The Doll Makers: a tortuous route to publication – A Guest Blog from Penny Grubb

The Doll Makers: a tortuous route to publication

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.

Penny Grubb

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  • What a wonderful story of finding your way to publication. Look forward to reading the book.

  • Having read the whole series, I can thoroughly recommend these books. This is crime with a bite and intelligence and a female sleuth who is believable, fallible, courageous and eccentric. I enjoyed all three books.

  • Thanks for dropping in, Frances. You must have a few tales to tell yourself with all those books to your name.

  • Mona Fayad

    Amazing story of a story, Penny. Congratulations for winning the contest and for getting the attention of agents and publishers. Hurray!! Just proves you have to persist and never give up.

  • Heavens, Penny. I, too, have been through the ‘series all out of series’ mill but nothing as complicated as yours! But it is wonderful that you have had such success. Congratulations!

  • Madeleine McDonald

    A tale of effort and dedication, not forgetting Penny’s talent for crafting a good story. I have all three books and enjoyed them.

  • Really interesting post, Penny. I completely relate to the out-of-order process of the books in the series (and the manuscripts in the back of the cupboard). Well done on your success.