Interview: Jody Sabral
What made you enter the CWA Debut Dagger in the first place?
I heard about the award while doing my MA in creative writing at City University and decided why not, so went for it.
How did you approach submitting your manuscript compared with, say, submitting to an agent or publisher?
I approached it in exactly the same way that I would have done or will do with any agent or publisher. I read the guidelines carefully and submitted my piece of writing on time. The rules of competition are there for a reason, there is no use going against them or reinventing them, so be sure to follow the rules carefully.
Has your entry been published so far?
I’ve had interest from at least seven really good agents and an American publisher, all very well respected in their field. Three have read it so far and I’m currently reworking the manuscript with the feedback they gave me. I’m preparing to resubmit it to these agents, as they have all expressed an interest in reading it a second time. I decided to set my own pace with the work rather than fall into the trap of feeling pressure from winning the prize. The agents and publisher who expressed interest have graciously understood that. On the back of the Debut Dagger I was also contacted by a TV producer who has since read a screenplay I’m currently working on with a fellow writer I met while on the course at City University. Its a four part crime drama, and has received excellent feedback from a number of industry people. It’s exciting times with both these writing projects underway. Finding the right people to work with takes time I believe, it’s like a courtship, everything needs to feel right as hopefully these will become important relationships in my writing career.
How did you approach the synopsis?
Writing a synopsis can be quite tough. I’m writing a political thriller and it’s difficult to nail down the plot on one page. But it’s very good practise to do it because agents will most definitely want a synopsis. I broke my story down into three acts, and started the synopsis with a blurb. Two sentences that would fit on the back of the book which gives the reader a clear idea of the story. Then I detailed in one paragraph the style of the book, the structure including the points of the view the story is told in. Next I gave an overview of the beginning, middle and end of the story. I left nothing to the imagination of the reader and mapped out as simply as I could how it starts and how it ends. The synopsis must give a clear picture of what the book is about and how it ends.
Did being shortlisted in the Debut Dagger mean you stuck with writing crime novels?
That’s an interesting question. When I made my submission my novel was very much a crime novel, but it has since evolved into a political thriller. I like to think of it as a hybrid, a bit of both, although I’m not sure publishers and agents would appreciate this description. It’s good to have a clear idea of where on the bookshelf in the bookstore it should be placed. I think it was more a case of the MA that pushed me towards the crime novel rather than the Debut Dagger. As a journalist I’ve always written about politics, but blending that with crime has been a new challenge but the two make good bed fellows obviously, so it works somehow.
What’s your advice for would-be entrants in the future?
Recruit some readers before you submit your work. Proofing your writing and ironing out any of the inconsistencies or glaring kinks in the work before entering the Debut Dagger is as important as the story itself. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional writer, the presentation must be up to scratch. But mostly, enjoy it and good luck!