lørdag den 14. maj 2005

Thoughts on the future of SKS

The following is not a coherent suggestion. It is only intended to be “public reasoning” to provoke more of such, and is a result of such reasoning amongst Finnish SKS-members and myself.

The first and foremost thing is: “Skandinaviska” in Skandinaviska Kriminalsällskapet should refer to all the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), so it is essential that none of them drops out. There is no SKS without all five.

On the nature of SKS
It seems that the membership basis differs a bit from one country to another. In Finland there are some – not many – writers, but most are people somehow involved in crime literature: translators, reviewers, active members of the Whodunit Society, even a couple of publishers. Many function in several of these roles. Anyway, the nature of SKS is not clear: in practice it is not a writers’ association (like the British CWA) nor is it a fan society, but a mixture. As a publisher I am personally wondering whether I should be a member in the first place; as a person involved in the field I’d like to be.
So, maybe it should be explicitly made clear that SKS is open for everybody interested in crime literature, from those who write it through those who are otherwise professionally involved with it to those who read it? Or limit the membership to the professionally involved? The number of crime writers in Scandinavia – and especially the number of those interested – is probably too small to make SKS possible as a predominantly writers’ society.

On the role of the national societies
There is Suomen dekkariseura , there is Hið íslenska glæpafélag, there is Rivertonklubben, there is Det danske kriminalakademi, and there is Svenska deckarakademin. The societies are different by nature – from a small club based on invited members, as Deckarakademin, to one open to everybody, as Dekkariseura – but that would not necessarily be a problem.
A possibility is that in all countries SKS is “officially” made a section of the said national society, and it is the national societies that nominate the official representatives to annual general meetings. Meetings should include a conference that would make them interesting also for those members who are not official representatives with a vote.

The Glass Key
In terms of publicity the most important function of SKS is to deliver the Glass Key award. At a minimum level SKS exists only for this purpose. The most natural way to nominate the national candidates and the national members of the selection committee is to use the national societies.

Board and president
The AGM should elect the board and the president – but naturally it should be the duty of the national societies to do their homework and take care of finding the candidates. The recent issue on what the candidates can be – books or also non-books – is a matter of statutes, and they can be changed only by the AGM.

Time and place
Usually, and with a good practical reason, Nordic conferences are arranged around a set date. So, the AGM and the conference should always take place for instance in late May, or any other time, provided it is always the same weekend. In my opinion late May is good because the Glass Key is given to a book published in the previous year, and January – May is a long enough period for the selection committee to make its choice. For similar predictability reasons it would also be wise to rotate the arranging responsibilities in principle always in the same order. So each national society would know well in advance when it is its turn to arrange the AGM and the conference.

On language
In a congregation including even Iceland and Finland, it should also be understood that in practice English is going to be the working language that all of us master. This does not mean that Swedish, Norwegian and Danish could not be used when appropriate (for instance by speakers at conferences). I emphasize that this is a practical remark; personally I am rather fluent in Swedish, and regard myself a “nordist”.

Raimo Salokangas, May 14, 2005

1 kommentar:

T.B.Hansen sagde ...

Raimo Salokangas wrote this shortly before the SKS congress in Copenhagen, and at the time – at the eve of a meeting that might become nasty – I didn't want to comment on Raimo's thoughts; knowing my comments had already provoked some of the members. The meeting ended – thanks to the suggestions made by Raimo and others – in a way I find most satisfying (considering the circumstances): No fatal decisions were to be taken without further considerations.

Raimo’s thoughts would be a valuable contribution to these considerations. Therefore I think it’s worth while to make some comments now.

1: Raimo seems to have some doubts about the criteria for membership. Finland has a national «mystery society» that allows anyone interested in crime fiction to be a member. As a Norwegian, I am quite content with the format of Rivertonklubben, that accepts members who are professionally involved in some way or another – as writers, critics, publishers, or in some rare cases (I believe) even as extraordinarily devoted fans (it strikes me that the translators are neglected here. Is that why so many new crime stories are so lousily translated to Norwegian?). All these groups have specialized organizations of their own, and most Riverton members would doubtlessly be members of one or more of these guilds. The importance of an «interdisciplinary» organization should not be underrated. Always discussing matters with our own colleagues is not necessarily the best way to widen our perspectives.

The conflict that emerged from the SKS congress in Trondheim a couple of years ago is said to have been a conflict between the interests of writers and those of critics. In my opinion it was no such thing. It was a conflict between different views on literature, with writers as well as critics on both sides.

