When ex-probation officer Ruth Dugdall applied for the Escalator writing competition in 2006, she saw it as her last-ditch attempt at pursuing crime writing as a career. Ten years later, she has published five successful novels and is living with her family in Luxembourg – ‘the perfect home for a writer’.
Below, she explains how a year spent with Escalator made all the difference.
When I applied to Escalator in 2006 I had already experienced the recurring theme of any writer’s life: rejection. My second novel The Woman Before Me won the Debut Dagger in 2005, and despite my being signed on the spot by a literary agent, the subsequent submission met with the resounding slamming of doors. I was disheartened, and applied to the one year programme as a last-ditch attempt to make a serious stab at being a writer.
Getting chosen was a wonderful boost. Not only was this a second re-enforcement of my writing, but during the Escalator scheme I would be mentored by the wonderful Michelle Spring, a seasoned crime novelist herself who was able to show me by example that writing takes persistence. The crucial difference between those who `make it` and those who fall by the wayside isn’t talent, but a certain doggedness that I saw in other writers who came to talk to us during the scheme. It was a year of learning, and of support.
It was a year of learning, and of support
The ten of us chosen that year became familiar with each other’s personal journey into writing, and we also began rooting for each other in the quest for agents and publishing deals. This atmosphere, this shared purpose, was something I valued immensely and I still keep in regular contact with other Escalator alumni – not just from my year, but subsequent years too; there is a shared kinship that I have not found on other mentoring programmes.
The scheme is, in many ways tailor-made, as you apply for Arts Council Funding for the things that will most help you personally. For example, I went on a week-long Arvon course for crime writers (and bagged an agent as a result). I also had financial assistance with childcare, so I could put in the hours needed to work on my novel, and a dedicated number of hours with Michelle to critique and edit it.
Though Escalator does not make any promises of success, you will have exposure to and contact with agents (there is a showcase at the end of the year, and many industry professional are invited). What you can be sure of, though, is that at the end of the year you will have honed the tools you need to achieve publication, you will have gained a greater insight into the publishing industry, and you will have a network of support to draw on.
After I finished the Escalator scheme, it was to be another four years before The Woman Before Me was published in 2010. Six years later, I have just published my fifth novel, and rights for my books have been sold around the world. I have a wonderful agent, and a new book is currently on submission. It has been a long, difficult, journey but Escalator was a crucial part of this, and I am very grateful indeed that it happened.
If you are about to apply, I wish you luck. You could be at the beginning of a very special twelve months!
Ruth Dugdall was born in 1971. She holds a BA honours degree in English Literature (Warwick University) and an MA in Social Work (University of East Anglia). She qualified as a probation officer in 1996 and has worked in prison with offenders guilty of serious crimes, including stalking, rape and murder. This has informed her crime writing. Since she started writing, Ruth has won awards in several writing competitions, and has had short stories published in the Winchester Writers’ Conference and the Eva Wiggins Award anthologies.