Monday, 16 June 2008

Awards and short-lists

Awards proliferate in many walks of life these days. Believe it or not, there are almost as many awards going for members of the legal profession as there are for crime writers. I’m sure there are various interesting sociological reasons for the trend. But is it a Good Thing?

I must confess that I have slightly mixed feelings. It’s wonderful to be short-listed for an award, and even better to win – of course. Yet, inevitably, the difficulty of making comparisons that are anything other than highly subjective means that any award or short-listing is bound to have an element of the lottery about it. Nothing wrong with lotteries, though.

I’ve judged quite a few awards, usually short story competitions, as well as having been a member of the CWA’s Diamond Dagger nominations sub-committee for several years. So I know that picking a winner is a tricky task, and sometimes a real toss-up. In terms of being on the receiving end, I’ve been short-listed for eight awards – four literary, four legal – and have won one (legal, not literary.) When The Coffin Trail reached the short-list of six for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel in 2006, alongside books by the likes of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, that was an undoubted career highlight. Yet do I really think that it is my best book? Definitely not. Perhaps an author is not the best judge of his own work, but even so….

Despite these reservations, there’s no doubt that an award can really do wonders for an author’s career. The impact that the CWA Gold Dagger for Black and Blue had on Ian’s reputation is but one example. And even at a humbler level, there’s no doubt that featuring on a short-list is – at the very least – good for morale.

So the fact that ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice’ has been judged one of the five best short stories of the year, in the exalted company of stories by Michael Connolly, Laura Lippman, Bob Barnard and Danuta Reah, has given me a real boost; I’m very grateful to the judges for picking my story. And that is, in itself, perhaps a sufficient justification for awards. Writing is a tough game, and anything that encourages and motivates is indeed a very Good Thing. Especially, perhaps, for those of us labouring in that commercial no-man’s-land known as ‘the mid-list’.

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