What a difference a year makes. This is my first full year of being a writer and, as Nigella Lawson said about motherhood, it’s long days but short years. When deadlines are looming and edits are due, my working day has been known to stretch to fourteen hours. Yet, the year has flown by in a whirl of books, interviews, articles and, fortunately, even awards. It’s incredibly exciting, scary and often surreal. I was one of the authors whose debut launched into lockdown in 2020 so this is my first glimpse of what it’s like to be a writer in more normal times, where bookshops are open and some events are taking place in person. As a new writer who has never known anything but speaking to other authors and readers via zoom, it feels like emerging from a chrysalis into a new world. I’m only now experiencing what it’s like to truly be an author and work in this industry.
The life of a writer is naturally solitary but these moments are precious, where I can meet other authors and celebrate at book launches, awards, literary festivals or even just get together for a drink.
2021 began much the same as 2020 had ended. I had one book out, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, and I was busily writing the next in the series. I’d found various groups of people online and begun to form connections with fellow authors. Every Friday I was doing a weekly zoom with a group of writers who all launched in the same year as me. The Debut 2020s (or D20s as we’ve become known) are a bunch of incredibly supportive people. We share all manner of good and bad news. These people have become friends even though, at the start of 2021, none of us had actually met in real life.
I was also doing weekly readings live on Facebook for the Exeter Authors’ Association. This is a lovely group who have been incredibly supportive of me as a new author stumbling along through unprecedented times. If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that the company and camaraderie of other authors is so important.
A major part of this for me has been joining the CWA which led to the huge honour of being asked to co-convene with the magnificent Bonnie MacBird. This is a fabulous, friendly community of people who have so much knowledge of the industry and advice.
In February, book two, Body on the Island, came out. This book is very close to me, partly because I was ill when I wrote it, but also because writing a series gave me the opportunity to really take the story much further and expand the characters way beyond the boundaries of one book.
The launch party was on zoom again, which now didn’t seem strange or lacking. I had settled into the rhythm of interviews, launches, festivals and book club appearances online. Unlike many of the other authors at these events, I’d never experienced anything different.
However, when I first attended a live book launch party, in May, and met authors I’d known for a year on a screen, it was wonderful. To connect with other authors in real life gave me a sense of actually being a genuine author.
May also brought some news that I could never have expected and went a long way to persuading me that I might actually be a real writer. The 6th May was the anniversary of my first book being published and I was, of course, busily posting about this. Being active on social media, seems to be an essential part of being a new author. One of the D20s tagged me in a post asking if I’d seen the news on Book Brunch. My book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, had been announced as the winner of The People’s Book Prize for fiction. It was unbelievable and beyond my wildest dreams that I would ever win an award. Dark comedy whodunnits don’t tend to trouble literary awards! The award ceremony is usually a glittering event with Frederick Forsyth presenting the award and Sky TV filming the gala dinner. This time, of course, there was no ceremony and the award arrived packaged in a box. I was interviewed on zoom some days later. In some ways, to find out in the comfort of my own home just before I grabbed a coffee and did another online reading, seemed very fitting for this book that had only ever known a locked down world.
I was, however, very shocked to discover the second book, Body on the Island, has been short listed for The People’s Book Prize this year and this time I really am hoping to wear the sparkly dress!
Like everyone, I’m now stumbling back into the real world. I was asked to speak at one of my first live festivals, The International Agatha Christie Festival, which was a huge honour. It was very different to the literary festivals I’d ‘attended’ on zoom before. I’d grown used to talking to silent black rectangles. The joy of seeing people’s reactions, their laughter, and smiles of recognition, was an incredible experience.
When the third book came out in September, I managed to achieve what had seemed unthinkable – a live book launch. The small, independent Barnes Bookshop have been incredibly supportive. The idea of being able to stand in a bookshop, surrounded by friends, clutching a glass of white wine is something I had dreamed of from the very beginning.
It has been a long, strange journey to becoming a crime writer and it has taken many unusual turns but now as the year is ending and I have submitted my fourth book, the sense of entering into this wonderful world of writers is so incredibly inspiring and beginning to feel real.
(c) Victoria Dowd
See here if you would like to vote for Body on the Island in The People’s Book Prize.
About The Supper Club Murders:
If you love Richard Osman, Robert Thorogood, Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz, Faith Martin and Sophie Hannah, you’ll love this brilliant whodunnit.
The phones are out.
The roads have flooded.
There’s no way in or out.
And the murders have begun.
Ursula Smart and her mother are invited to a supper club at Greystone Castle on the edge of a picturesque Dartmoor village, along with their ever-adventurous book group.
But as the dinner party begins, their hosts Lord and Lady Black begin to reveal festering resentments. Lord Black, who actually bought his title, looks like he’s having an affair with the maid.
Then as midnight strikes, someone is found brutally murdered and the Smart women find themselves investigating another perplexing crime.
On this dark and stormy night, with the castle cut off by flood waters, who will be the next to die?
AN IMPOSSIBLE LOCKED-ROOM MURDER MYSTERY WITH A TOUCH OF DARK HUMOUR.
Order your copy online here.