Of all the novels I’ve written since I decided to become a novelist the one I love best is The Doll Makers. It isn’t only that it won a CWA Dagger, though I do love it for that, it’s that it symbolises my hard and tortuous route to publication. I had to rewrite it from scratch several times during its painful emergence so I grew very close to it; its paperback cover is amazing and I love it that strangers have approached me to say they bought it solely because of the cover; and I love it even more when they come back to say they loved the book too.
A question I’m often asked about The Doll Makers is how come it won the CWA Debut Dagger when it’s the third book in the series?
The fact is that at the time I won the dagger, I’d long ago given up on that series. A few publishers had taken a second look at one or other of the books but no one had bitten. The manuscripts were at the back of a cupboard and I was several novels further on with different series and different genres.
At the time I entered the contest, I was rewriting for a publisher who wanted one of my other crime novels. The Doll Makers was an old manuscript, but I remembered it as having a good opening so I gave it a go. I never considered the ramifications of it actually winning, but they were far-reaching. The initial change was that publishers and agents at whose doors I’d been fruitlessly knocking were now beating a path to my door. And everyone wanted the PI series of which The Doll Makers was book 3.
But the series was 10 years old. Everything had to be rewritten, not only because my writing skills had matured over that decade, but because the books were contemporary. When I wrote the first drafts, not everyone used email and mobile phones the way they do now. The characters kept their ages but had to move their birth dates. This meant their memories had to shift. Legislation had changed, too, so I had to update my research on the security industry and police procedure especially on a case that crossed the Scottish/English border. Annoyingly I couldn’t even show off all that research in the book because I’d tied myself to a single viewpoint. Annie, as the private investigator saw little of the police work, but what she saw had to be right. I think that single viewpoint works very well in the finished product, but it gave me some headaches along the way.
After several rewrites of the first book, Like False Money, and the third book, The Doll Makers, I had two finished manuscripts. The second book, The Jawbone Gang, turned out to be 30 pages of back story that I’d forgotten I’d written. I had no chance of putting that together within the publisher’s timetable. The upshot was that in hardback, Like False Money was published first; The Doll Makers second, and The Jawbone Gang third. In paperback, they all came out together. I now have the hang of writing in order and Where There’s Smoke, the fourth in the series, is out in October.
The Doll Makers wasn’t the first novel I ever wrote. It was about the sixth. Between that first draft and dusting it off for the CWA Dagger, I’d written at least a dozen more novels.
So the book that won the Debut Dagger wasn’t a first book. It was a sixth book. It wasn’t a first published book. It was second. And it wasn’t even second in the series. It was third. All in all just another novelist’s tale of a less than smooth route to publication.