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11 January 2016

Two Curtis Brown Creative students in The Observer’s New Faces of Fiction 2016

by Rufus Purdy

Over the past couple of years, Curtis Brown Creative has been well-represented in The Observer’s annual New Faces of Fiction pick of debut novelists to watch. Former students Jessie Burton, Kate Hamer, James Hannah and Catherine Chanter were highlighted – and stylishly photographed – in 2014 and 2015. And this year it’s the turn of alumni Janet Ellis and Nicholas Searle, authors of The Butcher’s Hook and The Good Liar respectively.

Janet, who studied on our Spring 2014 Novel-Writing Course with Erin Kelly, worked on the book during her course, finessing it in workshop sessions in which her 14 fellow students would feed back – often ruthlessly – on her chapters. Something that Janet took a while to get used to. ‘I had thought if you altered anything, the whole edifice was so fragile it would crumble,’ she told The Observer. ‘I felt a terrible mixture of vain and terrified.’

The Butcher’s Hook is a coming-of-age story set in late 18th-century London. Anne Jaccob’s powerlessness in the world is brought home to her when she is taken advantage of by her tutor – her father’s great friend – and this paves the way for her future actions. ‘The Butcher’s Hook doesn’t read like a first novel – it is a high-finish performance,’ says The Observer. ‘Its heroine is an 18th-century teenage girl, who starts demurely although her sex drive turns out to be anything but demure. You need to be braced for violence to rival any Jacobean tragedy.’

Nicholas Searle, our other former student featured in the New Faces of Fiction pick, was one of the 15 writers who took the second of our online writing courses in early 2014. His novel The Good Liar is the story of two octogenarians, Roy and Betty, who find love after meeting on an internet dating site, but all is not what it seems. As their relationship develops, we are taken back decade by decade to Roy’s past and his series of confidence tricks and schemes to reveal a dark secret from World War Two. ‘The snake on the cover is a good indication of the plot: it twists and turns surreptitiously,’ says The Observer.

‘Propelled by a mix of stubbornness and bravado,’ the article continues, ‘he sent his manuscript to… [Curtis Brown joint CEO] Jonny Geller, agent of the likes of John le Carré and David Mitchell. Geller got back to him “immediately”, and within 10 days they had deals with HarperCollins in the US and Penguin in the UK.’

‘We are very proud that our creative-writing school’s newly launched online course has produced a talent like Nicholas Searle,’ said Geller at the time. ‘As soon as I finished The Good Liar, I knew we had something very special. It felt like an early Patricia Highsmith with its twists and turns, and shows once again how vibrant and fresh fiction is in this country.’

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis is published by Two Roads on 25 February. The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle is published by Viking on 14 January.

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.

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