Vicki Delany is not only a bestselling Canadian crime writer, but also a co-founder of Prince Edward County’s annual Women Killing It Crime Writers’ Festival, which she started with fellow writer Janet Kellough in 2017. Women Killing It aims to connect readers with their favourite authors and spread word about both established and up-and-coming Canadian female crime writers. The festival, taking place between August 30th and September 1st this year, will allow attendees to interact with authors like Joy Fielding and Ausma Khan, and even take writing workshops with some of Canada’s top literary names.
Delany and Kellough both live in Prince Edward County, a municipality in Southern Ontario known for its elegant wineries and beautiful sandy beaches. Delany has published thirty-five novels, including the Lighthouse Library Mystery series, and Kellough is the author of the popular Thaddeus Lewis series. I had the pleasure of speaking to Delany last month about her writing, the festivals’ third year of operations, and why crime and mystery novels are so appealing to women. Here is our conversation:
(Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity).
Olivia Lavery: Let’s start with some background information about you. Tell me where you’re from and how you ended up in Prince Edward County.
Vicki Delany: I’ve been living in the County for eleven years. I spent a good part of my life in Oakville. I used to work for the Royal Bank in downtown Toronto. I was lucky enough to be able to retire from the bank when I was fifty-five, so I moved from Oakville out to the County and I have a little place in the countryside outside Belleville. My background is that I’m a computer programmer and a system’s analyst.
OL: How did your writing career start?
VD: While I was working, I took several courses at the local community college in creative writing and I started writing then. I had my first two books published while I was still working at the bank, and my third one written. Then I left that job and I now have thirty-five published novels to my credit.
OL: What kind of books do you write?
VD: I write mystery and suspense. Over the years I’ve written several different styles or sub-genres, but now I’m writing books called cozy mysteries, which are the sort of light, fun, puzzle-type mysteries.
OL: What was it about mystery and suspense that you connected with more than other genres you could have turned towards writing?
VD: Certainly when I first got the idea of writing a book I wanted to write a mystery novel of some sort, mainly because that’s largely what I read. I really think that in a lot of cases a good mystery or suspense novel allows the reader to step into the book and say to themselves “what would I do?” I think that’s sort of what drew me in, the fact that the individual reader can relate.
OL: I’ve noticed that women seem to be particularly interested in true crime and crime novels. Do you have any thoughts on why women seem to be so drawn to these genres?
VD: Women generally tend to read more books than men do in the first place. A mystery novel or a suspense novel covers a really wide range of stuff. You have the really dark and gritty stuff and you have the really intense psychological kind of domestic suspense that’s really popular these days. And at the other end of the spectrum there’s the kind of stuff that I’m writing, that’s basically about communities and friends presented with a puzzle and they have to sort out what’s happened. For the books that I’m writing now I get a lot of letters from women, who say they’re reading the lighter books because they don’t want something that’s dark and disturbing, they want something about good people living in a good world. But on the other hand I think that women do face issues to do with things such as domestic violence or harassment at work, and reading a book is sometimes a way of dealing with those kinds of things.
OL: What inspired you to start the Women Killing It festival?
VD: It was me and Janet Kellough who started this. A few years ago it became quite noticeable to me that Canadian women crime writers were not getting invitations to the big literary festivals. Canadian male crime writers get invited to them and international female crime writers get invited, but largely Canadian women do not. There are also statistics that show women writers get fewer reviews in major publications than men do. Janet and I were discussing that and the idea came up to do this. All we’re trying to do is trying to put a spotlight on what we consider the wide range of Canadian women crime writers.
OL: How has the turnout been in the past few years?
VD: We’ve had really good reception. This will be our third year. Ticket sales for this year are looking pretty good. We’ve got a lot of people that come from outside of Prince Edward County. The focus of our festival is mostly on readers who want to meet with authors, but we also have a component for writers. We have two workshops that are specifically aimed at people beginning a novel of their own or into it and need a little guidance.
OL: Prince Edward County seems like a great spot for a crime festival because it’s beautiful, but there are also a lot of old, spooky locations.
VD: Well this year in fact, for the first time, we’re having the Saturday evening event in the crypt at Glenwood Cemetery. We think it’s going to be perfect.
OL: What do you hope attendees get out of the festival?
VD: We hope attendees have a good time. We hope that they’re able to talk to their favourite author or an author they know well. It’s intended to be intimate. All our events have opportunities for people to speak one on one with the authors. That’s what we can do because we’re a small festival in a small community.
OL: You’re saying that the festival is designed to be intimate and small, but since you’ve been having good turnouts do you have any intention of ever trying to make it bigger?
VD: It’s almost impossible to say. I certainly don’t think that we would ever want to move to a hotel sort of venue. I suspect that as long as Janet and I are running it, it would need to be something that’s confined to the space that we have. You don’t really have those big venues in the County.
OL: Do you have a favourite memory or moment from the past few years of running the event?
VD: One of my favourite moments was when someone at last year’s event said she had already book her hotel for this year.
OL: How did you go about attracting authors to come to the festival to speak?
VD: I’ve been around in the industry for a long time, I’m a former president of the Crime Writers of Canada, so I know a lot of people. I also go to mystery conferences. But I don’t only invite people that I know. We deliberately try to get a wide range. This year we have Joy Fielding coming, who’s a New York Times bestseller. We have Ausma Khan, who’s definitely up and coming and getting a large amount of press. And then we have a local author S.M. Hurley. It’s important to us not just to have Ontario people. We definitely try to get a variety of books; we have cozy mysteries and we have darker stuff and police procedurals.
OL: You’ve written thirty-five books, so I can imagine you’ve participated in other book festivals and on panels. Have you pulled from those experiences to create this festival?
VD: I used to be on the board of Scene of the Crime when it was on at Wolf Island. It ended five or six years ago. We’ve taken a lot from that because it was a small event. I’ve been to festivals and I’ve been to conferences, and we definitely don’t want the big conference hotel feel. We want the intimacy.
Vicki’s next book, published under the pen name Eva Gates, is called Read & Buried, and will be released in October by Crooked Lane Books. For more information on the Women Killing It festival and author list, you can visit: https://womenkillingitauthorsfestival.wordpress.com.