The Crime Writers' Association

The Debuts

Martin Ungless, twice shortlisted for the Debut Dagger, writes about his novel featuring a robot butler detective. What’s not to love?

So here’s the thing… I write edgy crime fiction, and no I don’t mean that hyper-violent serial-killer stuff, I’m talking edge of genre, the funny side. More on this later. First I want to ask – why does Crime have to be so serious?

A few years back Colin Bateman examined this shift towards the dark side in an article worth reading if only for its opening line! He blames the change on Patricia Cornwell and Thomas Harris, though surely no one could say Hannibal Lecter doesn’t speak with a touch of tongue in cheek – even if that tongue is not his own!

Crime can be funny, transgressive, fumbling, as well as scary, vicious, high-octane frightening too, and that’s the mix I’ve gone for with Duck Egg Blues. Bateman references Malcolm Pryce and Declan Burke as authors writing Crime with a humorous twist, and clearly a dedicated readership for such fiction does exist. Stories range from English pastiches of the Golden Age, to others taking their cues from Chandler, full of great one-liners and an eyebrow fully raised. Personally, I like Kate Atkinson’s light touch, or Elmore Leonard’s grit. His books are tough and full of action, but laugh-out-loud when life’s sheer madness can’t help breaking through.

Now, there’s only one Debut Dagger winner each year, but I’ve got to say that being shortlisted feels like prize enough. I don’t mean the ezines about recent crime books we get sent – though thanks for them CWA – no, as you might imagine, there’s a whole lot more. Firstly, someone other than your mother, someone you don’t know, a group of someones even, announces publicly that they like your work! Well, that certainly cheers you whilst you doggy-paddle through the treacle, making for publication’s distant shore.

An ego boost isn’t the only thing the Crime Writers’ Association provides. Shortlisted writers have their work circulated to agents, and in my case, one of them liked what she saw. I happened to win another prize that year (an Escalator from WCN) and she signed me up. I had it made, right? Not quite. Writing on the edge of genre might be a side-splitting pleasure, but the industry finds such fiction hard to categorise, despite the many readers enjoying this type of work.

I’ve tried various styles in locating my writing self, with one of my shortlisted entries for the Debut Dagger being pure high farce, and the other having a much darker tone. These days I’m pitching somewhere in between. My work is still genre-edgy, so we opted for digital publishing, and if that interests you, read on.

Publishing with Amazon is easy as uploading your book to their site, but remember, edit, edit, edit first. Acquire yourself a magnificent eye-catching cover, and you’re off. Well, you are if you’re prepared to spend a day deciphering the vocabulary of American tax legislation. I’m still not certain I won’t be arrested when I step off the plane at JFK for my first book-signing tour!

Remember that without a commercial publisher, all of this side is down to you. Your book isn’t going to be sitting in the window of Waterstones, no, it will be hiding in the Amazon Catalogue behind millions of other books – with hundreds of thousands listed under Mystery/Thriller/Crime – and nothing in the Amazon system is going to do you any favours or put your name near the top of anybody’s search. You can pay for advertising, and find other ways to get your name out there, social media etc, but I’m a novice in this area, so I’ll leave someone else to tell you how. There are plenty of good blogs.

Be patient. After the first swathe of readers’ sales comes the lull, but then a few weeks later, if you’re lucky, another burst. Recommendations are almost as pleasurable as the good reviews! It’s darn slow progress though. Not sure anyone’s going to get rich overnight, but the best thing of all is that my book is out there, right now, being read and enjoyed! Isn’t that why we all started writing in the first place?

Duck Egg Blues features a robot butler detective. Don’t get me started about crossing those bigger genre lines! But have no fear – or rather have lots of fear and a dash of fun – this book is most certainly Crime!