The Crime Writers’ Association

Debut Dagger Tips: Greg Keen


Words of advice from award-winning authors…


His day job involves training and coaching businesses to deliver barnstorming presentations and wow their clients, so it’s no wonder that Greg Keen was a natural storyteller. In 2015, he wowed the Debut Dagger judges with Last Of The Soho Legends, a crime story based in the London district that Greg has regularly worked in for years. Here he tells us why are series of coincidences led him to enter the competition.


What inspired you to submit Last Of The Soho Legends to the Debut Dagger competition?


I’d written a draft of the book about three years go, and I’d been to my writers group and discussed it, and received feedback. But I wasn’t entirely happy with it, so I let it lie dormant. Then a friend in the class told me they thought I should go back to it because there was something there that really worked. So I re-read it and got back into it and then somebody else sent me a link to the Debut Dagger competition. It was a lovely combination of these things that gave me the impetus to really go for it with the book because now I had something to aim for!


What effect did knowing you can only submit 3,000 words have?


It made me much more efficient in terms of combining the character with the story but also keeping the pace going. My first chapter was probably the strongest chapter from the start, but this made me really think about it and get better still. It makes you much more dynamic.


How did you feel when you discovered you’d won the Debut Dagger?


I was just chuffed to be on the long list so when I found out I’d been shortlisted I was thrilled. The CWA and the Daggers are hugely prestigious, and I entered the book with more hope than any expectation I might win. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the awards night because I was away on business. I stayed up late to see the winners posted online and so when my name popped up, so much happiness ensued! I was in this budget hotel in Colchester, and I wanted to run next door and tell people that I’d won!


What’s been the response since you won?


It’s been good. I went on holiday to South Africa for three weeks straight afterward so I couldn’t do much immediately. But then I started submitting to agents, and because I’ve won the Debut Dagger, my stuff got read, and that’s often really hard for unpublished writers. Now I’ve got an agent and I’m working on some rewrites they suggested before we start submitting the book to publishers early next year.


What advice would you give to writers who want to enter this year’s competition?


If you’ve got something you put away and abandoned, take it out and have another look. There’s usually an idea or a character there worth revisiting. Also, get feedback from people whose opinions you respect. I’d written in writing groups for a few years, and there is wisdom in crowds. You’ll find patterns emerge in their feedback, and it can be very encouraging. Finally, just keep plugging away because even if you can just do an hour a day, it all mounts up!

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