Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The anthology tradition

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that I find it so enjoyable to edit the CWA’s annual anthology. My relationship with the series began a very long time ago. When I was twelve years old, in fact. I remember a visit to Sherratt and Hughes’ bookshop in Manchester (sadly, it is no more) with my mother and asking for a copy of the new CWA anthology as a Christmas present. In those days, the anthology was known as The John Creasey Mystery Bedside Book. When the present duly arrived, I enjoyed the stories, and I was also interested to read about the Crime Writers’ Association, which sounded a very august body (this was long before I had met a published writer of fiction.) Of course, the thought that one day I might be a member of the CWA, let alone edit the anthology, seemed rather fanciful.

Over the years, before I joined the CWA, I picked up several copies of past anthologies. The very first came out in 1956, just three years after the formation of the CWA. It was called Butcher’s Dozen and the introduction expressed the view that the market for the short story was ‘bleak’. Not much change, there, then. Yet, miraculously, the short form still continues to survive and, indeed, thrive – in artistic if not financial terms.

My predecessors in the editorial chair included such luminaries as Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert, Elizabeth Ferrars, Harry Keatiing, Michael Z. Lewin, Peter Lovesey and Liza Cody. Quite a roll call. I made one significant change when I took over, deciding that each book should have a distinct (albeit broad) unifying theme. The first theme I chose was ‘the perfect crime’.

Among the contributors to Perfectly Criminal was an excellent, youngish writer then living in France by the name of Ian Rankin. His offering, ‘Herbert in Motion’, went on to win the CWA Dagger for best short story of the year. Before long he won the CWA Gold Dagger and the rest is history.

In introducing Ian’s story, I said: ‘the real reason why he is, I believe, destined to become a major force in the genre is that his strengths are the conventional yet all-important ones: imagination, insight and a determination to keep the reader entertained.’ Well, I don’t get all my prophecies right, but I reckon that was spot on!


Juliet said...

Goodness - was that the first of Rankin's stories to be published? Are you, in fact, The Man Who Discovered Rankin ??

Martin Edwards said...

Oh, no. By that time, Ian had already written a good many noveks abd short stories. But he was not a 'star name'. He worked long and hard before the big breaks came. An encouraging story of desrerved success, I think.