Monday, 11 June 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Rhian Davies

Rhian Davies is a keen supporter of debut and midlist crime novelists, and one of the judges for the CWA’s John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award. Since 2005, she’s run It’s a Crime! (Or a mystery…), a blog focusing on books, literary festivals, publishing and authors – and one of the best online sources for crime writing news and intelligent (and entertaining) analysis.

Welcome to Crawl Space, Rhian!

Thank you for the invitation, Sarah.  This is a new experience for me.

Q. I think at the last count, your blog had over 190 book reviews. Are you always reading? How did you first get into reviewing?

It’s now 220 and not all of them are mine, although 200 probably are.  Bear in mind that’s over nearly seven years.  But the answer is yes, of course.  Not always crime novels either; my Android phone now performs many roles including phone (obviously), alarm clock, Kindle reading, and an internet resource for reading news and other stuff. 

And I have to tell you a story here.  I moved back to Wales in 2004 and a couple of years later bumped into someone from school at an M&S food hall.  We hadn’t seen one another for nearly 30 years.  She said to me, “I remember you always having a book with you …” adding, before I could get a word in, “and I was always the gobby one”.  I thought it was funny that I was remembered for being a bookworm as I can’t remember half of what I actually did read when young.  Said ‘gobby one’ and I then spent over an hour chatting at the end of the till area.  The girls had even switched over and we hadn’t noticed.  The one who’d been on the till came up and pointed to some chairs and said, “You could have sat there you know”.  But it was then time for goodbyes as M&S was about to close.  I hope the stream of customers passing through that till were entertained by salacious gossip from the valleys.

As for reviewing, originally I started a blog to share my first “Harrogate Crime Writing Festival” experience with online friends.  Being so inept with putting pics into free blogspot, I then moved to paid Typepad, thinking it would be better.  So I found myself with a blog I was paying for and then decided to populate it writing and enthusing about the books I’d read.  I never used the word “review” either.  It took until early 2010 when I was contacted by a well-respected author and mainstream media book reviewer asking me to “review” her latest novel before I felt worthy of using the description. 

Q. You review TV crime dramas too. Have you read any debut novels lately that you’d like to see adapted? Any adaptations you wish hadn’t been made?

Elizabeth Haynes’s Into the Darkest Corner would translate well to screen and I understand it has been bought for adaptation.  I’d like to see Danny Miller’s Kiss Me Quick go the same way, but as it’s set in the 1960s it presents one of the more costly adaptations because of the historical detail element and these are shied away from at the moment.  But there’s scope there for a series as Kiss Me Quick is the start of one and Danny Miller has already produced the second novel.

I can’t think of any truly dire adaptations recently apart from the non-crime Birdsong which was tedious in the extreme; something the book was certainly not.  It’s a shame the BBC wasted money on The Body Farm – the spin-off from Waking the Dead – as it was preposterous.  They’d have been better off spending the money on a second run for Zen.  If the stocks or hanging, drawing and quartering are brought back, please do the initial test on BBC1 Controller Danny Cohen.  I’ll happily supervise.

Q. I’ll second that. You took part in the Criminal Mastermind panel at this year’s CrimeFest in Bristol. Did you swot up for that?

I asked people to tweet me questions every day but everyone kept forgetting so I couldn’t rely on that!  I had plans though; just plans as it turned out.  Last minute, I managed a panicky overview for my specialist subject but that was about it.  It was fun and I am proud to say I didn’t come last.

Q. You also blog at Errant Apostrophe. Can you tell us a bit about that, share a favourite grammar atrocity maybe?

I set that one up after seeing another oh-so-obvious error in the Daily Mail online.  My patience had run out.  The blog covers more than just apostrophe misuse, but the apostrophe’s misuse is the one that gets me the most.  People are actually making up new rules when there’s no need.  What we already have is not broken and does not need fixing.  It’s simply a huge gap in education.  The Daily Mail has proven to be a rich source of blog posts by the way. 

Julian Fellowes has been written about quite a lot with the success of Downton Abbey.  But, ending with “s”, his surname presents some problems in the media.  My favourite “atrocity” has to be the one where his surname was effectively changed because someone could not deal with the possessive for him.  He was recorded as “Fellowe’s” thus suddenly making him Julian Fellowe.  Don’t know how to handle the apostrophe?  Oh, it’s OK to change someone’s name these days it seems.

