Debuting in 2021 and returning this spring, though required to remain an online-only event in each case, Welsh crime writers’ festival Gwyl Crime Cymru holds within its screens – and hopefully in 2023, walls – a safe haven within the deluge of blood, gore and mystery of its subject matter. With the 2022 edition starting on Wed 27 Apr, Billie Ingram Sofokleous spoke to treasurer Mark Ellis.
How did Gwyl Crime Cymru come into being?
In 2016, Alis Hawkins conceived the idea of bringing the crime writers of Wales together in a collective group. A year later, after discussions with fellow crime writers Matt Johnson and Rosie Claverton, Crime Cymru came into being, its ambitious remit being to provide mutual writers support, to help develop new Welsh crime writing talent, and to promote Welsh crime art to the world. The concept of establishing Wales’ first crime writing festival was a natural development given these aims.
After much work, the first digital Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival was launched last year and the second will run over this May bank holiday. But for the COVID epidemic, this second festival would have been a physical one held in Aberystwyth – the plan is that that will now take place in 2023.
What are you most proud of from that opening weekend?
The most gratifying thing was how many people were in our audience. In total we had over 4,000 people who watched our panels either live or recorded; audience participation was very active. Of that audience, many were from Wales or the UK, but there was a significant proportion from overseas countries on a worldwide basis.
Who were you most excited to have as part of your 2021 programme?
We were of course delighted to host all the participants. We have some highly regarded and award-winning writers among our own Welsh contingent. Aside from them, the big hitters last year included Lee Child, Peter James, M. W. Craven, Ragnar Jonasson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Clare Mackintosh, Vaseem Khan, Elly Griffiths, Abir Mukherjee and Martin Edwards.
And the lineup of Gwyl Crime Cymru guests this year…?
The list is up on the website, along with the panels and details of how to attend digitally. We have some returning big names, and among the new ones are Ann Cleeves, Mark Billingham, Mari Hannah and Belinda Bauer.
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What do you think is the secret to the festival’s initial success?
All other parts of the UK have regular crime writing festivals. There was clearly a crying need for a Welsh one.
When do you all get to be together in the same room?
COVID has meant we never have. I met some of my colleagues previously at book festivals but some are still only Zoom friends. What would we have done without Zoom? Hopefully, we’ll all soon have a chance to hook up in person.
Which crime fiction subgenre do you personally enjoy the most?
I write historical crime fiction – that’s my favourite genre to read and write.
And what are your own best reads of 2021 and 2022 so far?
I very much enjoyed Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series. Among other crime fiction favourites I read in 2021/22: Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen, The Strangers In The House by Georges Simenon, and Get Carter by Ted Lewis.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My all-time favourite crime writer is Georges Simenon, of Maigret fame. Next would probably be Patricia Highsmith. I could fill a long list of other authors who’ve inspired me, but I’ll confine myself to those two.
How does an unpublished author get involved with the festival?
The Crime Cymru membership rules are that full members must be either conventionally published or, if self-published, have sold a certain number of copies of their work in the last year. Non-published authors or others may become associate members if they have a clear association with Welsh crime writing. If any member or associate wants to get involved in some capacity with the festival, they are welcome.
Gwyl Crime Cymru, Wed 27 Apr-Wed 4 May. All events for 2022 are live-streamed online. Tickets: free (donations to go towards general costs are welcomed). Info: gwylcrimecymrufestival.co.uk
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
APPLICATIONS for spring term 22 are now Closed: If you’re 18-30, live in Wales, and want to get ahead in the creative and cultural industries, express your interest for autumn term.