As some Roman poet pointed out 2000 years ago: Writers need critics as much as critics need writers (or rather: good literature is dependent on both). Writers also need publishers (even if the publisher’s role might change). Publishers certainly need critics, and critics might even need publishers (at least as providers of odd jobs)… Including all these groups (plus, I would suggest, the translators) in one organization is a good thing. This versatility also adds weight to the SKS and to the Glass Key award.

2: I agree with Raimo that it’s crucial to keep all the Nordic countries in the SKS. I also agree with those who (at the SKS congress) emphasized the importance of the organization. The prestige of The Glass Key is dependent on it being awarded by a body of some weight. Sweden is probably the only Nordic country with a strong tradition for more or less self-appointed «Academies» of dignitaries. In the other countries a more «democratic» organization simply carries more weight. Individual membership in the SKS is no problem as such – but as the SKS has no secretariat with capacity to evaluate, not to say recruit, new members, the lack of Danish and Swedish organizations is a potential problem. And the Danish decision to pull out of the SKS but still be in on The Glass Key is a huge problem. Who will actually nominate the Danish candidates? Who will appoint the Danish jury?

I can’t see how the SKS, as such, can do anything with this, lacking a strong organizational basis of its own. We can’t force the Danes and Swedes to organize. All that we – or rather the SKS Presidency – can do, is to appeal to Danish and Swedish writers (starting with the Glass Key winners – though recent events indicates that commercially successful authors gets less interested in organizational issues), publishers and critics (and again: translators) to consider the value of a Nordic crime fiction award, and do whatever they can to ensure that their countries contributes to this award…

3: Raimo is also worried about the language. So am I. Language is rapidly becoming a major problem in all inter-Nordic forums. I’m sorry to say that most people (including Swedish-speaking Finns) blame this on the Finns… I’m aware that what I’m about to say might seem a little arrogant – but it’s difficult to say it in a more polite way: Of the 22 millions or so inhabiting the Nordic countries, 17 millions are able to understand each other with a minimum of efforts. The remaining 5 millions do, at least officially, get basic education in a language that’s understandable for the other 17 millions. In meetings like the SKS congress, forcing all participants to speak a language that is not their mother tongue multiplies the problems, compared to forcing a minority of the participants to speak a foreign language. It creates a massive communication problem, instead of a minor one.

My personal experience is that the average, well-educated Finn speaks Swedish as good, or even better, than s/he speaks English. I know some people disagree, but I also find it much easier to understand a Dane drawling in his/her native tongue, than in a foreign one. Icelanders often claim that they’re not perfect in speaking «Scandinavian» – but so far I haven’t met a single one who wasn’t able to make him– or herself perfectly understandable. The Icelander’s English might be harder to understand. What’s left is, in my humble opinion, that the Finn, and to some extent the Icelander, might be more confident when dealing with a foreign language that anybody else will be just as uncomfortable with. I can’t see that this is really a reason for ditching a basic part of the idea of Nordic unity…

4: A real problem is the Finnish Glass Key candidates. For some reason or another, Finnish publishers hesitate to pay for Swedish translations. Honestly, that should not be a problem! Winning a Glass Key – perhaps even just being a candidate – presents book and writer for the before mentioned 17 millions of potential readers. If each publisher really can’t find the money to pay a translator (they are certainly not over-paid, at least not in Norway), surely it should be possible for the publishers’ guild to split the costs between its members. German translations (as suggested by Raimo) would do nothing but deprive Finnish authors of any chance of winning the Nordic award – collecting juries with the needed skills in German as well as crime fiction expertise would be quite impossible (there is actually a circle of Germanist crime lovers in Norway – but they could be counted on one hand).

5: Since this is also a part of the «Presidents’ Commission», I can’t help myself adding a few words more about the criteria for The Glass Key award. As you might know, I’m very much against idea of a «book award», or even a «novel award». Most crime fiction classics are not «books»; quite a few of them are not «novels». The idea that «literature = books» has no historical basis (at the utmost it might be seen as a 20th publisher’s utopia); when it comes to crime fiction it’s so much more so that it’s not worthy of a club of «crime experts» to even think about it. If there’s after all a majority for the «book» or «novel» approach, please have the decency to change the name of the prize! The story called The Glass Key was a serial published in a «pulp magazine», written by an author who never wrote a «book» in his life; only serials and short stories for cheap magazines, and synopsis and scripts for films and cartoons.