It all began on November 5, 1953 at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall. Now, the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) is celebrating its 70th year.

Throughout 2023, the CWA has staged a series of events including an exhibition of memorabilia from its archives. Official archivist of the CWA, Martin Edwards, says the anniversary is a “cause for celebration, not just among its members, but among crime genre fans everywhere”.

One of the UK’s most prominent writers’ societies, the CWA was founded by the prolific author John Creasey, who wrote more than 600 books under various pseudonyms. The invite from Creasey for the first meeting read: ‘The threatened meeting of mystery writers planned for the afternoon of Thursday, November 5th, has been arranged to take place at the NATIONAL LIBERAL CLUB, WHITEHALL PLACE, LONDON, S.W.1 …at 2.45 for 3 p.m. (It cannot go on much longer than about 5.15 p.m. as the room is needed for politics) On arrival at the Club ask for (a) Creasey and if you get a blank stare, (b) the Oak Room…IF YOU DON’T WANT AFTERNOON TEA, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. I SHOULD HATE TO ORDER IT AND SEE IT WASTED.’

John Creasey. Photo courtesy of the CWA.

The CWA’s founding aims were to provide a social network as well as help crime writers with business matters. In Creasey’s words, the organisation would “give reasonable hope that both the prestige and the fortunes of crime writers generally should be improved”.

In 1956, it hosted its first awards ceremony for the best crime book of the year, which went to Winston Graham, best known for Poldark. Agatha Christie was the principal guest. The oldest awards in the genre, the CWA Daggers feature the highest honour in crime writing – the CWA Diamond Dagger – which recognises careers marked by sustained excellence. Recipients over the years have included PD James, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, John le Carré, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, Martina Cole, Val McDermid, and Walter Mosley.

As for the CWA’s archive, Edwards says: “The process of cataloguing is a long-term one. For specific examples, there is correspondence from the likes of Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl, as well as photographs of early events organised by the CWA. The concept of the archive is to try to present a detailed, and certainly unique, picture of the evolution of crime writing in Britain and also the nature of the lives of crime writers. The British Crime Writing Archives also comprise the archives of the Detection Club, founded in 1930, and the oldest social network of crime writers in the world.”

Check out the picture gallery below for a selection of treasures from the CWA’s archive. 

By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul

All images courtesy of the CWA

Letter from Nigel Morland to Donald Rumbelow, the then CWA Chair, about the origins of the CWA

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