Dear Reader: a letter from Deborah Masson
Little did I know a one-word prompt would lead to my crime fiction debut, Hold Your Tongue.
The word? Sharp. The challenge? To write a 200-word flash fiction piece as a member of an online writing forum.
The thing that came to mind, and refused to leave, was ‘tongue so sharp’. Dabbling in supernatural and horror writing at the time, I wrote about a murderer who killed by removing his victim’s tongue. Macabre. ‘Out there’. But something I wanted to explore.
Afterwards, I thought nothing more of it – until I signed up for Professional Writing Academy’s ‘Introduction to Crime’ course.
The course criteria asked for a detective, a breakfast scene with the detective, a crime scene and an interview between the detective and killer. Those 200 words refused again to go away. I ran with it. The seed was sown, and I was being given the opportunity to let it grow.
I wanted to test myself further so I signed up for another Faber course, ‘Write the first 15,000 words’. I didn’t necessarily see the possibility for a full-blown crime novel, but I wanted to carry the idea forward, if only to see if I could write that 15k.
I wrote and posted a prologue to the forum, stunned to receive the positive feedback, which I continued to receive until I hit my target. Reaching that goal left me wanting more: to get to the end of a first draft.
I joined Faber’s newly launched ‘Work in Progress’ course. It couldn’t have come at a better time. By now I had a clear idea of my story, believing it could be a novel and, going by feedback, a half-decent one. Determined to get there, the journey wasn’t without its struggles. My mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer, my relationship ended, and I moved to a new town with my kids. A single mum building a new life.
If it wasn’t for my tutor, Tom Bromley, having my back, pushing me to finish what I’d started, I don’t know whether I would have.
I was ecstatic when I had a final draft.
That draft held the prologue I’d posted months earlier. The novel was dark, perhaps a result of my struggles, but life had brightened and the book’s ending reflected that.
I mustered courage to put the book out there, lucky to secure my fabulous agent, Oli Munson of A M Heath in the first round. It was a dream come true when Random House Germany pre-empted Hold Your Tongue, surreal when Transworld followed with a UK offer.
My debut has released to fantastic reader reviews. It’s been described as ‘dark, gritty and graphic’, which surprises me as in ‘real life’ I’m a big softie. But I believe I’ve avoided gratuitous violence – not showing the actual act of murder but describing the aftermath, evoking the senses. Exploring the dark – the evil of murder, what these officers face – from the safety of my writing desk.
That fictional exploration helped me escape my reality at the time and for that I’m grateful.