treat their authors in a way that puts other publishers – including the majors – to shame.

This year, Soho have gone all out promoting my new novel RATLINES, which is out at the start of January. As well as a cover spread in Publishers Weekly, Soho put ads on the Bouchercon lanyards, so every attendee was a walking promotion for my book. To cap it all, Paul Oliver, Soho’s marketing hero, organised a shindig at a local bar to celebrate RATLINES, with free ARCs of the book for those who got there early enough, and free booze for everyone else. We had a great turnout, and I want to thank everyone who dropped by – it was the highlight of my trip. I also want to thank Paul, Juliet, Rudy and Bronwen from Soho Press who pulled out all the stops for me.