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Celebrating our favourite moments from #10YearsofCBC

BY Anna Davis
27th May 2021

Anna Davis, Founder and Director

Has it REALLY been ten whole years since Curtis Brown Creative first opened its doors? It honestly feels like yesterday that I greeted those first fifteen nervous students in the agency’s reception area and led them through to the boardroom to start their three-month novel-writing course. I only hope they couldn’t see that we were at least as scared as they were!

It gives me a kind of weird vertigo to think back on that first course and then to fast forward all the way to where we are now – but yep, here we now are; ten years, 130 published students and a whole lot of courses later. I hope you’ll indulge the team and me for just a few minutes as we pull some of our favourite moments out of the bag and spread them out for you …

Honestly, there are just so many memories clamouring for position that I can barely hold them back – but I’ll stick with those very early days: Jake Arnott, my co-tutor, telling the students to ‘brush it till it shines’ and unveiling his ‘Napoleonic System of Editing’; Jojo Moyes coming in as a visiting speaker and relating how she tests her characters by figuring out what they’d do if they saw someone in the street kicking a dog; Jessie Burton realising that ‘Come the Flood’ wasn’t a great title for the book that became The Miniaturist; Barney Thompson (now one half of Ben Creed) saying, ‘But she’s just a utility character’ – and then being surprised when we all laughed; Antonia Honeywell coming straight from laser eye surgery to class in huge sunglasses, determined not to miss a moment of the course – and all of us ending up in the Captain’s Cabin after every evening class (RIP the late lamented CBC pub that was bulldozed to make way for a fancy new corporate development). I salute you all, CBC Group 1 – though it’s worth saying that every time we sit down to read the applications to a new three or six-month course – every time we bring a group of fifteen into the boardroom for the first time or greet them on our online learning platform, it’s just as fresh as that very first time – and we’re just as excited about what and who we may be about to discover.

Jennifer Kerslake, Senior Manager

Before joining Curtis Brown Creative in September 2019, I was an editor at the Orion Publishing Group. I’ve always loved working with writers early in their careers, and some of my favourite moments at CBC have been one-to-one with our students...

From brainstorming story arcs and character motivation during tutorials, to offering tips on writing query letters, providing ideas for comp titles, and (perhaps more rewarding than a favourite moment) helping one student (you know who you are) to cut down their synopsis from ten pages to one...

Launching the Breakthrough Writers’ Programme, which provides fully funded courses, mentoring and scholarships to talented writers who would not otherwise have studied with us, in the autumn of 2020 was a definitely a highlight. We ran the first course – an online five-day intensive novel writing course for fifteen Black writers – in February 2021. Jacob Ross and Laura Barnett were the tutors, and I’ll always remember the opening session when everyone introduced themselves and talked a bit about what they were working on – the warmth, openness and enthusiasm was electric. The week culminated in an industry masterclass with Karolina Sutton and Felicity Blunt from Curtis Brown, Sharmaine Lovegrove from Dialogue Books and Ore Agbaje-Williams from Borough Press. From tips on rewriting and editing, to tales of publishing success, to a practical explanation of how advances and royalties work, the session was really inspiring and energising – which was a very good thing as one student based outside the UK stayed up till 2am to take part!

Jack Hadley, Courses Manager

I joined way back in 2016 and it’s been wonderful to have been part of the journey Curtis Brown Creative has been on in the last five years. Seeing the company develop and rise to huge new challenges while remaining true to its core mission of finding nurturing and talented new writers has been a privilege.

