Saturday, June 24, 2006

It is not often that an author has a book nominated for two prestigious awards at the same time - and then has to decline both before the winner is even announced.

That's what happened to me this month.

A month which began with my appearance, in Paris, at the annual announcement by Elle magazine of the winner of its Grand Prix - a literary prize awarded by eight juries of the magazine's famously discriminating readers. I was there because the first of my China series, "The Firemaker", had been shortlisted for the prize in its French incarnation of "Meurtes à Pékin". It didn't win, but just to have been nominated was a tremendous honour.

A month which saw me zig-zagging across France from book festival to book festival; attending the Paris launch of "L'éventreur de Pékin" ("Chinese Whispers) by the biggest French bookclub, France Loisirs; speaking on panels; performing radio interviews; reading from my book to the accompaniment of a tenor sax; and signing hundreds of copies of "Le Quatrième Sacrifice", the second in the series. All, of course, in French - which I have been studying hard to try to improve.

A month which approaches its conclusion at the end of a gruelling week-long writing course - one of two which La Patronne and I hold every year at the Hotel Victor Hugo in St. Céré, near where we live. It went quickly and well, due in large part to the fine bunch of students who descended on us from all parts of the world for this first of the two courses.

The thousands of kilometers travelled in blistering heat did, however, have some compensations. Like sharing a stand at the Frontignan Polar Noir book festival on the Mediterranean with such luminaries of the crime-writing genre as Elmore Leonard and Larry Beinhart - a couple of seriously nice people. Or sneaking away from signing duties to share a beer or three in a gloomy bar with English crime-writers Graham Hurley, Maxim Jakubowski and Mark Billingham - all of us glued to a giant TV screen as the English soccer side stumbled its way to an early victory at the World Cup in Germany.

There are not, unfortunately, many compensations for striking yourself off the list of nominees for two of the best-known prizes given in the United States to books in the mystery genre - the Barry Awards and the Macavity Awards. But, sadly, that is what I had to do.

"The Firemaker" was nominated for both awards in the category of Best First Novel published in the US in 2005. It WAS the first book I had written since quitting television in the nineties, and it WAS the first book published in the States in fifteen years. But I had previously written four other books, and two of them had been published in America. So my initial euphoria at being nominated for both a Barry and a Macavity was very quick snuffed out. There was no getting away from it. I didn't qualify, and I had to fess up. And so I e-mailed the award organisers to (very reluctantly) rule myself out.

If there were any compensations, they came in the form of the righteous, if regretful, satisfaction I took from knowing I had done the right thing. Then there were the kind words of Macavity organiser, Janet Rudolph, who apologised for the mix-up and consoled me with the comment, "great book, though". And my agent in London, who said, "Still, everyone thinks it's a bloody good book."

Ah, well, onwards and upwards. The proofs of my new book, "Extraordinary People", arrived this week. Published by Poisoned Pen Press, it will be released in the US and the UK at the end of November. Advance reading copies (ARCs) have already provoked enthusiastic responses. "Wonderful," was how one bookseller described it. "I found it hard to put down," said another. Let's hope everyone else feels the same way.

And it would be nice if it were to win future nominations - perhaps in the category of Best Eleventh Novel!

Onstage during a televised debate at Saint-Malo, France