The Crime Readers' Association

The Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel Contest

27th November 2019

Multiple CWA Dagger winner Peter Lovesey (including the prestigious Diamond Dagger in 2000) is launching a competition for new authors, along with his publisher, Soho Press. It is open to the world. A prize of $10,000 and publication is offered.

Peter, whose own career started out after winning a first novel competition back in 1970, tells us how it all started:

“Fifty years ago, in 1969, the publisher Macmillan started publishing crime fiction. This was a departure for Macmillan, chaired by Harold Macmillan, the former Prime Minister, and known as the publisher of mainstream literature by the likes of Thomas Hardy, Charles Kingsley and Rudyard Kipling. They had managed to poach George Hardinge from William Collins as their crime editor. Until then, George had been running the Collins Crime Club, which had existed since 1930 and published Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Freeman Wills Crofts, Francis Iles, H.R.F.Keating and Julian Symons.

“George, who was also the 3rd Baron Hardinge of Penshurst, decided to launch Macmillan Crime with a competition. It was announced in the personal column of The Times. The prize was publication and a £1000 advance on royalties as well as the option to publish subsequent novels.

“I was then a teacher in further education, on a salary of about £980, so the contest appealed to me even before I read the small print. I had one book to my credit, a history of long-distance running published the previous year. A crime novel was a new, daunting challenge. Encouraged by my wife Jax, a crime fiction fan, I used my knowledge of running and wrote a novel about murders during a Victorian ultra-long-distance event. If nothing else, we figured, it would be different. I gave it a catchy title and sent off the typescript shortly before the deadline of April 30, 1969.

“You can imagine my excitement six weeks later at receiving a letter from Lord Hardinge that began ‘We have been considerably interested in WOBBLE TO DEATH.’ Talk about wobbling. Every part of me was shaking. At the end of October, at a party in the Law Society Hall, I was handed the £1000 cheque and my life changed for ever. The book was published in 1970 and has stayed in print ever since.

“I wrote seven more Victorian whodunnits featuring my detective, Sergeant Cribb, and, with the help of a TV series, I retired from teaching and became a full-time writer. As for Macmillan, they signed up many brilliant crime writers in the years that followed, among them Colin Dexter, Ellis Peters, Sue Grafton, Minette Walters, Simon Brett and Peter James. Someone told me recently I was the Godfather of them all. I don’t know about that, but I do know it was the best decision of my life to enter for that competition.

The new contest was announced by Soho Crime at the fiftieth world mystery convention in Dallas in November. The Soho editorial team will read all the entries and choose a short-list and I will make the final decision. I hope very much that the winner will be as fortunate as I have been. And I’m also hoping that Soho will find several new writers for their crime list, as Macmillan did in 1969. The deadline for entries is 1st April, 2020 and the details can be seen here.

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