Cold Turkey.

Writers’ diary: stardate: 10.01.2014

My author-publisher start to the New Year feels similar in mood and results to how the kinder  (that’s kinder as in more charitable not as in egg) broadsheets have been moved to remark regarding David Moyes’ first season in charge at Man Utd – it’s not been the best of starts. And after all that positive looking back last week on such fond memories of 2013. That’ll teach me. If I haven’t made it plain thus far, I’m feeling a bit miserable. (Pity-post alert – DEFCON 5: that’s blue).

What is the source of my wretchedness? Apart from my weakly (?) blog-posts, I haven’t written anything new since…Twas the week before Christmas…(No, I’m not claiming to have written that poem. That was Clement Clarke Moore, of course.)

For as long as I can remember since this writing life got going, I get crotchety if I don’t write regularly. At times it feels like my authorial urges border on, if not an addiction (that’s a bit melodramatic but  arguably in keeping with this post), then obsessive – a compulsive habit – which I find easier to give into than to ignore. A bit like an open bottle of wine.

Like doing a line of the white stuff, writing takes me into a fantasy world; it gives me a high and makes me feel good about my day. But the more I do the more I want to do. (It is sounding a bit like an addiction, now.) However, unlike the white stuff, it costs nothing more than time and effort and the price of a happy marriage and I don’t sniff as much as I used to (unless I’m crying because I’m not writing as much as I want to.) (Pity-post alert – DEFCON 4: that’s green.)

I haven’t written anything because I’ve been doing those pesky edits of the R&M books. I finished my corrections of all three books last week. I had to read them each again on my laptop to do it. It was the best way. I remember writing on this blog something about not wanting to go too much to town on them because of what they represented regarding my authorial journey. (Why didn’t anyone tell me how stupid that viewpoint is?)

Anyway, all done and it was a great relief to have them out of the way (for about fifteen minutes). (Pity-post alert – DEFCON 3: that’s yellow.)

I thought I’d better check them before I uploaded them to Amazon – make sure the formatting was still good. So, I pinged them to Kindle, got them back and opened Rope Enough to skim read. What a mistake? Within two pages (that’s Kindle pages not A4 pages, so about twenty four words in total) I’d spotted four things I wanted to change – again. I kept going and there were more…and more…and more. In the end I threw in the towel, got the laptop fired up, opened the file and started reading Rope Enough again. I’ve nearly finished it. I’ve changed a lot this time. I had to. It’s still called Rope Enough, but only because I can’t afford a new cover.

Martin (he of the proofreading variety) will tell you of my love affair with the word ‘that’, which I seemed to insert into my early texts like a fruit machine addict inserts pound coins into…fruit machines. I’ve lost count of the number I have culled in this second run through. And I haven’t stopped there. Vocabulary that didn’t quite hit the spot or was just plain wrong, dialogue a bit wooden, punctuation, punctuation, punctuation!!! (as Tony Blair might say if he were my editor). I’m still never going to spot everything, but I’ve got to make it the best I can before I can be happy. (Epiphany alert: Maybe that’s my problem – I simply can’t be happy. Shit that explains a lot. It’s like someone’s just given me a pair of spectacles to correct my hindsight. I am able to view my past with a stark clarity. It makes me uncomfortable. Puts glasses back in case and throws case into a drawer.) (Pity-post alert – DEFCON 2: that’s red.)

It’s taking a long time because I’m trying to do it properly. (Like I never have before!) And because I haven’t got any bloody free time for anything at the moment! Almost one book down. Two books to go. I’ve got at least another month on this with the way the rest of my life is at present. (I’ve got two job interviews next week, and not only did I discover last night that my ‘interview suit’ no longer fits me, but also something has been nesting in my ‘interview shoes’. I have no idea how to get across Istanbul to these schools.  I’ve got a trip back home at the end of January and my sister tells me the winter weather has taken its toll on the roof ie it’s leaking like a sieve. I can’t afford roofers, so I’ll be up there in the pissing rain and wind, no doubt, with numbed fingers and a frozen back trying to patch it up. I don’t have a supportive spouse – not like all these other authors I read about who make me want to puke with their good fortune at marrying someone who gladly reads their books and offers suggestions; is happy to discuss plot issues over coffee and toast in the mornings; look after the kids, maybe, to give their writing partner time and peace to sit down and fucking write.) (Pity-post alert – DEFCON 1: that’s white, and goodbye cruel world.)

I got an email from a teacher recruitment agency this week advertising jobs in Hong Kong with an annual salary of £55,000 plus benefits. I mentioned this to my Turkish wife. She said if I go, I go alone. What did I say about temptation? I don’t want to end up like Gene in a couple of months. (What a great actor BTW – Hackman not me.)

