I almost didn’t do this course, which would have been a shame as I’ve learned so much.
Back in October I had the first draft of a novel I knew wasn’t working, but didn’t know how to fix. I was starting to avoid it when a Curtis Brown newsletter pinged in advertising a three-month course tutored by Erin Kelly (below), a writer of psychological thrillers with tightly-controlled, slowly unfurling plots. Perfect timing, then.
I applied, thinking I’d worry about the cost if I got a place. It wasn’t so much the price that concerned me as the gamble. It was a lot of money if by the end I hadn’t learned how to fix the book. Of course, if I had, then I would be able to congratulate myself on spending my money so wisely. I decided to see it as an investment and hope.
There were fifteen in the class with a range of writing experience from beginners to a couple of people with at least one book behind them. There was a range of genres too from historical fiction (me) to dystopian fantasy and police procedural. It was good to have my whole story down even if it was quite gappy. Part of the course was learning to become our own writing support group. This involves lots of pizza and wine and trips to the pub. Reader, you will be pleased to hear that under Erin’s expert guidance, we are coming along well.
Erin is a generous, incisive teacher with a comprehensive understanding of writing techniques and genres, and empathy for the demands of the writing process. Each week consists of an hour’s tuition followed by a group workshop. By the end of the first class I’d learned the first of a series of tips to ‘unstick’ me. By the end of my workshop, I’d had enough positive feedback on my opening chapter to get writing again. But the real breakthrough came during the Christmas holiday. It might sound daft given my journalistic background, but my main problem was structure. I had wrongly assumed that if the plot were good enough the structure would look after itself. It won’t. Just as the best designer dresses look nothing on the hanger and everything on the body, so a plot is a shapeless mess without its underpinning frame.
So I worked on this and other things came into focus. Suddenly I could see where scenes should begin and end and where I had to get to by certain points of the book. It helped my characters interact and stopped me wasting time on reams of irrelevant copy. I wrote my synopsis, plotted all the acts and midpoints, and knew that I had it.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go: lots of re-writing and more work on my hero’s inner journey, an agent to find and, then the Holy Grail of a publishing deal, but I can see what I need to do now. And I haven’t just learned how to iron out my weaknesses, I’ve learned to have confidence in my strengths too and that’s been worth the course fee alone. In short, what I will know by the time I finish this book is how to do it all over again, but better.
Curtis Brown Creative Writing courses run for three or six months either online or at their offices in Haymarket London. Click here for more information