Well, today, Friday, Oct. 15, it was time to get down to business. To do what I came to San Francisco to do, and that is attend the Bouchercon convention.
I started with a panel at 10 a.m. featuring a wonderful new writer I really admire, Stuart Neville, author of the award-winning The Ghosts of Belfast. Set in Northern Ireland in the present day, The Ghosts of Belfast tells the story of an IRA killer haunted by the ghosts of his 12 innocent victims. I remember the troubles, as they were called, because I was a CBC radio producer in London in the early 1980s and we covered the conflict between the Loyalists and the IRA. Neville captures the time so beautifully in his book and he was definitely one of the authors I was really looking forward to meeting at Bouchercon. He talked about how the foot soldiers, on both sides, were recruited from idealistic, unemployed youth who had nothing better to do. Belonging to the cause brought meaning and purpose to their days.
“People doing the killing and the dying, with the most to lose, gain the least when the conflict’s over,” he said at one point during the panel. He went on to discuss the role of guilt in his novels.
“Fegan (the protagonist) has knowledge of having done wrong and a desire to put that right,” Neville said. “Guilt is a big part of the two books (including Collusion, the follow up to The Ghosts of Belfast). “When I write, I don’t think, oh this guy’s on the side of justice. I enjoy writing from the villain’s point of view, to try to make him sympathetic to the reader. So it’s not the sin that makes them different, it’s the awareness of sin.”
Other members on the Flags of Terror panel, moderated by Peter Rozovsky included Jassy Mackenzie, Cara Black, Lisa Brackmann, Henry Chang and james R. Benn. I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.
In the afternoon I attended another interesting panel. This one, featured first-time novelist Marcia Clark.
You’ll remember her as the prosecutor in one of the most famous trials of the 20th century. And I liked that when it was her turn to speak, Marcia mentioned it right away, preventing it from becoming the elephant in the room.
“I always wanted to write,” she said, “and as a prosecutor I felt I was doing something I believed in. I looked at it as defending the victims. But after the Simpson trial, I couldn’t do it anymore. And I missed that life, with its sense of purpose and mission. So I thought, well, I can write a book.” (She is also the author of a non-fiction book, Without a Doubt, about the Simpson trial.)
She describes her new novel, Guilt by Association, as “fiction, but true in an emotional sense. What it’s like to be in a LA prosecutor’s office.”
Interestingly, Marcia was not appearing on a legal panel, but on a panelist composed of authors published by Mulholland Books, the new mystery imprint of Little, Brown. Her fellow panelists included Daniel Woodrell, Duane Swierczynski, Sebastian Rotella and Mark Billingham.
Her publicist very kindly gave me a copy of Guilt by Association and I can’t wait to read it.