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11 March 2015

Purple prose for The Girl in the Red Coat

by Wei Ming Kam

What a start to the year for ex-Curtis Brown Creative writing school student Kate Hamer. Four years after she completed our creative writing courses, she began 2015 listed as one of The Observer’s ‘New faces of fiction’. Given its eye for brilliant new talent, this annual round-up of debut authors to watch has always been a good predictor of success – the equivalent of giving rocket fuel to Usain Bolt. Last year it featured Jessie Burton (also a former CBC student) and Emma Healey, who went to the top of the bestseller lists with The Miniaturist and Elizabeth is Missing, respectively.

‘Kate’s writing is lyrical and emotional. Carmel, the child in her story, arrived at Curtis Brown Creative already fully formed in her memorable application material – wandering dreamily off into a maze while her mother searched for her desperately,’ says Anna Davis, director of Curtis Brown Creative. ‘Across the three months of the course, Kate interrogated her story and reconfigured her narrative, but the mother and child at the heart of it all remained just as they were at the start – brilliantly conceived and rendered with passion.’

Released on 26 February, Kate’s novel The Girl In The Red Coat (represented by Curtis Brown agent Alice Lutyens) has been garnering plenty of press-praise since its launch. It’s been featured in The Metro and The Sun, and was said to be ‘pulse-racing’ by Grazia and ‘increasingly addictive’ by Heat. It’s a brilliant addition to the current crop of ‘domestic noir’, with author Matt Haig praising its ‘striking imagery and chilling atmosphere… conjur[ing] mystery with such grace, cool beauty and urgent suspense it never feels like a debut.’

A recurring theme seems to be people’s inability to put the book down – The Guardian’s Celeste Ng said she read it in two sittings, while Isabel Berwick enthused about it in The Financial Times, saying it ‘keeps the reader hooked — and awake into the small hours.’ Fantastic! We do hope they managed to catch up on sleep though.

Kate’s subtle handling of the book’s dual narrative – in which a mother and her abducted daughter tell their sides of an increasingly gripping story – impressed her tutors and fellow students on the CBC novel-writing course back in 2011, and it’s these two confident voices that are wowing readers and reviewers now. ‘The real heart of the book is… its explorations of grief and how we weather it,’ says Celeste Ng in her Guardian review. ‘What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.’

‘Carmel has a rich inner life and is scathing about adults who see children as having minds that are as simple as a mouse’s,’ said Kate in The Mail on Sunday last weekend. ‘I firmly believe that children’s inner lives can be as varied and packed as any adult’s.’

Thrillingly, even Kazuo Ishiguro is eager to read Kate’s novel. ‘My wife has been relentlessly telling me to read a new British debut thriller called The Girl in the Red Coat,’ he says in last Thursday’s New York Times. ‘While she was reading it I did notice she wasn’t quite herself. She kept saying it was so disturbing she wanted to stop, but then it was impossible to stop. I now have to find out if she was being hysterical.’

We can’t wait to hear what he thinks.

The Girl In the Red Coat by Kate Hamer (Faber) is out now.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our selective three- and six-month 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.

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