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‘You have people wanting to come and be a part of what we’re doing.’ I’m talking to Rob Parker, crime novelist and host of Crime Central the day before its latest edition. 24 hours later, in St Peter’s Square, it’s mid-February, dark, wet and cold, I head into Manchester Central Library, to find a warmth and buzz among the crowd settling in for crime fiction-based mayhem.
Rob’s energy and positivity wraps the whole event, bringing his guests and the audience to life. Speaking with him is an exercise in grabbing the reins of a runaway carriage and holding on for as long as you can, before jumping off feeling energised and ready to do anything. So, why crime? Why Manchester?
‘After COVID, Danny Middleton (from Central Library), got in touch about a mini crime festival, first night we had eighty people, it was fabulous. Second similar, and we thought ‘Wow!’
Danny asked if we could do something monthly, we thought about it and landed on having three authors and me onstage with giveaways and games, create a camaraderie and vibe about being part of the crime scene in Manchester. ’
‘I’d done Noir at the Bar in Manchester, an event around the world, where writers get together for a drink, read their stuff and gift their book to a member of the audience.’ Crime Central has family resemblances to Noir at the Bar, as the audience, authors and host come together.
Twenty novels into his career, Rob ensures the Crime Central platform features the very best coming to Manchester, the best of Manchester and the best emerging talent. Our three tonight, Lia Middleton, Elliot Sweeney and Sam Tobin, fit the bill, and share a discussion of their books, how they got here, and the challenges of creating a world while living in the real one, in a conversation littered with laughter and giveaways. And if you’re wondering do you need to be a superfan to win, can you tell Rob how many make a trilogy and shout quickly?
Talking about her new novel, Your Word or Mine, Lia is warming to her task, and what it’s like to write crime thrillers and be a barrister, as well as wife and mum. This is her first time in Manchester, but she’s relaxed and the audience rapt. She talks about a genuine connection between an engaged audience and the authors, describing it as ‘a really warm and supportive neighbour’ were it a character in her novels.
As a native Mancunian, Sam loves what Crime Central brings to the city’s book scene; ‘It’s really positive, first and foremost just a good night out. In a big city doing something that’s not been done before, there is so much nuance and texture in Manchester.’ a theme he explores in his Manchester Underworld novels. Elliot picks up, having attended Crime Central in the audience before his debut, Next To Die, sees him onstage. ‘It’s really welcoming, you’re among like-minded people, and going for a social with everyone after rounds it off.’
That commitment to sharing the platform extends to the audience. Crime Central operates on a pay-what-you-can basis. Authors are paid, as should always be the case, and you can buy the featured authors’ books, and get them signed in the room, but after that getting people to come is the aim.
The floor opens up to questions and reveals the mix in attendance; the early-stage writer asking about the finances of being a full-time author, the eager reader digging into how to best write a grizzly scene, and the local asking which area of Manchester is most fertile for a crime writer. This is a community brought together by the love of a good story, ‘having more fun than I expected when talking about crime’ and ‘loving how different this feels, different to what not sure, but good’.
Back to Rob, ‘It shouldn’t be an elite thing, if you do something enable people to be part of it. Make it on their doorstep, make love of reading and writing as free as possible.’
‘It’s a gateway for people, and it’s amazing who has come out. We had someone who’s agoraphobic and struggled to leave the house but came because her favourite author was here, one say to us ‘I can’t believe I’m sat next to this author and he’s asking me what I’m reading’, there’s a group of ladies who take the afternoon off and go for a lunch before they come along here, it’s their favourite night, and it’s great.’
‘We’re on a school trip and we’ve chucked the teachers off the bus.’
Crime Central has big plans, it’s a trip you want to be on, starting with Thursday March 23rd, Manchester Central Library at 6pm.
This review is written by Mike Murphy. Mike is a Manchester City of Literature Trustee. Mike has worked in publishing for many years, latterly back in the North West, in content and commercial roles. Mike is delighted to see our Publishing sector continue to grow. If we want literature to reflect our character, we need to have a strong production sector for books. Mancunians, by birth or spirit, own the stories of our city and its new narratives. Mike wants our city and its voices to grab you and shake you up in the best possible way. Mike is driven by identifying barriers to growth and overcoming them, and helping people find their voice and fulfil their potential. Having lived in Edinburgh and Barcelona, he knows how valuable a well-loved City of Literature can be.
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