Tuesday, June 12, 2012


In praise of the Unhanged Arthur!

Most authors have gone through the dreaded phase of sending in an unsolicited manuscript only to have it languish on the slush pile of some editor's desk. Or maybe it's not even a finished manuscript but rather a query letter, three chapters and synopsis. The end result is the same. This will not be the publisher that offers that magical contract.

So, how great to be able to add some key words to that query, words like 'contest winner', 'shortlisted', and better still, 'winner of the Best Unpublished First Crime Novel from Crime Writers of Canada'. That's the Arthur Ellis award fondly called the Unhanged Arthur. Same familiar wood trophy picturing a person on the gallows except with the Unhanged, the 'boy' is not dangling and cannot be manipulated by a chord.

This is big stuff. For many years, McArthur & Company sponsored the award with the wonderful prize of publication. This year, Dundurn Press became the sponsor. Both publishing houses deserve tons of gratitude from all mystery authors for aiding and abetting a newbie and thus, leading the genre in a healthy process with promised growth in the number of authors available to the growing market of mystery readers.

This year's winner is Sam Wiebe for the manuscript, The Last of the Independents. I've not read it--yet-- but it was judged by a jury of very competent individuals, as efficient a process as any vetting in a publishing house where timing is key and luck is often the master of an author's fate.

You may wonder why, a couple of weeks after the Arthur Ellis Awards were announced, that I'm blogging about the Unhanged Arthur. It's because on the Sunday that Bloody Words ended, Jack Batten, crime reviewer for the Toronto Star had less than favourable words to say about the award although he did point out that Deryn Collier, last year's winner, has had her winning manuscript, Confined Space, published by Simon & Schuster and it's dynamite book. The review of the book is right on; the comments about the Unhanged Arthur are not. At least in my point of view and that continues to irritate me.

Among earlier winners of the award who have gone onto impressive publishing careers are Phyllis Smallman and D.J. (Dorothy) McIntosh.

The Crime Writers Association in the UK was a leader in this trend with their annual awarding of the Debut Dagger for Best Unpublished novel and it's seen as a coveted award. In fact, Alan Bradley won in 2007 and Louise Penny was a runner-up in 2004. Now they are both stars on the international mystery writing scene. Peggy Blair was also shortlisted and she's now published by the Penguin Group.

Winning does count. But so does the process of writing and actually finishing a novel. That's quite an accomplishment and if it doesn't make it past one editor's reject pile, there are more publishers out there. But there are also an awful lot more books in competition. Some get lucky. But all deserve credit for trying.

Linda Wiken/Erika Chase

Berkley Prime Crime, now available
READ & BURIED, coming Dec., 2012


  1. I saw that Jack Batten article It was nasty and mean-spirited.

  2. I wonder why Batten felt compelled to mention the Unhanged Arthur at all in his review. It's clear he hasn't researched the success of some past winners or those who made the short list.

  3. I saw that article too and couldn't understand why he took the position that the Unhanged Arthur was a competition for those authors who couldn't cut it, rather than it being an opportunity for new authors - and who knows, maybe the next big name in mystery.