Linwood Barclay. Adrian McKinty. Val McDermid. Ian Ranking. Shari Lapena. Walter Mosley. Dona Leon. The lineup reads like a who’s who of Canadian and international crime fiction writers.
They’ll all be here in Toronto — most of them in person, some of them virtually — for the inaugural Motive Crime and Mystery Festival.
The Motive festival has been two years in the making, says Roland Gulliver, the executive director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, under the auspices of which Motive will be held.
When he first took the helm at TIFA in February 2020 — a remarkable bit of bad luck for a festival that organizes a weeklong bonanza of in-person events for book lovers — he wanted to get to know the city and the books community. He began asking people about their favorite genres and writers. “I was struck by how passionate everyone was about crime and mystery novels,” he said.
Gulliver’s observations are confirmed in the statistics. Canadian readers love their mysteries and thrillers. BookNet Canada’s most recent Canadian Leisure and Reading Study found that genre was the most popular for readers across all formats, with 57 per cent of print books read falling into the category, 48 per cent of ebooks and 25 per cent of audiobooks.
Readership for true crime books was up as well, being the choice of 29 per cent of print book readers compared with 24 per cent in 2020, according to the same survey.
This festival comes hot on the heels of the first — virtual — Maple Leaf Mystery Conference last week, put on by the Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime Toronto.
There was a natural synergy, too, between Gulliver and mystery/crime fiction: coming from his previous position as associate director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival he had experience with the fabulously named Bloody Scotland crime book fest.
“It seemed to me a really neat way to do something that is new and exciting,” said Gulliver about Motive. Back in February 2020, he thought it was something he could put together the next year, so he’s been waiting a while to get it off the ground.
As with most festivals — whether celebrating music or books or art — the pandemic forced a rethink, usually keeping alive by going virtual. While everyone seems keen to get back to in-person events, organizers are now approaching their programming with 13 pre-recorded digital events, 40 in-person events plus a theater piece.
These events expand the reach of the festival internationally. Gulliver said they were somewhat surprised to find that, over the past two years, 25 per cent of people signing up to attend their virtual events were from outside Canada.
The digital portion has added another interesting dimension: they can do events in other languages and then caption them in English, crossing language barriers as well as geographical ones. So they have events in Norwegian, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, among others.
The digital events are available online for 72 hours after they first run. “It’ll be interesting to see… whether people will come down and enjoy the festival for the weekend… and hopefully watch those (events) at home to get the full festival experience.” It will also be interesting, he said, to see where the digital audience comes from.
There’s a “Pitch Perfect” event on Sunday in which crime writers will pitch their work to a panel of experts, and a theater experience with the Brampton library that explores ideas around “facts and truth and knowledge and power, how do you share it, who owns it, which are always very relevant.”
Then there’s the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers band. The name, Gulliver said, is his one “claim to fame” — from early gestation in New Orleans the band, which now features writers Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Stuart Neville, Val McDermid and Luca Veste, had its first gig at the Edinburgh book fest. They’re making their Canadian debut on Saturday at 7:30 pm at the Harbourfront Center Concert Stage.
Because every festival needs a little rock ‘n’ roll.
The inaugural TIFA Motive Crime and Mystery Festival runs June 3 to 5. See festivalofauthors.ca for more information and to register or buy tickets.
Deborah Dundas is the Star’s Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas