CWA Diamond Dagger: Edinburgh crime writer C J Sansom follows in Ian Rankin’s footsteps to win prestigious literary award

An Edinburgh author who once told how bullying at one of the Capital’s top independent schools drove him to attempted suicide has won the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Diamond Dagger.
C J Sansom has been awarded the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Diamond Dagger.C J Sansom has been awarded the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Diamond Dagger.
C J Sansom has been awarded the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Diamond Dagger.

In winning the prestigious award, C J Sansom follows in the footsteps of previous winners Ian Rankin, Ruth Rendell, Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, P D James, Colin Dexter, John le Carré and Martina Cole.

The Diamond Dagger winner is selected from nominations provided by CWA members, recognising UK crime authors who have made an outstanding lifetime's contribution to the genre.

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Sansom said: “I feel so honoured to be awarded this year’s Diamond Dagger, and my heartfelt thanks to the CWA members and committee. Wonderful to think I now join such a distinguished group of authors.

“To think it all started with the idea that a novel set around Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries might make a good story. Thank you.”

Maxim Jakubowski, chair of the CWA, said: “C J Sansom has proven himself to be the modern master of the historical thriller, regardless of periods.

“Equally at ease evoking 16th-Century England, Spain in the aftermath of its Civil War or even an alternate post-Second World War Britain, he weaves a web of compelling reality around his characters and brings the past to life like no other, making him a splendid and deserved addition to the prestigious ranks of Diamond Dagger winners.”

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The Diamond Dagger is announced before the annual CWA Dagger Awards, which will be awarded in June.

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In 2018, Sansom (born Christopher John Sansom) described how his “terrible years” at George Watson’s College in the 1950s and 1960s led to him taking a “massive overdose” of his mother’s sleeping pills.

Writing in a Sunday newspaper in 2018, Sansom said: “I was there for ten years, mocked and isolated by the other children while the teachers blamed this on me and sometimes collaborated in it.”

Sansom was moved to speak out after reading about the case of another Watson’s pupil, known as Kate, whose parents withdrew her after she was bullied.

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He wrote: “So many of Kate’s alleged experiences – the mocking, the exclusion, the taking refuge in the lavatories – mirrored to the last detail my recollections of my own experiences at Watson’s half a century ago.”

Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman said he had received 25 reports of abuse involving former pupils at the school, most between 1999 and 2017, after he helped to highlight Kate’s case.

Sansom, who started at Watson’s primary school in 1957, said he remembered it as “more boot camp than school – unless you were academically bright or good at rugby”. He wrote: “Those who misbehaved or did badly in class were a nuisance and left to the bullies.

“Some teachers, usually the younger ones, were decent people, looking on me with puzzlement rather than scorn. Others, though, would mock me themselves, knowing it would get a laugh from the boys.

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“By the time I was 14, I was, I now realise, becoming seriously mentally ill – completely isolated, hardly aware of what was being said in the classroom, consumed with rage, plagued by migraines and tormented by thoughts of suicide and burning down the school.”

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