Martina Cole has been awarded the highest honour in British crime writing, the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Diamond Dagger, almost 30 years after she was "dismissed by some as a one-book wonder”.
Deemed the “long-reigning Queen of Crime Drama” by the association and “a publishing powerhouse”, Cole has written 25 novels, all published by Headline. She has sold 9.8 million books for £66.8m since records began according to Nielsen BookScan's UK Total Consumer Market, with 64 weeks in the Original Fiction number one spot since 2001, across 15 titles. Her books have been translated into 31 languages and adapted for multiple stage plays and television series.
“Martina’s own story is as remarkable as any bestseller plot,” the CWA said. “Martina grew up on an Essex council estate and Ronnie and Reggie Kray once visited her family’s home when she was a child. The youngest of five children in a large, poor, Irish Catholic family, she attended a convent school, where her struggle against authority started; this culminated in two expulsions. She left school at 15 with no qualifications; was married at 16, divorced at 17 and pregnant at 18. A single mum, she struggled to bring up her son, Chris, taking on waitressing jobs.
“Aged 21, she lost both her parents and started to write her iconic debut novel, Dangerous Lady (Headline), but it wasn’t until she was 30 that she gave up her job and decided to devote herself seriously to writing and finished the manuscript. Dangerous Lady caused a sensation when it was published in 1992 – and the rest is history.”
Cole said: “It means so much to me to be receiving this prestigious award from my peers at the CWA. I can’t believe it’s nearly 30 years since Dangerous Lady was published — some people dismissed me as an Essex girl and a one-book wonder – but as one of my favourite songs goes: ‘I’m still here’.”
Maxim Jakubowski, honorary CWA vice-chair, said: “A much-overdue reward for a major crime author who has often been badly overlooked by the critical establishment. Martina has single-handedly created a new crime genre and brought so many new readers on board, and has always been a vocal supporter of her fellow writers in word and deed.”
The author is an advocate for prisoner rehabilitation and visits prisons to give writing classes and the CWA said her books are the most borrowed in prison libraries and the most stolen from bookshops. Last June it was revealed her next hardback, Loyalty, would be postponed from October 2020 to autumn 2021 owing to the author's ill health.
The Diamond Dagger award recognises authors whose crime-writing careers have been marked by sustained excellence, and who have made a significant contribution to crime fiction writing. It is selected from nominations provided by CWA members. Cole joins writers such as Ruth Rendell, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin, P D James, Colin Dexter, Reginald Hill, Lindsey Davies, Peter Lovesey and John le Carré.