Crime Writing by Association? By Debbie Bennett

I grew up writing fantasy. I say that literally – I wrote my first novel aged 15, and by 18 or so, I was well into a fantasy novel. I remember at about age 10 or 11, finding a paperback of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land on the bookshelf of a family friend; I borrowed it and I was hooked. That and a passage from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in English at primary school gave me a love of everything fantasy and science fiction, and in my teenage years I worked my way through all of Heinlein, Wyndham and most of the Robert Hale yellow-covered hardbacks in the library. 

My first short story sale was fantasy. Fairly mainstream fantasy that was ‘normal’ enough for Bella magazine in the early 1990s. Most of my short stories after that ranged from outright horror, through dark fantasy and into science fiction – I have a collection of stories available in Maniac & Other Stories. The lead title story is the one from Bella magazine. It won second prize in their twist in the tale competition and you can read it for free in the 10% sample, although the entire collection isn’t exactly expensive! 

Sometime towards the mid 90s, I had an urge to go deeper and darker. Splatter horror and gore doesn’t do it for me – and by then I was working in law enforcement and I’d done some dark and nasty stuff there. There were stories behind the drugs and I wanted to see where they took me. That first novel was Hamelin’s Child which went on to be long-listed in the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. Five more crime novels and an agent later and I could sell books independently but I couldn’t actually be a member of the CWA since they only accepted traditionally-published authors. 

I’m happy to report that independent writers are now accepted as full members of the CWA. The application is slightly different from traditionally-published authors – one has to prove one’s worth, so to speak, by supplying specific evidence, such as number of ebook or paperback sales (an Amazon screenshot was acceptable), details of editors and cover designers used (I have no idea if these were verified) and a number of other bits of quality-assurance. The only bit I declined to complete was the section where you can add names of current CWA members who can vouch for you. Yes, I do know members and I’m sure some of them would ‘approve’ me, but I wanted my books to stand on their own merit, so I decided if I wasn’t good enough then that would be it. And each application is judged on its own merit. I would hear back in a week or so.

And I got in. You can now find me here. It took a while to write the profile and link all my books. I'm quite surprised looking at it. For somebody who continues to struggle with imposter syndrome, it's actually rather affirming to be 'accepted' on merit.

Where do we go from here? Not sure yet. I've had rather a long writing sabbatical for a variety of reasons but I'm slowly getting back into the saddle ...


Peter Leyland said…
That's an interesting blog Debbie. I have Brave New World and once had Stranger in a Strange Land. I also have a yellow-backed novel - Pavane, by Keith Roberts. I know how important CWA awards are, having continually come across them in my teaching of crime novels. I should have included a chapter about them in 'The Detective in Fiction'!!

Well done for getting in to the CWA and I hope the sabbatical will enable you to get going on the writing again. I'm now going to have a look at where you directed us to.
I liked the mention of Stranger in a Strange Land - my husband was a big sci-fi and fantasy reader, and he got me started on that and books by Philip Dick and Kurt Vonnegut soon after we first met. I think I still have the paperbacks somewhere.
Great news about the CWA! Well done.

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