I was in Lyons in France last weekend for the Crime Writing festival there, and was delighted to discover much of the crème of modern British crime writing (and therefore of the world!!!) also there.

Some of the creme

I met Mark Billingham (whose books I like a lot) for the first time. Everyone had told me what a nice guy he was, and they are right – I thought he was extremely nice. We spent some time commiserating with each other about the British Book Awards – Mark was shortlisted last year for Crime Thriller of the Year, and like me, did not win (he lost to Martina Cole). I asked him how he felt when the winner was announced and it wasn’t him, and he replied “gutted”. That was a very honest reply, and it summed up exactly how I felt too!

Incidentally, I had been warned not to pull a face at the awards, which were televised for Channel 4, but to beam at the winner, as the camera would undoubtedly be on me. But I was damned if I was going to put on a phoney Hollywood Oscars “gosh how pleased I am for you that you won” smile for Ian Rankin as he walked up to the podium, so I scowled and raised an eyebrow, and ten million viewers now know I’m a lousy loser!!!!!

Stewart MacBride was another author there who I was delighted to meet. I read Cold Granite some while back and thought it was a brilliant book – fresh, original writing, a great sense of place, and a wonderful understanding of the world of the police. He was a very charming guy, but probably won’t ever speak to me again after our recent dining experience…

We all got taken out to dinner to a very “typical” old-style, paysanne Lyons restaurant for dinner on the Saturday night. The menu read like the chart on a post-mortem room wall. Every kind of offal going, from tripe, brains, sweetbreads, the cow’s head, and cheeks, the pig’s trotter – it seemed like they’d cut off and thrown away all the good bits… Stewart and I both read it in dumb silence, feeling queasier by the second.

It isn’t that I am not an adventurous eater, but Kathy Reichs had managed to put me off sweetbreads (thymus) for life and after a hard day of solid interviews and panels at the festival, I wanted some comfort food. A steak and frites would have been perfect. Then I spotted “andouillette”. I told Stewart that this was a sausage and should be OK. He perked up and ordered it, and so did I. Big mistake… What arrived looked like a foetus wrapped up in a condom. When I took my first – and last – tentative bite I felt I was eating bad-breath flavoured carpet lining. Stewart said it all with his eyes – I think the flavour had numbed his vocal chords.

I also renewed acquaintance with Graham Hurley, who I last met when were teaching a workshop at Southampton University eleven years – and, as he and I joked – a genre ago. I was interested to talk to him again, as I am often hearing we are compared to each other as writers, and we have both taken a South Coast city as our settings – Graham turning Portsmouth into a southern crime capital to rival my Brighton slayings!!!!!

Among the other UK crime writers present were the immensely charming John Connolly, Jonathan Trigell, whose very powerful novel Boy A is heavily drawn from the Bulger killings, my namesake, Bill James, and the very delightful historical crime novelist Ann Perry, who spoke better than any author I have every heard on how to write convincing characters.

Among the international field were Robert Crais, and many truly delightful French authors, alas not yet translated into British. Among them were Maurice Attia, who is also a psychologist and a guy I liked hugely, Phillip Le Roy.

The major award of the festival was given to John Harvey, who I had very much been looking forward to meeting, but was sadly unable to come because of illness.