My guest today is Ayo Onatade, who I met for the first time in 1998; Ayo is a crime fiction reviewer and interviewer and blogs and writes about all things crime fiction related at Shotsmag.co.uk, Shotsmag Confidential, and Crimespree Magazine. She is also the Chair of the CWA Short Story Dagger panel. Ayo works at the United Kingdom Supreme Court as her day job. Just today I learned that Ayo will be fan guest of honor at Bouchercon 2018 in St Petersburg, Florida.
Ayo and I have recently returned from the 20th annual crime and mystery weekend at St Hilda’s College in Oxford, England.
This is the 19th year for me Ayo, How long have you been attending St Hilda’s?
I believe that I attended my first St Hilda’s back in 1998. Wow! Such a long time ago.
How did the conference get started all those years ago?
The first ever conference took place in 1994 and was the brainchild of Eileen Roberts who was and still is the Alumni Officer for St Hilda’s College. Eileen herself is a keen reader of crime fiction and part of her duties as Alumni Officer is to arrange events for the College’s senior members and thus in 1994 she decided that a weekend conference on crime fiction with the emphasis on women writers, especially those with an Oxford connection would go down well and it was felt that the conference would be of interest to quite a few people. Kate Charles who was also one of the speakers at the conference has also been involved from the beginning in organising the event. Both Kate Charles and Eileen Roberts have known each other as a result of their joint involvement in the Barbara Pym Society, which is also based at St Hilda’s College. Together they have been running the Barbara Pym Society for over ten years. With her knowledge of the speakers Kate Charles acted as liaison since she knew most of them. Since then Kate Charles has been seen as the co-organiser of the conference along with Eileen Roberts. They are a formidable team in the nicest possible way.
You and I both attend a lot of conferences on both sides of the Atlantic – Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Harrogate, Crimefest, Dead on Deansgate, Crime Scene – but what, in your opinion, sets St Hilda’s apart from all the others?
The main thing that sets St Hilda’s apart from all the other conferences is that it is a lot more academic and also the fact that every year it has a theme and all the invited speakers use the theme as the basis of their paper. Also coming to St Hilda’s is like coming back to meet your school friends. There is a brilliant collegiate atmosphere at St Hilda’s and no airs and graces. It is the only conference that I am likely to schedule my holiday around so that I don’t miss it.
What were some of the themes in previous years, and what was the theme of this year’s conference?
Some of the previous themes have been The Queen’s of Crime which was the very first conference, The Historical Mystery, Partners in Crime, Absent Friends and Future Loves, Crossing Boundaries, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Behind the Mask, The Wages of Sin, The Anatomy of Justice to name a few. This year (2013) the theme was From Here to Eternity: The Present and Future of Crime Fiction.
Of all the themes have you a favourite?
I have enjoyed all the themes but I have to admit that my favourite theme was Crossing Boundaries. The reason for this is partly because I was giving my first paper but also mainly because whilst I was doing my research I found all these new authors that have now gone on my must read list!
Every year I learn something new. This year, I was fascinated to hear from Andrew Taylor that C.S. Forester (famous for the Horatio Hornblower novels) wrote noir crime fiction in the mid 1930s. What did you learn this year that deeply interested or even surprised you?
Aside from being like you surprised to learn about C.S. Forester the other thing that surprised me was Martin Edwards paper where he was talking about whether or not there was much to care about Golden Age writers. I enjoyed it so much I had to ask Martin for a copy of his paper so that I could track down all the Golden Age authors that he mentioned that I had not even heard of.
I am an unabashed fan girl, so the highlights of St Hilda’s for me is getting to meet and chat with some of my idols like Colin Dexter and P.D. James who actually live in Oxford. A couple of years ago, St Hilda’s threw a 90th birthday party for P.D. James. Another year, I had the opportunity to punt on the River Cherwell with Laurie King manning the pole. And who can forget attending church on Sunday at St Cross, the church where Lord Peter Wimsey married Harriet Vane. Over the years, what have been some of the highlights of the conference for you?
Giving my first paper at St Hilda’s was a big highlight for me as I was so used to being on the opposite side of the fence. However, fan girl moments I would say my first meeting with Val McDermid (which was at St Hilda’s) and her making me feel so welcome. Meeting Andrew Taylor and having a punt along the river with him as well. Also meeting the wonderful Dean James! This year however I would have to say it was having the opportunity to talk to properly to Caroline Todd.
I remember being weak in the knees when I stood up to give my first St Hilda's paper; I think it was on Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, Agatha Christie's "partners in crime." I agree; it's always fun to see and catch up with old friends, and meet new ones. Who was new to the conference this year?
I believe that Peter Robinson was new to the conference this year. It was lovely to hear him talk about the past being a foreign country.
St Hilda’s is situated on the banks of the Cherwell, across from the playing fields of Magdalen College and within walking distance of Oxford High Street. What is so special about the city of Oxford?
I am not sure that I can answer about the city of Oxford as a whole but what I can say is that I love the tranquillity. Especially the tranquillity at St Hilda’s. As soon as you come through the gates you feel a weight lifting off your shoulders. I also love the fact that the High Street is not so far away and that it takes you less than 10 minutes to walk to the High Street from the College.
What is the theme of next year’s conference, what are the dates, and – more importantly – will I see you there?
The theme for next year is War in Crime Fiction and the dates are 15th to 17th August 2014. Will I be there? Of course! I have already booked the time off work.
See you then, Ayo, if not before, and thanks for stopping by to talk with us today.