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Cynthia Murphy: 'I knew that I wanted to write something scary but also fun'

BY Katie Smart
28th Jul 2020

We're over the moon to share the news that Cynthia Murphy is our 100th former student with a major publishing deal. In honour of this huge milestone, we've got lots of exciting celebratory content coming your way, so please join us on social media by following the hashtag: #CBC100Authors! (Twitter @cbcreative and Instagram @curtisbrowncreative)

Cynthia was a student on our Writing YA & Children's Fiction course back in 2015. She went on to gain representation from Curtis Brown's Stephanie Thwaites and it has just been announced that her debut YA novel Last One to Die will be published by Scholastic in 2021.

Read on to find out more about Cynthia's time on our course and how Point Horror inspired her to write Last One to Die – a YA horror story for the social media age...

You were a student on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2015 – how did the course change your approach to writing?

It took me from being a solitary writer to one with a trusted group of critique partners, cheerleaders and just all-around good eggs. There’s something very special about children’s writers and I feel so lucky that I was placed with this group. I also left with a sense of ‘I can do this’, especially after my chats with the lovely Catherine Johnson. During one call, she told me that whatever ‘it’ was, I had it. That vote of confidence has stayed with me, even when I felt like throwing the towel in.

Many writers find a group of trusted readers on our courses, are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

Yes! We have hired a house to meet up and talk writing in the past and been to book launches together. Many have had successes and my bookshelves have a special spot dedicated to them! One of my course mates also started the juggernaut that is #WriteMentor and I am mentoring two YA writers through the programme this summer.

You’re represented by Curtis Brown literary agent Stephanie Thwaites; how did you know that she was the right agent for you and your work?

Stephanie was pretty much my dream agent on paper and when she called me on the phone after reading the initial chapters of my manuscript, I couldn’t believe my luck. She just immediately got it, got me and wanted to shout about it. When she jumped on a train to Manchester, presented me with a bottle of ‘Mourner’s Tears’ that she had made and told me her creative pitch for the novel, I was over the moon.

Your debut novel Last One to Die will be published by Scholastic. How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be a published novelist?

Thrilled. I am not often lost for words, but after almost eight years of writing and three other manuscripts that didn’t work, I’d finally achieved my dream and I’m still not sure how to articulate it! I wish I could go back and tell 13-year-old me that we did it, as much of a cliché as that is. It’s a lifelong dream come true.

Last One to Die is a YA horror novel and you’ve mentioned that Point Horror has been a big influence for you. Can you tell us a bit more about your debut, and the inspiration behind it?

Last One to Die came about after a huge writing slump. I was actually trying to write something else when I started listening to a podcast called Lore and an episode about a creepy Victorian villain; Spring Heeled Jack. I had never heard of him, but it planted a little seed which I kept coming back to. I shelved what I was writing and started to brainstorm a teen horror. I have always been a huge fan of anything remotely scary so went and re-watched all of the classics from my teens – Scream, Final Destination, The Craft – and I knew that I wanted to write something scary but also fun. I wanted to recapture that feeling I had as a teen where I was thrilled to be terrified!

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Honestly, I am the worst person to answer this! I work in education full time and that means I don’t have a writing schedule as such – I am not a get-up-at-5am-and-write-for-an-hour person (I wish I was!) Unlike others, though, this book flew out of me – I was writing it on aeroplanes (infact, I queried it from a hotel room in Tokyo), when my husband was driving us to see friends, on a train in Italy, at every spare moment I had at the weekend and in holidays…just whenever it felt right. I can write ten thousand words in a weekend or nothing for two months – it all depends on the story and my workload.

Do you have an advice for aspiring authors working on horror?

Research, research, research. Whether that’s reading or watching films, listening to podcasts or following Twitter accounts, try to ground the horror in reality somehow. For me, that’s when it’s the most frightening…

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

I have signed a two-book deal with Scholastic, so I’m in the plotting phase for book two and will start to write it over the summer holidays. I’m sticking with what I know and creating another Point Horror style thriller - oh and listening to a LOT of podcasts about poison…

Get your hands on a copy of Last One to Die.

Or get your hands on Cynthia's second novel Win Lose Kill Die.