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Writing Crime & Thrillers – Advanced

Work on your crime novel or psychological thriller with dedicated online teaching from a genre expert and award-winning author.


Mar 21 2022 - May 30 2022


Taught via live webinars and workshops on our Learn platform

Selective Entry

We'll offer places to 15 writers whose work shows promise


Advanced genre-led course


Are you plotting the perfect murder – perhaps in the mode of Tana French, Richard Osman or Abir Mukherjee? Or maybe you’re channelling Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins to craft your suspense novel? On this high-level course for people writing crime fiction and psychological thrillers, Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year award-winning author Sarah Hilary will draw you deep into the workings of your genre and reveal the tricks and techniques that can help you take your novel to the next level.

You’ll join a group of 15 crime/thriller writers, tutored by Sarah, for flexibly-timed weekly writing workshops delivered on our bespoke online learning platform, plus live group teaching sessions via Zoom covering important genre-topics, and an in-depth one-to-one tutorial with Sarah towards the end of the course.

Students will also take part in an exclusive Zoom webinar with Sunday Times Number One bestselling author Clare Mackintosh and her Curtis Brown literary agent Sheila Crowley. And at the end of the course, you’ll be invited to share the opening of your novel informally with the agent teams at Curtis Brown and C&W – and then with our specially curated selection of top UK literary agents working in your genre.

For those not familiar with Zoom, it’s a video conferencing technology that enables you to meet up virtually with others. By using video and audio, you’ll be able to connect with your class and experience Sarah’s teaching live as if you were all in the same room. You’ll be able to ask questions and give your thoughts, ensuring the natural back-and-forth you’d encounter in the classroom – and the CBC team will be on hand to help if you have any problems.

The course is a great next step for those who have taken CBC’s six-week online Writing Crime Fiction or Writing a Psychological Thriller courses – though it’s also suitable for anyone who is working on a crime novel or thriller, irrespective of whether you’ve studied with us before. To get the best out of the course, you’ll need to be able to spend around seven hours per week on your writing, reading other students’ work and completing homework set by Sarah in addition to attending the classes.

We’ve been helping writers tell their stories for the past ten years. Since launching in 2011 over 150 of our former students have gone on to get major publishing deals for their novels, including award-winning and bestselling crime and thriller writers, such as Jane Harper, Caz Frear, Nicholas Searle, Jenny Quintana, Heidi Perks, Alice Clark Platts, S D Sykes and Jo Jakeman. You can read more about our online course success stories here.

While we can’t guarantee publication or representation, we lavish our expertise on our students. The agents of Curtis Brown and C&W are hungry for new authors and will be actively looking for clients among our writers.

‘Sarah Hilary’s advice fundamentally shifted my novel and I’m so, so grateful.’ 

– Marilyn J, former Writing a Psychological Thriller student


Sarah Hilary, Author

Sarah’s debut, Someone Else's Skin, won the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2015 and was a World Book Night selection as well as a Richard & Judy Book Club pick. Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry. As well as writing, Sarah teaches crime fiction and mentors its rising stars including Nadine Matheson. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize.


Teaching Sessions

Explore your genre

On six Wednesday evenings, Sarah will welcome the group for a 90-minute Zoom class, covering topics of significance to crime and thriller writers, such as how to plot a mystery, build suspense and construct a killer twist.

Writing Workshops

Led by your tutor

You'll get a dedicated workshop centring on the opening 3,000 words from your novel-in-progress with your tutor and the group. These sessions offer in-depth written feedback and are also designed to help develop your editing skills.

One-to-One Tutorial

Work closely with Sarah on your material

You’ll get a 45-minute one-to-one tutorial with Sarah, conducted via Zoom or phone, based on a 3,000-word section of your novel plus a one-page synopsis to articulate the plot. This is a great opportunity to address specific concerns about your work.

Industry Masterclass

Hear from a bestselling author and her agent

Students will take part in a special 90-minute Zoom masterclass with bestselling author Clare Mackintosh and her agent Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown. They will share their experiences and answer your questions about writing and publishing.

Student Forum

A hub for your writing community

We have developed a bespoke learning platform exclusively for our students. Here you can give and receive workshop feedback, and discuss the teaching topics with your fellow students and tutor.

End of Course Submission

Share your work with top literary agents

At the end of the course all students will be invited to submit the 3,000-word opening of their novel, plus a synopsis, to be shared first with the agent teams at CB and C&W - and then with our selection of top UK agents from across the industry. This is not a formal submission but a chance to give the agents a taste of your work at this stage.


We pride ourselves on the tightly knit writing communities that are established on our courses. As well as getting feedback on extracts from your own novel during the course, we’ll be asking you to read the work of your 14 fellow students week by week, and provide constructive written comments in our online discussion space. We find this process helps students develop their own inner editor and has a hugely positive impact on their own writing. On each of five weeks, three students will submit 3,000-word extracts from their novels-in-progress to be workshopped by the rest of the group and the tutor. Each student gets one workshop focused on their work during the course.


Our application form asks some questions about you and your writing – and it also asks you to send us the first 3,000 words of the crime novel or thriller you’re working on and a one-page synopsis.

Places will be offered to the strongest applicants with promising work, as selected by the CBC team. The final deadline for applications is midnight Sunday 20 Feb and we will reply to all candidates by Thursday 24 Feb.

The course fee of £960 per student is payable by bank transfer or cheque. Funds must reach our bank account before the course begins.

Please upload your application via the form at the end of this page. If you encounter any problems during the application process, or have any questions about the course, please email for assistance.


