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CrimeFest Toastrix 2022

Welcome return of Bristol crime fiction feast

CrimeFest 2022
This weekend, I am one of many authors and readers to be attending the first CrimeFest Crime Writing Festival to take place since 2019. It’s been a blast so far, and as I write this, I still have Sunday’s events to go.

During the event, I met Derbyshire author, Dawn Brookes, who told me that Lee Child’s comment, “If Jack Reacher were a woman, he would be my main character, Charlie Fox,” prompted her to do this enjoyable video interview for her YouTube show, High Octane Thrillers & Female Leads.

On Saturday evening, I attended the Gala Dinner where I was the official Toastmaster – or Toastrix. I was asked to deliver a five-minute speech prior to announcing the winners of the various Awards. I decided to theme it on language, and words, and the derivation of words. For all those of you who could not attend, here’s the gist of what I said on the night:

Zoë Sharp delivering Toastrix address at CrimeFest 2022
“Do you like the outfit? It’s the last word in Zoom-inspired lockdown chic. From the waist up, absolutely spiffing. From the waist down, who cares?

“It’s lovely to see so many of you face to face after all this time. And I support those of you who’ve chosen to remain masked. We are crime writers, after all.

“When Adrian first approached me about taking on this role for tonight, I was surprised to discover that this is the first time CrimeFest has ever had a female toastmaster. (And who knows, it may well yet be the last.)

He asked how I wanted to be referred to? Toastmistress made it sound like I was running a sub-Post Office, so I picked Toastrix.

“It brings to mind either a breakfast cereal of some kind, or a dominatrix. What, I wondered, is the male equivalent of that – perhaps a Dominator? Although, to me that’s a 1950s’ British motorcycle made by Norton.

“As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated by language and the derivation of words.

“Take the drinking of a toast to someone’s health, for instance. The word refers to dropping a piece of toasted or spiced bread into wine to soak up its acidity and improve the flavour. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff calls for a quart of wine and says ‘put a toast in it.’ Over time, the toast has become the person honoured by the ritual, rather than the bread itself, although I understand that submerging the honouree in wine is now optional.

“The word sincere comes from sculpting in marble. If a sculptor made a mistake, they would fill in the error with wax. Thus, if a statue was finished with no imperfections, it was sin cere – without wax.

“The word clue comes from Greek mythology – from the story of Theseus, who was trapped in the labyrinth of Knossos to be eaten by the Minotaur. Theseus escaped using a ball or clew of thread, given to him by Ariadne. He used the thread to mark his path out, and thus a clue is now a form of guidance.

“Many words have shifted from their original meanings.

“Oracle entered the caves at Delphi and inhaled the vapours, it was said that she became ‘enthusiastic’, which meant inspired or possessed by a god, rather than simply rather keen.

“And decimation means removal of a tenth, traditionally a punishment among disgraced Roman soldiers. Every ten men would draw lots and whoever got the short straw, the others had to beat him to death. A bit severe for the Territorials.

“My pet hate is the word feisty, which comes from Middle English and is often applied to my female protagonists, but actually means either a small yappy dog, or flatulent. So, a small, yappy, farting, dog. Not quite the effect I was aiming for.

“There have been numerous incidences where major companies have come up with product name that don’t quite work in the countries in which they’re intending to market them.

“Hence, General Motors attempting to sell a car in South America called the Nova. ‘No va,’ in Spanish means ‘doesn’t go’. And probably best not to mention about Rolls Royce trying to sell the Silver Mist in Germany.

“I understand that if you sidle into a store in Australia and ask for Durex, you may be offered it by the roll, as Durex is the brand name for Sellotape over there.

My personal favourite was an energy drink I came across in Japan, a kind of Gatorade / Lucozade type of thing, designed to replace electrolytes lost during exercise. It was called Pocari Sweat. Sounds delightful.

Language is gendered, however much we might prefer it not to be, and the gendered versions of words can have very different connotations attached to them.

Take landlord versus landlady. A landlord sounds like someone who runs a pub, but somehow, you’re more likely to find a landlady running a boarding house on the seafront in Morecambe.

“A bachelor is a young blade with trendy apartment. But the word Spinster brings to mind knitting and cats.

“Over the last few days in Bristol, we’ve seen many hen parties and stag weekends why is it a stag do, but a hen night? I suppose because you could hardly have a doe do or a cock night.

“I leave you with this last thought on words and their gendered forms. If someone considered to be outstanding in their field has mastery over their subject, then perhaps the feminine version should be mystery?”

And the terrible jokes I used between announcement of the CrimeFest Awards:

“Just to keep things moving, I will be interspersing our guests with literary jokes worthy of the Christmas cracker.”

“An author enquires with a publisher about their terms of submission. I’m sorry,’ he’s told. “Novels of suspense we accept only via an agent. And spy novels only via a double-agent.”

“I went to Waterstone’s today because it was a third off all titles. I bought THE LION, THE WITCH…”

“How many crime writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.”

“Knock, knock”

“Who’s there?”

“To”

“To who?”

“It’s whom, actually…”

“Never leave alphabetti-spaghetti on the stove when you go out. It could spell disaster.”

“I bought my father a Kindle for Christmas. He still hasn’t finished it.”

“I’m reading a book at the moment about the world’s most secure bank vaults, but it’s really hard to get into.”

“I’ve just finished writing a thriller called I’M FEELING A CHILL FROM SOMEWHERE.

It’s just a first draft.”

“Never date an apostrophe. They’re so possessive.”

That’s all folks…
Zoë Sharp in Toastrix attire at CrimeFest 2022
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