A student on the very first of our online creative writing courses in 2013, Alice Clark-Platts (above) has gone on from learning how to write a novel with us to find an agent, sign a book deal with Michael Joseph and is now gearing up to the publication of her debut novel Bitter Fruits this July. Here, she shares her experience of the course and tells us what’s been happening since.
Had you done much writing before signing up to our online creative writing courses?
I’d written a novel called Warchild, which was shortlisted for the Impress Prize in 2013 and which was doing the rounds with literary agents. In the meantime, I’d started writing Bitter Fruits, which is what I worked on during the online course.
What convinced you to take the CBC online course?
Curtis Brown is obviously recognised as a world-class literary agency. And to have access to the agency’s knowledge and advice seemed too good a prospect to turn down.
How did the sessions with your tutor Christopher Wakling and the other students improve your novel?
It was fantastic to feel a little less alone during those months! I live in Singapore and although I have set up a writers’ group over here, it was very cheering to feel that there were other souls out in the world reading my work and reacting positively to it.
Chris is a brilliant mentor. He takes the writing process very seriously which, before you get going with writing professionally, is really important for your confidence. He made me feel less of a fraud and that what I was doing was actually worthwhile and meaningful. It is an invaluable skill as a teacher and I know the other students felt the same.
You came back for our intensive one-week summer school in 2014. How did your experience of the online learning course in 2013 compare to that, and what did you take away from it?
I LOVED it! It was incredible to meet in person others who had been on my online course – a bit like going on a blind date! And the other writers were all so supportive and positive – we are all still in touch and have an online email chain going which is awesome. Chris, who also taught the summer school, was fantastic and the work we produced and critiqued was incredibly inspiring and motivating.
What was the most memorable piece of advice you took away from the course?
The workshop we had on the first page of your novel definitely stays with me… We were told to hit the reader immediately with our characters and plot. Much harder than it seems. And to NEVER use the word ‘slightly’!
What happened when the course finished and how did you motivate yourself to finish the novel?
By the end of the course, I had got an agent so that was a pretty motivating factor. But Bitter Fruits is a crime novel, and I must confess I was keen to see whodunit… As I didn’t know until I’d finished the book.
The book is the first in a series. Did you know when you were writing it that you wanted to continue writing books with the same characters?
When I started writing Bitter Fruits, I realised that DI Erica Martin was a great character – a strong and fiercely intelligent woman – the female Inspector Morse if you will. She came to me and I didn’t want to let her go. And the setting of Durham and the North East of England is such a source of amazing scenery, locations and personalities that it’s hard to resist.
There are some modern-day problems that have inspired this book, such the vicious side of social media, and you’ve combined it with a classic setting – a close university community. Was the book influenced by anything in particular or were these ideas you simply wanted to explore?
As my friends will tell you, I am a Facebook addict. Then I looked into Twitter and became fascinated by the concept. It’s not so much the idea that trolls can spend so much time creating such misery, but the idea of sharing your life moment by moment is extraordinary. I often think of Jane Austen scribbling away in her corner of the kitchen and wonder what she would make of it. I got very interested in a great deal of feminist writing on Twitter – and how these women were pilloried and trolled for expressing their opinions. And it doesn’t take much research to see how that sort of attitude affects teenage minds. As a mother of two daughters, it’s terrifying but very real and so I wanted to capture these new ideas in the novel.
What is your writing process?
Whenever I can! Constance is six and India is three, so they are not known for their independence. When they’re at school, I hit the keyboard and when they come back, I stop. And generally I have a swim. We do live in the tropics!
Do you find it easy to write – or is it something you have to continually work hard at?
Some days, yes. But generally I know where I’m going or what I’m trying to say so it comes fairly naturally. Coffee and a bit of Spotify can always help.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give aspiring novelists?
Write 1,000 words a day and in three months you’ll have a novel. It might be rubbish but at least you’ll have those 90,000 words and you can then mess around with it, take it apart and put it back together again. If you don’t have the words in the first place, you’ll have nothing to work with. Bum on seat and pen in hand/fingers on keyboard. That’s it!
How’s the next novel coming along?
First draft is nearly done… And then the hard work begins.
If someone were to make Bitter Fruits into a TV series, who would you cast as the main characters?
For Erica Martin, I really like Natasha Little as an actress. Or Claire Skinner. And I loved Charity Wakefield’s performance in Wolf Hall recently. All great strong women! Simon Rush is trickier. Leonardo DiCaprio please?
Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts will be published by Michael Joseph in July 2015.
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.