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Daggers out!

28 November 2005

Recent events at the Crime Writers Association read a bit like the plot of a conspiracy thriller but behind it all may lurk no more than a preference to support British - or at least English language - talent. The Crime Writers Association, founded over 50 years ago, is after all a body representing published crime writers, who make up most of its 450-strong membership.

This year's shortlist for the top award presented by the Crime Writers' AssociationA networking society for some 400 British crime writers (widely defined) and links to their sites. Membership for published writers only, but award a Debut Dagger for the best unpublished crime novel. Some articles from their magazine Red Herrings are posted on the site and there are links to many individual crime writers' websites. each year, the Gold Dagger for the best new crime novel of the year, included five books which had been translated into English. This being the case, it was no surprise when the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason won the Gold Dagger with his Silence of the Grave. It thus became one of three translated works to have won the top award in the past eight years. Given the increasing popularity of many foreign authors amongst British readers, this reflects something of a trend amongst readers at the more literary end of the crime spectrum.

There was therefore a great outcry when, within a week of the Dagger winner being announced, the CWA said that it would be changing the rules for next year. Submissions for the 2006 awards will be restricted to books written in English. Publishers have been aghast at this change and have protested vigorously. The Association said that it wanted to reflect better the British crime writers it represents - on the face of it a perfectly reasonable intention - and also to come into line with the Booker and Orange prizes, which only accept submissions originally written in English.

This is where the plot thickens. After many years of generous sponsorship from Macallan, the CWA awards were sponsored by book club group BCA in 2004 and this year's awards have been funded by the Association itself - a situation which surely cannot continue. There are rumours that the possible new sponsor wanted only English language writers to be eligible for the Daggers, and that this has affected the Association's decision.

But as Selina Walker of Transworld said: 'I'm no Little Englander, but this year's Gold Dagger shortlist, with its clear bias towards crime in translation, had a limited appeal to the broad mass of crime fans.' It doesn't seem unreasonable for a sponsor to prefer an award which has always been in the mainstream of crime writing. If the Daggers are to continue, the CWA's first duty will be to make sure that they are properly funded. They are substantial and important awards, which have over the years kick-started many crime writers' careers and found them many more readers.

Crime Writers' Association site

Our link review of the CWA