Photographs by Gary Stratmann
‘The CWA is constantly expanding. So are the benefits we offer our members. Writing is a solitary occupation but we offer the chance to join regional chapters, attend our national conference, and receive an excellent monthly newsletter, Red Herrings – plus much more besides. Members value our various social media platforms, and the chance to promote their work to the large subscriber bases of the very popular Case Files and Crime Readers’ Association newsletter. But it’s the collegiate ethos of the CWA that remains its most valuable asset and benefit. In my 30 years of membership I’ve met many wonderful people, and made some very good friends. And their support, through good times and bad, is beyond price.
The CWA has changed a lot in the 64 years since it was founded by John Creasey. Although it is UK based the membership is international and is open to published crime writers, with provisional membership to writers who have a contract but whose book is not yet out: Full or Provisional Membership cost from £55 annually. There is also an option for associate membership for those in the publishing industry.
This does not mean that the aspiring crime writer has been forgotten.
We are keen to encourage new talent within the genre. The CWA is a professional organisation for professional writers, and others in the crime writing business, but – to take just two examples – the CWA Debut Dagger for unpublished novelists and CWA Margery Allingham Prize for new short stories both play an important part in encouraging and developing talent. We also have the CWA Criminal Critique service where, for fees beginning at £87 writers can receive professional feedback on, as yet, unpublished work.
The Crime Readers’ Association, which is free to join, was set up to make the authors, their works and events accessible to their readers. However, the new writer can pick up advice and tips, such as the Do’s and Dont’s when approaching a literary agent.’
Martin is very optimistic about the way the crime genre continues to evolve.
‘Digital publishing is changing the industry fast and nobody knows exactly what the future holds. But crime writing (fact as well as fiction) is as popular as ever. I’m a contemporary crime novelist, but I’ve been delighted by the revival of interest in classic crime fiction, and the truth is that the genre is a very broad church. So is the CWA.’
In light of all the changes that have happened in recent years within the publishing industry Martin views the future of the crime genre and the organisation in a very positive light.
‘I’m confident about the future of both crime writing and the CWA. Despite the fact that we have been around so long, today we have more members than ever before – and the number is rising all the time. That’s genuinely exciting. Writers face many challenges, not just when they are starting out, but throughout their careers, and the CWA is doing more and more to support them. I’ve also just appointed our first Libraries’ Champion and our first Booksellers’ Champion as we seek to collaborate with others for the benefit of all.’
Although the organisation is genre-specific Martin is keen to establish mutual links with other writing organisations within the industry.
‘Whilst the CWA is by definition genre-specific, I’m a firm believer in collaboration, and since becoming Chair I’ve initiated dialogue with a range of groups both here and overseas. A good example is our developing links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association, at both local and national level. Again, these relationships are mutually beneficial, and have great potential for all our members.’
Martin is a relatively new chair but he has already set many new goals to achieve during his tenure.
‘My aim is to oversee the modernisation and professionalization of the CWA, whilst remaining absolutely committed to its core traditional values of collegiality. Achieving this requires action on many levels – local, national, and international. We are modernising our infrastructure, strengthening our finances, recruiting more members here and overseas, and developing relationships with sponsors and other like-minded organisations. What we are seeing really is a quiet revolution, a radical one in some respects, but a process of making sure that the CWA and its members thrive in a challenging environment, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t neglect our past – for instance, we’ve just launched the British Crime Writing Archives at the wonderful Gladstone’s Library, near Chester, with a weekend festival, Alibis in the Archives, that was such a success that we plan to repeat it next year. But we also look to the future – for instance, we’re starting to work with the ALCS, and looking at how we might contribute to the work of the All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group. A huge amount remains to be done, but our continuing growth illustrates vividly that writers see a real need for the CWA, and are keen to be part of a forward-looking association that always strives to support and promote crime writing in general, and its members in particular, as well as encouraging new writers into the genre.’
When asked what advice Martin would give to new writers of crime he explains that he is a planner.
‘The great thing about writing is this – you can always improve what you have written. A plan works well for me – not everyone is the same, of course. But even the best laid plans are sometimes capable of being changed for the better. So far, I’ve never changed the original solution to any of my novels, but I’ve tinkered with many other elements of my stories.’
Martin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty five crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books was published in August.
Hi, Martin, and welcome back. It was great to meet up again and congratulations on becoming the Chair of the CWA.
Thanks, Val. It was a pleasure to spend time in your company at the CWA’s enjoyable annual conference in Edinburgh recently. You know from your own experience that the CWA is a vigorous and highly collegiate organisation. For me, it’s a huge honour to be elected Chair.
The CWA keeps growing – it now has more members than ever before in its 64 year history. Although most are British writers, we have an increasing number of members based overseas, plus corporate and associate members involved in many different ways with the business of crime writing. We also prize non-fiction crime writing – a CWA Gold Dagger is awarded each year for the best factual book as well as for the best novel.
