Andrea Barton took one of our online Creative Writing Courses, along with fellow course mates, Sarah Linhart and Sarah Hawthorn, with whom she has formed a lasting ‘Pen Pals Writing Group’. Recently they caught up to discuss their experiences studying with CBC …
Andrea Barton: I was stuck. I’d written several complete manuscripts but agents had showed no interest and I didn’t know how to get to the next level. It was time to call in the big guns. As I was living in Doha at the time, I applied for the Curtis Brown Creative six-month Online Novel Writing Course, taught by Nikita Lalwani.
I expected (and received) a nuts and bolts approach to novel writing including character, setting, plot, narrative point of view, dialogue and editing. A big draw to the CBC course was that, as part of a literary agency, they featured sessions on writing cover letters and synopses (the bane of the novelist’s life) and a Q&A with agents. But the greatest bonus with enduring benefit was establishing the Pen Pals Writing Group with Sarah Hawthorn and Sarah Linhart. They have become my co-conspirators in writing and in life.
Sarah Linhart: One of the hardest aspects of writing a novel (apart from writer’s block and the endless distractions my fridge provides in the search for its cure) is that it’s done alone. Just me, my computer and my fridge… not a great combination. Which is why I applied for the CBC novel-writing course. I needed guidance and reassurance that my writing had potential. I got both, thanks to the regular feedback sessions.
Every fortnight we read and critiqued a 3000-word extract from two other students’ novels-in-progress, providing them with detailed, constructive criticism—what we thought worked or didn’t and why. I loved that it forced me to read actively across a wide range of genres and writing styles from historical and literary fiction to thrillers and commercial women’s fiction.
It was providing the ‘why’ which proved so invaluable. This process honed my ability to look at my own work with the same rational head I used to judge others’. It became easier to cut scenes I loved which were going nowhere. I sharpened dialogue and fleshed out characters. Receiving feedback from my peers and tutor enabled me to write with more confidence.
Sarah Hawthorn: The CBC course helped me discover all that I didn’t know about novel writing – and it was a revelation. A journalist by trade, I knew I could write well and assumed the transition to novelist would be easy. How arrogant. With CBC’s help, I knuckled down to learn this new trade.
The adrenaline shot of group feedback and cyber-meeting my new writing buddies meant I was no longer isolated, writing in a vacuum. I then enrolled in CBC’s London Summer School (that’s a course they run each year especially for their alumni). An intense week of workshopping face-to-face with another group of talented, aspiring novelists far exceeded my expectations. It was invigorating and challenging. Invigorating for the banter around the table, moderated by our wonderful tutor Louise Wener; challenging for the final round-table, pitching our novels in two minutes to Curtis Brown agents Gordon Wise and Susan Armstrong – along with Anna Davis.
Like any profession, becoming a novelist requires study of the craft and I’ll always be grateful to CBC for setting me on the right path, meeting my Pen Pals, and working towards continuous improvement and eventually, publication.
Since completing the CBC London Summer School, Sarah Hawthorn has found an agent with New Author’s Collective.
To read more from Andrea Barton, check out her blog, The Winding Narrative.
Andrea, Sarah L. and Sarah H. studied on one of our online novel-writing courses – the next course is our online Three-Month Novel-Writing Course with tutor Suzannah Dunn (the deadline for applications is midnight, end of day Sunday 8 April).
Applications are also still open on our next Three-month course in London, with tutor Charlotte Mendelson.