Third time lucky with the Debut Dagger, by Anna Caig
I’ve wanted to write crime fiction ever since I read Death on the Nile as a teenager and was blown away that something so clever, so dazzling and brilliant, could even exist. But life takes over, doesn’t it. It was only in 2017, when I saved up enough money to allow me to take a year’s career break and concentrate on writing my first book, that this ambition turned into something I was serious and organised about pursuing.
I first entered the Debut Dagger in 2018, with the book I wrote on my career break. The competition provided a clear goal, a sense of community, and a deadline; it supported my growing understanding of what it might actually take to make this crazy dream come true. I wasn’t longlisted, but I did finish the book, and was submitting to agents and publishers by the end of 2018.
The roller coaster of hope and sadness that followed – the joy of seven full manuscript requests; the gloom as they all gradually turned into rejections – will be familiar to many of you. I won’t pretend there weren’t dark moments, but one thing was certain. My heart belonged to crime writing.
I entered the Debut Dagger again in 2019 with a sequel to that first book. It brought much-needed focus to my writing in that year. I was back at work in a big, busy job – and without the goal of getting my entry ready, my precious crime writing might have been squeezed out.
That sequel was never finished though. It didn’t stand a chance against an idea that wouldn’t go away. The story of a tyrannical Earl and a woman accused of witchcraft in my beloved Orkney islands, set in 1593. By the summer of 2019, I was up in Orkney, standing in the pitch darkness in a dungeon in a cathedral, having a little cry as I imagined what it might have been like for the real women who were held there.
This idea became The Spae-Wife, the book I entered for the Debut Dagger in 2020. It is a story borne of Orcadian history and myth, the staggering beauty of the landscape on those islands, and King James VI’s obsession with executing witches. But it is also borne from the mind of that teenager reading Death on the Nile. There’s a dead body and a closed circle of suspects. Everyone has a secret, and some people have the power to keep those secrets hidden – including, in this case, from the history books.
I’m thrilled to say it was third time lucky for me with the competition. In the difficult summer of 2020, the summer of stress, fear and Covid, I was longlisted and then shortlisted for the prize. I didn’t win, but I was highly commended and have signed with a superb literary agent. I’m currently in the process of polishing The Spae-Wife to get it ready for submission to publishers and I’ve got a plan for a sequel that makes me wobbly with excitement to get writing. As well as another slightly mad idea for a completely different series of crime books.
Who knows what the future holds? But I do know that, wherever it takes me next, my crime writing journey has been a source of huge fulfilment and purpose. And the Debut Dagger competition has been a big part of that journey.