We blogged a couple of weeks ago about Curtis Brown Creative’s current golden girl – former novel-writing student Kate Hamer – and the fabulous two-book deal she (and Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens) secured with Faber & Faber on the strength of her debut novel The Girl in the Red Coat. But many of our readers (including this deal-less blogger) are eager to know how Kate went from arriving at the CBC course with a first draft to basking in the glory of a deal with a major publisher in less than two years. Luckily, Kate was only too happy to tell us.
Had you done much writing before signing up to the Curtis Brown Creative Autumn 2011 novel-writing course?
I’d written bits and pieces since I was a child – I think that’s a pretty common story – and I’d done all kinds of writing for TV and radio when I worked in the media. I also wrote short stories and I’d just started a creative-writing MA at Aberystwyth University. And when I won the Rhys Davies Short Story Prize in 2011 that gave me a lot of confidence – because, before that, I was writing into a bit of a cavern. I was bringing up children, I was working, I was keeping a roof over our heads, that sort of thing. And writing came in between all of that.
What convinced you to take the course?
I was at a point where I felt it was time to put all my eggs in one basket and really go for it. I applied for the course and, when I got on, I decided that if writing was what I wanted to do with my life – which it was – I just had to find a way to make it work. Obviously, I knew about Curtis Brown as a literary agency and I thought the experience of being in the heart of the publishing world was going to be invaluable. I didn’t really have to think about it too much.
What sort of shape was The Girl in the Red Coat in when you began the course?
I arrived at the course with a fairly worked-out beginning and a rough draft of all the rest – pretty rough in places. Though the plot, the characters and all that sort of thing stayed as they were, it was the nuances that changed. I do remember having one really big Eureka moment with Anna Davis. She asked me quite a technical question about one of my characters – about the viewpoint from which she was telling the story – and I didn’t really want to answer it. But, afterwards, I realised that sort of question does have to be addressed. That was very important for me. It made me really grow up as a writer.
How useful was the workshopping process – when you would submit extracts from your novel to be critiqued by your fellow students?
Workshopping the novel with people who were interested in the same things as me and took the writing process very seriously was invaluable. They would ask questions about characters’ motivations and query anything they weren’t clear about; and having that outside view coming in to what you’d done quite privately until then was just amazing. Everybody was in the same boat, which I think was really nice. We were all trying to do the same thing and people were very, very supportive. It was a fantastic atmosphere. We were a really diverse group – there were people from all different backgrounds and ages and everything – and I think that was really healthy. We carried on meeting after the course had finished, too.
And how did you motivate yourself to finish the book?
I didn’t really need motivating. I think I just had the bit between my teeth. I didn’t set myself a word target or a certain number of hours a day, I just worked every spare moment I had. But in the last six months or so before I submitted it, I really made the decision to go for it. I didn’t take on any more work. My husband was really supportive and I couldn’t have done it without him, but we did get pretty close to the bone. I remember when I sent the final version off to my agent Alice Lutyens, I just thought, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t really got a plan B.’ That was the first time I’d allowed myself that thought.
Since your book deal was announced, several people in the industry have singled out The Girl in the Red Coat’s convincing dual narrative for praise. How did you manage to carry off this notoriously tricky device?
If I went back to myself at the beginning, I might say ‘Do you know what, that’s quite ambitious.’ But that’s how I envisaged the narrative in my head and because I was quite new to novel-writing, it didn’t frighten me. I don’t think I quite realised how ambitious I was being. Saying that, because the novel is the story of a mother and a daughter, I think a dual narrative is the only way you can tell it.
And how are things going with that second novel?
I’m already stuck into my next book. I think the writing process is just as pleasurable this time around – maybe even more so because you’ve got a bit of validation behind you and more confidence in what you’re doing. I feel incredibly lucky to have found such a wonderful agent as Alice and to be signed by such a legendary house as Faber.
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.