From Contestant to Curator: J M Hewitt #BritCrime

By J M Hewitt
In the summer of 2015 I settled down to enjoy the first BritCrime Festival. As it was online there was no dressing up and no chance of being late. I recall it clearly; it was a hot day so armed with a shandy and my laptop I joined in from the comfort of my sun lounger.

And I had a great time, lots of my favourite authors were participating and because it was online there was so much interaction. With a burning desire to one day become one of the gang, that weekend I entered the BritCrime Pitch Competition. The concept was to Tweet a pitch of your novel, and the winners would have the first part of their manuscript judged by the lovely Madeleine of the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. On the 14th July 2015 I received an email saying I’d won! To say I was over the moon is an understatement, and over the subsequent weeks Madeleine kindly perused my manuscript and returned to me with some feedback.

The feedback turned out to be priceless. One of the main issues with my manuscript was that it wasn’t easily identifiable as crime fiction and deep down, I knew this. So I put aside that novel, the one that I’d been working on for four years, and I started a fresh one. I knew what it was going to be about (a private detective and his reluctant partner in crime) and I knew where I wanted it to be set: Chernobyl. I started thinking ahead and I knew that the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was April 2016 – just eight months away. If I stood a chance of making an impact it needed to be ready for then. A tall order, but I’m always up for a challenge however, so the summer and autumn of 2015 went past in a blur of writing and research.

In the winter of 2015 I got the news I’d been hoping for, Endeavour Press – having only read half of the new manuscript – wanted to publish it. It was an indescribable moment when I received the publishing contract and in order to spur me on to meeting the deadline, I pinned it up on my office wall. It’s still there today, but next to it now is a poster print of the cover of my debut crime fiction novel.

Seven months to the very day that I received notification that I’d won the BritCrime competition, Exclusion Zone was published.

Exclusion Zone
Amazing things have happened almost on a daily basis since then. I met the gorgeous Helen Smith, founder of BritCrime, at a delightful Agatha Christie talk in London. My novel received praise from fellow BritCrime author, Jane Isaac, and writers who I adore, like Alex Marwood and Louise Beech. I watched with glee as Exclusion Zone got to number 50 in the International Crime and Mystery chart in the week after release, and again one month later when I reached number 12 in the same category, and number 3 in the Military chart. I got offers to appear on blog posts and giveaways and all in all, everyone was so damn supportive.

The pinnacle was being asked if I’d like to be guest curator on BritCrime in the months leading up to the actual festival. It got me to thinking back to last year and to conclude, in a dream that originally started over two decades ago, in just seven short months, I’ve gone from contestant to curator, and if you, reader, have a dream like this, then maybe you should join in the BritCrime fun this year, and see what sort of mad and wonderful ride it can take you on.
Twitter: @jmhewitt
Exclusion Zone on Amazon

More about the BritCrime Festival here.

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