West Hampstead author recounts her journey towards Debut Daggers longlist

Victoria Slotover

Victoria Slotover - Credit: Archant

Former West Hampstead marketing manager Victoria Slotover describes how her pipe dream of becoming a writer became a reality

Five years ago my husband changed my life with just six words.

We’d been having dinner at the Alice House in West Hampstead and were talking about what we’d do if we won the lottery- not that either of us ever buys a ticket.

‘I’d become a writer,’ I said topping up our wine glasses.

‘What’s stopping you doing that now?’ he said.

I took a sip of Chardonnay and thought. I’d given up work when my eldest was born so there was no job to leave, no income to relinquish. And the little one still slept for a few hours a day while his brother was at pre-school. It didn’t give me much time to sit a desk, but if I got up a bit earlier every morning I’d be able to carve out a reasonable chunk of time to dedicate to writing. Was my husband right? Could I do it?

‘You’ve got nothing to lose,’ he said bang on cue.

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The next morning I contacted the City Lit, a college in Holborn specialising in adult education, and signed onto a creative writing course. And then, a few months after I’d completed it, a wonderful thing happened. A story I’d written about a cheater who gets cheated on was accepted for publication by the Ham & High. I had my first publishing credit!

I went on to have other stories published in various lit mags and anthologies and even wrote for the Ham & High a couple more times. But although I always got a buzz receiving the email telling me an editor liked my work, I knew nothing would ever feel the same as that first time; that whooshing round the room euphoria- or so I thought until four Fridays ago.

For fifteen years the CWA has been running a crime novel competition for unpublished authors called the Debut Daggers. It attracts hundreds of entries from all over the world and is judged by a panel of top crime agents and editors.

This year I plucked up the courage to submit the first chapters of my novel, The Seventh Kill which opens on 7/7 with Offender Profiler Ziba Mackenzie on the bombed Circle Line train. After the blast, a dying woman passes on a cryptic message and a serial killer strikes after a 20 year hiatus. As the bodies start to pile up it begins to look like he’s on a new spree and Ziba is pulled into Scotland Yard’s hunt for the murderer. But the dying woman’s words stick with her and her work attracts the killer’s attention.

‘Believe in yourself,’ my husband said as I ummed and ahed about entering. I remembered that night at the restaurant and put my name forward.

The £36 sign-up fee was pretty steep but I wanted to know if my book was good enough to stand out from the crowd. And given the reputed quality of the entries, not to mention the judges themselves (most of whom are linked to major publishing houses) I figured it would be a good test of my manuscript’s potential. Plus of course the winner is more or less guaranteed a publishing contract- a particularly juicy carrot.

As the announcement date drew closer I tried telling myself it was a long shot and plenty of writers get book deals without winning competitions. But still, I couldn’t help hoping and by the announcement I was as tense as the time I accidently drove a golf buggy onto a dual carriageway.

I’d just put my boys to sleep when the email came through. The subject line was- Debut Dagger Longlisted. I opened it and screamed.

‘What’s wrong, Mummy?’ said my youngest rushing out of bed.

‘Nothing’s wrong,’ I said hugging him tight and suffocating him with kisses. ‘I’ve just had some very good news.’

That night I didn’t sleep a jot.

Victoria Slotover is represented by Curtis Brown and won the 2013 Full Stop Short Story Competition and has been longlisted for the 2017 Debut Daggers with the shortlist out this summer.