Melissa Knight shares her first-hand experience of attending our Alumni Summer School this year. Melissa was one of 15 students who joined us in the Curtis Brown offices for four days of intensive teaching led by author-tutor Jake Arnott.
How’s your book going? Mine’s been in a state of stop and start since I finished my selective Writing Your Novel course last year. But like all my cohort, I want it finished.
Wanting to finish, however, is very different to the pursuit of finishing. And getting to ‘The End’ as a mum of two with a busy life comprised of important things, my novel is often the last item on the list, and rarely gets ticked off. It’s just a fact that cooking fish fingers and picking up Lego takes priority over writing Britain’s next bestseller.
Even if you haven’t spawned small humans, you may have elderly parents, or sick loved ones, or a terribly demanding job… There’s all sort of reasons why after the selective CBC course ends, so does the impetus to get the word count up – or down! This is where Summer School flies in like a superhero to save the day.
In just four short days, my book got the equivalent of the poshest option at the car wash. A group of 15 talented folk travelled in from Barcelona, Berlin (moi), New York, Sydney, even the tropical lands of Colchester, to help polish up each other’s work.
I passed Curtis Brown CEO, Jonny Geller, on my way to the bog (I bowed) and celebs like Sue Perkins (from Mel & Sue) join you in the lifts on the way up to success.
But most exciting, is meeting fellow writers. A very special kind at that. We’d all come from online courses, a life saver to people like me who live abroad. But the energy in the room, sat side-by-side with people über passionate about their story, their characters, the craft: that kind of face-to-face interaction is special. Like meeting true love online but then being told the entire relationship has to stay that way. I could develop feelings but what I really need is that magic touch. And I got it.
We critiqued everyone’s opening page, synopsis and an excerpt. We each ‘hot seated’ as our characters in role – a theatre device that fleshes out depth and unearths things your character might say, do or think. We read published works and had theoretical discussions over the opening, middle and ending of books. We were given writing tasks.
While we did all this, the care package and attention to detail was faultless. A delicious lunch was provided each day, which actually had nutritional value. And we were never deprived of a fresh pot of tea!
The bread and butter of CBC: Abby, Anna, Danni, Emily, Jack, Jennifer, Katie, Lyndsey and Ria did all they could to make us feel like we were welcome and good enough and talented. Not sure about you, but these are feelings I don’t often dish out to myself as a writer.
Our tutor was author, Jake Arnott. Jake was incredible. He cared about our work. Took it seriously. Gave brilliant feedback. And kept us to time. The embodiment of six hats theory. Jake facilitated the feedback sessions so that we got to hear from others what was good about our submissions, what could be improved, what jarred, and how to fix any issues.
In just four days, some of us realised we had the structure wrong. Others discovered things about secondary characters they didn’t know beforehand. One writer drafted their ending on Wednesday when they didn’t have one walking in on Monday. And for me personally, I realised my main characters were actually five years younger!! I mean, what a discovery, and at only 15k words in, this has saved me so much pain.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s intense. I felt like I did a three-month course in just four days. It’s affordable – the best value for money I’ve seen and I’ve spent thousands learning the craft of penning words to that blank sheet of paper.
Everyone attending invested time and money because they have bags of passion. This makes for raising the game and bringing out the best in writing. The WhatsApp group we have since created is buzzing with activity. And this is a priceless tool – having active writers revise drafts.
If you can’t sit down with your book because of kids or parents or bosses, you must carve out four days this autumn or next summer and take what’s yours: take it, steal it, block the calendar with no maybes. Thick black permanent marker. It’s time to write your book.
If you like the sound of spending four days working on your novel with expert teaching, workshops and tutorials, sign up for our Alumni Autumn Intensive (this four-day course follows the same format as our ever-popular Alumni Summer School and will run from Tues 17 Oct to Fri 20 Oct). Find out more here.