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Letters / A superb event in terms of both content and delivery

The ending of Shetland Noir was as it started – buzzing with engagement and involvement. The ‘vox pops’ I did following the wind-down crime noir quiz certainly indicated a very satisfied audience. It will be very interesting to find out the formal feedback to determine how to improve.

Even as a very infrequent reader for pleasure/escapism (a film fanatic) with only John Le Carre occupying crime/noir space in my library, I was deeply impressed by this niche gang – authors and genre fans alike.

The event actually reminded me of two or three non-spy crime writers I’ve read over the years with Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun series, where I’ve read six of the fifteen, but will now revisit. I was particularly drawn to these by really enjoying getting insight into another country and culture – Laos.

So my appetite has been whetted to seek out crime writers from or writing about different countries/cultures. One workshop featured native English speaking authors from distant shores with Japan, Pittsburg, USA and Georgia (not USA) featured.

A fascinating discussion, and some really tricky issues for the authors to deal with in capturing the culture and its relationship to the criminality within that culture.

Whilst this festival felt very inclusive – one can argue that is easy with a highly self-selecting niche to self-generate its own inclusivity, I was left wondering to what extent this accommodated the absolute beginner to noir literature? This may not have been the target audience. I get and accept that.

Apologies for offering only a small snapshot of an intriguing genre of literature, which has so clearly exploded over the past 40 years, and perhaps exponentially over the past 20. The relationship within this genre between literature and television and film is clearly very important. The literature clearly feeding the latter two and society’s fascination and enjoyment of crime fiction is clearly not going away, despite such crimes falling in many cultures.

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My very limited experience of events in Shetland – pre and post Covid – are tinged by a sense of clique within the islands, but not overall during the events and with visiting participants.

I think there is an inevitability of this in a very small community, where so few do so much to make modern Shetland an astonishing venue for cultural expression and investigation. Primacy of place is clearly given to subject matter with a very strong local connection to the islands experience, so ‘other’ is very much a secondary and perhaps un-sellable commodity.

A thought that has come from the sense that this was not aimed at me, does nonetheless raise a question for programming oversight.

How accessible are our various festivals to non-English speakers and how can we go the extra mile to accommodate non-English speaking participants? Is cost/economy of scale the limiting factor or our own bias?

Shetland Wool Week last year, a different order of festival it seemed completely knocked me for six in terms of non-English speaking participation. Apples and pears?

Irrespective my observations and questions, niche or otherwise, this was a superb event in terms of both content and delivery from those onstage to those behind the scenes.

The Mareel staff are exceptional event and hospitality professionals. The organisers – bringing the idea of such a festival to life, as a Wordplay off-shoot(?) are to be highly accoladed. Thank you so very much.

James Paton

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