Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Snoop Sisterhood

2007 will mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of a group known as Mystery Women. Who, you ask? Well, we did the very same thing. So, with that birthday approaching at the end of the year, The Rap Sheet decided to investigate this group of women (and men), to see what they’ve been up to in recent years.

The basic lowdown on Mystery Women is that it was founded in 1997 by authors Kate Charles and Michelle Spring, who--having realized that no collective in the UK adequately promoted female crime writers--decided to establish one. They based their concept loosely on that of Sisters in Crime, an American organization that also strives to celebrate and publicize the work of women mystery novelists.

One of the earliest meetings of Mystery Women took place in Cambridge, England, with the celebrated author Jill Paton Walsh appearing as guest speaker. Shortly after that event, and owing to their major writing commitments, Charles and Spring retired from any active role in the organization. To the rescue came Lizzie Hayes (shown in the photo above, with Lee Child), who took over the running of the group, initially with the assistance of Mitch Karunaratne. More recently, Shots contributor Ayo Onatade has stepped forward to assist Hayes in the group’s management. These two women both hold down full-time jobs, but run the group out of their passion for the genre.

The group regularly organizes literary events throughout the UK, not just in London (many of these designed to help promote its members’ work). It also produces a newsletter four times a year, which reports on various crime-fiction occurrences that have taken place, including book launches and competitions. The newsletter features interviews with a wide range of authors, as well, and supplies information about awards, conferences, and speaking engagements. Periodically, this newsletter includes a reading list, which covers all the subgenres of crime fiction, and is used by libraries, book groups, and readers all over the world.

At present, Mystery Women has members living in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and South Africa. Among its best-recognized participants are Ann Granger, Linda Fairstein, Joyce Holms, Manda Scott, Kit Sloane, Paula Gosling, Priscilla Masters, Marianne MacDonald, Cath Staincliffe, Lauren Henderson, Stella Duffy, Judith Cutler, Mo Hayder, and Val McDermid.

Although Mystery Women was set up principally to tout female wordsmiths, it now boasts a growing number of men on its rolls, people who support the organization’s aims. The first man to join was Crime Writers’ Association Dagger winner Andrew Taylor (Naked to the Hangman), who surprised everyone at one of the annual St. Hilda’s Crime and Mystery Conferences by announcing to the packed hall that he had become a mysterious woman! In addition to Taylor, the group’s male members include Nick Stone (who recently picked up the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for his first novel, Mr. Clarinet), Martin Edwards, Ron Ellis, and Stephen Booth.

Thanks to the fact that Mystery Women is not subsidized by any UK publishers, it manages to remain fiercely independent. Its newsletter reviews of books are penned by Mystery Women members and are checked over by the editors for balance. Works by female authors are always reviewed, whether or not they’re members of Mystery Women; but only the male members of Mystery Women can get their books reviewed. All critiques and interviews are posted on the group’s Web site.

Writers’ groups such as this one share a very important purpose: to spread the word about books, new and old--and especially those by writers who wouldn’t otherwise receive much attention. The survival of Mystery Women, though, depends on its ability to drum up newsletter subscriptions (£18 for UK dwellers, £25 for overseas residents). If you’d like to subscribe, just click here. And then ready your breath to help blow out the candles when Mystery Women celebrates its 10th anniversary later this year.

1 comment:

sweet said...

I think they can tell a lot about the best books for women:) I'd like to hear their opinion!