Debut Dagger 2014

Writer’s diary: stardate: 15.11.2013


This week I received an email from the Crime Writers Association (CWA). My reaction was something approaching a cocktail of excitement and smugness. At last, finally, they’ve come to their senses. They realise their error. The recognition overdue to the Romney and Marsh Files has arrived like the good old second post. (Why does that memory make me tearfully nostalgic?)

So, I made myself a tea in my finest bone china, shrugged on my Noel Coward replica smoking jacket – something I got cheap on ebay some time ago for just such an event – fitted a tailor-made to my ivory cigarette holder and clicked open.

Debut Dagger Now Open

Welcome to the CWA Debut Dagger

For fifteen years the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents.

The 2014 competition is open from Friday 1st November 2013 until Friday 31st January 2014. The Debut Dagger is open to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially. The first prize is £700 and is kindly sponsored by Orion. Short listed authors receive a professional assessment of their entry.

Winning the Debut Dagger doesn’t guarantee you’ll get published but it does mean your work will be seen by leading agents and top editors who have signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.

Over the period of entry we will be sending out regular emails with updates and writing tips. But we also have a new Facebook Group “The Debuts” where members of the CWA are on hand to answer your questions. We will also be sharing more tips.


An advertisement.

I stubbed out my cigarette in the Earl Grey threw my jacket into the corner of the room, crossed my arms and brooded.

Let’s get something clear: this IS a sour grapes post so I don’t need anyone telling me that. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough to get noticed in last year’s competition so I don’t need anyone to tell me that either. This post will be dripping with unprofessional jealousy, tainted by the scorn of the overlooked, infected with bitterness at the slight of the Crime Writers Association. Think thirteenth fairy in Sleeping Beauty. And double it.

Last year I entered my three books in the R&M Files in the Debut Dagger 2013. And I am not embarrassed to admit that I had high hopes for at least one of them making the short list. (All of them actually. I dreamed about being the first author to have more than one title singled out for special mentions rather than end up in the CWA office toilets as emergency bog paper.) I really did. Not one of them did.

I took it badly. I still am.

I had entered three books at £25 a throw – that’s £75. A fool and his money and all that – and invested more hope than was probably decent or healthy.

I won’t be entering again. And this is why.

I so wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than it is. But I haven’t found the time to do the necessary homework and because the 2014 competition is here my hand is forced. I’ve run out of time. Where I don’t have the information to back up a point I’ll do what I did for my university degree dissertation – I’ll make it up with an uneducated guess. (Come to think of it, it was probably the great marks I received for my largely invented essays at uni that encouraged me to try my hand at writing fiction for money.)

I wanted to investigate things like exactly how many people who have been on the short lists of recent years actually go on to get picked up by agents and subsequently published.(This is the dazzling diamond encrusted carrot that the CWA allude to without actually guaranteeing in the spiel for suckers like me.) I had a bit of a scoot about the Internet on that but could find very few names who had made short lists of recent years and now had traditionally published books to their name.

I did do some background. In June I contacted the CWA with the following questions:


I am preparing to write an on-line article about the CWA Debut Dagger competition for a leading crime and thriller website that has asked me for a contribution (that’s actually true). 

Would you be able to supply answers to the following questions? 

1) How many entries were received for 2013’s competition? 

2) How many readers do you have sifting through the entries? 

3) What number, or percentage, approximately, of entries were not considered for reasons to do with breach of entry rules and guidelines? (Any general details here would be very helpful.) 

4) When the closing date is reached, what is the process and time-scale involved for entries received, up until the short-list is announced? 

5) It is well-known that some entries go on to be picked up by literary agents and then find publishers. How do literary agents become aware of manuscripts that they might be interested in? 

6) How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? 

If you are able to assist me with the answers to all or any of these questions I would be most grateful. If you have anything else regarding the Début Dagger competition to share that you think readers and prospective entrants would find useful, or just be interested to learn, please don’t hesitate to mention it. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Kind regards 

Oliver Tidy

I was particularly interested in the answers to questions 1 & 6.

According to the responses I received from a most helpful and friendly lady at the CWA there were four hundred and fifty six (456) entries for the 2013 Debut Dagger. If not an avalanche of entries, certainly a decent slush-pile. (Maybe that could be the collective noun for entries in a writing competition – a slush pile of entries.)

In response to question six – How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? – the following response was provided:

This goes on administration for the awards which, as I am sure you can imagine, is very labour intensive. As a non profit all of the CWA’s monies go towards our mission.’

There is one cash prize for the Debut Dagger. It is £700. But no one is entering for the money. Everyone’s there for that diamond encrusted carrot. I think that the least the CWA could do would be to provide every fee paying entrant with a set of cardboard cut-out donkey ears.

