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Maria Realf: how my writing course led to a book deal

BY Jack Hadley
8th Jan 2018

Maria Realf took our London-based novel-writing course back in 2012, and was in the same student cohort as bestselling YA author Lisa Williamson. Maria has had an interesting journey to publication. Her debut novel The One was first sold in Germany, where it became a bestseller. Now, with HarperCollins shortly to publish in the English language, we caught up with Maria to find out more...Had you done much writing before signing up to the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course? I’ve loved reading and writing pretty much my whole life – English and Media Studies were my two favourite subjects at school, and then I did a degree in Multi-media Journalism. After that I moved to London and worked on a staff or freelance basis for some great magazines, including The Mail on Sunday’s YOU magazine,Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. But writing a novel seemed like a completely different kettle of fish, so I decided to take the CBC course and learn how to do it properly. When did you first say to yourself; ‘I want to write a novel – I want to get published’? And what turned you on to the idea of applying to the Curtis Brown Creative course? I’d dreamed about writing a novel for years, but I clearly remember the moment when I decided to do something about it. I’d spotted a creative writing competition offering a chance to study at CBC, and on a whim I decided to enter for fun. My first effort was very raw, I now realise, and obviously it didn’t win! But the seed was sown, so I decided to save up and apply for the course anyway. What sort of shape was The One in when you began the course in 2012? It didn’t exist! I came to CBC with a totally different idea for a contemporary thriller, and by the end of the course I’d managed to write around 20,000 words. But frustratingly I began to feel as if that book was running out of steam, and eventually I had to make the difficult decision to park it and start afresh. That’s perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned as a new author – that sometimes you have to let go in order to move forward. But pages are never really wasted, as it’s all good writing practice. How useful was the workshopping process – when you would submit extracts from your novel to be critiqued by your fellow students? It was incredibly helpful: everyone was encouraging and respectful, but they were great at giving constructive criticism and picking up on things I might have missed. I struck the jackpot with my particular set of classmates, and after the course ended, several of us stayed in touch and formed our own writing group. Of those, three of us now have new novels coming out in 2018, and I’m sure there will be more in future. How did you motivate yourself to finish the book? It might sound cheesy, but I really did just try to take it one chapter at a time. Being part of the writing group massively helped, as I didn’t want to be the only one slacking off! So what happened between finishing the course and getting the book deal? There was a long gap between me finishing the course and actually landing a book deal. I ended up changing direction and had to start over from scratch. After leaving CBC, I continued to meet up with my writing group, who have been a huge source of support. Later on, I found my fantastic agent Judith Murray, and worked hard on what is now The One until we finally felt ready to pitch it to publishers. It quickly went to auction in Germany, where it launched last summer and spent five consecutive weeks on the bestseller list. More recently, I’ve signed deals for the English language rights and a Portuguese edition. What would you say to a budding novelist who has either finished – or is part way through – their novel, and is uncertain of their next step? If you really believe in your book, I’d definitely invest in yourself and your novel by applying to a good course. One thing that stood out for me at CBC was the calibre of the tutors and guest speakers: my tutors Christopher Wakling and Anna Davis were excellent, and in our group we enjoyed talks by authors such as Jojo Moyes, Tracy Chevalier and Jeffrey Archer, all of whom know what it takes to write a bestseller. Also, learning about the ‘business’ side of the industry was invaluable – it’s no good writing a killer story if you don’t know how to pitch it. Finally, I’d say never give up: it might feel like it’s taking forever, and rejection is an inevitable part of the process, but the moment you hold your first book in your hands it’s all worth it! The One by Maria Realf will be published digitally and in paperback by HarperImpulse on 22 March 2018.For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Sunday 21 January).Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Sunday 28 January).For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for: Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sunday 4 February).We are also offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ online courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis: Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 5 February).Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).