Last Saturday saw the closing event of BookFest 2013 – CSI Portsmouth. In its fourth year, this sell-out event brings a panel of crime authors and crime-fighting professionals together for a day of lively discussion and debate on crime fact versus crime fiction.
CSI Portsmouth is the brainchild of local crime novelist Pauline Rowson, whose novels are set in Portsmouth and on the Isle of Wight, and follow the investigations of DI Andy Horton. She organised the first CSI Portsmouth in 2010, and since then the event has attracted crowds from around Hampshire and beyond.
This year’s event, supported by Hayling Island Bookshop and Portsmouth City Council Library Service, was held in the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The day kicked off with a welcome from Pauline followed by a session with the morning’s panel. Crime author Kerry Wilkinson was joined by forensic toxicologist Dr Alex Allan and Hampshire Police drugs expert Mick Ellis. The discussion was peppered with the blunt humour of Ellis, who named Life on Mars as his favourite crime show on TV, and when asked what he does to relax, simply answered: “I drink beer.” This was followed by a chance for the audience to ask the panel questions.
After book signings and lunch, Pauline introduced the afternoon panel, made up of crime novelists Natasha Cooper and Sharon Bolton, Sergeant Tony Birr of the Hampshire Police Marine Unit and Brian Chappell, senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and former DCI New Scotland Yard. The discussions between the afternoon panel were even more lively and interesting, with the two writers pitching in with questions for the crime experts.
Both authors also gave interesting insights into their thoughts on the role of the crime novel in society, why they became a writer, and whether plot or character comes first when writing a crime novel.
For Bolton, the plot comes first: “It’s a constant battle of wits between me and the reader.” At what stage will they find out who the killer is?
She said: “I have a theory… characters can write themselves. They form themselves in the way they react to each other, the way they react to events.”
When asked why she made the move from historical romance to crime novels, Cooper said: “I found myself wondering, what happens after ‘Reader, I married him’, and that’s crime.” She spoke of the underlying theme present in all her books: “ Why, as human beings, do we do things to make each other miserable? I think at some level we all have this destructive urge.”
Also present at the event were South Downs College, whose forensic science students had set up a mock crime scene, complete with the body of ‘Victor’ the victim. The University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies had a delightful display of maggots and flies, amongst other things (to be viewed after lunch, not before), and the Hampshire Police Fingerprint Bureau Team offered visitors the chance to take away a keyring of their own thumbprint.
The day concluded with a round of thanks for the guests and sponsors, and a further chance to mingle and chat with the experts. The next CSI Portsmouth is lined up for Saturday 8 November 2014 – a definite date for the diary!
Images courtesy of Pauline Rowson
The morning panel, L-R Pauline Rowson, Kerry Wilkinson, Dr Alex Allan and Mick Ellis
The audience listens to the afternoon panel, L-R Natasha Cooper, Sharon Bolton, Sergeant Tony Birr and Brian Chappell
Pauline Rowson with Sam Day and Helen Gittins from South Downs College Forensic Science Department and ‘Victor’ the body
The afternoon panel