By Julia Crouch
Author of Cuckoo, Every Vow You Break, Tarnished and The Long Fall, and co-founder of Dark & Stormy, Brighton’s first Crime Festival.
‘Despite the fact that I have lived here for seventeen years, Brighton constantly surprises and thrills me. For example, we elected the first ever Green MP, we broke the world record for Kate Bush lookalikes, people swim naked in the sea in the depths of winter, my idol Nick Cave often drops into my favourite Kemp Town café and every year we bless the Mackerel.
But this year, one of the most baffling features of Brighton life has at last been resolved. Finally, our city has a crime festival. Yes, we’ve got the utterly brilliant Bristol CrimeFest, Harrogate and Bloody Scotland, but, with Dark & Stormy, Emlyn Rees, Ray Leek and I have decided to bring the genre down to its spiritual home.
It is such an obvious step that it’s incredible nobody has done it before. As Keith Waterhouse said, ‘Brighton is a town that always looks as if it is helping police with their inquiries.’
You see, our tolerant, liberal, creative, party-time city also has a famously dark and seamy side. There’s the actual gory past – the terrible trunk murders that earned the place the nickname of ‘the queen of slaughtering places’. In the 1840s it became a haven for London criminals, and remains a very popular place for the criminal elite to live – a Costa del Crime for those who burn easily, perhaps. With the parties and the clubs and the ruckus come the drugs, and with the drugs come the dealers and the heavies and the turf wars. We also have more than our fair share of criminal landlords, moneylenders, protectioneers and general wide boys. Just go down to the pier on a bank holiday – taking care of your purse.
But Brighton’s real life crime is far outweighed by the mass of fictional nastiness that goes on here. Of course, there are the historical precedents of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and Patrick Hamilton’s Gorse Trilogy, but in recent years the outlaws and horror have mushroomed. Not only do we have the complete works of local resident Peter James, but there are the bloody Brighton goings-on of Brighton Trilogy, Danny Miller (Kiss Me Quick), Mark Peterson (Flesh and Blood, A Place of Blood and Bone), Paul Grzegorzek (When Good Men Do Nothing), S J Watson (Before I go to Sleep) and, yes him again, Nick Cave (Bunny Monroe). And that’s just the men. There is a whole swathe of crime books written by women and set in Brighton – which is as it should be, with this kind of town. Sara Sheridan’s Mirabelle Bevan detective novels bring a 1950s Brighton to life, Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend deposits a female serial killer to the town, and psychological thriller writers Colette McBeth (Precious Thing), Erin Kelly (The Ties That Bind) and yours truly (Cuckoo) all use a Brighton setting for people being less than nice to each other.
And that’s before we get started on film: Hollywood rising star Ben Wheatley cut his teeth here with his grimly comedic Down Terrace, and there’s London to Brighton, Under Suspicion and Quadrophenia. And what gritty TV cop series doesn’t involve some trip down to London on Sea?
Of course, Dark & Stormy isn’t just about Brighton-based novels. We’re bringing to town the very best the entire crime genre has to offer, in partnership with Brighton Festival, Brighton Festival Fringe and Picturehouse Cinemas for a wicked weekend at venues in Central Brighton. And after you’ve filled your cup at our events, why not visit The Cricketers pub, which not only features in Brighton Rock, but also has a Jack the Ripper room upstairs? Or come and see us: Emlyn, Ray and I will be hanging out at our informal hub, The Spiegeltent Bar, down on the Old Steine, eponymous inspiration for Lynne Truss’s fictional detective.
And please: don’t worry about getting involved with heavies – it’s not as bad down here as I make out.
Believe me: I’m a novelist.’
Find out more about Dark & Stormy on their website and on Twitter. The festival takes place on Friday 23rd May – Sunday 25th May.