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26 January 2015

Antonia Honeywell – The Ship sets sail

by Anna Davis

As Antonia Honeywell – who studied on our creative writing courses back in 2011, gears up for the publication of her debut novel, The Ship, I’ve been looking back on her time with us. This is a blog piece I’ve just written for The Curtis Brown Book Group:

Antonia Honeywell was one of the students on the very first of our creative writing courses back in 2011 – and what a memorable bunch they were. Antonia’s course mates included Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist), Catherine Chanter (The Well) and some further brilliant writers who I’m sure will be following them into print very soon. So – yes – a smart, focused, talented group – but I can honestly say that none of them – and in fact none of the students who’ve been through our doors since – is more deserving of publication than the wonderful Antonia.

The Ship is a strange, intense, haunting book. It messes with your head, just as the voyage of the great white liner at the heart of the story messes with the mind of the young heroine, Lalla.  Antonia deftly manages that very clever trick of making the reader believe completely in the frightening darkly-skewed near-future she has created by peopling it with characters who are utterly real – their emotional complexity vividly wrought, their fears painted large; and by writing her story so very very beautifully.

Antonia is a fab writer. But the other thing about her that I will never forget is her ferocious determination. We’ve never had a student graft harder! While other students struggled to find time to keep up with the course work, Antonia whopped its ass, and somehow managed to find time to read all of the books that co-tutor Jake Arnott and I had ever written, plus the novels by all our visiting speakers, and even the novels written by my (then) husband. And all of this in spite of the fact that she was pretty damn busy at home with her 4 children who – at that time – were all under the age of six. I recall the occasion when, rather than miss the session led by Jojo Moyes and Sheila Crowley, Antonia staggered into class straight from having laser eye surgery, wearing big Jackie-O sunglasses, barely able to see.

But in another memorable session – the class where we gave advice to students on how to write letters to agents – Antonia (usually armour-clad) broke down in tears when it came to reading out her letter. She had worked so very hard on earlier novels and pitched them to so very many agents who’d turned her down or failed to find her a publisher, that she found herself completely overwhelmed and daunted at the thought of starting the pitching process all over again.

It was a momentary wobble though – a small sign that even our hardest working, most determined, most passionate student is in fact human like the rest of us.  Two years later, Antonia had finished The Ship, rewritten it several times and landed an uber-agent – CB’s joint CEO Jonny Geller. Her book deal with Weidenfeld & Nicolson followed shortly thereafter, and now we will sit back and watch what comes next …

Antonia Honeywell’s novel The Ship is January’s Curtis Brown Book Group Book of the Month. To find out more, visit their blogsite here.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our selective three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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