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02 September 2016

The children’s writing course: how it helped me

Ann-Marie Howell, author
by Ann Marie Howell Course News, From Our Students

Ann Marie Howell joined our children’s writing course in Autumn 2015. Here she tells us how it helped her to finish her novel and find an agent:

I had been working on a children’s book for a few months, but something still wasn’t quite right. The plot? Clunky dialogue? I wasn’t sure and I didn’t know how to put it right. It prompted a last-minute decision to apply for the CBC Online Writing for Children Course. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Each week, three of the 15 of us on the course would submit 3,000 words for group analysis and feedback. I didn’t sleep the night before I first submitted my work, feeling like a fraud. A writer – me? The feedback from my peers and Catherine Johnson – course tutor and uber-talented children’s writer – was thrilling and heart-crushing in equal measure. It highlighted problems. It made me cry. It made me go for a long walk. But it also made me more determined.

One-to-one sessions over the phone with Catherine suggested ways I could develop my characterisation, tighten my dialogue, picking up on issues that hadn’t occurred to me before. Those sessions made me shed more tears. Why? Because my story was written from the heart and it still wasn’t working.

I wrote down everything I learnt from Catherine and my peers, bought a special folder for the weekly course notes – which I read until I knew the key points by heart. I received an email from a peer, saying, ‘this chapter of your book made me cry. Please send me the rest so I know how it ends.’ All of these things kept me going, re-writing and editing until my fingers ached and I had a crick in my neck.

We uploaded our draft synopses for feedback. Mine needed work, the key plot points tightening. I worked on it some more, early in the mornings while my family slept.

Towards the end of the course we had a day-long session where the Curtis Brown agents critiqued our covering letters on the online platform where the course is hosted. The Curtis Brown offices had a freak power cut on the day in question but the agents valiantly moved to a nearby café so we could continue. The feedback came in. They liked the style of my letter, thought my book blurb was intriguing. It was time to take the next step.

I began submitting to agents just before the course finished. Straight rejections trickled in. Then something incredible happened. I began getting full read requests, one agent even asking if we could meet. This agent offered to represent me and I was over the moon – but not as champagne-happy as I’d imagined. A perk of the CBC course was that I’d learnt about the type of relationship you could except to have with your agent (hopefully a long and fruitful one), and I just wasn’t sure this agent was the right fit for me, or my book.

I gave myself a nerve-wracking week to decide, to chase up the other agents who were still reading the full manuscript. Then an agent at the very top of my wish list asked if we could chat. My heart was leaping out of my chest. Surely she wouldn’t give me bad news over the phone? We spoke. She was lovely and enthused over the book which the CBC course had helped me to whip into shape. She offered to represent me there and then – and this time those champagne corks were really popping.

If you’re writing YA or children’s fiction why not take a look at our dedicated Writing YA and Children’s Fiction selective entry online course.

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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