But seriously, if anyone does want some practice in this, I suggest reading Anne Zouroudi’s latest The Bull of Mithros.  Set in Greece and with many characters whose names end in “s” – all are handled perfectly in the possessive.  It’s a beauty of a book on many levels.

Q. You’re also involved with Celebrating Reginald Hill for the CWA’s Crime Writing Month.  How did that come about?

Reginald Hill was much loved as a person as well as for his work.  I thought Crime Writing Month was a great opportunity to remember him, so I asked Margot Kinberg to co-host the idea with me.  Her breadth of knowledge across the world of crime fiction is highly impressive.  The first key area for us was to identify the right individuals to approach for contributions in the curation process.  The response has been overwhelming and we’ve had some fabulous input including from some who contacted us in the first week with offers of articles and pictures.  We’ve now extended the deadline for the site to July 5, the official closing date for Crime Writing Month.  Reginald Hill is sorely missed and fondly remembered, and it’s all coming out on the site.

Q. You’re something of a champion of debut and midlist authors. Is it all about discovering exciting new talent, or is there more to it than that?

It actually started when I became a bit bored with some of the bestselling authors and the production of too much “same old”.  I scouted around for new authors to read and found some great talents in both the midlist and the debut camps.  Both sets need support to get their names out there and I was very happy to help out in that.  It’s also very exciting finding a new, fresh and innovative voice.  I am about to take this one step further and will have some exciting news at the end of June.

Q. I know you have a policy to only publish reviews where you can be positive overall. Do you think this is a policy more reviewers should adopt?

I have seen this brought up and debated many times on blogs and, quite frankly, it bores me.  Each to their own.  We all have different constraints.  I once subscribed to the disclosure “policy” of acknowledging the source of a book, but when I became a judge on the Creasey this presented problems, so now I don’t bother.  It doesn’t suit me.  As I said, each to their own.  All that matters in my opinion is being honest.  Crime fiction readers are not stupid and can spot a gushing reader endorsement over a sensible and informed review.  What I write on the blog, and what I publish there from others, is aimed at honesty, but also a sharing of enthusiasm and encouragement to read.

Q. Having helped to judge Flashbang 2012, ahead of CrimeFest, what do you think the standard of entries says about the undiscovered talent out there?

It’s very healthy and thriving.  I think we will see some exciting new authors debut over the next few years.

Q. Finally, if we could bottle the essence of a good book review, what would the ingredients be?

What I look for when reading a book review: something that tells me what the book is about; what’s good about it; what’s not so good about it – if anything – and if that can be overlooked in the scheme of overall enjoyment.  I don’t consider scathing reviews to be productive; they often simply reek of jealousy on the part of the reviewer.  And if the reviewer has had extremely good sex from the author, I think this should be disclosed.  ;)

Thanks, Rhian, and see you in the bar at Harrogate!


Margot Kinberg said...

Thank you so much for the mention and the kind words, Rhian :-)

Sarah - Thank you for hosting one of my favourite bloggers and a lady who truly knows crime fiction!

Sarah Hilary said...

A pleasure, Margot, and yes she truly does!

Maxine Clarke said...

Great interview, Sarah and Rhian, thanks! (Sorry if my predicted crime fest mastermind q/as, via friendfeed not twitter (a preferable platform, I find), did not come up. When will the year come when they call it "Mistressmind" with 4 female contestants - and a female quizmistress?)

Marina Sofia said...

What fun - it's been a real pleasure getting to know Rhian better. Thank you for interviewing her, Sarah!

Sarah Hilary said...

What a very excellent idea, Maxine. MistressMind it is!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Marina, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Ilaria said...

A really good intereview, thanks both. The bit about Peter Fellowe's made me laugh quite a lot....
I also support a MistressMind alternative at Crimefest, that would be great fun!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Ilaria. Maybe we should suggest the female-panel to the CrimeFest lads?

crimeficreader said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments! Could they go completely girlie next year? Not sure as Guttridge is the 'kudos' holder...

Sarah Hilary said...

Fair point, Rhian, although maybe he could be persuaded to be 'Petra' for the crossover year?!

Sarah said...

Nice interview thanks (bit late with my blog reading).

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Sarah.