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It would have been a crime to miss it!

For everyone who’s been asking me lately how I fared in the Alibi TV search for a new crime writer competition, you’ve probably guessed that I was a finalist rather than the winner.

But I thought I’d share some of my thoughts about my time in Harrogate where the winner was unveiled.

As part of the prize for reaching the final, I was given free entry to all the workshops on what was known as Creative Thursday.

The first seminar was with established author Dreda Say Mitchell, who also chaired this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, and her writing partner Tony Mason.

Talk about being taken out of your comfort zone! Dreda asked a group of us – which, incidentally, included several journalists – to write for three minutes on the theme I entered the room and saw . . .  You didn’t have to worry about grammar or punctuation, there was no stopping to read what you’d already put – you wrote the first thing that came into your head to get your creative juices flowing.

Anyone who knows my passion for correct English and my insistence on making every word count will realise how difficult this was.

There were discussions about what makes a memorable character and how a story might change when a particular situation was introduced.

The next workshop, Getting to Yes, was just as useful but from a different perspective. Two experts from the book industry explained what agents and publishers are looking for: they gave examples of a good submission letter and synopsis so that you’ve got a good chance of getting your novel accepted.

The afternoon session started with two witty but incisive authors, Stuart MacBride and Allan Guthrie, leading a workshop called Show Don’t Tell. They suggested that your writing improves if you show readers what’s going on rather than telling them – and you should take out words such as thought, wondered and realised so that you can show what’s happened in your story.

The final session was delightfully called The Dragons’ Pen. Mark Billingham was the host and introduced two agents and two publishers. Would-be authors had two minutes to pitch a novel and the Dragons gave their feedback. Some writers were told their plot was too complicated or too cosy, others were invited to send a synopsis and the first couple of chapters to see whether their book is worth publishing.

Quote of the day came from agent Jane Gregory who on a couple of occasions demanded: “Where’s the murder? We want death!”

So Creative Thursday was a day to remember. I’m now looking at my writing in a new light and taking into account many of the tips I picked up at Harrogate. I’ve got a few ideas for characters too which, as far as I’m aware, haven’t appeared in crime novels before. All I need to do now is write my first novel, all 100,000 words of it!