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13 May 2020

Jennifer Harvey: ‘Persevere. It can be a very long journey from writing to publication…’

Jennifer Harvey author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Jennifer Harvey was a student on our popular six-week online Starting to Write Your Novel course in 2016. Now she has a three-book deal with Bookouture!

Read on to find out more about Jennifer’s time studying online with CBC and her debut novel Someone Else’s Daughter

You took our online Starting to Write Your Novel course in 2016 – what was your experience of studying online with us like?

While I had written some short stories and felt comfortable writing pieces of that length – no longer than five thousand words – I wanted to challenge myself and write a novel. In particular, I wanted to see if I could write a psychological thriller, because I felt my weakness as a short story writer was with plot, and I knew that choosing to write in this genre would force me to develop a very clear narrative arc.

I just had no idea how to go about it beyond reading widely within the genre.

When I saw that Curtis Brown Creative had developed an online course for starting a novel I was delighted. It was exactly what I was looking for.

I found the course extremely helpful. The video tutorials from Anna Davis were so clear and informative, and the writing tasks were fun and challenging. The course really helped me understand the mechanics of the three-act structure and how to plot. In particular, I learned the importance of a good opening. I spent quite some time during and after the course honing my opening chapters.

During the six weeks, I discovered that, for me, it helps to have the story laid out before I begin to write. I have always been more of a ‘pantser’ than a ‘plotter’, and while it’s possible to write short stories in a spontaneous fashion, with a novel, having an outline really helped me focus. I was able to break down the story into three parts (basically a beginning, middle and end) and this made the whole thing seem less intimidating and something I could actually accomplish.

Since taking the course I have written two further novels and I still use the techniques I learned on this course. It really was a game changer, for me.

The learning environment is also so friendly, relaxed and supportive, and the feedback I received from my fellow students and from Anna Davis was excellent and so useful. I came away energised and confident that my basic idea for the novel was sound, and this really helped me to finish writing the book.

You have a three-book deal with Bookouture for your debut psychological thriller and two other books. How did you feel when you found out about your publishing deal?

I was over the moon when I received the e-mail from Cara Chimirri, the commissioning editor at Bookouture saying she would like to talk to me about my submission. I think I stared at that email for a good hour before it sank in and I believed it.

Over the course of the year (2019) I had received a lot of positive interest from agents, but none of them felt quite ready to commit. When I saw that it was possible to submit to Bookouture without an agent, I decided to send them Someone Else’s Daughter as I thought it would be a good fit with their list. I really like their approach to publishing – authors can quickly build a back catalogue and grow a readership, and I think this is so important if you want to try and establish and sustain a career as a writer.

The whole team at Bookouture have been very supportive and welcoming and I am so happy to be a part of their list. I am in very good hands with them.

Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel and the inspiration behind it?

In Someone Else’s Daughter a wealthy Manhattan family heads to their vacation home in Montauk for the summer and are joined by their teenage daughter’s friend, Isa. When Isa drowns in suspicious circumstances, friendships are stretched to breaking point as everyone seeks to apportion blame and the dark secrets of their picture-perfect lives are revealed.

The inspiration came during a walk on the beach in Castricum here in The Netherlands. The beach there is pristine, with white sands and rugged, windswept dunes. It was winter, and as I was watching some teenagers goofing about on the beach, I started to think about the dangers that lurk in the currents and the waves. I was taken with the idea that a picture-perfect scene can also harbour darker elements. From that one observation, Isa’s voice came through – a reckless, devil-may-care teenager. And that was it. I had a start I could build on during the Curtis Brown course.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Oh, that depends on what I am writing. I like to write short stories, so if I am working on a short story, I can spend a whole day just mulling over one scene or paragraph. If I’m lucky, inspiration hits, and I can draft a whole story in one sitting.

With the novels I often have short bursts of writing throughout the day, interspersed with lots of faffing about (walks, runs, cooking, tea drinking, reading, social media). It can often take me a whole day to write one thousand words. On a good day, I may hit two thousand words, but I rarely exceed this total.

If it is busy at home, I am very fortunate to live close to the central library in Amsterdam, so I often head there in the mornings to write for a couple of hours before it gets busy. It’s nice sometimes to change the scenery – as long as the place is quiet then I can work.

I also take days off from writing. I try to keep weekends free for family and friends as I think your brain needs a rest and your subconscious needs time to work things through.

If you could only pass on one piece of advice to aspiring authors what would it be?

Persevere. It can be a very long journey from writing to publication and very often your self-belief will take a pounding. I found that meeting other writers online and in real life, be that via social media or through a writing course, is really helpful. Being able to share the ups and downs with people who understand exactly what you are trying to achieve is invaluable and it helps a lot on those days when things feel impossible.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?

My debut Someone Else’s Daughter publishes in June 2020 and after that I have two more titles forthcoming with Bookouture, in October 2020 and May 2021.

I am now working on outlines for two more books and I hope to start writing the first of these in the autumn of 2020, so hopefully there will be news about these new books soon.

Someone Else’s Daughter is available for pre-order now.

For a limited time we’re offering £50 off our six-week online courses with code WRITEFROMHOME50

The discount can be applied to our online Writing Short StoriesWriting a MemoirStarting to Write Your Novel,  Write to the End of Your Novel Edit & Pitch Your Novel and Picture Book courses.

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