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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Dundee International Book Prize - What it Feels like to Win

Ten aspiring authors have been lucky enough to be included on the short list of the Dundee International Book Prize, details can be found on the Dundee Book Prize website at and you can read excerpts from the winning novels if you go to the Literary Dundee website I can just imagine how those ten authors must be feeling, because I’ve been there. As they say - been there, done that, worn the tee-shirt.

It seems a lifetime now since I won the Dundee Prize, although it was actually only two years ago in 2009. I can’t begin to describe the experience, only that it was awesome. It started the year before that when, in September 2008, I was informed my novel, Dead Wood, was on the short list. Then in October I was told I had won, but I was given strict instructions to tell no one. There was to be a moratorium on the information until the launch date, which was 29th June 2009.
Unfortunately I had already told the two friends who edit and proof read for me. You see after I got the phone call, and after I’d convinced myself it wasn’t a scam, I was simply bursting with the need to tell someone, and I didn’t know about the moratorium until the next day when the letter of confirmation arrived from the Lord Provost of Dundee. Needless to say my two friends were sworn to secrecy and adopted the mantles of Secret Agent Two and Three. They allocated the title Secret Agent One, to me.
After the letter everything went deathly quiet. I had been told I would be contacted by the publisher, Polygon, but no call came until March 2009, five months after I’d been told I had won. During those five months I began to think it had all been a dream, wishful thinking on my part. It was only the prodding of my two Secret Agent friends that reminded me it had actually happened. But you know how it is when the doubts surface. It’s difficult to shake them off.
But in March when the publisher eventually got in touch, it was a flurry of activity. An editor was appointed to do the substantive editing bit which consisted of instructions to lose 7,000 words, plus advice on what to get rid of and what to expand, and so on. Okay, the 7,000 words were cut from the manuscript, however in following the advice to expand certain bits another 7,000 words were added. So, back on the merry-go-round to lose another 7,000 words. I still don’t really know where those 14,000 words went, but go they did. At last, the editor was satisfied and I was satisfied so the book then went to the proofing editor.
Proofing is a fairly straightforward process, however the proofing editor changed some names to make my novel more Scottish. So Tony’s wife Madge, became Mairi. Sergeant Dobbs, nicknamed Dobbsy, became Sergeant Robertson with no nickname. And Angel became Angela. I dug my heels in about Angel though, because she was a pole dancer and whoever heard of a pole dancer named Angela. I argued that Angela sounded more like the girl next door, while Angel was a name a pole dancer might assume for her act. So Angela returned to Angel, thank goodness for that.
The other thing that arose was the book’s title. The Dundee Prize judges had insisted my book, which was originally called The Screaming Woods, should be retitled, and when I was chosen as the winner I would have stood on my hands and done cartwheels if they’d asked. So, agreeing was a no-brainer. During the editing process the publisher decided the book should be called First Blood, then shortly after they changed their minds and decided on Dead Wood. So, Dead Wood it became and that’s how it stayed.
The day of the launch was getting frighteningly near and I started to wonder if the book would be ready on time. I needn’t have feared, because almost on the eve of the launch the book was ready.  I think all publishers must work to this exacting timescale but it’s quite frightening if you aren’t used to it.

Anyway, the launch day arrived, bright and sunny. Thank goodness for that because publicity shoots had been arranged to take place in Templeton Woods, the setting for my murders. It was a whirlwind of activity. First the photo shoot, then the interview for television, then the secret signing in the stock room of the local book store. At last, I got my hands on my novel. A lovely new shiny paperback that I didn’t want to release from my grasp once it was there. I wanted to stroke it, kiss it, and generally just make love to it. But, I had to sign them and leave them there. Then it was off to a swanky hotel to freshen up for the evening reception.

Prised out of my jeans and dressed up to the nines I took my place at the top table, rubbing elbows with the Lord Provost and other dignitaries. A lovely meal and several speeches later, excerpts from three of the short listed books, which had become the short-short listed books, were read, and I was announced as the winner. I made a speech but couldn’t tell you what I said because I was still floating on a cloud. I was presented with my award and the gold envelope containing that lovely, lovely cheque. Then it was off to sign books and what a fabulous experience that was, sitting at a table signing my very own book.

Ah, well, that was two years ago and I wish the winner of this year's Dundee Book Prize as much joy and success as I’ve had since winning it.


Melanie said...

Wonderful post! I'm sure the folks on the short list are anxiously awaiting the final result.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful experience for you, Chris. Well done. A great post. Dead Wood has already joined my tbr list.

Janice Horton said...

How wonderful - just like an author dream! Thank you for telling us all about your fabulous experience, Chris!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Fantastic experience, Chris - but I don't know how on earth you managed to keep quiet about it so long. I'd have been bursting out all over!

Joan Fleming said...

The stuff that dreams are made of, Chris!

Linn said...

It's rather nice to have a peek at what it's like behind the scenes Chris! We all see the announcements of who has won the prize and the press afterwards, but thanks for sharing - there's more work involved that I could have imagined! What an achievement, it was a dream come true for you!