Wednesday, 24 April 2019
The End of an Era
My spell as Chair of the Crime Writers' Association was one I found fascinating and enjoyable, though inevitably it did take up a lot of time. But it gave me deeper insight into the workings of the crime writing world and also the issues facing crime writers at a time of much change in the publishing industry. I've been a member of the CWA for more than 30 years, and I've gained a great deal from my membership. So trying to build on the work of my predecessors also afforded an opportunity to give something back. As well as the chance of consuming the occasional CWA cupcake...
I'm not a natural "committee" person, and I've always been aware that committees are not always effective; in my working life I've also come across many disputes in voluntary and not-for-profit bodies. However, I did find that my apprenticeship as a member of the CWA committee, or board of directors, to be more accurate, under the chairmanship of Peter James, Alison Joseph, and Len Tyler, was very helpful in enabling me to get a clearer understanding of the way the organisation works, and of its potential.
My over-riding aim was to build on the fact that the membership of the CWA has been growing impressively for a number of years, and help to refashion the infrastructure of the organisation. A lot of this sort of thing is unglamorous - sorting out the finances, updating the legal constitution, managing the paid agencies who carry out various projects- but essential. My message to members was that we had to be business-like, because that was the only way to ensure that a large and growing organisation could serve its members effectively. Avoiding increases in member subscriptions while developing an ever wider range of member benefits seemed to me to be crucial. And also, one has to get across the message about those benefits, and to communicate effectively with people who read, or might want to read, members' books.
So rather than having numerous lengthy board meetings (my experience of partners' meetings in a law firm has irrevocably turned me off the idea of long meetings and endless going round in circles) I tried to develop a way of working in which a wide and expanding range of individuals undertook specific projects, with sound admin and financial management in the background. So the CWA now has, among other things, three Libraries Champions, two Festival Liaison Officers, a Booksellers' Champion, a Publishers' Liaison Officer, and a number of other people doing invaluable work of various kinds - I'm especially proud of the work we've started on supporting writers who face mental health challenges.
The Board members, and the admirable Secretary Dea Parkin, proved wonderfully supportive, and the way they dealt with the occasional tricky issue which arose was a model of sensible and constructive conduct. I was also delighted by the way the membership as a whole reacted, understanding the need to make changes while retaining the ethos that has made the CWA so cohesive over the past 65 years.
Of course, there are some things which I'd like to have done which I never quite managed, not least visiting each of the regional CWA chapters (though I did get to several of them), but I'm delighted that my elected successor is Linda Stratmann, someone who will bring her own ideas and energy to benefit an organisation which does seem to me to be going from strength to strength. I've handed over to her, as is the custom, the Creasey Bell (see top photo) which has resided in my house since early 2017, and I wish her all the very best.
As it turns out, I'm the only person who has served as CWA Chair and Detection Club President at the same time, and I also became the longest-serving Chair of the CWA since our founder, John Creasey, back in the 1950s. So it's definitely time to step aside and get some more writing done. But I'm going to continue to be involved with the CWA, not least as anthologist and archivist. And I'm very glad to belong to such a thriving and forward-looking organisation.