Now that I’m fully recovered from the jetlag, Tiger beer, chilli crab and barbecued stingray, it’s time to pen a few words about our 3-Day Novel-Writing Course in Singapore. Curtis Brown Creative had been invited by the National Arts Council of Singapore to run a course for 15 new novelists (selected on the strength of their novels-in-progress) as part of the Singapore Writers’ Festival. It was CBC’s first overseas course, and Jake Arnott and I naturally jumped at the chance!
Jake and I decided to use our three teaching days to maximum effect and to offer the 15 students a full writing ‘toolkit’ to bring to bear on their novels in progress – we covered everything from opening lines to endings, from plotting the story to how to approach agents, and we somehow squeezed in a one-to-one tutorial for each student with each of us as well. The students rose to the challenge admirably. They were a talented and friendly bunch ready to tackle anything we threw at them. Discussions were lively, responses to our writing exercises were fascinating, tutorials were challenging (in a good way!). The students were incredibly diverse, in terms of their ages, backgrounds, careers and level of writing experience – and yet they quickly bonded as a group. There was a truly international feel to this course: Quite a few of the students were writing in their second language, and doing it very well – something I found particularly impressive. Many were writing novels set in Singapore, and wanting to bring a flavour of Singapore to an international readership. Two of the novels were written by students from India, and were set there. Several students wanted to ask us whether overseas readers would understand dialogue written in ‘Singlish’, the Singapore dialect which mixes English with elements of Cantonese, Malay and Tamil. And lots of the writers were exploring ideas about cultural and national identity. These students were avid readers too (it’s always a good thing when aspiring writers are keen readers!) – and there was particular enthusiasm in the group for the novels of Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell.
Our busy teaching schedule didn’t leave much time for exploring Singapore by day, but by night Jake and I undertook a thorough exploration of Singapore’s fantastic restaurants and bars, and met and talked to lots of published authors taking part in the Singapore Writers’ Festival. Singapore-based writers usually set out to secure a deal with a local publisher – and the resulting publication is very often funded in part by grants from the National Arts Council of Singapore (our lovely hosts). For Singaporeans looking to make a career as writers of fiction, the dominant form is the short story, and many writers publish books of short stories rather than novels – very different to the UK. Poetry and self-help are also very big in Singapore. There are not many literary agents working in the region, though the notable exception is the Jacaranda Agency (hosts of the festival’s publishing symposium which I participated in on my final day), which has agents based in Singapore, the Philippines, Kenya and India.
The key message that I wanted to bring to Singapore writers at the festival, was that there is no reason why they shouldn’t approach a UK or US-based agent if they’re writing a novel which has the potential to appeal to an international readership. The way many of us work now – with online and emailed submission systems, mean the days of sending heavy manuscripts overseas by airmail at vast expense are well and truly over. And Skype means that you can have a virtual meeting with a potential agent even though you may be many thousands of miles away. It’s also possible, now, for overseas writers to study with Curtis Brown Creative – our six-month online course, now open for applications, is specially structured to work for students in different time zones. (Though of course you can still study with us in London too, on our next six-month novel-writing course, started February).
Before I sign off, I’d just like to say a big thank you from Curtis Brown Creative to the National Arts Council of Singapore, for this invaluable opportunity, and also to the lovely students of our 3-day course. I hope we’ll be back soon!
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.