So the CWA is a very broad church. That makes it a vibrant organisation, but it also presents challenges. How can we make sure that we deliver value to all our members? That has to be our central aim. It’s not the committee’s organisation, far less my own. It belongs to the whole of the membership. And that’s something I keep at the forefront of my mind.
At present, for instance, self-published writers are not eligible for membership. The writing business is changing rapidly, and my personal view is that our eligibility criteria will change too. But this will only happen when there’s a clear consensus in favour on the part of the membership – it’s not a decision that can or should be imposed.
Already, we do a great deal for our members. If you take a look at the membership benefits on our website, you’ll find that there are very wide-ranging, and rarely matched by comparable groups. Our regional chapters offer an eclectic mix of social and professional activities; each chapter operates with a high level of autonomy, which is the way our members like it. As well as social media platforms, we run the Crime Readers’ Association, with its monthly newsletter going to over 10,000 subscribers. The bi-monthly Case Files has a similar readership. Our members have exclusive access, therefore, to a key target audience, an audience that is expanding all the time.
But I want us to keep growing, and to offer our members even more. My belief is that the CWA’s potential is almost limitless. Crime writing is, after all, enormously popular worldwide, and few “brands” within the genre can match the prestige of the CWA, and of our internationally renowned Dagger awards.
Let me mention just a few of the areas that I’d like us to explore in the coming years – not just while I’m Chair, but on a continuing basis. Our links with libraries are very important, and mutually beneficial. The CWA Dagger in the Library is a popular award, and our National Crime Reading Month links writers, readers, and libraries each June. I’ve just appointed our first Libraries Champion, Ruth Dudley Edwards, who will develop those links further, to everyone’s benefit.
I’m equally keen to develop our links with booksellers nationwide, and with publishers large and small, as well as with like-minded people and organisations in the UK and further afield. So I’m talking to – among others – the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America to explore ways of deepening our relationships to the benefit of all concerned.
And there’s much more – too much for one blog post! But I’d like to highlight the valuable work we do for the public benefit, not least encouraging the next generation of writers via the exceptionally successful CWA Debut Dagger, and also a flash fiction competition for students at the Edinburgh conference. This is another area of our activities that I’d love to expand.
I’m also proud that our archives are a central part of the British crime writing archives now held at Gladstone’s Library. Over time, I hope this will become an internationally recognised resource for researchers and crime fans. The archives are being opened officially at a week-end event in June, Alibis in the Archive, which quickly sold out – surely a sign we are doing something right. In fact, the tremendous level of interest means that we’ve already agreed to run another Alibis next year.
Of course, there are constraints. Our resources are limited, and so – crucially – is the time of committee members who are unpaid volunteers. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, and we will never be able to please everyone – no organisation can. We need to build up our management infrastructure, and operate as professionally as possible, so that our worthy aims can be implemented efficiently and over the long term. Making sure that all this happens in a sound way cannot be achieved overnight. But the portents are good. The future of the CWA promises to be even more exciting than its prestigious past.
Read Martin’s original interview here!
Martin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books appears in July.
The CWA Dagger logo is a registered trade mark of the CWA
July’s special guest is award winning crime writer and consultant in a law firm, Martin Edwards. I first heard Martin give a fascinating talk at last year’s CWA conference in the Lake District and could tell that he was not only an authority on the genre, but was passionate about it.
Martin recently won the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham award at the Bristol Crimefest. Congratulations!
You are an accomplished legal consultant and crime writer. When did this love of law turn into the desire to write crime novels?
The love of crime fiction definitely came first. As a small boy, I became fascinated by the idea of telling stories. Once I discovered Agatha Christie at age nine, the die was cast, and I determined to write detective stories. However, we didn’t know anyone who wrote books, and my parents were rather concerned about my ambition of becoming a detective novelist. So they encourage me to get a ‘proper job’, and that’s where the idea of studying law at university came in. I found that I relished the academic challenges of law, and later I enjoyed the practical side of employment law. I’ve been lucky with my legal career, and it’s introduced me to fascinating people and places. But now I’m aiming at long last to focus on my first love. After thirty years as a partner in my firm, I’ve retired to become a part-time consultant. Yippee!
Would you say that your legal work, involving meeting individuals in pressing circumstances and dealing with their problems, has given you a greater empathy and insight into human relationships and conflicts, which can help with fictional character development?
Jobs, and employment issues, are all about human relationships. After a few years as a lawyer, it dawned on me that this was why employment law appealed to me in a way that subjects like conveyancing did not. Of course, the more people and human dilemmas that you encounter, the more you develop an understanding of people’s behaviour – good, as well as bad – that is definitely helpful when you write fiction. You’re not writing about the people you meet, but about the issues that people have to confront in their lives.
New editions of your Harry Devlin novels have been released. Can you share with us how this Liverpool lawyer came to be created?
