Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The deadlier of the species? Let's celebrate 25 years of Sisters in Crime!

This year brings the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the creation of Sisters in Crime, an international organisation that now spans 48 chapters worldwide; more than 3,000 members. Founded in a Soho loft, Sisters in Crime promotes the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction.

According to its website, Sisters in Crime grew out of a growing sense that female mystery writers were being overlooked; legendary American crime writer Sara Paretsky spoke at the first-ever conference on Women in the Mystery in March 1986, talking about the growing use of graphic sadism against women in mysteries. "Remarks I made at the conference set off a firestorm around the mystery world," Paretsky recalls. "Women began calling me from all over the country with their personal histories of treatment/mistreatment."

Phyllis Whitney wrote a letter to the Mystery Writers of America, pointing out that female authors weren't being nominated for awards, and then by the time the Bouchercon event occurred in October 1986, the movement was well and truly getting up to speed. "I convened the initial meeting of interested women at the Baltimore Bouchercon in October 1986," Paretsky says. At that meeting, she noted that books by woman mystery writers also weren't being reviewed at a percentage equal to their participation in the field. At the annual Edgars Week in 1987, interested women writers were invited to Sandra Scoppettone's SoHo loft for breakfast, to meet each other and discuss the situation. At that meeting, Sisters in Crime was formed.

New Zealand has quite a good tradition when it comes to female crime writers - the doyenne of our mystery-writing world is of course Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. In contemporary times, two of the five authors who've been finalists for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel are women (Vanda Symon and Paddy Richardson), and several other female Kiwi crime writers have been published in recent times, such as Lindy Kelly, Donna Malane, Dorothy Fowler, Trish McCormack, Cat Connor, Bev Robitai, Joan Druett, and others.

Historically, although New Zealand wasn't thought to have much of a crime or mystery writing tradition, outside of Dame Ngaio, amongst the crime writers we did have, many were women, for example: Dorothy Eden, Mary Scott and Joyce West, Freda Bream, Carol Dawber, Laurie Mantell, and others. In fact, many, perhaps even most, of the crime writers New Zealand had, from the 1950s-1990s, that wrote more than a book or two (ie a longer series of five, seven, ten books etc) seem to be women.

In the coming weeks I will be sharing more about many of these great Kiwi women crime writers, along with some of the international female crime writers I read and enjoy, or have had the privilege to meet, as part of a terrific Sisters in Crime blogging challenge being run by mystery writer, reviewer and blogger Barbara Fister. Fister is a member of Sisters in Crime, and currently serves on the board. Here is the challenge she has created:

Easy challenge: write a blog post about a work of crime fiction by a woman author; list five more women authors who you recommend.

Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.

Expert challenge: write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Deadline: whenever. Another one of the joys of reading for pleasure is not having deadlines. Also, feel free to recycle previous reviews. Fister says she is all about recycling.

If you tag your posts with “SinC25", Fister will compile them on her blog.  And if you tweet, use the hashtag #SinC25.

Although I'm a little 'challenged-out' lately, I will be joining in, because I think it is a terrific thing to celebrate all that is good and great about female crime writers - and perhaps give more publicity to some who deserve it. I will be updating some of my 'encyclopaedia-style' posts about Kiwi crime writers, republishing some reviews and interviews of Kiwi and international authors, and much more.

If you have any suggestions, or requests, in terms of what you'd like to see from me in the coming weeks - which authors you'd like me to feature/highlight/interview etc, please do let me know. To start with, how about answering this question: who are some of your favourite female crime writers?


  1. Craig, you've certainly added some NZ women to my TBR pile! Thanks for all you do.

  2. Craig,

    I don't think I'll be joining in as a specific act. I already have 11 posts on women mystery writers. The number will grow as my reading and writing interests dictate.

    Favorite Female Mystery Writers? I'll limit this to ones who are writing at present:

    Ingrid Black (I think she's still writing)
    Karin Fossum
    Tana French
    PD James
    Mari Jungstedt
    Yrsa Sigurdardottir
    Vanda Symon
    Fred Vargas