Students of this course are invited to join our alumni community, meaning that when this course finishes you’ll be able to access a range of exclusive writing services, available only to the alumni of our selective courses. These services include individual mentoring from some of our most experienced tutors (you get to choose your supervisor from the available tutors), a five-day alumni summer school, editorial reports on your completed novel, submission reports on your ‘pitch package’ and coaching from experienced practitioners. If you’d like further details about these services, and current prices, before applying to this course, you can email us on .

Additionally, any students from our selective course who want to formally submit their novels to agents from Curtis Brown or C&W will be given advice and support from the Curtis Brown Creative team with their submission. Full information about this free service is provided during the course.


The Breakthrough Crime & Thriller Scholarship will award one talented writer of limited financial means a fully paid place on this course. If you’re without the financial means to attend a Curtis Brown Creative course, this scholarship opportunity is for you. To submit your application for the scholarship place please fill in the form found here. Deadline Sunday 27 February.

The scholarship is part of the Breakthrough Writers’ Programme, a major outreach initiative offering opportunities to under-represented writers.

Guest Session

This course offers an exciting guest speaker session on Zoom with Sunday Times Number One bestselling crime and thriller author Clare Mackintosh and her agent Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown.

Course Schedule

The course will take place online and teaching will be split between the weekly writing workshops on our online learning platform – and live Zoom sessions. Teaching begins at 7pm UK-time and will run until 8.30pm on Wednesday evenings on the dates listed below (in the same way that classes would happen in our offices).




Mon 21 March – Fri 25 March

Introductions and intention-setting in the online forum.


Wed 23 March, 7-8.45pm

Welcome Zoom session with Sarah Hilary and CBC’s Director Anna Davis. Students will introduce themselves and their novels-in-progress, having a go at a short pitch. Sarah will kick the course into action with some teaching on openings.



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Structure and plotting + writing workshops

Mon 28 March – Fri 1 April

Sarah kicks off the week by posting some thoughts and encouragement to the students, then opens the writing workshops for three students, which will run flexibly across the week in the online forum, based on 3,000-word extracts from their novels.

Wed 30 March – 7-8.30pm

In this live Zoom session, Sarah considers how to work within genre expectations when it comes to structuring your novel – and whether or not to subvert them. She also talks about how to make the dreaded synopsis work for you when it comes to plotting and planning.

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Writing Workshops

Mon 4 April – Fri 8 April

Sarah starts the week by posting to the students, then opens the writing workshops for three students, which will run flexibly across the week in the online forum.

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Easter break

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Suspense, clues and misdirection + writing workshops

Tues 19 April – Fri 22 April

Sarah gives her weekly post, then opens the writing workshops for three students, which will run flexibly across the week in the online forum.

Wed 20 April – 7-8.30pm

In this live Zoom session, Sarah talks about how you can use suspense to keep the reader on the very edge of their seat, as well as the setting of clues and red herrings. She also covers the difference between surprise and suspense, exploring the idea of the ‘unguessable’ twist versus the slow building of tension.

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Writing workshops

Mon 25 April – Fri 29 April

Sarah posts to the students, then opens three writing workshops, which will run flexibly across the week in the online forum.

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Protagonist, antagonist and suspects + writing workshops

Tues 3 May – Fri 6 May

Sarah posts to the students, then opens three writing workshops, which will run flexibly across the week in the online forum.

Wed 4 May – 7-8.30pm

In this live Zoom session, Sarah talks about how to develop a protagonist who will carry readers on their journey – and an antagonist and list of suspects who will fascinate readers and keep them guessing until the denouement.



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Guest speaker session + individual tutorials

Mon 9 May – Fri 13 May

Sarah gives her weekly post to the group in the online forum, and five students get individual 45-minute tutorials with her on Zoom, based on 3,000 words and their one-page synopsis.

Wed 11 May – 7-8.30pm

In this live Zoom session hosted by a member of the CBC team, bestselling author Clare Mackintosh and her agent Sheila Crowley discuss the author-agent relationship, and the writing and publishing of crime and thrillers, as well as answering students’ questions.

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Forward momentum and editing + individual tutorials

Mon 16 May – Fri 20 May

Sarah posts to the group in the online forum, and five students get individual 45-minute tutorials with her on Zoom, based on 3,000 words and their one-page synopsis.

Wed 18 May – 7-8.30pm 

In this live Zoom session, Sarah talks to the group about what to do at those stages of the writing process when you lose confidence and your novel starts to unravel. She also talks about how to edit your work, and about preparing your material to share with the agents.

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Course conclusion

Mon 23 May – Fri 27 May

Sarah posts to the group in the online forum for the last time, and five students get individual 45-minute tutorials with her on Zoom, based on 3,000 words and their one-page synopsis.

Wed 25 May – 7-8.30pm 

In this live Zoom session, Sarah and the group – along with a member of the CBC team – draw the course to a close with  some concluding thoughts and advice on next steps. There’s a last chance for students to practise pitching, and for them to ask their final questions.

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Ready your submission

Mon 30 May

Students to submit 3,000-word opening and one-page synopsis to be read by the Curtis Brown and C&W literary agents.

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Ready to apply?

Please apply with the first 3,000 words of the novel you’d like to work on during the course, and a synopsis of no more than a page (both need to be in the same document, as you can only upload ONE file in the application below). The CBC team will select applicants based on the quality of the writing sample provided. The deadline for applications is midnight, end of day Sunday 20 February, and we will respond to applicants by Thursday 24 February.

Not quite ready?

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  • Contact Details

    Please provide some essential details so we can get in touch with you about your application. We won't share this data.
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  • About You and Your Writing

    We'd like to learn a bit about you and your writing. Don’t worry if you haven’t done much writing before, please fill out in as much detail as possible. We won't share this data.
  • Date Format: DD slash MM slash YYYY
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    Please upload your synopsis and opening 3,000 words in one document. Only PDF, TXT and DOC files accepted, file size must be less than 8mb