Thursday 14 February 2008

Sue Grafton

The Crime Writers’ Association recently announced that the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger is to be awarded to Sue Grafton, creator of that very popular private investigator Kinsey Millhone.

I have a bit of involvement in the process for selecting the recipient of the Dagger, although the final decision is very definitely that of the CWA Committee each year, and I'm not a member of the Committtee. So it may be of interest to explain the process by which decisions are reached.

The Diamond Dagger is an award for a writer whose career has been marked by sustained excellence (‘sustained’ is as important as ‘excellence’ – there are other awards for gifted newcomers and brilliant individual novels) ‘and who is judged by his or her peers to have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language. Members of the CWA nominate suitable recipients and the nominations are considered by a small sub-committee. I became involved some years ago when the legendary Reginald Hill (who is not only a terrific writer and a great influence on my own work, but also perhaps the wittiest person I've ever met) was chair of the sub-committee. There have been a few changes over the years and now, as chair, I collect the nominations and then reach a consensus with Janet Laurence, a friend and novelist who chaired the CWA itself a few years back, as to an appropriate short-list containing, say, five or six names. This is then submitted to the Committee and, once they have deliberated, the recipient’s name is made known.

Sue Grafton is a deservedly successful writer. It’s interesting to note that her father, C.W.Grafton, was also a capable crime novelist whose first book, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, I read a good many years ago. I can't, to be honest, rememeber much about it, but I do recall that I enjoyed it. There have been a few children who have followed in their parent's footsteps as a crime writer - in Britain, the Graemes, the Bentleys, and the Jepsons spring to mind - but few have enjoyed as much fame as Sue Grafton.


Xavier said...

I am not fond of lifetime achievement awards as recipients often don't need them, being already well-known and much-honoured. I remember how aghast I felt when Mary Higgins Clark was made a Grandmaster some years ago, and don't get me started about Ian Rankin's or Elmore Leonard's Diamond Dagger wins.

Unknown said...

I agree whole heartedly with your praise for Sue Grafton. One of my favorites is her 1990 title G is for Gumshoe.

Thanks for the post. It is interesting to learn more about the awards process.

Darwin Stephenson
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Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. My own feeling is that there is definitely a place for awards in crime writing, as long as one recognises that the judgment process is inevitably somewhat subjective, sometimes even haphazard.
As for lifetime achievement awards, there's room for an intereting debate about the sort of achievement they should honour. As Xavier says, should they only go to the big names? Take someone like the late Ernest Dudley, who died a couple of years back. Not the greatest literary stylist, perhaps, but someone who worked solidly and entertainingly for many years. There's an argument that this sort of low key 'lifetime achievement' should be recognised more readily, even if the Diamond Dagger itself is not the appropriate form of recongition.

Xavier said...

I don't know whether he's still alive since he vanished off the radar a long time ago, but I think it's a shame that both the CWA and the MWA have been ignoring Mark McShane for so many years. Granted, he never made it big on the bestsellers lists but he is/was a genuine original responsible for some of the weirdest crime novels ever written (Seance on a Wet Afternoon, The Girl Nobody Knows, The Crimson Madness of Little Doom, etc) Maybe next year?

Martin Edwards said...

Xavier, I saw the film of Seance a good many years ago and thought it splendid. I've never read the books. The starting point for any candidate for the DD is for a CWA member to nominate him or her. Well see!

Anonymous said...

To Xavier: Yes Yes to Mark McShane. His book Seance on a Wet Afternoon is much better than the movie; and the movie was very good!
I just finished his Last But Not Leashed. It was hilarious AND mysterious!