Doing the Literary Headless Chicken – new title, dark days, Curtis Brown/ Joanna Brown

Just about half way through the Curtis Brown course.

If I thought I’d be half way through my novel, and I kind of did think I’d have made big inroads into draft 1 – I was v illusioned, now dis-illusioned. I still don’t have the full plot worked out yet, I don’t know what kind of book I’m writing – thought I did but I was wrong about that too, and I’m still re-working the first chapter. Naturally that will all change once I know what the hell I’m doing with this novel. So I’ll write the first chapter all over again, and almost certainly yet again, once I am vouchsafed that epiphany or rather – once I’ve actioned the AGENCY of my own epiphany and not been at all passive about it  (topical joke). I’m not calling the book Joanna Brown any more, it’s too Fay Weldon apparently, so that’s been strangled even before birth. I’ve got a new working title but I’m not ready to share that with the world just yet.

Touch of defensive hysteria – definitely.

Nanowrimo – oh please! Yes I wrote 30k words. Yes they were the wrong words.

Back to the drawing board – actually I’m getting a REALLY BIG drawing board, but more of that another time.

Calming/ helpful words of wisdom from visiting speakers and teachers – oh yes, thankfully. Here’s a pocket-sized summary of phrases that have reached me through the fug of panic, in the hope that it helps other doing the literary headless chicken:

Kate Hamer – The Girl in the Red Coat, Costa shortlist

Totally relaxed and charming. Waiting til later in life is not a complete disaster, letting the children grow up first and putting other things first before doing what you really want to do is alright because in publishing (unlike in television) it’s all about the book. The agency / passivity thing was the big one Kate had to crack too. Her agent, Alice Lutyens, had one big piece of advice- make sure you’ve got a really good plot. Well, I’m working on it.

Jeffrey Archer

It’s all hard work, nothing but hard work, e.g. it took 14 hours to write ten pages of draft 1 on one occasion, which is not uncommon. Also he does loads of edits and rewrites, up to 14. He has written 18#No1 bestsellers, out of a total of 24 novels – that’s a lot of rewrites.

The thing he’s most proud of is being thought of as an ace storyteller. Many writers concentrate on the craft of writing at the expense of the storytelling. (ie plot again)

Julia Rochester – The House at the Edge of the World

Don’t give up – Julia’s path to publication has been a long one, including publishers taking her book then going into liquidation.

Don’t run with an agent who doesn’t really like your book or who wants to change something fundamental about it.

From tutors:

Read scripts

I’m putting Caryl Churchill on my reading list right now. I will also frolic in the BBC Writer’s Room Script Library asap


Take The English Patient apart to see how the setting empowers the themes of the novel. This task will be v enjoyable, possibly ear-marked for Christmas.

Can’t wait.

Curtis Brown Creative course September 2015 gets under way

Last week we had our introductory talk with Course Director Anna Davis and Louise Wener, our tutor – ex popstar with Sleeper and author of Different for Girls. 

Louise Wener

Going round the table it was easy to see why the participants had been selected – confidence, great ideas and good presentation in abundance. Not intimidated. No Siree. I can ooze confidence when necessary, just need to work up to it. Anyway, Louise made it clear her watchword is NURTURING ENVIRONMENT (okay 2 watchwords), which is excellent because:

Tonight is the first teaching session and – hooray, I’m first up for a tutorial with Louise. You had to submit 3k words, and yes, I do have 3k words of this novel, but only just. Actually there’s 10k in existence but currently the drivelly outpourings of a first draft. Snot on the page as it were. Lucky Louise.

I’m doing my character notes (which I do for short stories but this is MORE – more characters, more depth, icebergs in the making), putting my plot points on cards a la Sol Stein and realising I have an enormous mountain of research to climb – I did know that, but now that I’ve started attacking it, the realisation has dawned afresh. Finding out that a lady’s maid is addressed as ‘Miss’ and the cook ‘Mrs’ regardless of her marital status for example. Just another way of dehumanising servants perhaps? Who knows? The Victorian psyche – well, that’s another post.