Orange Prize

Today I heard that the Orange Prize – well, it’s not. Not any more.
A pleading, sad-sounding Kate Mosse was on the Today Programme making a case for how good a bargain the prize was, and any sponsor would make a fortune.
She has my sympathy. When I was Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association back in 2004, and for the years before that and my advisory year afterwards, the main topic at every single ruddy meeting was sponsorship.

A Gold Dagger for the best crime book of the year.

Sponsorship coloured our views of everything. The CWA has the oldest set of awards in the business, and we always thought that they should get a lot more recognition. But they didn’t.
I and my predecessor spent ages negotiating and managed to win two years of sponsorship from Book Club Associates. That wasn’t a huge success, sadly, and it collapsed.
After my time, a great deal was set up with a private bank. That was wonderful because for a few short years the CWA had the largest prize. Wish to God I’d won that one while the bankers were paying.
But many members hated that. They didn’t want successful parasites like bankers paying fortunes.
When that sponsorship ended, there was a new arrangement – and this one has been very hard to swallow. It led to many authors feeling disgruntled, because all of a sudden the cosy club that was the CWA was being dictated to. In exchange for the money, the CWA Daggers became the Specsavers. Instead of continuing the tradition of rewarding writers for the best in international crime writing, with many daggers, the awards were moved slightly. Most became rewards for actors, not writers. Even the prize in the name of the founder of the CWA, the John Creasey, had to have its name changed to suit the TV suits. They felt the public wouldn’t know who he was. Clearly educating the public has fallen off the remit of broadcasters.
What then, was there for the CWA membership – a group of writers only? In short: nothing.
Which is why, very regretfully, I resigned from the CWA.

Yes, even this twit has had to stand on his hind legs and present the odd prize!

So yes. I can fully appreciate the difficulties of Orange organisers who are trying to find a new sponsor. In these trying times, attempting to winkle a few hundred thousands from a sponsor is like trying to persuade the German public that they should happily spend a few more billions to keep Greece in the Euro zone.
Yes. Not easy.
But do I have any sympathy for the Orange? No.
I dislike intensely any divisive prizes. And the Orange is exclusively for women writers. No men may apply.
If there was a prize for males only, there would be a screaming uproar.
The basic premise was, that women had a raw deal. They weren’t judged in the same way as men. They didn’t get the same rewards.
I don’t know if that was true then – but it isn’t now. If you look at the top selling UK writers, they are JK Rowling, PD James, EL James, the author of the Twilight series, the author of … Ye Gods, when it comes to making money or writing great literary fiction, the women are at the top of the pile already.
Of course, the complaint is always there that the publishing market is driven by men.
It isn’t. I’ve had eight editors in almost twenty years. One was male. The publishing market is run by women to a much greater extent than any other market.
Perhaps it’s the readers, then.
No. We’re always told that the majority of readers are women. Men just don’t get books. Their attention spans are too … Oh, whatever.
So, what is the point of the Orange prize? It serves no useful purpose whatsoever. It doesn’t promote equality because by its very existence it is divisive.
Which is why, while I feel great sympathy for Kate Mosse’s attempts to reinvigorate the Orange, I’m afraid I rather hope she fails.
Better by far to create a prize that is inclusive to replace the Orange. A prize that recognises the best in writing – only that. Male or female should be irrelevant because the author’s sex is irrelevant when it comes to good writing.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Orange Prize”
  1. I’m with you, Mike. Sexism is abhorrent, however it’s angled. As for the old Daggers, their flaw was in allowing translations to be considered.

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    • Cheers, Quintin. With the Daggers, I think the main problem was, the CWA was a pleasant group of friends but when they tried to get so much more money for sponsorship ( and I was included in that) it changed the whole dynamic. International was a bad error, because where do you draw the line when the floodgates are open and the water’s washing away the ground under your feet! But big money means big demands and poor old authors don’t know how to haggle, generally, so they got trampled. Very sad.

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  2. jel cel says:

    MIke, for a majority gender, that reads both genders, the minority gender of the world, yours, according to observations made in papers here, tend to only read its own gender. Therefore the prize is to help provide balance so that the majority gender may be recognised.. If publishing had always been open to both genders then I would agree with your comment, but the majority gender is stil playing catch up! So it is a good prize and should be encouraged.

    While the minority gender – male gets and has most of the publishing I believe the majority gender should have its own prize.

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    • I don’t agree. The fact is that in publishing most folks are women – editors, copyeditors etc. Also managers. More women read than do male. In certain genres there are more men than women – thrillers and spy stories, for example – but they’re hugely overwhelmed by the number of females in romantic and crime genres. The Orange is an irrelevance. But, more importantly, I am with Quintin. I utterly reject a prize based on sexism. We ought to be beyond that.

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