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Curtis Brown Creative writing school: Interview with Rufus Purdy

Curtis Brown Creative is the only writing school to be run by a literary agency, and offers selective novel-writing courses in London and online. Here, its editor, Rufus Purdy, tells Norah Myers what sets CBC apart, and how 27 of its former students have gone on to get book deals.

1) What was the inspiration behind starting Curtis Brown Creative?

My colleague Anna Davis – then a literary agent at Curtis Brown, as well as a novelist – launched Curtis Brown Creative in 2011 when she realised a lot of people were looking for novel-writing courses as an alternative to expensive Masters Degrees. She felt we were in the unusual position of having both a good understanding of the market and the expertise to help authors write and edit their work to give it the best possible opportunity of attracting an agent then a publisher.

2) What makes Curtis Brown Creative different from other writing courses?

We’re industry-focused. We’re the only creative-writing school to be run by a literary agency – and the agents at Curtis Brown and our sister agency C&W are closely involved with our novel-writing courses. So, unlike any other writing course out there, Curtis Brown Creative gives writers expert tuition and the opportunity to forge links with industry ‘gatekeepers’. We’re also selective. For each course, we’ll offer places to the 15 strongest applicants – as we believe it’s essential that the standard of peer feedback is set as high as possible.

3) What’s been the most challenging part of running the course?

Managing the expansion! Curtis Brown Creative is a very different company to the one I joined in 2012, when we ran just two three-month novel-writing courses in our office each year. Now, each year, we run four three-month courses, two six-month courses and a summer school – and that’s just in our London office.

We also run six online novel-writing courses, four online Writing for Children courses, and two new, six-week short courses, which are open to everyone – Starting to Write Your Novel and Write to the End of Your Novel. And, until last September, Curtis Brown Creative was just Anna and I. Thankfully our staff level has now grown to an impressive three.

4) Does the publishing knowledge that students gain in the course help their writing?

Absolutely. Though Curtis Brown Creative isn’t prescriptive about writing, we do feel that our unique position in the book industry means we’re aware of what will and won’t work in the market.

A talented student pouring their efforts into an experimental novella based on the life of a famously litigious celebrity, for example, would be encouraged to put their energy into something that the book-buying public might want to read. And we think it’s essential aspiring authors understand the industry they want to be a part of. They may be brilliant writers, but how are they going to make their work stand out in a hugely crowded market?

5) Have any of your graduates been published?

Twenty-seven of our former students have gone on to get book deals after doing our courses – most notably Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist and The Muse), Jane Harper (The Dry), Nicholas Searle (The Good Liar) and Lisa Williamson (The Art of Being Normal and All About Mia). We’re very proud of them all.

6) What advice would you give anyone who would like to gain a place with Curtis Brown Creative?

The main things we look for in a candidate are writing talent and a good story, so if you’ve got those, we’d love to hear from you! We tend to avoid people who clearly feel they’ve ‘completed’ their novel, and just want to do the course to meet our literary agents – we’re dedicated to helping writers improve their work, and there’s nothing more offputting than someone who already thinks they’re the finished article.

And if I have to read another submission involving a young man waking up with an erection, and musing about what he drunkenly did last night, I’ll personally track down the author and batter them around the head with their laptop.

For more information on CBC and the courses they have open at the moment, please visit: http://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/

Curtis Brown, Curtis Brown Creative, Literary Agent, writing course

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