£25 x 456 = £11400

Take the £700 prize money away from that and you are left with £10700. £10700 for the administration of the awards. £10700 for the administration of the awards. (I know I’m repeating myself.)

It strikes me that the CWA Debut Dagger, as much as anything, is simply a fund raising initiative. A net of hope and vanity that shoals of berks like me swim into dreaming of fame and fortune and our very own tame literary agent. The lure of getting one’s work in front of agents and publishers who allegedly make up the judging panel (after the slush pile has been vetted by ordinary mortals) blinded me to what I see now as the reality – that the Debut Dagger preys on the hopes and dreams of the deluded (like myself) who think that for £25 it’s got to be worth a shot. You’ve got to be in it to win it! Sound familiar? Same shit different toilet.

On the Internet I saw some pictures of this year’s dagger awards ceremony – the one I wasn’t at. It felt like looking through the window at a party I hadn’t been invited to but should have been. Lots of people were wining and dining and laughing and joking and looking all dressed up and happy. As I mentally pulled up the collar of my coat, shoved my hands deep into my pockets and bent my head to walk off into the chilly night, alone, I vowed that never again would I fall for something like that.

Failure is just an option.


I have big news of a personal nature to share this morning with all other writers out there who seek recognition and validation for their efforts.

Yesterday, I blogged about the clock ticking down to the official announcement of the CWA Debut Daggers Crime Writing Award Shortlist at the Crimefest International Crime Fiction Convention in Bristol. This was something that I had entered my three Romney and Marsh Files into. And because of my core belief in my writing and these books I confess to having harboured genuine hope of getting on that list.

I didn’t. I’m now officially part of the chaff.

Naturally, I’m disappointed, but there is nothing ever to be gained by wallowing in self-pity. And I’m not into self-doubt where my writing is concerned.

Anyway a good friend of mine advised me to check out the comments on Amazon of the books I have published if I needed a boost. No need. I have them all memorised. Well, only the good ones.

While I was on the computer, I went to my blog to see if anyone has visited recently and found the following comment posted this morning in my ‘About Me’ page:

Hi. Just finished the second Romney book and downloading the next. I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing. The two main characters are believable and the story lines are not bogged down in minute detail like many other detective books tend to be. Well done and thank you!

Carole, thank you for your most timely, welcome and encouraging comment.

I’m not known for dishing out good advice, let alone taking it (you should see the train wreck that my life is) but today I will make an exception. Here’s something that all writers slaving away at their art could do worse than to take note of: If you’re looking for recognition and validation of your work, as I am, you need only look as far as what your readers take the time and trouble to let you know what they think. No one’s opinions matter more than theirs.

It’s Crunch Time!

This week, I wrote five hundred words of rubbish on another blog-post idea before I realised that my heart wasn’t in it. So I ditched it and decided to write about what’s really on my mind, what’s been on my mind all week and what’s been lurking in the deepest recesses of my thought box for the last few months to be lured out and toyed with now and again, like a good plot twist, as I sit in Starfucks and dream about being a ‘real’ author who sits in Starfucks all day.

Tonight is a very big night in the calendar for around five hundred unpublished crime authors across the universe. Tonight could quite easily prove to be a watershed in the lives of a few of them. Tonight most of their hearts are going to be broken; dreams are going to be shattered; spirits crushed; tears will well and fall; cats are going to get kicked; alcohol is going to drown sorrows and there is likely to be some swearing (good swearing and bad swearing). For tonight, ten unpublished crime writers are going to have to hang on to their hats and their stools as their names are revealed as having been selected for the CWA Debut Daggers Crime Writing Award Shortlist at the Crimefest International Crime Fiction Convention in Bristol. The unsuccessful will be cast aside like the soiled £50 notes that Dan Brown is (allegedly) choking his chicken into for fun these days.

In October 2012 I wrote the following blog-post

In January 2013 I wrote this blog-post

You can see that I’ve thought about the Debut Dagger a bit. Like buying £75 worth of Lottery tickets, I think that I’ve had something out of my entries already in the form of fantasising about someone posh reading my name out and other people having to listen to him, bored. (I once heard the National Lottery referred to as taxation by illusion. I wonder why I’m thinking of that now.) For all but ten entrants, that bit of fantasy is all we’re going to get for our money.

Of course, getting on the shortlist guarantees nothing for an author. The CWA even boasts that winning the Debut Dagger is no guarantee of subsequent industry interest. But…

Will it be the end of the world for me if I don’t get a mention? No. It’s more serious than that. It will be the end of my efforts to try to attract the notice of a literary agent and then a traditional publishing deal. I do not query agents anymore and I will not enter this competition again. That reads as a bit snooty. It’s not meant to. It’s just how I feel because of how things have gone for me in self-publishing in the last couple of months. Like I said in my last blog-post: I don’t need a traditional publishing deal, but I do want one. I’m just not prepared to go begging for one any more.

