Six years ago, I met a group of people who would change my life (this is somewhat soppy, but true). I was part of the second of Curtis Brown Creative’s London writing courses, back in 2011. One Thursday evening, the 15 of us began to gather in the reception at Curtis Brown, forming a gradually widening circle, each of us introducing – and re-introducing – ourselves with every new arrival. We were, of course, a mixture of ages and personalities. Our writing was also a wordy smorgasbord. But what we had in common was a passion for improving our lives as writers, both in terms of our work, and our professional chances (dual pursuits at which Curtis Brown Creative excels). We weren’t writing novels to leave in a drawer, pages yellowing next to an old roll of Polos. We wanted to make our books as good as we could, and find them a place in the world. For mine, Purple People, this place has been somewhat different. I’ve been crowdfunding the novel. More on that in a moment.
During the three months of our course – incorporating the giddy and intimidating thrills of dissecting our work in class, our lives at the pub, plus an encounter with Jeffrey Archer – we became a pretty close-knit cluster. You’ll have no doubt read tales from other former students about how beneficial the support of such a group is, and in our case that was especially true. So much so that, after the course finished, we continued to meet regularly, using the format of the Curtis Brown Creative sessions.
As more of the group finished their novels (to date, Tim Glencross, Kate Hamer, James Hannah and Annabelle Thorpe have all been published – with six books now between them), we were keen to find a project on which we could collaborate. Annabelle suggested a short-story anthology, and James conjured up a theme – and thus The Book of Unwritten Rules was born. Published last year, with a very merry launch party at Waterstones Piccadilly, it was an incredible treat to hold a book that presented us as a sum of our parts.
In addition to boozy socials, and ad hoc assistance with telling the sturdy, storytelling wood from the flat-packed, I-don’t-think-I-can-write trees, we’ve continued to give notes on each other’s work, which has been invaluable. Personally, a first sensible, substantial edit of my novel would have felt near-impossible without wise input from some of the gang.
Purple People is a dystopia. Albeit a jolly one. I usually say it’s the result of my most formative influences: George Orwell, Victoria Wood and Smash Hits. A while after the course, having spent many years writing it, I began submitting Purple People to agents and publishers. I received some great, encouraging feedback – but folk either wanted a typically dark, not-so-dandy dystopia, or they liked it, but couldn’t imagine which publisher would adopt it. I didn’t lose faith, but it was frustrating; my book had its coat on and a bag of crisps in hand, waiting to bob out into the world, but the front door seemed to be bolted. And there was a snowdrift outside.
I had long been a fan of Unbound (my first pledge was for the sublime Letters of Note), and had been pondering on sending them Purple People. I’d pledged for an excellent satire they were publishing, Sam Smit’s The Serendipity Foundation, and in Sam’s bio there was mention of the Port Eliot Festival. That wasn’t a literary jamboree I’d heard of so, intrigued, I checked their website, and found they had my dream line up –as though they’d curated it after clambering into my tangled, book-filled brain. Thus in July last year, a friend and I went off to Port Eliot – where not only did I meet two former Smash Hits writer idols (swoon!), but went to a talk on cheerfulness, where I encountered none other than John Mitchinson, one of the founders of Unbound. I hopped overexcitably towards him, told him I’d found the festival thanks to one of Unbound’s tomes – and said I had a novel that I promised was good, but that, being a bit wonky, was still trying to find a home. With empathy and enthusiasm he said to send it to him. And a month ago – almost a year since we’d met – Purple People launched on the Unbound site.
What I love most about Unbound is that they take chances on books, and authors, who aren’t like all the others. They can do this; naturally, the crowdfunding model gives them the frisky freedom to be more risk a-go-go, unlike traditional publishers, who tend towards risk a-no-no (boom boom). So far, the crowdfunding route is proving to be a brilliant adventure. There are fun things to do as you prepare to launch: composing appealing pledge levels (one of mine involves Purple People cakes), and filming a pitch video (my friend Daisy helped with this – and was an exemplary newsreader).
In a little over a month, Purple People is more than 50 per cent funded. Certainly, once a sizeable chunk of those who know and love you have chipped in, you need to cast your pledge-rustling net wider, be more inventive in finding folk who’ll help get your pages to print… and a 45 per cent sized portion of that currently lies ahead of me. But seeing the support, from friends spanning all the chapters of your life, and – more incredibly – people you’ve never met, is an extraordinarily heartening experience.
My Curtis Brown Creative coursemates have generously pledged, and it’s absolutely fitting that – as is the Unbound way – they’ll be among the supporters listed in the back of the book. Because my novel, and the journey to completing it, wouldn’t have been the same without them. Plus, I know that with their company, the launch party will be a great knees-up.
For more information on Purple People by Kate Bulpitt or to make a pledge, please click here.
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