Tim Glencross (above, centre) was one of the students on the second of our creative writing courses in 2011, along with fellow novelists James Hannah and Kate Hamer, and went on from CBC to find representation with Curtis Brown’s Karolina Sutton and sign a publishing deal with John Murray. Tim’s debut novel Barbarians was published in hardback in May last year to critical acclaim and comes out in paperback tomorrow. He will be joining the Curtis Brown Book Group this Friday to discuss Barbarians – their Book of the Month for March – and, here, he talks to us about his time with Curtis Brown Creative, his writing process, and the experience of seeing his book on the shelves.
Had you done much writing before signing up to our creative writing courses?
Before I began working on Barbarians, my writing experience was limited to coming up with about 20 pages for an application to the creative writing MA course at the University of East Anglia. It was about an old man living in Cornwall with his dog. It was appalling.
What convinced you to take the CBC course?
When I applied to the Curtis Brown course I already had a deferred place on the UEA prose fiction MA (see answer above – in the interview I must have persuaded them to look past my terrible writing sample). At the time I was thirty and felt my liver (and finances) were not up to fulltime student life in Norwich. By contrast, the Curtis Brown course allowed me to carry on living and working in London, and I was intrigued by the idea of a literary agency setting up a writing school.
What stage was your novel at when you joined the course?
I think I’d written about forty or fifty thousand words, so almost half the novel. My course mates were all at different stages, however – one or two had a finished first draft of a manuscript, while others hadn’t got further than an initial chapter. I didn’t get the impression there was any particular ‘optimum’ stage to be at when taking the course.
What was the most memorable piece of advice you took away from the course?
Anna Davis, the course director, wrote me a long email about the opening chapter of Barbarians which I re-read many times and which was useful throughout the drafting of the manuscript. I remember Jeffrey Archer recommended getting up at the crack of dawn to write – I’m sure that was excellent advice but unfortunately I have failed to follow it!
The excitement surrounding the book when you got your publishing deal was amazing. You hadn’t actually finished it at that point, as you and your agent (Karolina Sutton) sold the novel on the basis of a partial manuscript, which is incredibly rare nowadays. How did you feel throughout that experience? Did you feel pressure when finishing the book after that?
I was quite happy Karolina sent out the partial manuscript because I needed money to fund writing the rest of it. I did feel some pressure after it was sold, especially since – even though I’d written a synopsis for prospective publishers – I wasn’t completely sure what was going to happen in the second half of Barbarians. Luckily there was no immediate deadline pressure as my editor, Mark Richards, astutely realised that I was never going to complete the novel in the timeframe I’d promised, and adjusted the delivery date accordingly.
The cover of the paperback is very different to the hardback, and makes the book feel more about the culture of the time (partying before the recession) than the politics. How much input did you have with that?
I’d love to take the credit, as in my opinion it’s a great cover, but the answer is very little. Strangely – this is going to make me sound pedantic and/or mad – I had some small involvement in the choice of font. It’s called Futura and it was also used on the cover of the last Vampire Weekend album.
What is your writing process?
I find writing exceptionally difficult. My (slow) method is to produce a page on my computer and then print it out and make handwritten changes. I’ll keep doing that until the page feels more or less right – sometimes I print it out five times, on other occasions it’s more like twenty. I also revise the entire manuscript constantly as I go along.
The last few years, with the Scottish referendum, the rise of UKIP and so on, have been very interesting politically. There are a lot of stories that could be inspired from them. Would you do a sequel of sorts or have you left novels set in that environment behind for now?
With fiction I’m more interested in exploring characters and the general ‘human comedy’ than particular themes such as the rise of Scottish/English nationalism etc. The novel I’m currently working on has a different tone – it’s about the shadowy world of London’s super rich – with no explicitly political or Westminster dimension. I have had very vague thoughts about a Barbarians sequel of sorts but it’s hard to see further ahead than the current novel.
You’ve mentioned reading a lot of 19th century fiction when writing Barbarians, and also talked about Evelyn Waugh as someone else who writes about class. Which contemporary writers have interested or influenced you?
As a teenager I was really obsessed with Cormac McCarthy. There’s quite a lot of Spanish in the Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing and Cities of the Plain) and this was one of the reasons why I ended up studying that language at university. Even now, though I mostly have very different reading tastes, when he produces a relatively minor work like a screenplay (The Counselor) or play (The Sunset Limited) I’ll rush out and buy it in hardback. The American critic Harold Bloom wrote that McCarthy’s Blood Meridian was the final word in Westerns – though I wonder if he changed his mind after reading Philipp Meyer’s The Son.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give aspiring novelists?
If on some level you’re not ashamed of the last page you’ve written it probably wasn’t worth writing. Jonathan Franzen explores this point more eloquently and at greater length in an essay called On Autobiographical Fiction.
Barbarians by Tim Glencross will be published in paperback by John Murray on Thursday 26th March.
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.