It’s impossible to pick just a few highlights of my (almost) five years, but…

  • End of course drinks evenings in our London offices with students are always special occasions (though they’re sadly not happening currently due to current restrictions), but watching England lose in the semi-final of the World Cup in the Curtis Brown boardroom following a celebratory evening with our three and six-month students may top the lot. (I very much hope we can have another in-person celebration in the not-too-distant future).
  • Meeting and working with some of the best agents, publishers, producers, novelists, screenwriters in the business – a particular highlight was an amazing masterclass session with legendary TV producer Julie Gardner earlier this year!
  • Sharing a drink with Keith Allen in his hotel following a special CBC writing workshop at the Laugharne Weekend Arts Festival in West Wales.
  • While filming Cynan Jones’ Writing Short Stories course, watching him corpse uncontrollably each time he tried to say ‘trombone’ (you’ll have to enrol on the course to fully understand that one…)
  • Seeing so many talented writers honing their craft and finding a path forward once their course is over.

And while it’s not exactly a highlight, watching our team pull together, move everything online, and work from our spare rooms, studies and bedrooms to deliver so much for our students has been incredibly inspiring to me personally. Bravo!

Ria Cagampang, Ecommerce Manager

I joined CBC at the beginning of 2020 in what would become a pretty unforgettable year in everyone’s lives. Something standout for me was seeing our incredible writing community flourish and take on the challenges of our changing World in spite of such difficult times.

It was great to see such a positive reaction whenever we ran our Lockdown Twitter events, the phenomenal uptake of our free Weekly Writing Workouts, or the heart-warming pieces of feedback from students on our online courses. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking how proud and amazed I am to see so many people discovering (or re-discovering!) their creativity over the past few months!

Katie Smart, Marketing & Content Executive

My first day at Curtis Brown Creative, back in March 2018, was also the day of an end of course celebration. 6pm rolled around and it was time for two groups of London-based novel-writing students and the literary agents from Curtis Brown and C&W to gather in the boardroom with lots of snacks and a few bubbles.

There is always a marvellous buzz in the air on these evenings and on this occasion, I was just as nervous as the students – who were gearing up to talk with the agents. Nerves settled into excitement and I had some wonderful conversations with the agents and students about books, publishing, and our courses. I particularly remember chatting with Kirsty Capes – the HW Fisher Scholarship student at the time – she was so welcoming and enthusiastic about the course and I loved hearing about her book, which portrays an honest representation of growing up in care. That book became Careless, out now from Orion.

That evening really set the tone for what it is like to be a part of CBC: meeting and working with extremely passionate people – from budding writers to leading agents and bestselling authors. A few other moments that stand out are…

  • Jonny Geller and Elif Shafak visiting our students to share their wisdom (Elif even talked about how she often listens to heavy metal when writing).
  • Carrying in bricks to (seamlessly) prop up the whiteboard we used when filming with Cynan Jones for our Writing Short Stories course. Cynan went on to draw a very fetching swan – if you’ve taken the course, you’ll know.
  • After filming Writing a Memoir, I caught the tube back into central London with the wonderful Cathy Rentzenbrink, we talked about writing and how Twitter can actually be a really vibrant and productive community for writers (I’m biased, because I love running our account and #WriteCBC every month).

Danni Georgiou, Team Assistant

Although I am still fairly new to the CBC team, my time here has already been filled with so many exciting experiences! One of these has been the Discoveries Prize, a development programme for which we and the Curtis Brown Literary Agency have partnered with the Women's Prize Trust and NatWest to run.

The programme is open to unpublished female writers of all ages and backgrounds (currently residing in the UK or Ireland), its aim is to offer support to those at the beginning of their writing journeys. For the inaugural prize we had over 2,300 applications! Alongside a team of other publishing professionals, I helped read and select applicants, whittling them down to 25 novels to put forward to the judging panel. This was an extremely hard but rewarding task, as we had so many truly talented and deserving applicants! Since then, a shortlist of six writers has been announced, and the winner will be revealed on 9 June.

Most of my time with CBC has been working remotely, and although we’ve still managed to meet up for the occasional team day, I am so excited to see the return of London-based courses. I can’t wait to officially meet students and tutors in person, and experience all this team has to offer!

Read more about the past ten years of CBC by exploring our timeline.

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