Norah Myers recently interviewed Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus Purdy about Curtis Brown Creative, the writing school led by the team at Curtis Brown. Here, she follows that by interviewing Curtis Brown’s managing director, Anna Davis, about a new course from Curtis Brown Creative: Write to the End of Your Novel.
1) How does Write To The End Of Your Novel build on Starting To Write Your Novel?
Write to the End of Your Novel is the second in a series of three short online courses which aim to help new writers get all the way from an initial idea for a novel to having a complete, polished novel ready to pitch to agents/publishers. This second course follows on from the first – so we expect that participants will already have their idea and their opening and will be trying to write their way through to the end of the first draft.
In a series of six modules (which we open up week by week) I try to say everything I can think of that could be useful – including my advice on pacing, building suspense, what to do when you’re stuck in the middle, how to write a good ending – and much more. The course makes use of teaching videos (from me), notes and tasks. Students will be able to share their work in a secure forum on our purpose-built learning platform.
We’ll be following on with a third course later in the Autumn called Edit and Pitch Your Novel. Students who come on each of these courses get continued access to all the materials so that they’ll have a set of resources they can make use of long after the course ends.
2) Why do you feel it was important to add this course to your offerings?
What I wanted to do – with the three short courses I’m talking about above, including Write to the End of Your Novel – was to offer great content at a much cheaper price than our ‘main’ 3 and 6-month courses (the selective courses we run for groups of 15 students in London and online). I wanted to provide something for people who can’t afford our main courses but who nonetheless want to study with us and get help with their novels. I also wanted to offer courses which would allow people to just pay-and-enrol (rather than go through the selective process we have for our main courses) so that they could have a go – it’s a chance to try your hand at novel-writing without making the bigger financial commitment that’s needed for our main courses.
These 6-week online courses can act as ‘tasters’ for our high end courses – our hope is that people who get a lot out of the 6-week courses might then feel they want to join a course where they will get intensive individual tuition and workshopping with a small group of students who’ve been selected on the basis of ability, in order to really make their novel as good as it can possibly be. Obviously not everyone who takes the 6-week courses will succeed in getting a place on our main courses (the places are quite heavily competed over) but we already have quite a few students on the longer novel-writing courses who came to us through studying on Starting to Write Your Novel.
However I also wanted the 6-week courses to cover the complete journey of writing and pitching a novel: Not everyone needs a longer course and individual tuition – for many people writing a novel, it’s useful just to have good, constructive advice, a group of other writers to share work with and a metaphorical shot in the arm. That’s what we’re offering.
3) Tell us about an applicant you recently turned down. What could aspiring applicants learn from an unsuccessful submission?
So – yes – for our ‘main’ 3 and 6 month novel-writing courses, in London or online, we do operate a selection process. We ask people to fill in a form on our website and to send us the one-page synopsis and opening 3000 words of the novel they want to work on with us. Rather than talk about one individual applicant (because I think it wouldn’t be fair to do so), I’ll tell you about some of the features we frequently see in unsuccessful applications. Here goes:
- Don’t open your book with someone waking up in the morning and looking out of the window at the sun/rain etc. This is THE most common way to start a novel and so we’re very bored of seeing it. We’re also not keen on openings which feature characters staggering around with a hangover, treading in pizza boxes etc – or visceral scenes of vomiting and other bodily fluids (I don’t want to be fighting revulsion when I start to read a novel!) – or indeed long descriptions of the weather.
- Get your story going from the off. We want to see STUFF HAPPENING long before the end of that first 3000 words – it doesn’t need to be explosive or shouty – but we do want story to be happening. Writers often think they need to spend a long time ‘setting up’ characters before they get them into action – that’s really not necessary.
- Give us scenes which are dramatized – ie enter right into the moment of your story, showing us your characters in action and making use of dialogue. If I flick through an application and don’t see any dialogue, I know I’m unlikely to end up offering the writer a place. Invariably these novel-openings will be endless ‘telling’ (explanatory material) which leave the reader feeling like they’re skating across the surface of a story without getting properly into it.
4) What do you teach students about foreign rights?
Our team of literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W contribute very generously to our 3-and-6 month courses. On the London courses, the agents come in as guest speakers, partnering with publishers and/or with authors they represent. On the 3-and-month online courses the agents take part in special ‘Q&A days’ where they answer all the students’ questions online. Our agents will talk about foreign rights – and indeed other rights such as film and TV rights – when they speak to the students about how they work with their clients to make the work available in all possible forms and formats and to maximise all avenues of income for the client.
Foreign rights are a very big part of what we do at Curtis Brown and C&W, and many of our authors have their work available many languages across the world. Having said all that, the most important way we work with our students is in helping them to write their novels as well as they possibly can. Foreign rights won’t feature in their lives at all unless they write a really great novel – and it’s our mission to help them to do that.
5) What do literary agents look for in a client, especially ones writing their first books?
Agents want to find great novels – it’s as simple as that. We have a big team of agents here, all of whom have different interests and tastes – but I think they’d all agree that they want to find great stories and writing that really leaps off the page. Obviously it’s great if a writer also has a professional attitude, is open to working editorially on their novel to get it as good as it can possibly be, and is intending to go on to write more compelling novels (not just one). And yes, the agent/author relationship is a close and potentially long-lived one so it’s important that each likes and respects the other. But really the most important thing is the book.
6) What do you look forward to most as the course progresses?
I love getting to know the students (and their work) individually and collectively, and seeing how the groups of 15 shape up and bond with each other. Even as I’m typing this, now, I can hear laughter coming from the board room – it’s our current 6-Month London-based course, with tutor Louise Wener. They’re getting toward the end of their course now so they all know each other and each other’s writing really well. I’m certain that all or most of them will go on meeting up and giving each other support with their novels long after the course has finished. This camaraderie happens in our 3 and 6 month online courses too – and even on the 6-week Starting to Write Your Novel courses we’re seeing writers bonding and forming little groups and keeping in touch. Yes, I do think that’s what I like best. Writing is something you do alone, but it doesn’t need to be lonely.
Check out Curtis Brown Creative’s site for more information on all of their courses.
Anna is the founder and Director of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school. She is the author of five novels, published around the world in 20 languages: The Dinner, Melting, Cheet, The Shoe Queen and, most recently, The Jewel Box. She is currently working on her sixth. Anna has worked for Curtis Brown for more than a decade as a literary agent and has served on the management committee of the Association of Authors’ Agents. Previously she was a lecturer on Manchester University’s MA in Novel-Writing, and has also led many other writing workshops for organisations such as the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Ty Newydd. A former Guardian columnist, Anna has been the recipient of the Arts Council of England’s Clarissa Luard Award (2001) and an h.Club 100 award – presented to the most influential, innovative and interesting people in the creative and media industries.