28 June 2016

Five rickety horses: writing advice from David Mitchell

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by Rufus Purdy Events, Writing Tips

Students on our London creative writing courses are regularly visited by top authors and agents. And, a couple of weeks ago, students on the current Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course were lucky enough to be visited by twice Booker-shortlisted novelist David Mitchell, who came in to speak with his literary agent Jonny Geller. David and Jonny spoke entertainingly for a full two hours, and answered questions on everything from the ideas behind David’s seven novels to how his book covers are put together to appeal to different markets. David even spoke at length about his reasons for reusing his characters in different novels – ‘I feel it’s as though they’re all queuing up at a job centre, knocking on the door and asking for their next role’ – and his latest novel Slade House (‘the quickest book I’ve ever written’), which evolved alongside his previous novel The Bone Clocks and shares many of its themes.

There was plenty of writing advice too. But one tip that David gave to the students really stood out. ‘A novel is just like one of those rickety horse-race games you get at the end of the pier,’ he said. ‘The ones in which everyone puts their 50p and the horses move forward, sometimes stalling, sometimes surging ahead. In a novel your five horses are Character, Structure, Plot, Language and Ideas; and it’s your job to bring them all over the finishing line at the same time.’

It’s a wonderfully colourful and memorable metaphor that all writers would do well to take on board. And as it came from an author that has created some of the most memorable characters of the past 20 years – Zachry in Cloud Atlas or Mo Muntevary in Ghostwritten are my personal favourites – and has developed some of the most inventive structures and plots in modern literature, not to mention the language and ideas he creates to make his novels such scintillating and unique reads, they’d also be advised to get it tattooed on the back of their hands. Either that, or simply head to their nearest pier and play the horse-race game for themselves.

For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:

Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).

Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).

For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for: 

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).

We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:

Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).

Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).

Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).


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