“Winning a major book prize” by Chris Longmuir

The Dundee International Book Prize (£10,000) was set up in 1999 with the first winner receiving the award in 2000. Initially it was a biennial competition but is now open for entries every year.

When this competition was initially set up it seemed to be a fabulous idea and something worth aiming for. Since then the competition has grown to the prestigious event it is today. Needless to say, over the years, my two previous crime novels were entered for the book prize but they sank without trace, which was why it was such a surprise when I found out my third crime novel Dead Wood had won the prize in 2009.

Third time round I almost didn’t enter the competition, because I thought the judges would be looking for something literary, and I have never aspired to join the literati. I much prefer to write a story that will have readers turning the pages as fast as they can. And, of course, there were the two previous novels which hadn’t even reached the short list. However, being the kind of character who takes a delight in knocking their head off a brick wall, I entered the competition at the beginning of 2008. Then promptly forgot I had entered because, of course, I had no hope of winning it.

So I continued on my round of conferences, writing and selling articles, getting rejections from agents and publishers. Interestingly my crime novel was rejected by a publisher, who had kept it for four years, just a month before it won the Dundee Prize. I felt like phoning and saying ‘yah boo sucks’ but of course I didn’t. It’s important to keep on the right side of the publishing industry.

The phone call came unexpectedly in November 2008, and it’s a wonder I didn’t hang up thinking it was promotional call. ‘Are you sitting down,’ the female voice asked. My stupid response was ‘Do I need to be sitting down?’ That’s about all I can recall of the conversation, and after I came off the phone I still didn’t believe it. I’m being scammed, I thought. But the follow up letter, sent by the Lord Provost of Dundee, confirmed it. The letter also set out the conditions for the award. There was to be a moratorium on the information until the date of the award presentation. I’d already told my two best friends so had to make fast phone calls swearing them to secrecy. My title would also have to be changed from The Screaming Woods to a more appropriate one to be decided by the publisher. If they’d asked me to stand on my hands I would have done it.

After a couple of meetings with the prize organisers and the publicity manager from Polygon things went very quiet. I was in that strange place where, because of the secrecy, nothing seemed real. I started to doubt whether I really had won the prize and maybe it was all a dream borne out of wishful thinking. My two friends and I became secret agents one, two and three, and cryptic emails flowed between us, that was when I knew I hadn’t dreamed it all.

I had been told to expect contact by Polygon but the months went by and it wasn’t until March 2009 that my contract came through and the editorial process started.

The manuscript flipped back and forth between me and the editor. Lose 7,000 words Polygon demanded. So the manuscript was pruned, but the editorial report suggested I add more content, so the creative hat went on and I added another 7,000 words. Following that the manuscript was pruned again and lost a further 7,000 words, not the new ones that had been added. I still don’t know where those 14,000 words came from that were subsequently jettisoned. Anyway, the book was finally ready to go.

All it needed now was the copy editor’s input. During that process Tony’s wife, Madge, became Mairi, and Sergeant Dobbs, became Robertson. Fine I thought, although in my mind Mairi is still Madge. The names were changed to make them more Scottish. But I did draw the line when the editor changed the name Angel to Angela. Whoever heard of a pole dancer named Angela? So back she went to being Angel.

By this time the book had gone through three name changes and finally ended up as Dead Wood. And I must admit Polygon did me proud with the cover. It was far better than anything I could have devised.

The presentation of the award was scheduled for the evening of 29th June 2009, following a day of photo shoots. So I took a mystified son through to Dundee to accompany me. The photo shoots were in Templeton Woods and one of the photographers told me afterwards he’d never been so spooked out in his life before. Scottish Television also filmed me in the woods. And, guess what, STV broke the moratorium and sent it out on the 6 o’clock news. This meant several fast phone calls to relatives plus a posting on my Writers Scotland Groups network. I’d have been lynched otherwise.

The presentation went well, a meal was served, speeches were made, the £10,000 cheque was handed over in a gold envelope, and I got my hands on the book for the first time. It felt good. After 20 years of writing I’d finally made it. The evening ended with the signing and how good that felt as well. I felt like a real author at last.

So what has happened since then? I did various talks and publicity stints. The book sold out within four months, followed by all the hassle of not knowing whether the publisher would do another print run. They are now doing small print runs. Oh, and I’m trying to sell book number two – Cold Vengeance.


One thought on ““Winning a major book prize” by Chris Longmuir

  1. Mike Gerrard

    I tried several weeks ago to find out about this year’s competition but the website is stuck in a time warp, saying that entries have to be in by the end of November 2009. Two emails to two different contact addresses have gone unanswered. Does anyone know if the contest is running this year?