Post written by Rob Scragg
It’s been eighteen months since I rolled up at my first Newcastle Noir, armed with notepad, pen, and a swarm of ideas that might one day untangle themselves into something resembling a novel. I sat in the Lit & Phil, listening to William Ryan deliver a workshop on Crime Writing, and realised for the first time, that there was so much more to it than just having a half decent idea, and stringing a few sentences together. By that point I’d already written my first draft of a novel, and submitted to thirty agents. At the time, it felt like the equivalent of scrunching a message up in a bottle, launching it into the ocean, and wondering if it would even be seen again, let alone read.
As well as a new appreciation of the mechanics of constructing a crime novel, the other thing I left the Lit & Phil with that day was a sense of being part of a community. Crime writers and readers alike, despite being fixated on books involving the darker side of humanity, are some of the nicest, most approachable people around. They’ll happily dispense advice over a cuppa or a pint if you put yourself out and show your face at these events. If you’re reading this as an aspiring writer yourself, and you haven’t been to Newcastle Noir before, take a break from reading this (I won’t take it personally), and follow @NewcastleNoir on Twitter to make sure you get all the news for 2017. Mark the dates in your diary ASAP, and make sure you’re there next year.
Writing can be a lonely business. There’s days when the last thing you want to do after a full day at work, is open the laptop and churn out another chapter, but I always come away from events like this with my writing batteries recharged. I made some good friends that weekend, and they’ve been a great help and support since, offering encouragement and feedback over a regular coffee in Waterstones (you all know who you are! :-))
Needless to say I was back at Newcastle Noir this year, and added Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate to this year’s list of events. Creative Thursday at Harrogate was a real turning point for me. Not only was I lucky enough to attend sessions with more of my favourite authors, like Sarah Hilary, but I also threw caution to the wind and put my name in the hat to pitch at the infamous ‘Dragon’s Pen’, to a panel of Agents and Editors. It so nearly didn’t happen for me. I was the last one drawn out of the hat to pitch my novel, and Mark Billingham mispronounced my name, so I nearly missed out altogether! I did get my two minutes on the mic though, and walked out of there with four Dragon’s email addresses, and ultimately, some priceless advice that improved the book no end.
Three things happened then, that have made 2016 unforgettable for me. Firstly, I got married to Nicola, my partner in crime, and chief proof reader. Secondly, I won a crime writing competition judged by David Mark, that has led to my first published short story in a compilation by Hodder & Stoughton. But the one that really made me do a victory dance though, was an email I received on 18th October, that made me forget every rejection letter that had gone before it. I’ve since met with, and am now represented by The Blair Partnership, and I’m ever so slightly excited for the prospect of what 2017 might bring. My book goes off to publishers in January, I’m halfway through my next work-in-progress, and who knows, I may even manage to complete the circle, and worm my way onto a Newcastle Noir panel if it all comes together.
It feels like it’s been a long road to get this far, and I know there’s a long way to go still, if I’m to have even a fraction of the success of some of the great writers out there today. But that’s the beauty of writing for me – it doesn’t feel like work to me. I’m too busy enjoying it.