Sarah Byrne answers: “What Bouchercon has meant to me…”

I’ve been a fan of mysteries since the age of 10 when I stumbled upon a copy of Colin Watson‘s “Snobbery with Violence” misfiled in the children’s section of the Toowong Library, in Brisbane Australia, where I grew up. 

For a long time, I knew no one who really shared my enthusiasm.  In fact the first time I did find another person who really loved crime fiction I overreacted and got engaged to him. Luckily, before I made a really huge mistake, I found the wonderful – now sadly defunct – magazine Armchair Detective, realised that there was a whole international community of like-minded readers out there, and learned that I could actually get to meet them at this magical, miraculous event named Bouchercon.

I aspired to visit Bouchercon for years and years.  It seemed an unattainable Holy Grail.  How would I get there, and what would I do even if I made it?  I knew nobody; felt like I hadn’t read nearly enough to earn my stripes, and many of the authors listed had no distribution in Australia, so what could I say to them?  It seemed quite terrifying, but also potentially the best time I could ever have.  And so I yearned.

By 1998, I was finally earning enough to make my first ever overseas trip. 

Philadelphia is possibly not where most Australians dream of going for their first international holiday – but Bouchercon was there, so for me it was a no-brainer.  And it was glorious.  Everyone was friendly.  People would read my name tag, realise I was from Australia, and go out of their way to welcome me. Authors weren’t offended when I hadn’t read them, just pleased to meet a potential new fan.  When the bestselling authors’ panels were packed out, I could wander into another panel (generally wherever I heard the most laughter) and discover new and brilliant writers I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of. In the Dealers’ Room I bought a doormat with the imprint “Do You Have A Warrant?” –  which was hilarious up until the point the police knocked on my door about the burglary in the flat downstairs.

And then there was my favourite thing ever, the charity auction, and to this day I kick myself for not scraping up the US$110 it would have taken to win signed first editions of the first four novels from someone now very famous.

It was a few years before I could find the time and cash to make the pilgrimage again, but in 2005 I got myself to Chicago. And I’ve managed to attend again almost every year since, including Madison, Wisconsin, where I made no sense on a panel after 44 hours of travelling on five flights to get there. (Worse, on that last flight I was seated next to the Guest of Honour, hadn’t read a thing he’d written, and smelled and looked exactly as you would expect of a person who had spent 44 hours travelling in economy). And Alaska, where distance kept numbers low, but meant that I also got to meet several of my idols and have real conversations. (And where this year’s Co-Chairs and I serendipitously found a restaurant that was selling the 1998 vintage Grange Hermitage for less that I could have got it for at home.) 

So for the last 12 years, Bouchercon has been my respite and my oasis, and the thing I most look forward to every year. I’ve made wonderful friends, discovered brilliant writers, seen places I would not otherwise have thought to visit, and connected with the community that is closest to my heart.

To anyone wondering whether to take the plunge for the first time, stop wondering and DO IT.  Whether you’re a hermit or a hedonist, if you love mysteries, then you will find your bliss at Bouchercon.