09 May 2019

Melanie Cantor: ‘Accept that failure is part of your path’

Melanie Cantor, email
by Melanie Cantor Writing Tips

Melanie Cantor is represented by Curtis Brown’s very own Felicity Blunt. Melanie’s debut novel Death and Other Happy Endings comes out this June Transworld (UK) Penguin (US). The novel is a heartwarming read which explores one women’s journey as she deals with her terminal diagnosis – If your life was going to end tomorrow, what would you do today?

Here Melanie discusses her path to publication and offers her guidance to aspiring authors on how to choose the right course.

I’m going to come clean with you.  I’m an addict. It’s odd really.  I don’t have an addictive personality.  I thought my first would be my last.  But that’s what all addicts say, isn’t it?  So yes! I’m a writing course addict.  It happened by stealth.  After the first one I thought, enough! How much is there to learn?  But then the second one became inevitable and after several years of trying to get published, I realise there is no end to the learning.  Ever!  Even when you finally make it (Death & Other Happy Endings, Bantam Press 13 June).

It all began with Google – doesn’t everything? Back in 2007, I typed in writing courses, scrolled down the long list and thought: how about writing courses abroad?  That was how I ended up in France.  My first course was in a beautiful location with only two other writers.  The tutor was accompanied by her husband.  Turns out this was her friends’ house with the friends (charming folk and she a great cook) still in residence.  I listened to rules and arcs and acts I could barely comprehend, learning more about the strange machinations of this woman’s marriage; the tensions, the drinking, the bad driving.  It was fascinating but not what I had in mind.

The following year, still grappling with arcs and acts, I thought to apply for a more serious course: one held in Oxford, led by a marvellous man called Jem Poster, a one man lesson in articulacy managing never to say ah or um in a sentence. This proved to be a highly informative week. Held at Corpus Christi College, it allowed me a taste of Oxford student life, (so very privileged) and invigorated my writing ambition.

That was when I thought I was done.  I didn’t feel I should do any more courses.  I felt I must be stupid if I needed more.  Until it dawned on me: I could take as many courses as I needed.  It was my choice.  My purse.

From quick fix weekends to a remarkable retreat in France, each experience offered something different. I met amazing like-minded people, I learned more than about arcs, acts and marital failure. Even one of the less stimulating weekends gave rise to a student sharing something so simple and valuable it made the pointlessness worthwhile: send your manuscript to your Kindle. After that, I was hooked.

So, on the basis of this, if you’d like some course tips from a hardened user, then:

  • Choose your courses carefully. They are not cheap.  If they are, you should ask yourself why.  And if the person leading is a debut author who had his first manuscript picked up which then went on to become a bestseller and a movie, he might be a jammy bastard but he won’t necessarily be a teacher.
  • Understand that you are more likely to fail than be like the jammy bastard. Accept that failure is part of your path.  It will make you a better writer and a more appreciative author.  If you’ve found your true passion, someone will eventually find you.  Never give up!
  • You have chosen to be a writer. As such, you are putting yourself out there, laying yourself open to criticism.  Accept this.  You will probably be asked to read your work aloud, several times if you’re on a long-term course.  Don’t be coy.  Go for it.  Be proud that you’ve made it to the table.

CBCers.  Enjoy the ride.  It’s going to be a bumpy one but hang on tight and it will be worth every crazy, frustrating, exhilarating twist, turn and cliffhanger.

Pre-order Death and Other Happy Endings.

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