This piece first appeared on Emily Glenister’s My Very Own Yellow Brick Road blog.
So. Thursday was my first session on the Curtis Brown Creative Three-Month Creative-Writing Course and it was fantastic. The first session was about ‘getting to know you’ and one of the first things we did was go around the table and introduce ourselves, stating our name, age, profession, book title, a brief ‘elevator synopsis’ and how far through we are.
Being a total dumbass, I managed to get myself into a position in which I went first. It was absolutely terrifying, but almost like ripping off a plaster – so perhaps not such a bad thing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, an ‘elevator pitch’ is briefing the others about your book in about 60 seconds. SIXTY SECONDS. My novel doesn’t possess the most straightforward of storylines, but I think I just about managed it. As our course tutor Erin Kelly remarked ‘Imagine pitching Cloud Atlas in 60 seconds!’, so I didn’t feel pressurised. It was just rather nerve-racking.
What was also a total trip was being in the Curtis Brown offices. It was hard to believe I was standing outside a building in which so many amazing pieces of literature have been worked on, moulded and polished to become the bestsellers we know today. In the foyer is a big bookshelf stacked with lots of new releases by authors represented by Curtis Brown and its sister agency Conville & Walsh. If you’re a member of staff there, I don’t imagine you’d be stuck for something to read.
Going back to the boardroom, after everyone had pitched their books (which I have to say, sound so exciting), we had a chat about the beginnings of a book coupled with exposition. We looked at an extract from Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (which, funnily enough, I finished just two weeks ago). The way the opening is written is so subtle and yet so exciting. We talked about any hints that were given about where the beginning is set, as in what is shown as opposed to told. This is certainly something I have a problem with, so it was brilliant to be able to see exactly what that meant right in front of me. I had an inkling before, sure, but now I know.
Before I knew it, the time was up. Gutted. But we were set some homework (homework!! If only the 14-year-old me had been as excited about homework, I may have obtained a decent number of GCSEs), which was to extract all the exposition from our opening chapters – background, history, basically anything that isn’t happening in the here and now. Then we were to do the same with a novel we’ve read. Although not an inspiration for The Phone Box, the book I’ll be working on during the course, I’ve chosen Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent. Removing the exposition is a bit of an eye-opener. Some of it is necessary, without a doubt, but it’s amazing how much it changes the direction of the chapter and story.
Lastly, we were given three extracts written by three different coursemates. Our job is to constructively critique their work so they have independent feedback from 14 people. I’ve never critiqued anything and feel funny about doing it to people who are relative strangers, but hopefully it will help everyone progress, as each week we will be receiving three extracts from each other. I think mine is due at the end of June *brings on frantic nail biting*!!
I am so excited to see what will happen in the next three months – and I keep having to remind myself how lucky I am to be in this position.
For more information on Curtis Brown Creative courses, please click here.