Huge congratulations to Laura Marshall (above) – who recently became the 26th student from our creative writing courses to get a publishing deal. Laura took one of our London writing courses taught by Erin Kelly in Autumn 2015 and immediately attracted the attention of Curtis Brown literary agent Felicity Blunt, who worked with her on the novel and went on to sell it to Little, Brown. UK publication is scheduled for Spring 2017.
Laura’s novel is a creepy psychological thriller, in which her main protagonist, Louise, receives a Facebook friend request from someone who had been presumed dead, bringing to the surface long-buried guilt about a schoolmate’s death. Laura’s debut looks set to make a real impact in 2017 and has already been sold in the US, France and Germany, and has been shortlisted for both the Bath Novel Award 2016 and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2016. Here, Laura chats to us about her time on the Curtis Brown Creative course, her writing process and why the internet is becoming an increasingly scarier place.
Your debut novel Friend Request has the wonderfully creepy premise of your main character receiving a Facebook friend request from someone who has supposedly been long dead. Where did this idea initially spring from?
When Facebook first started, I got friend requests from lots of people from school who I would otherwise never have heard from or of again (well, apart from that early noughties phenomenon Friends Reunited!). I began to wonder what it would be like to be contacted on there by someone you really didn’t want to hear from, someone who reminded you of unpleasant memories that you thought you had buried. The idea grew from that.
The internet has become quite a scary place? Were you trying to reflect that at some level?
The internet certainly can be a scary place, but it’s more that I am exploring the idea of who we are online, especially on Facebook. What face we present to the world, and how that can be incredibly different to the reality of our lives. We’ve all looked at Facebook and felt depressed at the seeming wonderful-ness of other people’s lives, but how rooted in reality is that? It can really contribute to your own anxieties about how well (or otherwise) your life is going, forcing you to compare yourself unfavourably with other people.
Are you personally someone who uses social media a lot?
I do use Facebook, but don’t post very much. It’s great for keeping up to date with friends whom I might otherwise have lost touch with, but I am wary of splurging too much personal information online. Twitter I have only recently embraced, thanks in fact to fellow Curtis Brown Creative graduate Antonia Honeywell. When she came to talk to our class in January this year, she recommended getting on there and following writers, publishers and agents, to get a sense of what’s going on in the industry, what books are being talked about etc. She was absolutely right, although I am a bit addicted now.
There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the media recently about the rise of ‘grip-lit’; female authors writing psychological thrillers of the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. How influenced were you by this trend?
I certainly didn’t make a conscious decision to jump on the grip-lit bandwagon. These are the kind of books I have always loved to read, and wanted to write. I’ve never considered writing in any other genre. The idea that they’ve suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the last few years is a bit of a media construct I think. Nicci French and Sophie Hannah have been doing it for years to name just a couple of the writers that I love in this genre.
Your novel shifts between two different time frames; Louise’s present as an adult, and her past as a teenager. What kind of difficulties did these shifts pose to you in the writing process?
In some ways, Louise hasn’t changed that much since she was a teenager. She still has the same insecurities and fears, and I definitely tried to reflect that. I am really interested in how much our experiences in our teenage years inform our adult lives. Obviously the language is a bit different. I read my own teenage diaries for inspiration!
Is Friend Request your first novel, or were there other pieces of work which you’d never finished, or hadn’t shown to anyone?
I started writing a crime novel around 12 years ago, and came back to it now and then over the years, although I never came close to even finishing a first draft. It was a good learning experience but I won’t be getting it out of the drawer!
When did you first say to yourself; ‘I want to write a novel – I want to get published’? And what turned you onto the idea of applying to the Curtis Brown Creative course?
I have always wanted to write a novel and get published, ever since I can remember. It’s the only thing I have ever wanted to do, to be able to make a living from writing novels. However, the need to actually make a living always prevailed, and then my first child was born 10 years ago, and life just got in the way. About a year ago I suddenly decided that now was the time. I was about to turn 41, so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it! I realised I had no idea how to actually structure and write a novel. I knew I needed help.
Was there anything in particular about the course at Curtis Brown Creative that attracted you to it?
It was recommended to me by an old university friend, the only person I knew who had written a book. At first I just googled ‘creative writing courses’ but about a million came up, so I sought her advice and she rated it very highly. I was also attracted (and intimidated!) by the access to agents that the course offers, and by the quality of the teachers.
Traditionally, writing is seen as a rather lonely pursuit. When you embarked on the course at Curtis Brown Creative, how did it feel to suddenly have a small but receptive audience commenting on your work? How did that impact on your creative process?
That was actually one of the best things about the course. The 14 other students were all absolutely lovely and we still meet up every month. Getting feedback on my writing, both from them and from our tutor Erin Kelly and course director Anna Davis, gave me a huge amount of confidence, and helped me to understand how to look at my writing with a critical eye, and how to improve it.
What would you say to a budding novelist who has either finished (or is part way through) their novel, is uncertain of their next step, and is considering whether to apply to a creative writing course?
Do it! Put it this way: it’s almost exactly one year ago that I googled ‘creative writing courses’. All I had was an idea that I wasn’t sure was any good, and a few hundred words of the first chapter of the book that was to become Friend Request. Today, I have a brilliant agent in Felicity Blunt, an amazing book deal from Little, Brown in the UK – plus deals in the US, Germany and France. I still can’t really believe it, but dreams do come true, and applying for the Curtis Brown Creative course was the first step in making mine happen.
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).
We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).