Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Val McDermid

Val McDermid has been awarded the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger – the most prestigious crime fiction award in the UK – and it’s an honour which recognises the consistently high quality of her writing over a good many years. Her first novel appeared in 1987, and she is best known for her books about Tony Hill, which were adapted into a highly successful TV series starring Robson Green, The Wire in the Blood.

Although Val and I are almost precisely the same age, and were student contemporaries, we did not meet until about 1992, by which time we were both members of the Northern Chapter of the CWA, founded by Peter Walker a few years earlier, and a group which has introduced me to many wonderful writers who have become friends. At that stage, Val was branching out with a new series featuring the Manchester private eye Kate Brannigan, and this was the point at which her career really began to take off in a big way.

I’ve followed her career pretty closely ever since, and I well remember being present at the Awards Dinner when Val received the CWA Gold Dagger for the first Tony Hill book, The Mermaids Singing. She’d had the extraordinarily galling experience of having her publishers omit the final few pages of the book from the first edition – what could be worse for a crime writer? But it would take much more than that to stop Val from achieving success.

It’s often said that Val’s books ‘are known for their graphic depictions of violence and torture’ (this is a phrase from the Wikipedia article about her) but my view is that more emphasis should be placed on two features which I think go a long way towards explaining her success. First, her books are very intelligently composed – not in a knowingly learned way, but in a way that helps to enhance reader satisfaction. Second, she has a genuine respect for classic crime fiction, and her understanding of the appeal of complex whodunit plots helps to inform her own carefully constructed mysteries. To respect good traditions, whilst updating them, is a gift for a crime writer, and she definitely possesses that gift.

Perhaps I should mention that I have an involvement with the Diamond Dagger, to the extent that I chair a small sub-committee which sifts through nominations for the award. Once we have agreed upon a shortlist of up to seven names of great candidates, those names go forward to the CWA committee, who make the actual decision. Needless to say, I’m very much in agreement with their choice!

The photo shows Val and I, with Martyn Waites, on the stage at Bouchercon in Baltimore about fifteen months ago, when we were involved with presenting awards to various guests of honour.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Brilliant post :). You've captured very neatly why Val McDermid richly deserved the award.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Oh, as soon as I saw the name, I had to read the blog. She's my favorite modern mystery writer. I style my novels after hers. I love her Tony Hill/Jordon series and can't wait to get her new book - Fever in the Bone.

I love the Wire in the Blood series, though a bit gruesome. Remember the scene where he walks into the kitchen to find the detective with her eyes cut out? The way Val wrote that scene in the book nearly ripped my heart out!

I'm very jealous that you met her and would love to someday have the privileged. I haven't read her Kate series but plan to next. I heard Val McDermid started with a new publisher. 'Little Brown', I think.

I was going to submit my work into the Debut Daggers in February, but I'm not sure. I still have so much to learn about being a mystery writer. I'm still young.

So glad you blogged her. Favorite post of the week.

ann elle altman

seana said...

I am sadly remiss in not having read any Val McDermid yet, though she's been recommended to me many times. Congratulations to her. (And I'm glad she didn't let that major publisher's printing error slow her down!)

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. She is a worthy winner.
Ann - why not give the Debut Dagger a go? I too still have a lot to learn about being a mystery writer, by the way, even though I struggle to make claim to be young!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great picture!

I love Wire in the Blood, but I did have to hide my face a few times. I'm such a baby.

Talented writer who is quite worthy of the award.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Dorte H said...

I have heard that her later works are less graphic than the Tony Hill series so I have been looking forward to reading some of them. I should have two on my TBR, but when my son was home two weeks ago, he wanted to borrow them, and as I had around fifty other books to read, I could hardly refuse lending him them.

And actually I enjoy that my children read more and more crime fiction :D

Minnie said...

Oh, well-deserved! Good choice. I second Margot's opinion of this post.
Interesting how Val's writing took almost a quantum leap into assurance and style after moving on from the Kate Brannigan series. She really took off, as you suggest.

Janet O'Kane said...

I'm also delighted to read about Val's award. She is fast becoming a bit of a national treasure (she'll hate that!), cropping up on Radio 4 quite a lot. I was fortunate enough to be tutored by Val on an Arvon course some years ago and she was incredibly generous with her time.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Janet. I can imagine that being tutored by Val was a truly fascinating experience which will have been of great value.