The publishing rumour-mill went into overdrive last week with gossip of the exciting auctions in progress for The Miniaturist, the debut novel from former Curtis Brown Creative writing course student Jessie Burton. And when the 2013 London Book Fair opened up its doors on Monday to publishers, literary agents and writers from all over the world, Jessie’s new publishing deals became headline news. Jessie has so far landed six-figure contracts with Picador in the UK and HarperCollins in the US. HarperCollins Canada have bought Canadian rights, there have been major translation sales in Brazil and Spain and further deals are being brokered in Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Serbia, Holland, Turkey, Norway and more; agented by Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group.
That’s all very lovely for Jessie Burton, but why should this news provoke anything other than a wistful sigh or even the green-eyed monster for other new writers? Well, because this particular success story has happened for three reasons:
- A good idea
- Hard work
That’s right. These eye-watering advances have not come to Jessie because she’s a celebrity, or married to one, or the sister of one. This isn’t the story of a social media whiz whose success is built on a frenzy of self-publicity. OK, you’ll see from the photo that Jessie’s pretty, but contrary to popular belief that’s not going to make a publisher stretch up to six figures. Nope, this is the good old-fashioned scenario where someone writes a really good novel – the whole novel, mind you – and then grapples with it for a properly long time, trying to get it as strong as possible before sending it off to literary agents.
Jessie is – was – an actress when she joined our inaugural Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course in May 2011. She was getting bits and pieces of acting work, but spent a lot of her time temping in offices. Her life was not a glamorous one. At the time she applied to Curtis Brown Creative, she had a couple of rough but striking opening chapters set in 17th century Amsterdam, a triangle of intriguing lead characters, and the notion that she wanted to write about a Dutch doll’s house she’d once seen. She also had an odd title – Come the Flood – which created a misleading reader-expectation since there was no flood in the story… The ingredients were very raw, but there was definitely something there right from the start. Jessie made huge progress on the course, absorbing every shred of information that was useful to her, honing those early chapters, planning her story strongly and steadily, and coming up with the brilliant title she now has. After the course ended she worked on between and around acting jobs and temping work, for over a year – building and consolidating, writing and rewriting. She cooked up her ingredients with great skill and panache, ending up with a typescript that would have five agents vying over her, and prompt bidding wars among publishers from around the globe.
Jessie’s 15-strong student group was our very first at Curtis Brown Creative. They’re a lovely bunch and have been a great writing peer group for each other – many of them still keep in touch and read each other’s work. Some of them even went on an Italian writing retreat together. There was a lot of talent in that group and I have no doubt that there will be further success stories from among them – some with the novel they worked on at CBC and others with future projects. And there have already been successes from among our later groups too, as our blogs have detailed – a sufficient number, I think, to be called a ‘growing cluster’ of success stories. The very latest bit of news is that Kate Hamer, from our second novel-writing course, has been taken on as a client by Curtis Brown’s Alice Lutyens for her compelling novel The Girl In The Red Coat. Kate’s now working on edits for Alice, and I will be crossing my fingers …
So, yes, I would argue that Jessie’s story is very good news for new writers, because it shows that it can be done. Not every talented writer will win oodles of international deals and enormous advances, but I firmly believe that talent and hard work will always win through. Even in our current bizarre and difficult publishing scene, it’s not just about who you know or how big your twitter following is. It’s still about dreaming up a great story and writing it as well as you possibly can.
For more of our student success stories, have a look at our testimonials page.
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).