We welcome Lynne Pardoe to the blog. Lynne has been chatting to Anna Davis, Managing Director of Curtis Brown Creative. Over to you, Lynne.
I’ve always fancied doing one of those Curtis Brown courses, they have such an enticing programme of events. Anna Davis found time in her busy schedule to answer my questions.
How did Curtis Brown, a well-known literary agency, come to be running a writing school?
We launched Curtis Brown Creative in 2011 when we realised a lot of people were looking for novel writing courses. We were in the unusual position of having both a good understanding of the market and expertise in helping authors edit their work until it’s at its best. The unique selling point of Curtis Brown Creative is the active involvement in the courses of our literary agents.
Why choose a Curtis Brown course?
For us, it's all about quality. We want to work with new novelists who have real potential, and our aims are to help new novelists to get the best out of their writing and to find new clients for the agents of Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh from among our students.
Are your courses all London based?
We began with a 3-month course for aspiring novelists held in our London offices. We still run our very popular 3 and 6-month courses from our offices, but now we also run 3 and 6-month novel-writing courses online. When it comes to the online environment, we aim to deliver courses with the same values and emphasis on quality as our face-to-face courses. We run groups with a maximum of 15 students (just as we do in our offices) selected from applications on the basis of the quality of the material submitted to us in order to create strong peer groups who work well together and help to bring out the best in each other’s writing.
Our online courses have flexible scheduling to allow participation from students all over the world, along with students who need to focus their writing into erratic hours, night-times etc. The online courses include teaching, workshopping and tutorials, just like our face-to-face courses, and feature an agents’ question and answers day where lots of our agents come online across a whole day to answer students' question; plus a day when agents give feedback on students' pitch letters.
What is the difference in the 3 and 6 month courses? Is it just the same course over a different time-frame?
The two kinds of courses include many of the same components – workshopping, teaching sessions, tutorials and visiting speaker sessions, but the six-month course has more of all of those. The six-month London-based course also has two guest tutors, each of whom come in to teach the students on several occasions – kind of ‘mini-courses’. I think it’s good for the students to be taught by more than one writer where possible – there’s no one way of doing things and it’s great for them to get different teaching perspectives. At the end of all our courses – in the office and online -the students submit some material from their novels-in-progress plus a one-page synopsis to be read informally by the full teams of agents at Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh.
Each course has one main tutor, who is a novelist with a strong published track record and good teaching experience. I’m also personally involved in teaching the London-based courses (and we have the guest tutors as mentioned above). I’m often also involved in delivering elements of the online course (varies from course to course as indicated in our website copy).
How does the group communicate?
In the case of the London-based courses, the students meet on a weekly or twice-weekly basis (and often continue to do so once the courses end). For the online courses, the students communicate with each other and their tutor on a secure online educational platform with a discussion area. The online tutors provide lots of feedback to the students in that space, and also in one-to-one tutorials which can be on Skype or telephone (depending on the student’s choice). The tutors also give teaching sessions (using notes, video and tasks set for the students) on key topics.
Do students have to begin with a partly finished novel?
We ask all applicants to our courses to send in the opening of a novel - up to 3000 words – and a one –page synopsis (along with their completed application form). We expect that to be the novel that they will be working on during the course and assess the applications on that basis. It doesn’t matter how much of the novel they’ve written already – it could be just a few thousand words or they might even be rewriting an already completed novel. But they need to want to work on that novel with us (we’re not here just to introduce students to agents) and they should be open to the idea of making changes to it.
What if you disagree with the advice?
It’s entirely up to the students what advice they decide to take on board, and what they don’t. Many students will realise, from feedback they’re given, that there are issues with a novel in progress, but will find their own solutions. We hope to help students to figure out their own strengths and weaknesses as writers and learn to play to their strengths. And, as I say, there’s not much point going on a course if you’re not actually keen to learn and to make changes to what you’re writing.
Is there much competition for places?
Yes – I’m happy to say that we’re always massively over-subscribed. Long may it last! It’s important that we’re able to be selective in order to bring together groups of writers who can operate at a high level and give each other valuable feedback and support. It makes a huge different to the experience of being on a writing course for our students.
Where do students go onto once they’ve finished?
Most of our students haven’t actually finished writing their novels at the end of a three or six month course. Some finish rapidly and are then ready to start pitching their work to agents, while others may take years to finish. I’m still hearing now from students in our very early groups just finishing – and I’m as happy to hear from them as from those in the recent classes. Writing a novel takes as long as it takes.
Clearly we can't offer representation to all our students, but 16 of our alumni already have deals with major commercial publishers, including Jessie Burton, whose debut The Miniaturist was the biggest selling debut of 2014. Kate Hamer's The Girl in the Red Coat was published in February to great success, and James Hannah's The A-Z of You and Me (also February) In July we've also seen the launch of the first published novel to come out of our online novel-writing courses: Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts; and Nicholas Searle, another online student who was taken on by Curtis Brown CEO Jonny Geller, is published early next year.
There is lots of information about our online courses - including course details, fee, tutor information etc (and indeed information about our other courses too) on http://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk .
What an enticing description of a super course! I’m not surprised that it’s oversubscribed. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Anna.
Lynne Pardoe writes fiction about social work after 30 years in the job which she describes as a really interesting and rewarding post. Nothing like the papers description. Read all about it at lynnepardoe.com or try ‘Please Adopt Me,’ as a kindle book.
*Don't forget that all writers have the chance to pitch to Curtis Brown and Conville and Walsh on the fourth Friday of each month using the hashtag #PitchCB.
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