Toronto – Bloody Words 2014

I really have been inordinately lucky this year.

One thing I always wanted to do, when I was young, was to take every opportunity to travel. I was hugely fortunate because my father took us to Austria, Italy and even Kenya. I saw a lot of the world when I was a teenager. Later I travelled a bit on business, but the insecurity of my career as a twenty-something meant I had to curtail my holidays. In my first five years in one company, I realised I’d only taken up fourteen days’ leave in total. I’d forgotten the cardinal rule explained to me by my friend Mike Ramsey: “You work to live, you don’t live to work.”

When I was a new author, I scrimped and saved and travelled to all the Bouchercon events, then to Dead on Deansgate, to Harrogate and elsewhere. It was very hard on my income, so after some time I persuaded my publisher to weigh in as well – but with the advent of tighter budgets forced by ebooks and the 2008 financial collapse, publishers would not help support signing tours for mere mid-listers like me, so my travel days were ended.

However, this year things have changed. In February I was enormously fortunate to be invited to speak at Lander University. Then, in the same month, I was asked to be Grand Marshal of the first parade of this year’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans – now, those two are serious matters for this scribbler.

But then it got better: a few months ago I was asked to go to the Bloody Words Conference in Toronto as their International Guest of Honour, and also to present the Arthur Ellis Award for the best novel of the year.

These are not events that come along too often, but I was immensely honoured and felt really privileged to be invited. Especially since it involved Toronto, one of my favourite cities in the world.

A view of the CN Tower

A view of the CN Tower


The Ellis Awards were presented on the Thursday evening, so I was flown over to stay at the Hyatt Regency on the Wednesday. All I can remember about that morning is, the feeling of how horrible 5.00 am really is. I wasn’t too sure it really existed beforehand. I fell from the bed and half an hour later I was in a car on the way to the bus station. Four and a half hours later, the bus deposited me at Heathrow. And that’s all I remember of the bus ride – apart from tipping my fedora over my eyes as I sat in the bus’s seat, and closing my eyes. I like my fedora!

The Hyatt Regency Toronto

The Hyatt Regency Toronto

That evening my friends Cheryl Freedman and Elizabeth Duncan took me out to a really good curry. It was great to see Cheryl again – the last time we met was ten years ago at the Toronto Bouchercon. Shocking to think that so many friends have died since then: particularly the wonderful Al Navis, who was always such a driving force behind crime writing in Canada.

On Thursday I spent the day reminding myself how unpleasant jet lag can be, while also rewriting the speech I’d brought. It wasn’t quite right. I’d got lots of ideas down on paper, but – ach, they didn’t feel right.

In the evening, I was taken over to the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto. There, in those fabulous surroundings, the prizes were presented. I was personally delighted to meet Howard Engel at last. I bought a copy of Lord High Executioner in 1998 when it came out, and I was hugely pleased to actually make his acquaintance. However, I was also fortunate enough to meet Kevin Thornton and a prize winner than night, Jamie Kent Messum. Kevin at least was largely responsible for my headache the next morning!

Toronto at night

Toronto at night

Friday was a quiet day, so I looked at the speech again. Not good. No, I had to rewrite it. Again.

In the evening was the beginning of the conference. And I have to say, Donna Carrick makes a fabulous moderator on a panel. I was really, and I do mean this, fascinated by my partner on the discussion about historical investigators: Mel Bradshaw. A really delightful guy who writes great crime novels set in early 20th century Toronto. I know they’re great because I had to buy one and I almost finished it at one sitting. Review later. That was fun, and then I was asked to join a fashion parade of books. Yes, me. Already this year I’ve been asked to model for a photograph, and now I’ve walked the catwalk too!

Mel, Donna and me after our panel

Mel, Donna and me after our panel

Saturday I had an interview with Cheryl. You know what? Interviews are best when they are unplanned, and when you have a loose cannon to interview, it makes life much more exciting, for the interviewer and audience. That’s what I kept telling myself as I wandered around the subjects she brought up, digressing at will and waiting until she brought me back to the point! Later I had a panel, too, with the lovely Lisa de Nikolits and Maureen Jennings. And then it was on to the Gala Dinner.

Luckily, after my interview I’d had time to review my speech. It wasn’t right. I rewrote it before lunch. Then, after the afternoon panel, I rehearsed it and realised – well, it wasn’t right. So I rewrote it. I rehearsed the new version, scratched that, and finally made notes on two pages of A4. These were what I took with me.

The evening was amazing. Most attendees turned up in the costume of their protagonists, if they were writers. Vicki Delaney looked stunning, Cheryl looked intimidating, Melodie Campbell, the mistress of ceremonies, was lovely – and utterly hilarious. The moment came for my talk, and I tried (and failed) to be brief, but it was great to see an audience rolling around laughing. I thought I had them in the palm of my hand, until Vicki Delaney stood and gave a brilliant summary of writing habits that had the tears rolling down my cheeks!

The CN Tower in red

The CN Tower in red

So, all in all, the whole weekend was wonderful. Again, I have been privileged to be treated like royalty by north American hospitality, and in large part that is why I felt so vague and weary on Sunday morning. Nothing whatever to do with all the whisky I enjoyed with Jamie, Stephen Steinbock and Ryan Aldred.

I packed in a – shall we say, a slightly bemused state? – and was taken to the airport, all the way convinced I must have left something in my hotel room. The charger to my laptop? No. Phone charger? Didn’t think so. What about my aftershave? No, surely I had brought that with me.

I was still thinking about this as I left the car, took my two bags and wandered into the airport. And as I passed through security, I realised what I’d forgotten. I’d been thinking about what I hadn’t packed so much, that when I picked up my bags, I left behind the blasted book I was reading, the excellent William Manchester’s Arms of Krupp. It enthralled me all the way to Toronto, and I’d left it out of my bag for the return journey because it was so damn big, I couldn’t fit it into my carry-on bag! Alas, it remained in Toronto and now I have to figure out whether to buy another or get it posted!

I had a brilliant time. It was good to meet old friends, but I feel I have made a whole lot more – and not all in bars!

And so I have to thank all those in Toronto for making my bloody debut at Bloody Words such a bloody marvellous weekend!

Dangerous man: an author with a sword!

Dangerous man: an author with a sword!

6 Responses to “Toronto – Bloody Words 2014”
  1. vickidelany says:

    It was our pleasure, Michael. As was meeting you. Hope our paths cross again.


  2. Old Trooper says:

    Enjoyed the ‘Tales of Toronto.’ BTW, I have the ‘Arms of Krupp’ but find myself always putting it down for something about a Templar or other.


  3. Liz Lindsay says:

    Michael – Your presence at Bloody Words was a delight. Although I have to admit I’m unfamiliar with your novels, I’m anxious to start reading them after listening to you talk about the Knights Templar – my curiosity is piqued! Wishing you much continued success.


    • Many thanks, Liz! It really was a joy to take part in it. And if I went a little way to persuading even one person to look at the Templars, I did a good job! Thanks ever so much for the comment, it makes the writing worthwhile to know someone is reading it. Hopefully next time I’m over I’ll interest you in the Hundred Years War!


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