Reading, Writing, and Festival Frenzy


Ho, ho, ho! Tis the season to merry! By which I mean, we’ve entered the five months of the year in which a flurry of the UK’s Crime Festivals are held, including Gwyl Crime Cymru (last weekend in April), Cromarty Crime, CrimeFest (May), Lyme Crime (June), Theakston’s Harrogate (July), St Hilda’s (August), Capital Crime, Bloody Scotland, Noirwich, International Agatha Christie Festival (September).

For those of you not in the know, Crime Festivals are not events in which large quantities of dodgy-looking gals and geezers gather to perpetrate acts that transgress legal, moral, and gravitational boundaries, at least not primarily. They are, rather, celebrations of all sub-genres of crime fiction writing attended by dodgy-looking gals and geezers, both writers and readers, for discussions, panels, readings, book-signings, laughs, larks, and general acts of derring-do.

The season is also accompanied by awards for crime-writing. Many of the festivals have their own awards, celebrating long form and short form, traditional, independent, self-published, and unpublished work alike, as well as the individuals who write them. And there are the prestigious Crime Writers’ Association daggers, whose shortlists are announced at CrimeFest, but whose winners are announced at a dedicated ceremony in June.

I’ve long been of two minds about awards. On the positive side, as a reader, they help highlight works that are considered, by someone, to be worth a read, possibly with more certainty than the other main guide to ‘good’, the Waterstones / Amazon / Goodreads / Kobo / Apple Books, etc ratings & reviews. When I see a longlist or a shortlist, I am always pleased to see books on it I have read and enjoyed as that secretly validates my tastes. But I am more pleased to see books on it I have not heard of, as my brain goes ‘well, I enjoyed that one, so I’m bound to enjoy this one that is deemed as good.’ Consequently, for me, awards season can get quite expensive quite quickly.

On the negative side, I’m always a little skeptical about attempts to say definitively that one book is ‘better’ than another. Once certain quality criteria in the writing have been reached, which usually happens before a book can be published, there is always going to be an element of personal preference in the judges’ decisions, however widely read the judges are or however academic they can be in their assessment. Lee Child has said that when he was a Booker prize judge, he and the other judges read all of the entries for the prize – all 106 of them. When the winner was announced for that year, the judges as a group could say with certainty that the book that won (Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) was the one that the five judges collectively agreed was the one most worthy of the award.

But less well-funded prizes cannot do that. The judges have less time, and the number of entries is often higher, so before the judges get hold of the books they judge, in many cases most of the entrants / submissions to the competition must have already been eliminated. For example, the CrimeFest eDunnit award had 672 novels submitted as entries this year. It would have been simply impossible for a judge to read all of those and know that the winner is the best book. Consequently, it is possible that the ‘best book’ was eliminated in the first round of reading because the first reader had a different view than the judges selecting the winner would have had. Or so I used to tell myself when I submitted something for a competition and never heard of it again.

But forget all that! My publisher, Hobeck Books, entered my Novel, Hunted, into the Crime Writer’s Association’s prize for writers’ first published crime novels, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and it made the longlist! Hurrah! The judging criteria for this competition are clearly 100% effective!

Much more seriously, I was, whilst incredibly excited and occasionally bombarded by moments of hope of progressing further than the longlist, gobsmacked to make it to the longlist at all. Reading through the names of others who have been longlisted, shortlisted, and won, over the years, I am simultaneously hugely encouraged and feeling like a complete imposter to be associated with those writers and their works.

Of this years’ other longlistees, I have read two. The Source, by Sarah Sultoon; a gripping and harrowing book I would not be surprised to see on the shortlist, and Waking the Tiger, by Mark Wightman; equally as good for very different reasons, and again I’d not be remotely surprised if it didn’t progress in the competition. Of the others, I had heard of Falling, The Appeal, and Sixteen Horses. I have looked up all the others. A great mix of independent and traditionally published works of vastly varied subject matter and sub-genre. If I had the time, I’d read the lot. I’m going to start with The Mash House and When Ravens Roost.

The shortlist will be announced at CrimeFest on May 13th. I will be on a panel at CrimeFest that day, speaking on the topic of ‘Divided Society: Hate Crimes and Social Factors’. My fellow panelists are Sarah Sultoon (fellow longlistee), Kia Abdullah (whose latest novel, Next of Kin, is longlisted for this year’s CWA Gold Dagger award), and Holly Watt (whose first novel, To the Lions, won the 2019 CWA Steel Dagger award), and our participating moderator the great Stanley Trollip (half of the duo of Michael Stanley, the authors of the Detective Kubu books). We’re talking at 12.30. Hope to see you there.

Until then, best of luck to everyone longlisted for everything, and may the awards bring books to new readers who find enjoyment they would not otherwise have done.

- Antony, May 2022

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