Roz Watkins Tells Her Debut Dagger Story
It was a Friday night and I was sipping gin and tonic and idly browsing Twitter working, when I received a shock tweet from crime writer Stephen Booth congratulating me for being on the Debut Dagger longlist.
I assumed I must have slipped into a gin-induced dream, but I checked with my cat and I was definitely awake. With trembling fingers, I found the page on the CWA website and there I was. I said, “Oh my God” so many times the cat covered her ears (and she’s deaf).
By this time, I was already in the fortunate position of having a wonderful agent, and we were talking with publishers. But I still didn’t quite believe any of it, and I was stunned and thrilled by the Debut Dagger longlisting.
My eventual publishers (HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins) were fantastically enthusiastic about the Daggers. When I was later shortlisted, they booked two tables at the Awards Dinner and came along in force to cheer me on, as did Diana, my agent. I didn’t win, but this was quite a relief to me as I might have had an Oscars-style meltdown on stage. Besides, I felt I’d already had enough good fortune for one year.
The Awards Dinner was the culmination of an incredible couple of years. When I started my novel, I had barely written fiction since school (although having a clear-out recently I came across two of my junior school efforts – The Island of Terror and Slaughterhouse – so I was obviously showing early signs of either psychopathy or crime writing). But once the urge came upon me, I pursued it with a feverish devotion bordering on lunacy.
I’d left my “proper job” as a patent attorney and had been renovating holiday cottages. Once renovated, they needed running, and the endless cleaning of toilets and other brain-numbing tasks seemed to have a strange effect on me. My mind was suddenly full of murders and fiendish plot twists, and once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.
A quick google search confirmed I had more chance of being struck by lightning than getting traditionally published. And I wasn’t in a great position – I had a degree in engineering, a career in law and not a single friend who had anything to do with the mysterious world of publishing. But at least I realised I had no clue how to write a novel, so with astonishing naivety, I decided to teach myself from books and the internet. As well as reading craft books, I analysed recently published debut crime novels, and did a couple of local courses, which proved fantastic for the friends I made. I read hundreds of first pages, analysing why they did or didn’t grab me. At this point, I decided my second book would be about a writer who becomes obsessed to the point of madness with trying to craft a perfect first page…
My mania paid off when my opening page won me a moderately bruising critique of my first ten thousand words in a Writing Magazine competition. I read more books, edited, read more books, put the whole damn thing through Scribophile, and read more books.
A turning point was the Festival of Writing in York, where I had a one-to-one with a book doctor, Claire McGowan. She liked my first chapter and passed it to her agent, Diana Beaumont. I later sent my finished (or so I thought) manuscript to Diana and got an email saying she wanted to talk. I knew from extensive Googling that this meant,“I really like this book but need to make sure you’re not batshit crazy.” We had a long chat, in which she presumably decided I wasn’t crazy and offered to represent me, and I decided she totally “got” my book and I’d love to work with her.
After a few champagne moments (quite a few), there followed more editing. I ended up with ten thousand words too many, and a week to remove them. I murdered darlings until the floor was strewn with their blood-soaked corpses.
And then it was submitted. I told myself it could take a while, but still started hyperventilating if my phone ever left my side. Astonishingly, we received the first offer (for Germany, via a scout) within a couple of days. We have now agreed a three-book deal in the UK and a two-book deal in Germany, plus a TV Option with ITV Studios.
Looking back on this, my path to publication feels somewhat unreal and miraculous. I was very fortunate – perhaps the timing was right for a slightly overweight, animal-loving feminist detective. The Debut Dagger shortlisting was a huge part of this incredible period. Now I’m just hoping Trump doesn’t provoke a war before the first book gets published in 2018.
Roz’s agent, Diana Beaumont of UTA, said, “I knew from the moment I first met Roz that she was smart, talented and would be a delight to work with. The Debut Dagger shortlisting was the icing on the cake. It isn’t easy for first time authors so this kind of recognition at an early stage in their career from the CWA means a lot. I can’t wait to see the sticker on the book when it comes out. Also, the CWA is well-known for being very supportive of its members and that is an invaluable asset for any writer. I know that Roz has really appreciated that. Recently I stayed in one of the beautiful cottages she rents out in Derbyshire with her partner (plus cats, dog and horse) to explore some of the crime scenes in the book. It struck me that Pendleton Cottages would be a wonderful place to write in peace. And I would also like to stress that I am not receiving commission on any future bookings – yet!”
Sally Williamson, Roz’s editor at Harper Collins:
‘The CWA is such a valuable organisation for recognising brilliant crime writing talent – as an editor, you know when an author has been given that early stamp of approval by the Debut Dagger that they are one to watch.’
The photo shows Roz on the far right with her agent Diana Beaumont next to her. On the far left is Angela Clarke and Claire McGowan is next to her.