Many of the authors shortlisted for the 2013 Debut Dagger

Many of the authors shortlisted for the 2013 Debut Dagger

The CWA Dagger Awards

The Crime Writers’ Association Daggers have been synonymous with quality crime writing for over fifty years. These prestigious awards started in 1955, less than two years after the Association was founded, with the award of a Crossed Red Herring Award to Winston Graham for The Little Walls.

Over the years the number of CWA Daggers has increased (and occasionally decreased). Currently ten Daggers are awarded annually by the CWA, and these are listed in the sidebar on the right with links to the latest news about each.

From 2009 the CWA has been working with Cactus, a TV production company, and ITV3 to grow recognition and promote the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. The winners of these three daggers are announced in the autumn as part of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards, which is broadcast on ITV3. In the run-up to the awards ceremony the contenders for each of these prestigious CWA Daggers are highlighted in a series of programmes. Crime writing is benefitting from this increased exposure and is reaching a new audience for what is already publishing’s most popular genre.

The winners of six other CWA Daggers – the International, Historical, Non-Fiction, Short Story, Library and Debut Daggers – are now announced at an earlier awards ceremony. The CWA Diamond Dagger lifetime award is announced in the new year and presented at the same ceremony.

The books in contention for CWA Daggers have to have been first published in the UK in the year in question which runs from 1 June to 31 May. They are nominated by their publishers: authors and readers cannot make nominations.

UK publishers can find more information about how to nominate on the CWA’s dedicated Daggers website at

A bit of history

The Crossed Red Herring was renamed the CWA Gold Dagger in 1960, and the first recipient was Lionel Davidson for The Night of Wenceslas. Davidson, who died in 2009, went on to win another two Gold Daggers, the only person to date to achieve a hat-trick. In 2005, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the CWA Gold Dagger, CWA members voted for the “Dagger of Daggers” and the prize for the best of the best went to the 1963 winner The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré. Between 1969 and 2005, a Silver Dagger was also awarded to the runner up. Here is a full list of Gold and Silver Dagger winners.

In 1973 the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger was created to honour new authors of note. To be considered the book has to be the author’s first novel. Many winners have gone on to become established crime writers: look at the list of winners and you will see names such as Andrew Taylor, Patricia Cornwell, Minette Waters and Dan Fesperman.

A comparitively new award is the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for best thriller was introduced in 2002. It is sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd to celebrate the best of contemporary thriller writing. The judges are agents, authors, booksellers and reviewers. The list of winners is here.

1978 saw the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction instituted to reward authors of true cime and other non-fiction books. The International Dagger was split off from the Gold Dagger in 2006 and is awarded for books originally written in a foreign language. Every year two winners are announced, the translator’ role being acknowledged alongside the original author. The Short Story Dagger has been awarded since 1995 and features many well-known authors in this compact format.

The CWA’s committment to encouraging new writing talent is shown in its Debut Dagger competition. Since 1998 this competition for unpublished writers has provided a showcase for new talent and a glance at the list of winners shows many who have gone on to success. What that perhaps doesn’t show is that many shortlisted authors also achieve success: Belinda Bauer took her 2008 entry Blacklands on to win the 2010 CWA Gold Dagger.

Two awards honour an author’s body of work rather than an individual title. The CWA Diamond Dagger, a much-coveted lifetime achievement award, was sponsored from 1986 to 2011 by Cartier. The winners’ careers have been marked by sustained excellence, and they have made a significant contribution to crime fiction published in the English language. The Dagger in the Library, reintroduced in 2002 after a five-year break, goes to a writer nominated by library users and chosen by a panel of librarians.

Finally, the The CWA Historical Dagger is given to the best historical crime novel of the year. This Dagger previously commemorated the life and work of Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter, 1913-95).