At the launch, last night, of James Hannah‘s moving and brilliantly written The A-Z of You and Me, one of my former Curtis Brown Creative students said, ‘You must be feeling like a proud mum’. It’s kind of embarrassing and a bit overblown, but I do! I would never have dreamed, when we ran the first of our creative writing courses back in 2011, that things could possibly go so well for so many of our students. This Spring has seen five debut novels published. Curtis Brown Creative students have been cluttering up the review pages and the ‘ones to watch’ selections. When I found myself telling a friend yesterday that I couldn’t meet her for the evening because I was going to the launch party of a former student, her reply was, ‘Another one?’
Our January publication was Lisa Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal. When she came to Curtis Brown Creative with the beginnings of her story about a boy who wants to be a girl, she hadn’t yet realised she was writing YA. By the end of the course she had made remarkable progress – finding her voice, shaping her story, understanding who she was writing for. She now has one of the most striking and talked-about YA novels of the year (and my 11-year old daughter is obsessed with it!).
The first of our February launches was Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship. Antonia was in our first novel-writing course (along with Jessie Burton, the author of the number-one bestseller The Miniaturist) and I’ve previously blogged about her as our hardest-working, most determined student. The venue for her launch – a strange and rather magical museum of stuffed animals and dinosaur parts in glass cases – was a very apt setting for the launch of a novel which starts out with the occupation of the British Museum and the wild attempt of a visionary man and his daughter to escape the shrapnel of a disintegrating society. Antonia’s party featured the soaring harmonies of an all-women barbershop ensemble, of which she is herself a member. An extraordinary evening for an extraordinary novel.
Next up was yet another writer from that first Curtis Brown Creative cohort: Catherine Chanter‘s bewitching debut The Well is one that has lived on vividly in my mind since I first read an early draft. Set in the near future at a time of desperate water shortages, it’s the story of a woman whose well has never run dry in spite of the terrible drought all around her. But, as her Canongate editor Louisa Joyner recently told our current novel-writing students, it’s also about religious experience, the nature of miracles, and so much more. Catherine has a lot of wisdom, and she always knew exactly what she was doing as a writer. I have to admit though, I did love it when she recently thanked me for having told her bluntly that she should chuck out a big chunk of her story…
Kate Hamer‘s The Girl In The Red Coat was the next in our Spring line-up. On publication day, 20,000 commuters were handed samples of the novel by women dressed in red. This compelling story of a missing child and her mother’s love and grief, has been garnering the most incredible set of reviews, and I have high hopes that it will be a big bestseller. Kate was a gentle, self-effacing, almost-shy student – but she’s also a passionate writer with a strong, lyrical voice and great clarity of purpose. She travelled to London from Cardiff every week to take part in our course, and I’m so glad she did!
And so this brings us to James Hannah, from the same student group as Kate. We gathered in Daunt Books, Holland Park, to toast the launch of The A-Z of You and Me, a heart-rending story in which a man dying of cancer works through an alphabet of his body parts, recalling his life and his relationship with the woman he loves. James’s editor Jane Lawson heralded his novel as having ‘the most brilliant of endings’. His wife Christine had brought along cupcakes decorated for the book, and crocheted beautiful heart-shaped decorations labelled ‘take me, I’m yours’ – and so we did! James, as a student, was immensely warm and generous. His great popularity meant almost all of his former coursemates were present to toast his success, plus some writers from other student groups who’ve got to know him since. ‘You must be so happy with how it’s all going,’ one of them said to me. Yes indeed. It’s better than I could have imagined. And I hope the best is yet to come.
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.