Whenever possible, and with the help of outside sponsors, we at Curtis Brown Creative aim to provide a fully funded place on our creative writing courses for writers of limited financial means. This autumn HW Fisher very generously agreed to offer a scholarship on our Three-Month Novel-Writing Course with Erin Kelly. HW Fisher are a top London chartered accountancy firm providing services to many published authors. We received nearly 100 applications for this one place – so the competition was pretty stiff – but eventually we decided to award the scholarship to London-based writer Max Mueller (above), whose novel-in-progress The Paper Lily impressed us with its stylish writing and evocations of Western Europe in the 1920s. We asked Max a few questions about himself, his writing, and what he hopes to learn on the Curtis Brown Creative writing course:
What made you first start writing? Or have you always written?
I used to write lots of satirical short stories at school, mostly about my teachers. That didn’t go down too well, so I didn’t get much encouragement in that direction. In my thirties I started writing short stories again and did a creative-writing masters at Goldsmiths. I’d forgotten how much fun it was.
Who are your literary influences? I thought I could detect similarities with Fitzgerald and Isherwood in your 3,000-word submission.
It’s true, Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favourites. I also really like Hemingway, against my better judgment, as I’m sure I would have disliked him immensely as a person. I love Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London, too – I seem to be stuck in the past.
When did the inspiration for The Paper Lily come to you?
Early on in Hemingway’s Fiesta, a character called ‘Count M.’ is described as having no values and being ‘quite dead’. I thought it might be interesting to have a central character that has been incredibly brutalised by what he’s seen in WW1, to the point where he is emotionally dead, and pit him against someone who has seen very little of the war but enough to make him want to live life to the full. Make them former enemies who become friends in the swinging Twenties, and throw in a love-interest with lots of money…
You’ve written radio plays as well as short stories and this novel – is your writing the same in different media? Has writing for radio changed your writing habits?
It’s probably more or less the same across different media; it’s generally quite old-fashioned, I think. I like dialogue, so that helped with writing for radio. I love eavesdropping on people (despicable, I know) because I’m probably quite nosy but also because I love imagining what their lives must be like, just from overhearing a short exchange.
Your novel is partly concerned with the fallout from the First World War: is it useful to be fluent in German and English for researching how both sides dealt with the trauma?
I was brought up in Germany but have spent most of my life in London. I noticed early on that speaking in different languages also meant I thought differently – that my way of looking at things as someone German was somehow different to my outlook as a ‘British’ person. So the original idea behind the novel was to write two books – one in English, from the British protagonist’s point of view, and one in German – and that both accounts of the same events would be radically different. The story is really about how we’re unable to ever truly know another human being. If that sounds overambitious, it probably is!
What did you do to celebrate winning the HW Fisher Scholarship?
Predictably, I went to the pub.
What are you particularly hoping to get out of the novel-writing course?
My characterisation (especially of one of the main characters, Leo) is still too weak in places. I also finally need to make up my mind about the ending. I’m sure the course will give me the inspiration and the tools to tackle both.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our 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.