18 December 2013

Join the club

by Rufus Purdy From Our Students, Our Courses

You can’t underestimate a strong group mentality. Sir Alex Ferguson made it his life’s work to foster a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ among his Manchester United players, to bring them closer and make them work harder for each other. Soldiers often talk of the unbreakable bonds forged in wartime. And, personally, some of the closest friends I’ve ever made come from a period in which I was part of the team that launched a new magazine in the UK; when we spent our days intensively forming its identity and nights drinking away our wages in the terrible wine bar opposite the workplace.

And it’s this sense of being part of a group that has been the happiest side-effect of the Curtis Brown Creative courses we’ve run so far. Our students may arrive as individuals, anxiously glancing at their fellow aspiring novelists and wondering whether others in the group will be cleverer or better writers than them, but they leave three to six months later as part of a solid unit. A group that has been through much together, has been pushed to its limits and has grown closer as a result.

‘One year on, we still meet every month to read and comment on each others work, employing the model of the workshop-style sessions that helped us so much during the course,’ says Theresa Howes, who attended the Autumn 2011 Novel-Writing Course along with authors Tim Glencross and Kate Hamer (debut novels to be published in 2014-15). ‘We set writing exercises for each other, impose deadlines, and offer support and encouragement. We’re no longer just that group of strangers who eyed each other up nervously the first time we met in the reception of the Curtis Brown offices; we’ve become friends.’

The very first group of CBC students – which contained authors Jessie Burton, Catherine Chanter and Antonia Honeywell, all to be published in 2014-15 – also meet regularly, nearly three years on, and many of them went on an Italian writing retreat together. Several members of Theresa’s group travelled to the Isle of Wight to spend time writing together and even those who’ve just completed our first Online Novel-Writing Course have formed their own post-CBC writing group. Indeed, though their friendships were formed entirely on the Internet, several of the group met up recently in London to test the relationships they’d built up in the real world.

‘I feel that I have made 14 new friends as a result of the course,’ says Jon Teckman, who studied on the Six-Month Novel-Writing Course earlier this year. And coursemate Eleanor Maxfield agrees: ‘Now I have the confidence to say writing is and always will be a part of my life. More importantly, I have an army of writing friends to help me through the process.’

‘Our group has been absolutely incredible,’ says Antoinette di Michele, whose Autumn 2013 Novel-Writing Course group meets for the final time under the CBC banner tonight. ‘We’ve come together as a group, and there is a huge amount of support and generosity among us. We came together quickly, which is what you need to get to that place where you really tell each other like it is from a nurturing, constructive, and understanding place. We went from zero to old married couple in about two or three weeks.’

It’s not just about friendship, though. As Curtis Brown Creative selects only the best candidates on its courses, anyone who’s invited to take up a place is guaranteed to be working alongside 14 other incredibly strong writers – people whose opinions and judgement are sure to have a positive impact on their work. Our former students continue to meet socially, yes; but they also come together to workshop material and drive their novels forward with the trusted peer group they first met in our offices or on our online platform.

‘I found the democracy that was nurtured across such a diverse collection of personalities to be the most fruitful thing of all,’ says James Hannah, who went on from the Autumn 2011 Novel-Writing Course to find representation for his novel The A to Z of You and Me at our sister agency Conville & Walsh. ‘Seriously: how often will an established fiftysomething professional face the opportunity of discussing his or her work on a completely equal footing with an honest, intense twentysomething graduate?’

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our 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.

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