“And Not Forgetting, ‘Wow!’ ” (by Mat Coward)

Mat Coward is an extraordinarily versatile writer. He’s the author of many excellent mystery short stories and novels, and has also been widely published in the field of science fiction and fantasy. He has written children’s books, humor, even a long-running gardening column for a daily newspaper. His post today concerns his recent nomination for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best short story, for “On Borrowed Time” (EQMM June 2015). The winner will be announced at the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Awards banquet on April 28 of this year. This isn’t the first time Mat has received such an honor: His January 2000 EQMM story “Twelve of the Little Buggers” was also a nominee for the coveted Edgar. New stories by the British author are coming up soon in both EQMM and Crimewave.—Janet Hutchings

Nine things that went through my mind after I heard that I’d been nominated for the Edgar.

1. I wonder if anyone has ever refused an Edgar? Probably not—it doesn’t seem like that sort of award—but lots of people have turned down lots of honours over the years. The artist L.S. Lowry is thought to be the all-time British record-holder, having declined an OBE (in 1955), a CBE (1961), a knighthood (1968), and a Companion of Honour (1972 and 1976).

The socialist writer and broadcaster J.B. Priestley said no to a Life Peerage in 1965—but accepted Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1979. Every man has his own special vanities, after all.

2. And then I remembered the story I was told years ago about a bibulous novelist who arrived home drunk one night to find a letter awaiting him from Buckingham Palace, informing him that he was to be knighted. He immediately scrawled an intemperate reply on the back of the original, explaining that as a lifelong proponent of republicanism he could not imagine any greater insult, and went straight out to post it. When he awoke sober the next morning he immediately remembered that, far from being a republican, he was in fact an enthusiastic supporter of the monarchy. But by then it was too late.

3. It occurred to me that I don’t know exactly how the Edgar committee arrives at its selection, but I do know how the FBI fills a vacancy on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. First of all you have to be nominated by the local field office. Those nominations are then scrutinised by a panel at FBI headquarters, before the winning candidate is submitted to the deputy director, and ultimately the director, for final approval. It’s a very slow process. You can’t help feeling that the FBI should take a tip from the MWA and hold a banquet for nominees; just see who turns up, you never know your luck.

4. I realised that I am still furious about the second place my Jack Russell terrier, Dot, received in the “Dog With the Most Beautiful Eyes” category at a village fete in Kent in 1970. Most days I can deal with the anger, it’s not as if I’m going looking for the judges all these years later, but all I’m saying is: That dog had very nice eyes. If you want to think there was, genuinely, a dog with nicer eyes in that competition, that’s fine. That’s your business. That’s up to you. I happen to know you’re mistaken; we’ll leave it at that.

5. I did that thing that I’m sure you’ve done at some time or another in your life. I waited for a few hours before telling anyone about the nomination, just in case I got a follow-up email saying “OMG, look, this is so embarrassing! Turns out I was reading from the wrong piece of paper! You’re actually on the list for ‘Dullest Short Story of the Entire Year, No Kidding,’ which is really just a bit of fun we were having here in the office when we were snowed in one weekend and it was never really intended for public consumption. Lol! Hope you don’t mind!”

Even then, when I finally posted about the nomination online, I was careful to write, “I have apparently been nominated for an Edgar,” so that if it still turned out not to be true, I wouldn’t look such an idiot. “Yeah, right, you’re like the 100th person to tell me that! Duh! I already knew—I mean, which part of ‘apparently’ don’t you understand?”

6. I wished I’d come up with a less dull title for my story. More meaningful, more original, cleverer, more insightful, more memorable. Though, to be honest, I have such a struggle with titles these days that, as it is, it took me only slightly longer to write the story than it did the title. For my next EQMM story, I came up with the title first, and then built a story to fit it. That’s a much better system: get the difficult bit out of the way before you start.

7. “Nomination” isn’t that easy a word to drop into conversation casually. “Oh, actually, you know what? You talking about nominations reminded me, I’d almost forgotten, I had an email this morning . . .” People just don’t use that word very often. In the end, I had to resort to mishearing. “Abominations? Oh, sorry, I thought you said nominations! I’m an idiot, forgive me. All I was going to say was, nothing very interesting, just that I had an email this morning, while we’re on the subject of denominations, and . . .”

8. I wonder what this news will do to my number of Twitter followers? Well, that was soon answered: The number dropped by several dozen. I think there are three hypotheses that might explain this. Firstly, it was part of an organised protest against the criteria, qualifications, morality, and general common sense of the nominating panel.

Second possibility: A lot of people saw the message and thought, “I wonder who this guy is and why I’m following him?” and took the opportunity to stop following me. It’s very easy to follow people you have no interest in on Twitter, but set against that is the considerable satisfaction gained by unfollowing them sometime later. Not in a hostile way; just for the small burst of satisfaction which follows any successfully completed housekeeping task.

And thirdly, it may just be because I almost never tweet anything, and when I do it’s almost always late at night, and what I tweet is almost certain to cause lasting offence on grounds of political or sporting allegiance to roughly thirty percent of those who see it, whilst being of actual interest to around five percent. I have often noticed that when I don’t tweet anything at all for weeks on end my number of followers grows steadily. And every time I do tweet something (anything) the number starts falling. You can only admire the brains that came up with this brilliant model of twenty-first-century communication.

9. I reminded myself to be pleased. Short-story writing brings very few days of joy: the day the story is accepted, the day the cheque arrives, the day you finally come up with a title, especially if this isn’t eight months after the story was published; that’s about it. So it’s important to notice them when they happen.

Which is why, as I fell asleep on the day I found out my name was on the list of Edgar nominees, I was thinking about the Olympic gold medal winner whose name does not appear on any lists.

The Netherlands team, in the Coxed Pairs rowing event at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, made it through the semis, but feared that their cox was too heavy for them to triumph in the final. So they kicked him out and replaced him with a child, a little French boy, picked at random from amongst the spectators. They won, in a tense, tight finish with the French. But to this day, nobody has ever been able to discover that child’s name.

And the thing is, he quite probably didn’t care: He’d had a nice time watching the boats, and then to top it all he’d even had a ride in one of the boats. I’ll bet that was a great day out, and I’ll bet he remembered it from time to time all his life, and I hope he had many more. I hope we all do.


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6 Responses to “And Not Forgetting, ‘Wow!’ ” (by Mat Coward)

  1. Lou manfredo says:

    Terrific post, Mat. Sometimes I awaken in the small morning hours with a truly great title for a story I had published six months earlier. Go figure.

  2. Mat Coward says:

    Lou, maybe you’re a time traveller? You just haven’t got the details quite worked out yet.

  3. Leigh says:

    The title thing is a problem. And that elusively catchy final paragraph. And the part in between.

    Wonderfully funny, Mat.

  4. Mat Coward says:

    Oh yes, the part in between … and then there’s the opening, of course …

  5. Todd Mason says:

    As charming as your writer’s guide, Mat. Congratulations!

  6. Mat Coward says:

    Thanks, Todd!

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