The Crime Writers’ Association

My Debut Dagger Experience, by Biba Pearce

I first found out about the CWA Debut Dagger several years ago from a writing group on Facebook. I’d been writing for a long time, an embarrassingly long time, with not much to show for it. Granted, I’d been juggling motherhood with a full-time job, but I knew I wanted to be a published author. A dream that wouldn’t die.


At first, I was too intimidated to enter. Was my story good enough? Did it have an attention-grabbing hook? Was my voice unique? The setting atmospheric? Self-doubt got the better of me and I let that opportunity pass. Sometimes you have to. It’s all about timing.


The next year, I decided to try again. I’d been writing up a storm in my spare time and had recently finished a book about a London detective, but knew it needed work. I had the bones of a great story, but was there enough meat?


I concentrated on the first chapter, editing it until my eyes burned. I browsed the CWA website and found a blog post outlining what the judges look for in an entry. I scrutinised it, then applied what I could to my first chapter, hoping it ticked all the boxes. Storyline. Pace. Voice. Setting.


Finally, I used the CWA critique service to get some professional feedback prior to my submission. This was undoubtedly the most useful thing that I did. That feedback allowed me to polish my chapter and synopsis until they shone.


Finally, I was ready to submit. With sweaty fingers, I uploaded my document.


Done. There was nothing more I could do.


Except wait.


That was the most excruciating part. Anxious thoughts plagued me. Had I done enough? Was it comparable to the other entries? Did I even have a right to hope I’d get through to the next round? I was a nobody. A wannabe writer playing at the craft. Eventually, I psyched myself out and got back to normal life. Family. Job. Playing at writing another book.


Eventually, the long list was announced. We were in the midst of the pandemic, so everything was done via Zoom. I nearly fell off my chair when my name was announced. Then I called my mum.


Perhaps I wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe I did have a shot at this writing thing.


Being shortlisted was the cherry on the cake. I remember screaming and dancing around the house much to my teenage son’s surprise. Party for one. It was lockdown, after all.


Eventually, life returned to normal. The winners were announced and even though I didn’t win, I was still basking in the glow of being shortlisted. I got a few requests from agents for the manuscript. Some publishers showed an interest. It was finally happening!


Fast forward two years and I have six novels published with Joffe Books, an agent who has a new series out on submission, and I’ve quit my day job to write full time.


My advice? Never give up. It took me 16 years writing part-time before I got noticed. Ten thousand hours. Snort. I’ve done that and more. Now I can finally say I’m a bona fide author.


Those dreams that refuse to die. They’re the ones that usually end up coming true.


Biba Pearce, Crime Writer


Read more about Biba here.

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