"And then he woke up, and he realised it had all been a dream."
I've arrived back home after a week in the United States that had an extremely dream-like quality about it. It's twenty-five years since my first novel was published, and I've had many great times since then (plus occasional setbacks) but this past week has been, by far, the best of my crime writing life.
In that time, I've received the Edgar award and the Agatha award, been named on the shortlist of a third award (the HRF Keating award), and heard it announced that I'm to receive the Poirot award at Malice Domestic next year. Add to that a proposed translation of The Golden Age of Murder into Japanese, and a series of highly enjoyable encounters with crime writing (and reading) friends old and new, and you can perhaps understand why I'm feeling extraordinarily happy- and grateful - right now.
I'd booked for Malice Domestic 28 long before The Golden Age of Murder was shortlisted for the Agathas, so when the book also turned up on the Edgars shortlist, it made sense to fit in my first trip to New York for almost twenty years. I flew into Washington DC to settle into the convention hotel and spend a little quality time with one or two good friends before taking a train to New York and checking into the Grand Hyatt -immediately bumping into Steve Steinbock, crime reviewer for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. EQMM were holding a reception prior to the Edgars ceremony, and Steve and I went along there together, and chatted with the likes of Otto Penzler, of Mysterious Bookstore fame, and John Pugmire of Locked Room International.
Then it was back to the Grand Hyatt, and the very lavish and prestigious banquet (sharing a tale with that fantastic writer Sara Paretsky) and awards ceremony. I'm not a believer in writing acceptance speeches in advance of knowing whether one has anything to accept. My approach is simply to improvise if I get lucky, or to have a few more drinks if I don't. Anyway, this time, despite the quality of the other books on the shortlist, by Frederick Forsyth among others, my name came out of the envelope. It was for me an utterly memorable occasion, and astonishingly, I even managed not to drop the Edgar statuette. (The photo at the top of this post was taken by Donna Andrews; the envelope is the one that Toni P. Kelner opened when making the announcement).
After the opening ceremonies, it was time for dinner with Doug and his wife, Steve, John, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Dirda, and two distinguished American academics and writers, Elaine and English Showalter (who also happen to be former owners of my son's flat!). The conversation was spellbinding, and I had a great night. This was swiftly followed by a 9 am Saturday morning panel at which I met two of my fellow nominees, one of whom was Kate White, former editor of Cosmopolitan. (The fact that my book was the only common factor in the Edgar and Agatha shortlists illustrates the vastly increased popularity and quality of writing about the genre over the past few years; there are a lot of good books in this category now.)
Then came a reception followed by the Agatha awards ceremony, and I had the pleasure of hosting a table featuring some of my favourite partners in crime, such as Kathryn Leigh Scott, Steve, John, Josh Pachter, Joni Langevoort, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and Charles and Caroline Todd. Lots of entertaining conversation before the announcement of the Agatha awards. After another acceptance speech (when I drew a spur of the moment comparison between Malice and that early-established social network, the Detection Club) I had the pleasure of hearing the announcement that next year the convention will mark my contribution to the genre with a Poirot Award. Suffice to say, it was another wonderful night.
Sunday morning brought brunch with a small group of us - including Art Taylor, a notable exponent of the short story who has now turned to writing novels with equal success, and has won Agathas in each of the last three years - hosted by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, After spending ages working out how to ship my awards back to the UK, I interviewed another of the weekend's honorees, Doug Greene, about his long career, which includes a definitive biography of John Dickson Carr, among much else.
In the audience, incidentally, was Shelly Dickson Carr, grand-daughter of the master of the locked room mystery and herself an author of note. It was a real pleasure to meet her (and thanks to her for the photo with Doug and me, below). The "Agathas tea", as usual. concluded a truly fantastic convention. My admiration for the work done by Verena Rose and her colleagues on the Malice board increases the more I learn about what they do. To take just one example, they have over the years raised a total of over $200,000 for charitable causes. Wow.
That evening I had dinner and a few drinks with Doug and Sandi Greene, and we had the chance to reflect together on a wonderful few days. It's almost a cliche to say that the writer's life is a solitary one, and sometimes a lonely one, and to some extent there's truth in the old saying. But as I've tried many times to illustrate on this blog, a writer's life can be greatly enhanced by the social side of things - and in the world of crime writing, that social dimension is hugely enjoyable. Every writer experiences setbacks from time to time, and I know plenty of gifted authors who have lost heart; something that I find deeply regrettable. I spent a lot of time with some marvellous people during my few days in the States, and I returned home reflecting that the successes that have come my way of late owe a great deal to the generosity and support of others, especially when times have been challenging. The crime writing and reading community is highly cohesive, and it is one I'm truly proud to belong to.