Alice Fowler took our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2012. Her short story collection The Truth Has Arms And Legs is being published on 14 Jul 2023 by Fly On The Wall Press. We spoke to Alice about her time studying with us, the themes explored in her short story collection and her advice for aspiring authors.
You took our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2012. How did your time studying with us impact your writing journey?
The course stood me in good stead in many ways. I was right at the start of my fiction writing journey at the time, and looking back, one of the best things it did was toughen me up. The novel I was writing was in its early stages and I certainly found pitching it to agents a challenge.
However I’ve no doubt that experience did me a lot of good. Although I’m not a natural salesperson, I’ve absolutely loved promoting my short story collection. I’ve been able to do that with a lot of energy and commitment - some of which I’m sure was gleaned around the Curtis Brown table!
I also remember receiving encouragement from the lovely course tutor, Chris Wakling. He told me my writing was ‘stately’. I remember pondering: ‘Is that a good thing?’
Many of our students find lifelong writing friends on our courses. Are you still in touch with anyone you met during the course?
I’m happy to say I am. Although our cohort didn’t stay in touch as one big group, I’m in touch with Julie Walker, whose novel Bonny & Read came out last year. Through Julie I’ve reconnected with Sarah Sykes (the novelist S.D. Sykes) and Laurinda Luffman. I was delighted to read some chapters of Laurinda’s current novel just the other day, which took me back to our CB sessions together.
Your short story collection The Truth Has Arms And Legs is being published on 14 Jul 2023 by Fly On The Wall Press. The collection explores pivotal moments that transform our lives, the raw vulnerability of human connection, and the resilience that enables us to thrive and grow. Can you tell us a bit more about the collection and the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been writing short stories for about five or six years – really because I take such pleasure in writing them. There’s a creative satisfaction in writing something so condensed – where you can throw it down after a few days, and say: Howzat?
Over that time, I’ve entered the stories in competitions and had success. That encouragement has been invaluable. It’s the gold-dust that’s kept me going, and I’ve tried to carry that self-belief into my novel-writing too.
My stories explore themes such as love and loss, motherhood and second chances. They’re character-driven and I’d say human nature – our flaws and the little lies we tell ourselves – is my greatest inspiration.
You’ve previously written a historical novel which was longlisted for the 2021 Stylist Feminist Fiction Prize. What prompted your decision to write a collection of short stories rather than a longer novel?
I’m still working on that novel, The Awakening of Lily Ash, and hope to have it ready to submit to agents soon. At the beginning of my writing journey, I’d certainly have hoped a novel might be published first. That the short stories have snuck ahead – and gained generous endorsements from writers like Wendy Erskine and Vanessa Onwuemezi along the way – is a bedazzlement and joy!
Do you face any different challenges when writing short fiction compared to working on a novel?
With short stories, you’re trying to convey all the complexities of character within a far shorter word count. That is a challenge but it’s also an opportunity. To do it successfully, there are other things you need to pare right down. For example, I like writing stories within a tight time frame. That still allows me to travel deeply through my character’s memories and thoughts, just as in a novel.
Do you have any advice to share with the aspiring authors reading this, particularly those who are thinking of applying to a writing course?
Any opportunity to learn as a writer is wonderful and should be grasped. On a course, you learn not just what is formally taught, but so many other, less tangible things, through your fellow writers. Courses can be expensive and that needs to be weighed up too, as we all know our income as emerging writers can be small! I’d say, try to analyse in a clear-headed way what each course brings, and what will benefit you and your writing the most.
What short story collection do you always find yourself dipping back in to?
I really love Dance Move by Wendy Erskine: in particular, the story ‘His Mother’. It’s inspired by posters of missing teenagers stuck to lamp-posts and moves in the most rich and powerful way between present and past.
Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?
I’d love to get the historical novel I’m working on now over the line. Then, I have a contemporary novel in mind, or perhaps another look at the novel I worked on at Curtis Brown. Between all that, lots more short stories!
The Truth Has Arms And Legs is out on 14 Jul. Pre-order your copy here.
Applications for both our three-month online and London Writing Your Novel courses close on Sun 16 Jul. Find out more and apply here.
The books linked in this blog can be found on our Bookshop.org shop front. Curtis Brown Creative receive 10% whenever someone buys from our Bookshop.org page.