Returning to writing – shortlisted Debut Dagger writer J. Huw Evans tells how life got in the way of writing
It’s been nearly 18 years since I was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger. I’d almost given up on getting my Bronzebeck Series published by then and entering was a shot in the dark. I entered the two completed books: The Hot Dragon and The Invisible Brother as well as the barely started third: Unlucky with Women. As you may guess from the titles they were not your typical crime novels being a fantasy/SF/Crime hybrid. Most of the judges pointed that out and unsurprisingly I was only shortlisted. The nearest I got to success with that was with Terry Pratchett’s original publisher who wrote: “They would certainly have been published in the 80s”. That led to many wasted years trying to build a time machine.
Experimenting with different genre
By this stage I was anyway working on a more literary novel: The Book That Jack Wrote about an author whose long overdue overnight success is more fantastic than he can handle. Focusing on his unhappy love life and career it was writing what I knew with acerbic wit and scything sketches of corporate inanity and insanity, and even a murder thrown in for good measure. Perhaps I overdid the meta-literary, psychological, Kafka-esque aspects or perhaps the interleaved narrative, switching from my protagonist’s book to his life but telling the same overall story, albeit with unreliable narrative was too sophisticated/complicated/rubbish/ahead of its time/funnyweird [delete as applicable].
Bereavement & Illness: life gets in the way
Two years later my Mum died of a misdiagnosed cancer and I was diagnosed with an auto-immune illness which was potentially fatal. Coming together and combined with the mind-fuddling effects of steroids used to treat my condition I chucked work to try and focus on my writing.
I played a lot of tennis (still do) to counteract the danger of being shot down as an uncontrolled blimp (the steroids) and I spent a lot of time examining myself for signs of impending system failure. Amidst that period of what I’d feared would be terminal hypochondria I completed Jack and a fantasy for kids called Pernicia’s Influence.
My illness abated without only minor scarring on my lungs. Then my Dad began to fail with vascular dementia. I spent a lot of time caring for him, commuting from Ipswich to Mid Wales until his death a few years ago.
Sorry this all sounds like miserable memoir. There were some giggles in among the darker moments, and I haven’t even mentioned the darkest moments. I shall leave them to your imagination.
Returning to writing
I am now returning to writing and submitting the old stuff, hoping it gets picked up as my heist skills are unlikely to support me in my own dotage.
My shortlisting for the Debut Dagger is still my proudest and most prominently displayed credit in my biography and I remain grateful to the CWA for it.