Thankfully, when the sun of Saturday morning rises on my place in the world and, as is quite likely, I have failed in my attempts to get noticed, I do have another project that I’m working on that is exciting me and will distract me from my disappointment. I am going to self-publish as soon as I feel it’s ready. And then I have another Romney and Marsh to get cracking on. Defeat and rejection will not mean the end of me as a writer. But I might be a bit grumpy for an hour or two.

What will I be doing as the clock ticks down to announcement time and the official sorting of the wheat from the chaff? Well, as it happens, I’m going out on the lash in Kadikoy (Istanbul, Turkey) tonight. I turned fifty this week. I feel like that deserves a drink and a good dinner.

(Before someone points out to me that I am already published because I am self-published and so I am ineligible for the competition, I did, naturally, check this with the powers that be and was assured that so long as one met one’s own costs when self-publishing then self-publishing was not a barrier to entry. So there.)

Update: 31.05.2013. 23.20 GMT+2

Failure was just an option.

The acid test aka a cunning plan.


Note to self thirty-two:

I have been fortunate for the last couple of days that it has snowed in Istanbul. Istanbul city zoo has been closed as a result of this spot of seasonal weather and I haven’t had to go to work. But I have been busy.  I have been organising my entries for the CWA (Crime Writers Association) annual competition. Closing date 2nd February 2013.

The CWA, for those who don’t know, is an organisation that runs the annual Daggers competitions. These are various prestigious awards handed out to authors who have been deemed to have written superior crime-fiction works through the year. See here if you’re interested.

The CWA have a Debut Dagger category in their annual competition for previously unpublished authors. Self-published authors can enter providing they have met all of their self-publishing costs themselves. I am a self-published author of crime novels and I have met my own costs. I’m entering.

I don’t expect to win. I really don’t expect to win. I am not entering to win. I am entering because it is an opportunity to get my writing under the noses of some influential people – the judges: literary agents and the like. The CWA website boasts that from past competitions many of the authors who didn’t win still found themselves being courted and subsequently taken on by the gate-keepers. And that is why I’m entering.

It costs £25 per entry. Enter as many books as you like. Submit the first three-thousand words and a five-hundred word synopsis. I’m entering my three Romney and Marsh titles and I think that it will be worth the £75 to get my work in front of people in the industry – as long as it’s not just another con: a slush pile, lucky dip scenario. I don’t want to believe that it is. Not when I’m actually paying for the privilege.

The website suggests that writing the synopsis for one’s book can be challenging for a variety of reasons. I found it surprisingly easy. And I think that my synopses are pretty good. This process was made easy for me because in the last month or so I’ve read each of my books something like three-hundred times – well it feels like it: round after round of proof-reading and editing. At least all that suffering had an upside, as well as improving my books’ content and quality, of course (I hope).

I called this post the acid test aka a cunning plan. Here’s why.

The acid test: I’m working on the premise that because I’m paying handsomely to enter the competition my writing will actually get looked at and considered, unlike when one submits to a literary agent (allegedly). Because my writing will get looked at by professionals in the industry, if nothing comes of it, if my efforts are scorned, ignored, passed over, then that will be a form of proof that my books are shit. Maybe I should rename it the shit test. I don’t like to think they are shit. If I have to face up to the fact that the people that know about these things think that my books are shit I don’t know what I’ll do. Take up writing erotica, perhaps. That seems to be selling well at the moment. But my heart wouldn’t be in it. I’m essentially a British police procedural crime-writer and I’m proud of that label.

A cunning plan: I’m working on the premise that because I’m paying handsomely to enter the competition my writing will actually get looked at and considered, unlike when one submits to a literary agent (allegedly). Because my writing will get looked at by professionals in the industry…hang on. Déjà-vous anyone? Well that’s part of it. The real cunning bit is that I believe that because I’m entering three books in a clearly defined series (each page’s header must contain the title and my titles are all followed by The First/Second/Third Romney and Marsh File. A shrewd and astute subliminal marketing ploy, I like to think.) an equally shrewd and astute literary agent is going to see them and think something like, ‘Ah! This one’s got three books written already. We won’t have to invest lots of time and money on a one hit wonder. He’s ripe for the plucking. Let us snap this author up immediately in a three-book deal.’ Alternatively, said literary agent will see that there are three books that I’m peddling and just feel particularly sorry for me that I wasted so much of my life and self on writing so much shit.