Former Curtis Brown Creative students Tim Robinson and Sara Sarre, who both attended our recent Six-Month Novel-Writing Course, got in touch this week with wonderful news. Short stories they’ve written have been selected for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of the station’s Stories from the South Downs season. In fact, Sara’s story Ashes to Ashes – read by Drop the Dead Donkey star Haydn Gwynne – actually went out last Sunday, though it’s still available to listen to on BBC Iplayer. Tim’s story Poor Lily-Never-Quite-The-Ticket will be broadcast this Sunday at 7.45pm, and will be read by legendary actress Celia Imrie.
‘My story Poor Lily-Never-Quite-The-Ticket will be performed by Celia Imrie on BBC Radio 4 this Sunday,’ says Tim. ‘And although I am credited as the writer, it is the product of collaboration: most obviously with the producer Celia de Wolff, but more subtly with Anna Davis and Chris Wakling at Curtis Brown Creative, and all the students that attended the course. Let me explain.
‘I started to understand collaboration on the Curtis Brown Creative Six-Month Novel-Writing Course, which I completed in July. Every week we focused on craft: point of view, minor characters, dialogue, etc. And gradually, but quickly too, the things I’d picked up became, as if by magic, unconscious habits. Then there was the workshopping: every week the 15 of us would read a submission (and how clearly you see your mistakes in the work of others) and it dawned on me that when 15 intelligent people identify the same fault in it is unlikely they are wrong. Defend your creation by all means but don’t defend your mistakes.
‘A key moment was with Anna Davis. I said to her: “shall I just drop my first chapter and start on this sentence?” Then I saw she’d already written the same advice on my submission. I looked back and realised that Chris Wakling had said the same thing earlier, but I hadn’t been prepared to accept it at that stage.
‘So when I came to dealing with Celia de Wolff, I listened very carefully to her comments and each time I rewrote, the story improved.
‘Don’t think I’d have done that a year ago.’
‘Tim Robinson introduced me to Celia de Wolff four months into the Curtis Brown Creative Six-Month Novel-Writing Course,’ says Sara. ‘Celia, a radio producer, was looking for people who were familiar with the South Downs for a short story slot on BBC Radio 4. The Downs had been the landscape of my childhood.
‘I already had a story, Ashes to Ashes, that I thought might work, which I’d written while doing an MA in creative writing back in 2009. The MA course had been educational in an academic sense, but had taught me nothing about the “business” of writing. The Curtis Brown Creative course was different. To be honest, it was more like being parented than educated and, like children learning a new language, we were fully immersed in the world of publishing after sitting in the boardroom week after week.
‘What I learnt in that boardroom gave me the courage to tear the original story apart. Several drafts later, I was done and Celia liked it. But then another learning curve began. Celia took the story and gave me fresh ideas on how to give it more depth. The four months I’d spent at Curtis Brown Creative had already taught me that writing isn’t about protecting your ideas, but about sharing them. Celia brought the best out in my story, adding something to it – just as the group, along with Anna Davis and Chris Wakling have added dimensions to my novel.
‘Now the course is over our group still meets up. Ideas are shared, opinions given and problems discussed. We’ve all learned to read and appreciate different styles, and understand that writing a novel is a process that passes through many hands. That’s why there’s often a list of acknowledgments. That’s why when a piece of work is finished it’s a gift.’
To hear both stories, please visit the BBC Radio 4 site. Tim’s story will be available after its broadcast on Sunday evening.
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