Shorter Sometimes Sweeter

From CRA newsletter:

People have often been surprised by the number of anthologies I’ve edited over the years, which has now easily passed the one hundred mark. My only excuse is the fact that I worked for several decades in book publishing as a commissioning editor, and editing anthologies is my way of keeping in touch with my creative roots, alongside my fiction writing.

In some instances, publishers approach me with proposals, in others I conjure up a theme and try and place the project. I’ve been lucky enough that most of collections have been marginally profitable (anthologies are never big money-makers) with a handful even going on to reprints. But they are books I just enjoy putting together and that allow me to introduce new voices to readers, offering a shop window to writers.

The majority of my anthologies consist of new material, which I commission, if only because reprint volumes would require me to rely on my memory of stories read in the past, and there have been too many to recall with any degree of precision, apart from the fact that I never take notes as I know some of my fellow anthology editors do with an eye on the future.

I’ve been lucky that on five occasions stories published in my collections have been awarded the CWA Short Story Dagger, putting me on a par with my friend Martin Edwards. I could even claim to have technically overtaken his tally with this year’s winner ‘Flesh of a Fancy Woman’ by Paul Magrs which even though it appeared in Criminal Pursuits, an anthology by Samantha Lee Howe (alongside a story of mine), was first published in a collection I edited for an American publisher a few years previously!

Sometimes ideas for anthologies come to fruition slowly but in other cases they just rush out of nowhere like a lightning strike and you think ‘why didn’t I think of this earlier?’ as it’s such an obvious proposition. Daggers Drawn happened that way. I have been a CWA member since the mid 1980s and on the board for several years now. It dawned on me that no one had actually collected the winning Dagger stories of the past decades. Why not?

Inspiration struck in the middle of the night, as it always does and in the cold light of morning the idea even survived. A telephone call to George, my editor at Titan Books, generated an immediate two-page pitch and we had reached contract stage within a fortnight.

After all, every single story was a winner and I had my pick of some of the biggest names of crime fiction: Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Denise Mina, Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly, Peter Lovesey, Martin himself… Some were multiple winners so I allowed them to choose which of their stories they would prefer to be included and very quickly had a line-up of 21 absolutely wonderful stories. One of the easiest books to assemble I’d ever had to do! Sadly, winning yarns by Reginald Hill and Robert Barnard were unavailable due to rights complications, so I ended up with 19, and each one an absolute gem as the judges of the Dagger over the years had done all the hard work for me. I was even able to hunt down and clear the rights for the very first winner, a story by Modesty Blaise creator Peter O’Donnell (written under a pen name) when the award was not yet a Dagger but sponsored by a champagne manufacturer through a competition in a newspaper, with the prize an ample supply of champagne.

Titan have done a wonderful job with cover and design and the ensuing hardback, which appeared simultaneously in the UK and the USA, is a lovely book in its own right. Here’s a trailer:

Sales have been positive and the paperback has been delayed by an extra six months to allow the hardcover edition to keep on moving, and the publishers are so keen that they have commissioned a follow-up volume, Ink and Daggers, which – have a guess – will feature stories shortlisted for the CWA Dagger and the line-up will be as stellar! Again it’s a guarantee of quality.

If I had a choice I would never write novels but would spend all my time writing short stories. It’s a different discipline, an art in its own right and so eminently enjoyable to read. And Daggers Drawn shows crime fiction at its very best in this most satisfying of formats.