It’s just over two-and-a-half years since SD Sykes was a student on our creative writing courses – and a lot has happened to her since. Upon completing the Spring 2012 Novel-Writing Course, Sarah impressed CB literary agent Gordon Wise with her medieval murder mystery set in a Black Death-ravaged England – and together they shaped the novel that was picked up by Hodder & Stoughton as part of a three-book deal. That book, Plague Land, hit the shelves last Thursday, and SD (or Sarah, as we know her) has since been called a ‘medieval Raymond Chandler’ by The Independent and compared to both Arthur Conan Doyle and Cadfael author Ellis Peters in a review on The Bookbag. You can even hear Sarah being interviewed on a special Hodder podcast here.
Plague Land, set in 1350, is the story of Oswald de Lacy, reluctant Lord of Somershill Manor. After being sent away to a monastery at the age of seven, he returns to his family home 10 years later when his father and two older brothers are felled by plague. Oswald has no experience of running an estate and finds that years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, and the attitude of the surviving peasants is not the subservient one he remembers from his childhood.
But before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman. The ambitious village priest claims that she was killed by a band of demonic, dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it – by finding the real murderer – is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife. And then the body of another girl is found…
A good book like this needs an equally good launch party and the one for Plague Land, held last Thursday at Brown’s on London’s St Martin’s Lane, didn’t disappoint. All Curtis Brown Creative staff members – ie, me and Anna Davis – were there to knock back the wine (though we were mildly disappointed it wasn’t mead), as was novelist Christopher Wakling, who was Sarah’s course tutor back in 2012. Sarah was also well-supported by her fellow coursemates – including crime author Jake Woodhouse, whose Amsterdam-set thriller After The Silence was published by Penguin in April – as well as her agent Gordon and his assistant Richard Pike. Ex-students and authors-to-be James Hannah (The A–Z of You and Me to be published by Doubleday in March 2015) and Antonia Honeywell (The Ship to be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in February 2015) were also in attendance, and – along with several other alumni – made sure that, for long periods of the evening, there was a corner of the party room that was solidly CBC.
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.