Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Award winners

During a recent exploration of the FantasticFiction site, in connection with the Laurell K. Hamilton post, I noticed that the site has an awards page. A click on the link reveals that you can locate details of prizewinners of some 26 different prizes, ranging (horizontally, of course, and not hierarchically, in any imagined order of literary value) from the Nobel to the Richard and Judy Best Read of the Year. At the very least, these data will give you some suggestions for your reading list.

The awards page also contains a feature that I have never come across anywhere else, namely a list of most-honoured novels. Top of the list comes Susanna Clarke's wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

I guess you are all sensible enough to make your own judgements about lists of this kind, but I will add a few words of caution none the less.

At a quick glance, it seems that the FantasticFiction list must contain more awards from the field of science fiction and fantasy than from other genres; and it notably seems to omit any prizes relating to romantic fiction. So the data are somewhat skewed.

Second, you should not fall into the trap that I fell into, as a naive young man (as opposed to a naive old one). You should not imagine that the fact that a book has been honoured with a particular prize necessarily means very much. For a lengthy discussion of why, see my post about the Booker prize and absolute nonsense.

It is a regrettable fact of life, which one learns about as life progresses, that prizes are awarded for a variety of reasons. Usually, they are awarded by small groups, and these groups sometimes make some odd choices -- choices which, on occasion, one can only ascribe to Buggins's turn.

In the case of the Richard and Judy award, the main criterion (as we noted only recently) is whether the author can produce 15 minutes of good knockabout chat while sitting on the R& J sofa.

Furthermore, what may legitimately be a good choice in the prize's home country, and stated terms of reference, may turn out to be a book which simply does not travel. Foreign publishers (and readers from other genres) may turn out to be profoundly unmoved, prize or no prize.

If you want an example, let me cite the Mystery Writers of America Best Novel award (an Edgar) of 1986. This went to L.R. Wright, for The Suspect (US publisher Viking).

Honoured with an Edgar or not, The Suspect was not a big smash hit. In England it was published only by Robert Hale, a firm which then (as now) produced books for the library market. If The Suspect sold 2,000 copies in the UK I would be surprised. I remember searching for it in our local library system at the time, and being unable to find a copy. No paperback appeared in the UK until 1989 (hardly the sign of a rapturous reception for the hardback).

L.R. Wright, a respectable enough talent, was not as big a name as some of her predecessors on the Edgar list (Robert B. Parker, Ken Follett, Elmore Leonard); neither did she become a big name afterwards.

The best prizes -- in the sense that they demonstrate which books are most likely to provide a rewarding experience for fans of a particular genre -- are those which are awarded on the strength of a vote by an informed body of membership. And one body which awards its prizes on that basis is the British Science Fiction Association.

Speaking of awards, the UK Crime Writers' Association has announced the latest batch of 'Daggers'. Winner of the top prize is Ann Cleeves, with Raven Black. Ann runs a number of crime series, featuring amateur detectives George and Molly Palmer-Jones and a couple of police persons, Inspector Ramsay and Inspector Vera Stanhope. Raven Black is the first in a 'Shetland Quartet'.

If you favour the shorter form of fiction, however, please note that the CWA is running a joint competition for crime short stories in association with Fish Publishing. Details on the Fish site, and entries are to be made online only. Now there's a novelty.

1 comment:

Dee Jour said...

I may not comment each week or day, but thougth I'd let you know that this is one of the few 'real' publishing blogs that exist, and it does, to an extent, keep my sanity balanced in regard to writing and publishing. You provide many insights, not just reviews (like many do).