What a Difference a Dagger Makes: Debut Dagger winner Bill Crotty tells of doors that have opened since the award
I had never won anything in my life. Absolutely nothing. Lucky dips were never lucky; not a single raffle ever ended with my ticket being called. School sports day was a wasteland. No kind of race did I ever win: sack, three-legged, egg-and-spoon – forget it. Later, at work, I fared no better in the annual Aintree Grand National canteen sweepstake. Year after year the bewildered nags I drew would barely make it across the Melling Road or – at best – come a cropper before Becher’s the first time around.
But self-delusion triumphs over experience and so it was that in February of 2018 I sent off my entry, The Eternal Life of Ezra ben Simeon, for the CWA Debut Dagger. I had long wanted to write a novel and knew exactly what I wanted to write about, but I worked in software development and into that voracious maw all time disappears. Eventually, I had my now-or-never moment: ‘Are you going to write this book or not?’ I bit the bullet and quit my job.
Like every aspiring novelist I’d been reading for years about how difficult it is to get into print. London literary agents, I knew, received more than one-hundred unsolicited books per week. Or was it two-hundred? The heavy odds were that my poor effort would be one drop in a tsunami, sloshing around in cyberspace, forever unnoticed. That’s why I decided to enter the Debut Dagger competition. Do well at the Daggers, I reasoned, and your book could rise Excalibur-like out of the slush pile for long enough to get noticed.
Still, the Dagger has a world-wide reach with hundreds of entries. Who was I kidding? I hit Send but honestly expected never to hear anything more.
What followed feels even now like a sequence of steps into unreality. Three months later, in May, I received an email to say my book had been longlisted. At the end of July, from Daunt Books in Cheapside, came the announcement of the shortlist. To my growing disbelief The Eternal Life of Ezra ben Simeon was on it. And, in the last week of October, at the Dagger awards dinner on Tower Hill, the moment which I still cannot recall quite fully – I have only a vague memory of a huge reproduction of my unlovely mug above the stage when my name was announced as the winner of the Debut Dagger for 2018. The rest of the evening is a blur.
Soon afterwards (a Dagger has heft, make no mistake) I got the kind of email every unpublished writer hardly dares to hope for. From Jonathan Clowes Ltd. ‘We are very interested in your novel…’ It took a few weeks before I could go back to London (I live in Ireland) but there I met Ann Evans and Nemonie Craven Roderick. Since then, with their guidance, I’ve been working on a rewrite and by the end of this year (2019) I hope to have something that might be ready to go to a publisher.
It’s been quite a year. Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself when I think that a story that had been knocking around in my head for years should come to this: winning the Debut and gaining representation, and editorial advice, from a renowned literary agency. Such things happen, I suppose – they just don’t happen to me. Or so I used to think.
If you have the opening and synopsis of a novel and you’re doubtful about entering the Debut Dagger contest, I would say: ‘hit Send’. That one keystroke can change everything.