More from the Daggers: Adrian Muller responds on translation debate

Adrian Muller has worn many hats in the crime fiction community, most notably as co-chair of Left Coast Crime in Bristol and now Chairman of the judging panel for the CWA’s Duncan Lawrie International Dagger. Bearing the latter in mind, he emailed his response to John Connolly’s recent blog post on the Dagger Brouhaha to me late last night, and it appears below. The opinion is his and his alone, not that of the organization.


Trying to respond to John Connolly’s comments about the decision by the British Crime Writers’ Association to exclude translations from the Gold Dagger for Best Novel is not easy. He takes so many pot shots, it is difficult to know where to begin. I should probably start by saying that I am the Chairman of the judging panel for the CWA’s Duncan Lawrie International Dagger. Secondly, I’d like to stress that I am not responding on behalf of the CWA, or to defend them. I completely agree with John that translated crime should not have been excluded from the Dagger for Best Crime Novel. I have publicly opposed the various reasons the organisation gave for doing so.

My objections, as well as being British and Dutch, apparently qualified me to become a judge. (I am sure that the adage “It is better to have him on the inside pissing out, than have him outside pissing in” also came into play.) I agreed to become a judge because, having knowledge of the process,hopefully I will find sufficient evidence to persuade the CWA to reverse their decision in the future. Also I wanted to support Duncan Lawrie’s gracious and generous offer of funding an International Dagger. (Especially since they had nothing to do with the decision to eliminate translations from the Best Crime Novel Award.)

But back to John’s arguments. For someone who stresses that his concern is not financial but rather the “marginalisation” of translated crime writers, the prize money–£20,000, approximately $37,000–is referred to quite a lot. Especially compared to the cursory and dismissive mention that a special award has been created for translated crime fiction. The fact is that the prize money for the International Dagger is twice the amount of that for the Best Crime Novel last year. Also, £1,00  of the £6,000 is earmarked specifically for the translator. To my knowledge a first for a literary prize. As John is a champion of translators, I invite him to applaud at least that move.

John comments that Val McDermid needs a degree in comparative literature to be able to comment on the British versus the American translation of Peter Hoeg’s ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow’: you need a degree to have an opinion on two versions of a book? My understanding is that one is considered a poor translation, and that it is the other that gained critical acclaim. Surely, that proves the point Val was trying to make, that a translation is removed from the original text, and therefore it may not do it justice. Does John seriously suggest that the ability of a good or bad translator, like some good or bad editors, does not affect a novel? Val’s argument has validity for the few readers who are able to compare a translation with the original. However, the majority of readers don’t have that ability. So, regardless of the influence of translators (or editors), it is the end product, the book the punters have bought, that should be judged!

He goes on to compare the CWA awards to the Edgar and IMPAC awards. Yes, since the exclusion of translations, the Mystery Writers of America have become more inclusive. Yet, even they barred non-Americans when too many ‘foreigners’ (Brits?) started winning Best First Novel. And for those of you who have heard of the IMPAC awards, can someone remind me how many crime novels have won?

Of course the CWA’s timing of their announcement to exclude translations was atrocious (and, again, they should never have decided to do so in the first place); and, yes, saying that the award is still open to everyone, as long as the original text is in English, is adding insult to injury. It is equally unhelpful to say that you wouldn’t want to join a club that would have you, or to ignore or colour facts to support your statements.

The one really good argument that John makes can only be addressed by the winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel (as well as the winner of the International Dagger for that matter): by excluding some crime writers, was he or she judged alongside the best of their fellow authors? If not, will the winner say, “Thank you, but no thank you?”. Sadly, most authors are not in a position to make that powerful statement.