Friday, August 10, 2018

Interview with Chair of Crime Writers Association, UK, Martin Edwards

1.      As an acclaimed expert on the Golden Age of crime writing, what can you tell us about that era? Most people define the Golden Age as the period between the two world wars, and for good reason. Before the First World War, most of the best detective stories were short stories – Sherlock Holmes was at his best in the short form, and Father Brown never even appeared in a novel. After all the slaughter in the trenches, though, people wanted escapism and entertainment. It was the era of the crossword puzzle and the classic detective story, when writers used the space of a full-length novel to set readers a challenge – can you solve the story before the Great Detective? One myth is that there was no equivalent to the British Golden Age in the US, but that isn’t true. S.S.Van Dine, Ellery Queen, C. Daly King and many other American writers wrote stories just as intricate as those of Christie, Sayers, and Anthony Berkeley. As Francis Iles, Berkeley was a trailblazer for the psychological mystery story in the 30s, as the Golden Age evolved. Writers in that period did respond to the changes in the world – the Depression, and the rising threat from dictators – in their fiction. But they were subtle about it. Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None are stories which wrestle with an issue which preoccupied many people at the time: how can justice be done, if the legal system fails to deliver it?

2.      How did you become an expert in this genre? I see myself as a crime novelist and a fan, above all. I started reading Christie at the age of eight, Sherlock at the age of nine, and I’ve never stopped reading. The books I write about the genre, such as The Golden Age of Murder, and The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books reflect my enthusiasm for vintage mysteries, but I like good crime stories from all eras. In recent years, I’ve been asked to become archivist of both the CWA and the Detection Club, and this led to my founding the British Crime Writing Archives at Gladstone’s Library, near Chester. The aim is for this to become a wonderful, and accessible, resource for students of the genre, and fans as well. And my researches have had a wonderful spin-off. They led me to start writing a book set in the Golden Age, which marks a major departure in my writing. It’s a thriller called Gallows Court, which introduces a new female protagonist, Rachel Savernake, and I’m very excited about it. The book’s published in the UK next month, and will appear in the US next year.

3.      You are also the president of the Detection Club? What does this organization do? The Club was founded in 1930, and was the world’s first social network for crime writers. Chesterton was the first President, Sayers the third, and Christie the fourth; I’m the eighth. Membership is by election; it’s not a professional organisation like the CWA or the MWA. It remains a small dining club which meets for three convivial dinners a year. But it’s also published many books over the years, including the classic multi-author novel The Floating Admiral, which is still in print, 87 years after first publication. The Club has a wonderful history, because so many great names have been members.

4.      As a consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics, can you tell us what defines a classic in this genre?  ‘Classic’ is inevitably a somewhat subjective term. We’ve aimed to create a list which revives a wide range of long-forgotten and often unjustly neglected books. Among these, I guess my absolute favourite has to be Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case, and not only because the British Library commissioned me to write a new, and eighth, solution to the case! Now that novel, I think, is an absolutely undisputed classic. Christie and Sayers loved it, and it’s still great fun to read today.

5.      What advice do you have for today’s struggling crime writers? Crime writing is a tough game, and supporting crime writers is the key objective of the CWA. So one piece of advice would be to join, wherever you are based! Many of my closest friends are people I’ve met in my 30 years as a member. There are all kinds of benefits to realizing one is not alone. Apart from that, the main thing in my opinion is not to give up. It only takes one lucky break to transform your career. I’d been publishing for many years before I began to win awards and achieve good sales. My lucky break was that The Golden Age of Murder was published at the right time, when people were ready for it. Five years earlier, and things would have been different. So – keep going!

6.      How would Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie fare in today’s CSI-criminal Minds-Law & Order mindset? Well, they are still doing pretty well! Great storytelling will always find enthusiastic readers. And one reason for that is that great writing, even if it is of its time in some ways, is also timeless.

7.      What trends are you seeing in the genre right now? Naturally, I’m delighted by the revival of interest in Golden Age fiction. In terms of contemporary writing, I’m sure that Scandi noir and books in the Gone Girl vein will continue to do well, but I also see plenty of scope for books written by authors from countries not traditionally renowned for crime fiction. And there have been some interesting books lately that play clever postmodern tricks with the genre which I find appealing.

8.      Where do you think the future of book publishing is heading? Digital publishing has made it possible to produce books with small print runs, which has opened things up tremendously. Publishers seem to be responding by improving the production values of hardbacks – I’m thrilled that Gallows Court is to appear in a collector’s edition as well a very well-produced hardback, complete with bookmark. This seems to me to make more sense than for publishers to cut corners with editing, which strikes me as self-defeating. Self-publishing will continue to grow, and that’s good news for authors with long backlists. In the end, quality (of one kind or another) always counts. So I expect that ‘curated’ and professionally edited books will continue to thrive. And luck will continue to play a part, as it always has.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.

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