Monday 21 October 2019

Killing it from page to stage: 'Murder One'

Crime has always been her passion, so starting a book festival was the obvious next move for successful thriller writer Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin aka Sam Blake

Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (author Sam Blake), co-director of Dublin’s crime writing festival ‘Murder One’
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (author Sam Blake), co-director of Dublin’s crime writing festival ‘Murder One’

Admittedly I'm a little biased, but long before my thriller Little Bones hit the bestseller list I felt that Ireland was crying out for a designated crime writing festival - we have so many brilliant writers, international bestsellers, who cover it in every guise.

Often crime forms part of a festival but as one of the most read genres, it has a lure all of its own. And Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature: a beautiful destination with some of the most atmospheric venues in the world, it's the perfect location.

Leaving university with a tremendously useful degree in history, my first job was in marketing for the Harlequin Shopping Centre in Watford, developing events from huge animated Christmas grottos to Doctor Who and CBBC star meet and greets and making radio and TV ads.

There was only one big shopping centre in Ireland when I moved here in 1992, but eventually I ended up back in event management, this time for corporates. It was then that I started writing - my husband went sailing across the Atlantic for eight weeks and I had an idea for a book.

Crime has always been my passion - like planning events, I love piecing together the parts of a puzzle, and as a writer I'm fascinated by characters, by secrets and what lies hidden.

Way back then I knew nothing about the book business, I just had a story to tell, but in order to tell it well, I realised I needed to understand fiction writing at every level and how it all worked.

I set up Inkwell and and my alter ego, crime writer Sam Blake found herself an agent.

I'm a lateral thinker and bringing books to readers in new ways is an exciting challenge. From 'Great Writing Great Places', which included bringing famine novelists to an incredible night on Jeanie Johnson, wind howling and timbers creaking, to crime writers in the Four Courts with the moderator taking the judge's chair, I love creating original events.

Bert Wright and I as co-programmers had huge fun developing the literary strand of the Bram Stoker Festival. Bert provides the good sense to some of my crazier ideas - he's one of the most connected people in the book business and a vital part of Murder One. When I approached him with the concept, he agreed to co-direct immediately, and we began plotting...

But taking an idea from script to stage takes more than just plotting. Like a book, there are many parties involved in the production. Bert and I were delighted when Murder One was greeted so enthusiastically by Dublin City Council and Dublin Libraries.

Last year the top three bestselling books were thrillers and Dublin libraries saw that trend reflected in the 2,127,520 borrows they had last year.

Experience is as vital as having the right people around you in event management, as Something Always Goes Wrong. Sometimes it's a BIG thing, sometimes smaller; flexibility and a plan B are vital to keeping your sanity and ensuring your audience has the experience it is anticipating.

Indeed, running a crime writing workshop was one of my most nail-biting experiences: A Garda forensics team had agreed to demonstrate their skills but none of us had anticipated a real murder on the morning of the workshop that would have them somewhat tied up.

Murder One will be all about imagined murder, intrigue and experience - and our authors have incredible tales to tell. I'm dying to hear Peter James, a BAFTA winning producer of 25 films before he became an international bestseller; I'll have my notebook ready - anyone who has sold 19m books knows a thing or two.

I'm fascinated by forensics and State Pathologist Professor Dr Marie Cassidy has helped me hugely with the Sam Blake books, so I'll be listening intently to Val McDermid and Professor Sue Black.

One of the elements of the festival I'm most excited about is a free interactive workshop - Lynda La Plante's CSI Murder Room. A team of experts from Think Forensic will be demonstrating techniques inspired by Lynda's latest novel Murder Mile. She won't be taking you through your paces herself, but she will be chatting to Niamh O'Connor on the Saturday evening (November 3).

It will be a fascinating discussion - the new Steve McQueen movie, Widows, is based on her book of the same title.

Writing and event planning are both about letting your creative mind run free, about growing an audience and developing ideas.

For me, Murder One is also an opportunity to hear from legendary authors like Michael Connelly who will be appearing at our thrilling preview event next Sunday in City Hall.

Smock Alley Theatre is the stage where the legendary David Garrick first played Hamlet, and the perfect venue for the main festival which runs here from November 2-4.

Today I'm planning the set to give every discussion the right atmosphere - if anyone has a spare skeleton in their closet please give me a shout.

For more information and to book tickets go to

Sunday Independent

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