As I mentioned the other day, I had the chance at St Hilda's to catch up with Val McDermid, who is always a witty and insightful companion. I've talked about Val several times on this blog, and since I first met her at a Northern CWA lunch in Yorkshire upwards of 25 years ago, I've followed her career and rise to the top with great interest.
Val's a doughty campaigner on all sorts of issues - here's an excellent piece she wrote last week for The Guardian, defending the crime genre from thoughtless criticism with gusto and common sense. She and I have a number of things in common (sales figures, alas, are not among them!) and Val spoke in her after dinner speech at St Hilda's of the transformational effect going to Oxford had on her after arriving from a state school. I had a similar experience at exactly the same time - we were contemporaries as students, though we never met. And even earlier, we'd both conceived a love for crime fiction after starting off with the very same book - Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. Quite a coincidence.
I'd also like to mention her generosity. A while back, I asked her to write an intro for the ebook publication of Suspicious Minds. Not only did she agree to do it, she delivered on the promise with a very incisive intro, simply out of the goodness of her heart. I had the same happy experience with a number of other leading crime writers, a reminder that the crime fiction world is a very collegiate one. . .
She is, of course, best known as a novelist, but her fiction is impressively varied, and her versatility as a writer is one of the qualities that I particularly admire. She's created winning series after winning series as well as writing great stand-alones. Short stories? Yep, she's very good at those, and I've included several in anthologies I've edited. Her collection Stranded is definitely worth seeking out. And that's not all. She published an excellent non-fiction book about female private eyes, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, and when not long ago she produced Forensics, I rushed out to buy it within a few days of publication.
Little did I imagine that her excellent book and my The Golden Age of Murder would one day feature together on two award shortlists. It's happened before, when The Coffin Trail was shortlisted for the Theakston's Prize for best crime novel - an award won by Val,and I have to say deservedly so. Whatever happens this time around, for me it's a real pleasure to see my work bracketed with hers, however fleetingly. She is one of crime writing's superstars.