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  • Writer's pictureDonna Moore

CrimeFest Programming

I have spent half of December and most of January doing the programming for CrimeFest so, for anyone who ever wonders what goes into planning a CrimeFest programme, here goes:

For the 120 or so authors who either all signed up before the cut-off date (to coincide with the number of panel spaces we have) or are on the waiting list, in date order of when they signed up), I go through every single one of their websites (and/or books on Fantastic Fiction or publisher's website or Amazon) to see what they've written (ASIDE: Dear Authors, I love you very much when you have an easy to navigate website that tells me what you've written, genre/s you write in, maybe a little bit about your series characters if you write a series, themes etc.)

All of that info goes into a spreadsheet where I have a column that says something like "writes a series set on the planet Zog with a grumpy alcoholic Zogian PI with a penchant for knitting and swearing. Most recent book deals with gardening and the aftermath of Brexit. Author also writes a humorous police procedural series set in 1770s Kyrgyzstan with a talking goat as protag. Goat can read minds and has a partner who's an outsider. Themes of coming of age and friendship. Author only wears blue."

When I have 120 of those all done and dusted, I look for connections and/or differences. I need 5 authors for each panel. I get very excited when I have two authors who write books featuring talking goats, but gutted when I can't find three more for the "Protagonists Who Are Talking Goats" panel. Then I get excited again when I find a book with a talking okapi, and one with a Hippopotamus who doesn't talk but does sign language. I'm thrilled - I have four authors and only need one more for my "Four-Legged Protagonists Who Are Animals" panel. I can't bloody find one. But's a spider spy novel. Excellent! I now have my "Non-Human Protagonists Who Have Either More or Fewer Than Two Legs". Once I have 119 more of those, I can work on a more succinct title.

I go through my 120 authors looking for themes, connections and possible topics, and write down every author who fits under each of them. I end up with roughly three times as many topics as I have panel space for. This year, I have 33 A4 pages. My original example goes under topics: series, PI, interplanetary, crafts (knitting), hard-boiled (swearing), hobbies (gardening, drinking), environmental issues (gardening), current affairs (Brexit), absolute shitstorms (Brexit) etc etc. Some potential topics end up with a huge long list of potential panellists, some have only a couple and I'll either reluctantly give them up, or combine them: the three authors who write books about internet trolls, for example, might fit on a panel with the one author who writes about an ACTUAL troll and the one who has Donald Trump as a protagonist (although he fits really nicely on the "Protagonists Who Are Lavvy-Heided Arsepieces" panel, so I might have to hunt for another troll).

Once I have all of that, I then try and herd some cats and narrow it down. Now, everyone who has signed up before the cut-off for panel spaces will get at least one panel. Debut authors get two, authors who come from abroad get two. We recognise that moderators are brilliant individuals and we love those of you who take on the role and do it so brilliantly, so they get two too, and a hug. Anyone who's on a panel on Thursday we try and give a second panel to. Thursday is actually a really busy day and panels are always well-attended, but we know not everyone has arrived then and we don't want people to miss out on seeing their favourite authors, so we try and offer that second panel. Sometimes, I can take someone off the waiting list, because they fit on the "Police Procedurals Whose Covers Are Decorated With Crocheted Daffodils" panel and I only have four daffodil crocheted police procedural authors on the confirmed list.

Hopefully, by now I have the right number of authors on the right number of panels. Now I have to try and fit them into days (Thursday afternoon to Sunday lunch time). As well as asking authors if they are debut or coming from abroad, we also ask them to let us know if they can't make specific days (after which email we sit with our fingers crossed). If you tell us you go to Church every Sunday morning, then we'll schedule your "Satanist Protagonists" panel for Thursday, Friday or Saturday. If you don't arrive until 3pm on Saturday afternoon and have to leave again at 5pm then we might have more of a problem, because the only other four authors available for your topic on "Three-Legged Forensic Pathologists" might all have said that the only time they can't do that weekend is between 3pm and 5pm on Saturday when they're all away for an afternoon nap together.

In an ideal world, anyone with two panels would have them not both on the same day. Now, I hate to break it to you, but it's not an ideal world. At the very least, we will try not to give an author two panels straight after the other. But even that isn't always possible. Because JUST when I've got it all perfectly sorted out and balanced like the Kremlin of Cards that it is, and we've written out to everyone telling them what panels they're on, in will come an email. "Oh, I can't do the dinosaur panel at 10am on Saturday because I need to go and feed my goldfish". And one little tweak can have the whole thing tumbling, along with my finely poised sanity.

In addition, I have come to the conclusion that the worst words in the English language are my CrimeFest co-host, Adrian, saying "Oh, I forgot to tell you..." because this usually involves me sitting in a darkened room and sobbing, followed by a MAJOR re-jigging of panels. And that’s just the first couple of stages.

So, dear Authors, over the next couple of weeks, panel assignments are going out. Once the full draft schedule has been put together as detailed above, we first contact the selected moderators to see if they are happy to moderate. We realise that moderating is something that not everyone wants to do, and that it is a big responsibility, but we don't want it to be a chore. The majority of our moderators are Participating Moderators. THIS MEANS WE WANT YOU TO TALK ABOUT YOUR BOOKS! Some participating moderators are shy of that, and are so generous to the rest of the panellists that they sometimes don't talk about their own books. To repeat - we want Participating Moderators to talk about themselves, too. To say thank you, we always give moderators a second panel (assuming they want one) as a panellist. We wish we could give everyone two panels but, due to space and matching panel topics to panellists, we are not able to.

We always direct moderators to the Moderators' Manifesto:

We select our moderators carefully. Every year we send out a survey and we ask for attendees' comments, and one of the questions is about moderators. Many of our moderators are people who have moderated at CrimeFest many times. I want you to know that we love you and appreciate you very much.

Every year, we also want to give new moderators a chance. Generally, these are authors we've seen appearing on panels or at other events and believe that they would be good moderators because they are interesting, thoughtful, confident, etc. Sometimes first time moderators are worried about their ability to moderate and tell us they have concerns and would rather not do it. We totally understand and don't try and persuade anyone otherwise. But it won't stop us asking you the following year!

What we don't want to do is put anyone under stress if they don't wish to moderate for whatever reason. We want people to enjoy CrimeFest and I would hate to think that authors are stressing over having a moderating slot.

Oh, and if you've moderated before and don't have a moderating slot this year, it definitely doesn't mean we don't you as a moderator; it just means we already have a moderator for that slot. Enjoy the year off!

Thank you to our wonderful CrimeFest Moderators and panellists. We love you x

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1 Comment

Feb 11

Jeezo, that explains all the F'ng and C'ng I hear coming from your room

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