I’ll Be The Judge Of That

Reading & Writing

Once upon a time, judges looked like this.

Now they look like this.

I suppose the main difference is the amount of moisterizer they use – well, that and the education, judicial acumen, knowledge of law etc. But clearly, I seem to be hitting the age where people stupidly think I’m experienced enough to judge things. I’ve been on jury panels for many types of film awards for many years now, but my duties are extending into literature.

This year I’m one of the judges for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award for Best Novel. It involves reading an astounding number of books submitted by publishers. And here’s the funny thing; I get sent a lot of books to review for the national press, and there are often better novels here than the ones being submitted for the award.

This means something is awry. I’ll read a wonderful novel for review that hasn’t been submitted for an award, I’ll get in touch with the PR person and tell them they should submit it – and still nothing happens. The submission must be driven by the publisher, and yet the publishers will support the next dreadful novel in the ‘XYZ’ prestigious-but-talentless author’s series rather than get behind the true gem in their midst.

Clearly, a blockage occurs between the author and the judge, and it’s called the publisher’s PR. I’m blessed with a terrific PR person who knows exactly what she’s doing, but not all are as efficient as mine.

Example: I live three doors down from Pan Macmillan. They POST their books to me. Sometimes I’m out, and end up having to collect them from the depot miles away. Sometimes they simply go missing. I’ve told them repeatedly that I’ll happily come by and pick them up but no, into the post they go. It makes me worry about Pan Macmillan’s efficiency in other areas.

This summer, on June 14th, I’ll be at the South Bank doing a panel on judging – it’ll be interesting to hear other judges’ criteria for choosing.

The main thing I look for is originality of thought, of language, of ideas, and a sign that the writer has made first-hand observations and connections. Too many books feel as if they’ve been filtered through old TV shows.

And here’s a tip – if your novel starts with the discovery of a dead teenaged girl or a description of the weather, you’re going to have to work VERY hard to win back my interest!

6 comments on “I’ll Be The Judge Of That”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    We have an award called Canada Reads and there have been complaints that the five nominated books don’t really represent the best Canadian writing. This year they asked the public to nominate books and a panel chose five from the top forty. There was still the same complaint. Is it the fault of the judges?

  2. J F Norris says:

    I get that formuliac feeling of plots filtered through old TV from a lot of popular fiction as well. Steve King has been getting away with it for decades. Not to mention all the comic books he “borrowed” from.

    And did you know that most TV is now filtered through old pulp magazine stories? It is a proven fact that many of the most popular and successful TV writers (who are now producers) have lifted outright many of their ideas and plots from old pulp stories and old paperback novels. J J Abrams and crew I am talking to you!

  3. Steve says:

    It was a dark and stormy night, except it was morning; the teen aged girl’s body, minus a limb or two, lay with the remaining limbs akimbo, resembling nothing so much as a well-chewed dog toy.

    How’s that????

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Ooh, ooh! Can we continue that, just to drive Chris to the edge of insanity? “The local housewife who found her was shaking head to toe as she told her story to the local bobby. “I was just going down to pick up the paper and my Women’s Own when I saw the foot sticking out. It gave me quite a turn, I can tell you.” She tapped the bobby’s notebook. “Mind you put that in; I was just on my normal way, not poking my nose in nor nothing.” “Now, then,” replied the bobby, “We just need times and so on…” Det. Sgt. Mystic interrupted the conversation with a puff of pipe smoke.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    The weather lay only half-hidden by an irrelevantly described bag, a girl driven to prostitution by society’s latest bugbear blew across the murder scene tugging at (at least a paragraph) of what people were wearing. Detective Inspector Similar took a sip of his drink hesitating only so as to give all the adverbs time to be read. It was either a name brand coffee if he was hip, or whatever blended whisky was last on tele if he was old and probably baggy. The Inspector had not decided what he was like yet, but don’t worry you’ll know in arse-scrunching detail in about a third of the book’s time. This was not the first time the weather had been murdered on his patch, but it was the first time a message had been left after skimming the Wikki for Holy Blood And Holy Grail. Only it wasn’t, not really. The underage prostitute had enormous eyes of an unusual colour and decided to be rainy, metaphorical of nothing other than being a bit wet, or miserable, unless she was a duck. Sad possibly?

    ‘What do we know about ducks, Woman Constable Hostage?’ asked Similar with some sort of wonky smile and a physical tic that passed for characterisation. He shared a glance with Sergeant Affair and the author reached for the tissues. It was going to be a long bloody book.

  6. Ann Y says:

    The Inspector will have be full of angst and have lots of personal problems deriving from his childhood.

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