It’s been a long wait, but the first book by a former Curtis Brown Creative student is now only a month away from being published. After The Silence by Jake Woodhouse, who honed his story on our third novel-writing course back in spring 2012, will be published by Penguin on 24 April (it’s available to pre-order from here), and will launch the fictional sleuthing career of Dutch detective Inspector Jaap Rykel – a Rebus or Wallander for the Low Countries. After The Silence is the first novel in Jake’s Amsterdam Quartet series, and it’s sure to appeal to fans of quality crime-writing. Here, Jake describes his journey from nervous CBC student to published novelist.
Had you done much writing before signing up to the Curtis Brown Creative Spring 2012 novel-writing course?
After the Silence is my first book, but it had already gone through quite a few drafts before I came onto the course. I’d probably been at it, on and off, for a few years before I got to the stage of thinking ‘what’s next?’.
What convinced you to take the CBC course?
When I got the call from Anna Davis! I’d submitted a few chapters and not really expected to hear back – so it was a fantastic surprise and a real boost.
What stage was your novel at when you joined the course?
Ah well… It was actually finished, which I think was against the rules at the time and I may have neglected to mention that fact. As I said before, I was at the ‘what’s next?’ stage, and the main thing seemed to be to send it out to agents. That’s a scary prospect, and I felt that I really needed to get some proper feedback before making that leap. You only get one shot at it so you’d better get it right; and sending out something which isn’t as good as you can make is probably not the right move.
Did the sessions with your tutors and fellow students make you doubt the direction you were taking with it?
It was actually the opposite. The feedback I received was pretty positive, and it gave me the confidence to get ready for the submission process. The first time my writing was workshopped was about halfway through the course, so I knew what to expect, but it was probably one of the most nerve-racking things any writer can do. I remember Chris Wakling, the tutor, asking for the first comments, and there was – at least it seemed to me – a massive pause before a fellow student something like, ‘Well, I loved it’. I’ve probably never been more grateful in my life.
Were you planning for a quartet of novels at that stage, or were you just concentrating on getting one novel finished?
I’m not really the planning sort. The idea for the quartet came about later, when I’d signed up with my agent. He asked what my plans were, and I kind of panicked and spouted out something about an ongoing story, and I promised to get him the outlines in a few days time. Then I rushed home and started writing. I don’t know if my subconscious had been working away at this or just that pressure can do good things, but the story of the quartet emerged pretty quickly.
What was the most memorable piece of advice you took away from the course?
There was so much good advice that it’s hard to choose, but I do remember Chris Wakling saying something along the lines of publishing being a slow business, and that as a writer you spend a huge amount of time waiting around for people to get back to you; so the best thing you can do is simply get on with the next bit of writing. I’ve found that to be pretty good advice. Though, like many simple things, it’s harder to do than say.
What happened when the course finished and how did you motivate yourself to finish the novel?
When the course finished, I realised I could put it off no longer. So I started the torturous process of preparing to submit. I don’t think anyone going into this should underestimate just how stressful it can be.
Can you take us through how your book deal happened?
I got a call from my agent one morning saying that my manuscript had gone to an editor in Germany the previous afternoon. She’d stayed up all night, read it and called with a pre-empt first thing in the morning. I hadn’t even thought about foreign rights at this stage so it was a fantastic surprise. After that it went to auction in the UK, and I happened to be in the mountains as the clock ticked closer to the deadline. Those final few hours were exciting and terrifying in equal measure.
And how are things going with that second novel?
It’s really coming along. Second novels seem to have a bit of reputation as being difficult but I’ve been enjoying it immensely. When I’m not banging my head against the desk.
What is your writing process?
It’s really just to write, get things flowing. And something I’ve learnt over the last year is not to force it, to allow yourself time off without feeling guilty. I know the usual advice is to write every day, but – you know what? – if that doesn’t suit you, don’t. Take a day off, go and do something different, experience something new or sit at home and stare at a wall. Whatever you want. Just don’t feel guilty about taking a break. You’ll come back refreshed and you’ll write something better, I guarantee.
Do you find it easy to write – or is it something you have to continually work hard at?
When it’s going well it’s the easiest thing in the world. When it’s not it’s the most difficult. And that’s where my advice to go and do something different kicks in.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give aspiring novelists?
It would probably be to write what you want to read, write what makes you laugh, write what makes you cry, just write something that moves you in some way. Then hope that someone else feels the same way.
In a literary world increasingly dominated by ‘brand’ authors and social media/marketing, is it still possible for a novelist to be simply someone who creates good stories?
I certainly hope so! I keep wanting to do a Salinger or a Pynchon, and be this reclusive writer who doesn’t do interviews or promote themselves in any way, but with the ubiquity of Twitter and all that other stuff, I’m not really sure that’s possible. I’m certainly willing to give it my best shot, but everyone keeps on advising me otherwise.
Which other debut novels from your fellow Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing students should we be looking out for?
Plague Land by the wonderful SD Sykes is at the top of my list. I read a bit of it during the workshop parts of the course back in 2012, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the whole thing.
After The Silence by Jake Woodhouse is published by Penguin on 24 April, price £7.99 (paperback) or £4.99 (ebook). If you are interested in taking a Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course, please click here. You’ll have to be quick if you’d like to apply for our Online Novel-Writing Course, though. We close for applications at midnight on Sunday 23 March!