Jane here, better late than never, and feeling guilty that I’m not only blogging on the wrong day again, but I’ve missed a couple of Sunday posts. This past weekend, and also two weeks ago, family commitments kept me off the computer. Last weekend I spent with a different kind of “family,” a group of mystery enthusiasts in Oxford. And it was fabulous.
I’ve blogged about the annual St. Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Weekend before, and make no apology for posting about it again. It’s one of the highlights on my calendar. Several elements go to make it so: the gathering of a wonderful mixed bunch of mystery-lovers from all over the world, (Europe and across the Pond as well as Britain,) the lovely setting of an Oxford college by the river, and of course the chance to discuss mysteries with writers and readers from morn till night, and well into the night too.
But what truly raises this event above most conventions is that the talks that are given are real papers, as befits a University; people don’t just stand up and tell a few witty stories and rabbit about their books, oh no! They give well structured, thought-provoking talks, tied to a conference theme. This year’s was “The Wages of Sin,” and I wish I’d time and space to describe all the presentations, because they were all, as usual, excellent.
What’s so good about a wide-ranging theme is that each writer
can and does take the subject in a different direction. There was a glorious
mixture of topics and approaches, deserving the over-used description,
“something for everyone.” Sleuths from Peter Wimsey to Sam Spade…authors from
William Godwin to Patricia Highsmith. Considerations of motive, and of Good and Evil as they occur
(or do they?) in crime fiction…the gruesome work of past executioners, headsmen
and hangmen, who mostly seemed to finish up drinking themselves to death in
order to forget their gruesome work. There was even a paper on the lighter side
of the Seven Deadly Sins, if that doesn’t sound too weird, and it wasn’t
confined to mysteries either. Did you know you can buy boxes of chocolates,
each sweet bearing the name of a sin? You can even get trainers named after the
various transgressions, don’t ask me why. Presumably the least popular of these
must be Sloth.
Conference guest speaker Natasha Cooper gave a terrific talk entitled “Looking Behind the Mask” about writers who’ve influenced her, and why and how; and her own title will influence next year’s St. Hilda’s, because “Behind the Mask” is to be the theme for 2010. That gives marvellous scope for all kinds of topics, doesn't it? I can already think of a couple that relate to Ancient Rome...well, we'll see. But whatever happens, roll on next August, it can’t come too soon.