Monday, June 27, 2022

Daggers Week Welcomes Liz Rachel Walker

Photo credit to Dani Cyr Creative
This multi-talented Canadian has already won Crime Writers of Canada's award for best unpublished crime novel. Now she--and it--are shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger in the UK.


Welcome, Liz. 

Tell us what your life looks like when you’re not writing?

LIZ:  I have a BA and MA in sociology and worked for 15 years in social and health research. But I became physically disabled in 2011 and had to stop that career. I have a connective tissue condition called hypermobility spectrum disorder--my connective tissue is more flexible but also more fragile than average. It led to me developing overuse injuries and extreme stiffness. In 2014, a medication helped reduce my extreme stiffness, and I partially recovered my mobility. I still have physical limitations, but I do several hours of physiotherapy every morning and become mobile for the day. I live in Victoria, BC, with my husband, Kevin Bartlett, who’s also a writer, and we regularly edit each other’s work. (The editing sessions can be painstaking and often involve chocolate or gin.)


Some couples make editing each other look easy. Others....? It's clearly working for you and Kevin Bartlett since you're both on the Debut Dagger Shortlist.

What previous writing experience do you have? What got you started writing crime?

 LIZ:  I’ve had some short stories published, including flash fiction published online at By the way, Every Day Fiction magazine is a wonderful place to submit flash fiction as the editors sometimes provide feedback, and the site publishes a story every day.

I wrote my first novel in the mystery genre because it matched the mystery I wanted to write about in the historical record. It feels like, rather than me choosing to write in the mystery genre, the story chose the genre it needed. But then I learned more about writing mysteries and thrillers, and I loved the fit of the crime genre with the stories I wanted to tell.


Is this your first entry into the Debut Dagger? Where did you hear about this contest for unpublished crime novels, and what decided you to enter? Have you entered other writing contests with this or other works?

LIZ:  Yes, this is the first time I’ve entered the Debut Dagger. I’d heard about other Daggers awarded by the Crime Writers' Association in the UK and discovered the Debut Dagger competition on their website. 

I also found some competitions to enter by reviewing lists of contests for unpublished manuscripts including and

I decided to enter because I was close to finishing a revision, and my manuscript felt almost ready to send out again. I’d submitted an earlier draft to the competition for unpublished manuscripts offered by Crime Writers of Canada in 2020, and the manuscript placed first, which was very encouraging. However feedback I received from agents and publishing-house editors on that version of the manuscript suggested I needed to deepen character and setting in some places and heighten stakes. By working with freelance editors and beta readers, I’ve learned how to recognize where the manuscript feels a bit thin for readers and how to flesh those areas out.


Thanks for those links. Now tell us, please, about your shortlisted manuscript. All I know so far is that it’s a WW2 historical.

LIZ:  Yes, it’s a historical mystery, and it examines whether the Germans knew in advance about the Dieppe Raid, Canada’s deadliest day of World War II. The story takes place in London, England, two months after the Dieppe Raid in 1942. In order to solve the murder of an MI5 officer, a young Scotland Yard detective inspector must decide whether to trust a refugee with a mysterious past.

One of the biggest challenges of writing the book was creating a storyline that was consistent with the historical evidence. I wanted to honour the history and the soldiers who went to Dieppe by being as true as possible to the real event. But some of the historical evidence is contradictory, so it took time simply to understand what the best evidence was. Then I worked with those details when creating the plot.


In our pre-interview discussion you mentioned that, due to health issues, you can only write a maximum of 900 words a day. So this novel represents how many days of that time/energy investment? Do you think a scene through thoroughly beforehand and then type only the bare minimum of words?

LIZ:  This novel has been revised many times as I learned how to write a novel, so I’m not sure how many years of work I’ve put into it. In terms of what hand limitations mean for my next novel, I’m estimating it will take me about two to two and a half years to write, given my daily typing limit of 900 words (about 5000 characters). As much as I love to write, I don’t put all my daily words to my writing. I might put 600 words to my writing and put the other 300 words to emails and social media.

If I’m starting with a blank page, sometimes I’ll compose a few sentences in my head and edit them before I write them down, to minimize the key strokes. I might do that once an hour, for numerous hours throughout the day. Other times though, I need to type to tease out what I want to say. And I find if I type the equivalent of 600 words, I’ve only gained about 350 words on the manuscript because of the delete key and revising as I go. I’m not able to dictate anymore because of a vocal strain. I have limits for handwriting and texting as well, so occasionally I’ll compose using handwriting or texting, but usually, I type.

Many writers have limits on how much they can work on a manuscript, often because of other commitments. I hope they find this encouraging—if you add 350 words to a manuscript six days a week, you’ll have a draft of 90,000 words in about 10 months.


Among other creative pursuits, you are a songwriter, and one of your songs is about all that you lost through becoming ill over a decade ago. I’m assuming that songwriting also counts as part of your 900 words’ worth of screen time per day. Tell us about the inspiration for that song and how long it took for it to come together.

LIZ:  Yes, songwriting is part of my 900 words. If I’m composing on the piano, that uses my hands in a similar way to using the computer, so I’ll play the piano instead of typing much that day.

I co-wrote the song “Finding My Way Back To Myself” with musician Robbie Hancock in his Vancouver Island studio in 2017 and 2018. It was the reincarnation of a song I’d created earlier with my brother, niece, and nephew about uncertainty in life and finding a way to keep going despite it. Robbie and I created a contemporary indie folk version of the song with new lyrics and music.

The initial draft of the song came together fairly quickly, but it took a few months to get a final mix Robbie and I were happy with. For the lyrics, I drew on my feelings about becoming disabled, which I didn’t want to accept initially, and having to give up my career and other activities. It can be hard to lose something meaningful in your life and to let go before you’re ready. By 2017 though, I was moving forward in life again after my partial recovery, and the song is also about having to find out who I was again, given that I couldn’t do many of the things I used to do.

I decided to release the song through Spotify and other streaming services in November 2020 during the pandemic since a lot of people were having a similar experience of life suddenly changing and of not being able to work and of being concerned about their health and their future. Some listeners have enjoyed the song which is great.

People can check out the song using the following link if they like. It's not me singing! I don’t perform on recordings of my songs. Robbie Hancock and other musicians he works with perform this song.


Thanks for including the link to your song. Many readers of this blog (and the Falls Mystery novels) have become disabled in adulthood (like my Falls series character Jan), and I'm sure that, like me, they'll find the lyrics resonate with their struggles to accept that life will never go back to the way it was.

Now on a lighter note: Do you like your hero(es) or your villain(s) better?

 LIZ:  I suppose I do like my heroes better, but I spend considerable time creating villains with understandable reasons for why they behave the way they do and who are hard to defeat.


Last question: What is one thing you wish you’d known when you started writing this novel, that you would warn other beginning crime novelists about?

LIZ:  Learn about the different genres and decide what genre you’re writing as early as possible. You will definitely need to name the main genre when pitching the story idea succinctly to agents and publishers.


 Thank you, Liz, and best wishes for the future of The Dieppe Letters.

Find Liz at and on the following social media:




Spotify Artist: Liz Rachel Walker


 #Debut #Dagger #DaggerAwards #CrimeFiction #CWA #contests #shortlist #CWADagger #amwriting #WritingCommunity #Mystery #crimewriters #songwriters #disability


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