Covid-19 update Online courses places available. In-person courses temporarily on hold. Find out more here.

01 October 2020

#WriteCBC tip and task from S J Parris

S J Parris, author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

With lots of us feeling a bit low and tentative about what the next few months may have in store for us, let’s hold our creative focus, and keep writing and connecting with other writers. Here is October’s #WriteCBC to help with that! This month’s special guest is the fabulous bestselling historical fiction author S J Parris – aka Stephanie Merritt – who also leads our brand new course in Writing Historical Fiction, starting in just a few weeks.

Stephanie (writing as S J Parris) is the author of the number one bestselling Giordano Bruno historical thriller series, which centres on the sixteenth-century renegade monk, philosopher and heretic Giordano Bruno. The sixth novel in the series, Execution, was published by HarperCollins earlier this year.

If you haven’t taken part in #WriteCBC before, we’re delighted to have you join us – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on Stephanie’s new course (or on whichever of our six-week online writing courses you’d like to take).

Stephanie’s Writing Tip:

When writing historical fiction, explore your story by imagining yourself at one of its locations. What do you see, hear, smell? Research details add authenticity, but fully immerse yourself in the world of your story to make it your own.

Writing novels set in the past – whether we’re going back many centuries ago or even just a few decades – can be intimidating. We worry about whether we’re getting the facts right, whether we are representing characters authentically, whether the narrative voice of the story is true to the period – and so much more. And yes, these are all important things – but a brilliantly researched and thoroughly accurate novel can still be dead in the water if we can’t fully enter into the world of the story. We need the book to feel alive – and that doesn’t come through research alone. Stephanie’s tip requires you to really put yourself into your locations and the time period at which you’re writing, and to experience them through all of your senses and express that experience as viscerally as you can. Your knowledge of the period will help you – but this is about a deeper connection with your material, and conveying it to the reader in the most directly engaging ways. It’s well worth trying – and actually is a useful exercise even when you’re setting your story in the present day.

Stephanie’s Writing Task:

You’re waiting for news. What you’re waiting to hear and where it happens are up to you. Choose a moment in history that inspires you. And write in first person – I want you to picture yourself there and to make me feel I’m there too.

This is a task that requires you to have a go at historical fiction – even if just in a very tiny way. Your moment in history can be recent if you like – but do make it before you were born in order to force yourself to imagine a time that’s outside of your direct experience. And some of you may go back a long way indeed and choose to show us something from Saxon times or even earlier! Don’t worry too much about getting historical details right – we know you don’t have time for research just to write a task for #WriteCBC – but do choose a moment in history that you’re interested in and that you feel you can connect with.

To do this task well, you’ll need to think carefully about where your scene is happening, and about who is present and what the news is that you/your character is waiting for. You’ll be writing in first person (‘I’, ‘me’) because Stephanie is after a very direct voice for this task – and hopefully that first person perspective will help you to get right inside your scene. You can either imagine a sort of version of yourself set in the past, and write from that perspective – or you can come up with a character, whose eyes you’ll be looking through for the sake of this task.

What we’re looking for is an intriguing little scene that puts us – the reader – into a moment in the past and a very particular location. The best pieces will give a clear idea of when in the past we are (though we don’t need to know the actual year!) and of where we are JUST by showing us the experiences of the ‘I’ character (the narrator). Make use of more senses than just sight to immerse us in the scene, and give us at least a clue of what news your character is waiting for (they don’t need to actually receive the news within your mini scene).

This month’s winner is … Kath Olukoya @KEOlukoya:

Bodies scramble in states of undress. The air is thick with sweet sweat and acrid perfume. Squawk calls for ceruse and rouge, stockings and garters. Ann yanks my corset tight. 

We’re ready at last. Is he coming again tonight? Who will receive the great Scottish King?

Kath launches us back in time through sensory details, we can feel the excitement radiating from the bodies of these women. Kath does not overstate the time period but lets us know through the clothing and accessories of the time.

Kath has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing cours eof her choice!

Well done to our runners-up! @millyrandall85, @BellieBidRich and @howardteece each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice. 

Email us (cbccourses@curtisbrown.co.uk) to claim your prize.

Check out our interview with Stephanie where we talk about writing, researching, and reading historical fiction.

back to Blog

Our Courses

S J Parris, author
online

Writing Historical Fiction

22 Oct – 03 Dec
FOUNDATION
online

Writing a Memoir

29 Oct – 10 Dec
FOUNDATION
Cynan Jones, author
online

Writing Short Stories

29 Oct – 10 Dec
FOUNDATION
Starting to Write Your Novel
online

Starting to Write Your Novel

05 Nov – 10 Dec
FOUNDATION