The Crime Readers' Association

Dragons Pen – David Beckler

20th August 2014

During the 2014 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, authors had the opportunity to pitch their novel ideas to a panel of prominent publishers and agents – the “Dragons” in the title. The format is based on the BBC Dragons Den programme. If you want to know what it was like, read on…

I stood in front of the long table, heart pounding as I contemplated the looming ordeal. Four grim faces watched me with contempt, another chancer here to waste their time. A voice reached me through a fog; the minder, big and mean-looking, glared at me. I tried to swallow but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. He spoke again and this time I heard his last few words.

“… you’ve got two minutes.”

I was on. My instructor’s words came back to me, try to smile, but my face seemed frozen. I studied the piece of paper trembling in my hand as my arm shook, and realised that I should have used a bigger font. I swallowed and began to read out the words, slowly at first but aware of the time limit, began to rush through the second half. As I read I recalled moreinstructions, maintain eye contact. How the hell am I supposed to read and keep eye contact with four people? I tried, but fear that I managed to just look shifty.

One minute fifty seven seconds later I finished, beating the bell, and the ignominy of being stopped mid-sentence.  Drenched in sweat, I stood and waited for my heart to be ripped out. The floor lurched and I braced myself, wondering when Harrogate had last experienced an earthquake, but realised it was just my legs shaking.

After a pause that seemed to drag on – oh God, they can’t think of anything nice to say – the first dragon gave her verdict.

Anyway, that’s how I remember my ordeal, but others – most of the audience – probably have a different recollection.

The four “dragons”- Jane Gregory of Gregory and Company, Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group, Katherine Armstrong, crime editor at Faber & Faber and Bill Scott-Kerr publisher for Transworld Publishers – were all very un-dragon like. More Richard Farleigh than Peter Jones, which was a relief as I’d neglected to wear a suit. The “minder” was Mark Billingham who, far from being mean, did a great job of trying to get the contestants – dragon fodder? – to relax and keep the event flowing. If he’s looking for a change in career, I believe Evan Davis is moving on…

Why did I do it? It’s a fantastic opportunity to get instant feedback from four prominent members of the literary establishment. Although they were always kind, they left you in no doubt as to what they did and didn’t like. Their responses gave everyone present a valuable insight into the direction the book business is going.

Do I have any advice for anyone foolish enough to give it a go next year? If you plan to perform, prepare. Some people hadn’t, one gentleman even admitted he didn’t want to do it, but as Mark had drawn his name out of the hat, “what the hell, I’ll have a go.” A genteel gnashing of teeth greeted this as those who were keen to have a go and had prepared missed out. Even if your name isn’t drawn, trying to encapsulate your novel in a two minute presentation is a great exercise.

If you’re there just to watch, take notes, even a throwaway line from these four can yield publishing gold.

Did I succeed in landing a dragon? Jane Gregory wanted to read some of my MS so I’ll let you know.

David’s CRA Profile 



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