Sunday, 25 July 2010

Crime and self-inflicted punishment

An email popped into my inbox tonight, from Liz Evans, this year's chairman of the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger award. Sadly, it was a circular to her mailing list, and not a sexy little note telling me I'd won and had a horde of panting publishers chasing after me.

I was thinking about the Debut Dagger last night, after reading on twitter that RJ Ellory had picked up the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year at the Harrogate Festival for A Simple Act of Violence (congratulations, Roger - he was a gent when being interviewed for the first issue of Muse).

I've entered the Debut Dagger three times (I think). It's awarded to the best opening of a crime novel by an unpublished novelist - 3,000 words, plus a synopsis - and, as it draws several hundred entries a year from around the globe, it's no disgrace not being one of the ten or so shortlisted entries, from which the winner is announced.

I wasn't expecting to win this year. I'd not entered it. That said, I've never expected to even be shortlisted, as my entries have all had three things in common - they were rushed, the synopses were ill-thought out and, because of those first two, I had no confidence in what I was submitting. Sure, there was some decent passages in each, but any writer will tell you - if you don't really believe in what you're writing, then you can't expect anyone else to.

They were rushed because I left it far too close to deadline, which was a hangover from my days as a journalist. Hell, that's a hangover that still hangs around, regardless of how good a boy I am at any particular point in time. I vowed that, for my next Debut Dagger entry, it would be as polished and planned as I could make it. I even chose against entering the 2010 award because the closing date was looming. Instead, I started planning for next year, when I assume the deadline will again be around mid-February.

I mulled over an idea for a long time, before taking the plunge a couple of months ago. I wrote the first 3,000 words, then put it to one side and went back to it ten days ago. I'm intent on completing the manuscript ahead of the Debut Dagger - in fact, I've set myself the ludicrous deadline of first draft completed by the end of October. Seeing as I'm only just shy of 8,000 words right now, that has to be right up there near the top of the list of dumb Quirk ideas.

In terms of the deadline, at least on this occasion I'm well ahead of the game. However, that email from Liz Evans was a sucker punch. It wasn't the email itself, of course, but what it contained - details of this year's winner, and the highly commended, along with a quick blurb of each. The problem? Yeah, you guessed it - after reading them, I went back and read through my effort so far. And then looked at the overall concept and plot. Outcome? Wasn't happy. Felt like I was wasting my time. Needed to start again.

Am I alone among writers in feeling such utter desolation? What am I saying - of course I'm not. It's a natural reaction, I'm told. So I've filed Liz's email away to be read again only when the first draft is completed and the synopsis is at least in decent shape. Only then will I be able to take a step back and, hopefully, judge whether what I've created has any real potential.

For now, it's on with finding an average of one thousand words a day for the next three months or so. Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it.

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