My first – and never published, or even fully typed – novel was a football thriller. After that, I wanted to write a book that could be published. When I went to work in Liverpool, it seemed like a wonderful setting for a crime series. I didn’t know any cops or private eyes, so I decided that my hero would be a lawyer, like me. Not really like me, though. He would be a criminal lawyer, and have a tough life in various ways, as well as being rather braver than me. To this day, I’m very fond of Harry, and I’d like to write about him some more one day. In the meantime, I’m excited that the novels are now available again as ebooks, and two have actually been republished successfully as mass market paperbacks, as “Crime Classics”, no less…
For your next series you set the first novel ‘The Coffin Trail’ in The Lake District and introduced your readers to Detective Chief Inspector Hannah Scarlett. What was most challenging: moving from a protagonist who was a lawyer to a DCI or from a ‘Harry’ to ‘Hannah’?
I was moving from one viewpoint character to two – Hannah and Daniel Kind, the historian who gets to know her in The Coffin Trail. I always intended that the series should be about their developing relationship, but Daniel was the starting point. I saw him as the key character, but when Peter Robinson read the book, he said he thought Hannah was the one I was really focusing on, and I saw at once that he was right. By that point, I’d was writing my ninth novel and I was ready and very willing to tackle story-telling from the perspective of a female character. It was a fresh challenge, and one that excited me. It still does.
You have many projects ongoing simultaneously between your two careers as well as being a critic, an anthologist, a contributor to many non-fiction works as well as keeping your very helpful blog updated. Would you describe yourself as an exceptionally disciplined and driven writer/worker?
I admit to being driven, in that I feel very conscious that life is short and that there are a lot of things I want to achieve. To my mind, being ambitious is a good thing, as long as one tests oneself against one’s own self-imposed standards, rather than against other people, or the standards set by others. However, although to some extent I’m self-disciplined, I sometimes wish I were better organised. I do tend to set myself very demanding targets that I fail to meet with monotonous regularity. Perhaps – in a not very coherent way –that’s the method that works best for me, and even if sometimes I feel I could have achieved more, perhaps this helps to drive me on to do better in future.
In your ‘Writing tips’ you advise: ‘Plan the story before you start’. Once this has been done, would you ever amend or change a plot as you begin writing the first draft?
Yes, I’ve done this from time to time. The great thing about writing is this – you can always improve what you have written. A plan works well for me – not everyone is the same, of course. But even the best laid plans are sometimes capable of being changed for the better. So far, I’ve never changed the original solution to any of my novels, but I’ve tinkered with many other elements of my stories.
Your work as an archivist for the CWA and The Detection Club has been widely praised. Could you please tell us something about The Detection Club?
The Detection Club was founded in 1930 by that wonderful and under-rated writer (and rather strange man) Anthony Berkeley Cox, who wrote innovative whodunits as Anthony Berkeley and superb psychological crime novels as Francis Iles. It was the world’s first social network for crime writers, and attracted the likes of Christie, Sayers and Margery Allingham. The aim was for an elite of crime writers to raise the literary standards of the genre, but above all they liked drinking and chatting together. The extent to which their literary aims were achieved is debatable, but the books produced by the Club – for example, the round robin mysteries The Floating Admiral and Ask a Policeman – remain very readable to this day, and have been very successful in new editions in recent years. I’ve written intros to a couple of them, most recently The Anatomy of Murder, an intriguing book of essays about real life murders. The Club is and always has been in essence a sociable dining club. Membership is by election – there is an annual secret ballot – and the Club flourishes to this day.
As a collector of rare crime novels, is there one particular book you would like to own and, if so, what makes it so special to you?
Now you’re asking! I’d love to own a Sherlock Holmes book, signed by Conan Doyle, but alas, I’m sure that’s an impossible dream…
In ‘Dancing with the Hangman’ you explore the question of ‘justice’. In your crime novels do you enjoy being able to write the conclusion that you personally approve of, wherein your legal career the verdict is, to a degree, beyond the legal representative’s control?
Intriguing question, and I’m not quite sure about the answer. When I was fighting legal cases in the employment tribunal, I always wanted to win, but on the whole I felt that the right result was usually achieved in most cases. With fiction, I like to see some form of justice done at the end, but this doesn’t always mean the conviction of those who are technically guilty. I think it’s good if a novel reaches a conclusion that affords “satisfaction”, but the forms that satisfaction, and indeed justice, can take are many and various. Christie understood that – consider the finale to Murder on the Orient Express.
Could you share with us some of the delights included in the latest anthology that you have edited for the CWA?
Guilty Parties contains more stories than usual, and I really enjoyed reading them. It would perhaps be invidious to pick personal favourites, but my aim was to showcase the variety and depth of the crime genre, and it’s a book that I’m very pleased to be associated with.
What is next for Martin?
I’m currently working on my seventh Lake District Mystery and I have two or three short stories coming out in the near future. Recently I finished a history of detective fiction between the wars – The Golden Age of Murder – which I would love to see published in 2015, as it’s a book I’m really proud of, and I’ve put a huge amount of effort into it over a good many years. At present I’m editing two anthologies of vintage crime fiction for the British Library, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, and a book of true crime essays for the CWA. I’m also working on a book that brings together all Dorothy L. Sayers’ reviews of detective fiction from the Thirties. All of which is quite enough to be going on with!