23 May 2018

Join CBC’s 7th Birthday writing challenge!

Class of Autumn 2011Class of Autumn 2011
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

It’s our 7th birthday! I know, I know – not as young as we used to be, but I reckon we’ve still got it! Jake Arnott and I opened our boardroom doors to 15 students for the very first CBC novel-writing course back in May 2011 – and it all went so swimmingly that in September I was back in that boardroom again, teaching with Christopher WaklingThe two student groups from that first year have stayed very vividly in my mind – and include Jessie Burton, Antonia Honeywell, Catherine Chanter, James Hannah, Kate Hamer, Tim Glencross, Annabelle Thorpe and many more fine writers who I will always be happy to hear from. 

So here we are, 7 years later – lots more courses, lots more students, and – at latest count – 45 published alumni. I think that deserves a bit of a celebration – and what could be better to mark the occasion than a writing challenge? So here we go …

#WriteCBC is happening on Twitter @cbcreative! It’s a 7-day challenge to mark 7 years of our creative writing school.

It’s the final day of our 7-day writing challenge (see below …). We’re posting on Twitter – and in this blog – one writing tip and one writing task each day. The tip is a delicate pearl of wisdom to help you in your novel-writing. The task requires you to do a nifty bit of writing in under 280 characters.

Every day there’s a new tip and a new task, from one of our creative writing tutors – a different tutor from our teaching team per day. We’re tweeting the new writing tip and task at 11 am each day (or as close to 11 am as we can manage …).

To take part – just have a go at the day’s task, and post the results up on Twitter – tagging @cbcreative, and including the hashtag #WriteCBC

For each day, we’ll choose one writing task that we particularly like – and the writer will receive a £50 discount off the price of one of our three six-week online courses. (See below).

Each day’s winning writing task will be posted IN THIS BLOG on the next day – ie, the winner from the 29th posted in this blog on the morning of the 30th, and so on – until the result of the 4th June task is posted on 5th June. 7 days and 7 winners.

AND FINALLY, on the morning of 6th June we will choose an overall winner from among those 7, and will reveal it – once again in this blog. The overall winner will get a free place on one of our three six-week online courses. (See below).

So – just a bit of harmless birthday fun – plus a few very wise tips, of course.

Easy? Well, let’s just see …

Day 1 – Tip and task from Anna Davis:

Tip: Your first line doesn’t need to be SHOUTY but should be INTRIGUING. It’s the entry point to your story so make it matter. Don’t go for weather or clichés like waking up in the morning; don’t use ostentatiously writerly prose. Draw me in to your story

Task: Share the opening sentence of a story or novel you’re working on – and take the opportunity to review it, rethink it, tighten it. I’m not looking for the loudest, flashiest, most dramatic sentence. Just open a door that I’ll want to walk through

Read more about this tip and task – and about opening lines in this blog.

Winner – Kayte‏ @KayteWriteDream: It’s better when I don’t speak my thoughts out loud. 

We had a hard time judging this opening lines challenge because there were so many fantastic lines shared – SO many of them made me want to read on, and that’s the whole point. Kayte’s line is succinct and intriguing – it makes you start wondering what’s happening here – it makes you ask why this person needs to stay quiet and keep her thoughts to herself. And it’s not a supercharged line that’s trying to squeeze too much in – it’s not shouty. Congratulations to Kayte – we’ll be in touch soon.


Day 2 – Tip and task from Simon Wroe – tutor of our next 6-month London-based Novel-writing course

Tip: Consider how people reveal themselves through the everyday – their props and routines. We don’t need a character playing a grand piano or lapsing in gilded reveries: the use of well-chosen commonplace objects can really bring a character to life.

Task:  Choose an object from your work bag or handbag & describe it in such a way as to show us something of your character – eg how you use it, what it means to you. Don’t use phone or keys – avoid the boring stuff (you can add a photo of it if you like)

Read more about this tip and task – and about revealing character through objects and environments in this blog

Winner: Hugo Bennett – @HugoGBennett 

25g a piece and sharp enough to draw blood. But forever dull to the uninitiated. Nestled at the bottom, beneath the flotsam, they’re almost forgotten about. Almost, but not quite. Because there’s always the chance that the next pub has a dart board. 

We were SO impressed with the writing tasks for Day 2 – we really felt like we entered into masses of different worlds and people’s experiences, brilliantly encapsulated. What we loved about Hugo’s piece is that it’s apparently very simple – just some darts in a bag, but it says so much about this character – his nostalgia for the game, and perhaps his youth – even possibly for an almost-lost way of life. And a little bit of hope. Lovely bittersweet stuff. 


Day 3 – Tip and task from Lisa O’Donnell – tutor of our next 6-month online novel-writing course – (which includes one fully-funded place, the Marian Keyes Scholarship)

Tip: Over-complicated storylines make dull narratives and slow pens. Simplifying your story to a few sentences, and jotting them down on a post-it-note to stick in front of you while you work, will keep you focused on what you’re writing

Task: Think about what’s at the heart of your story; what’s really essential to it. Write your storyline in no more than two sentences and tweet it. If you’d like to write it on a post-it note too, you could attach a photo

Read more about this tip and task – and the importance of a strong simple story – in this blog

Winner:  Jennifer Harvey – @JenAnneHarvey 

When Noah falls through the ice and drowns one winter, his family struggle to come to terms with his death. But Emilia can hear him still, and she knows she must listen, because the secrets Noah will reveal, will help her find her mother. 

Day 3 was the toughest to judge so far, because there was such an amazing wealth of ideas and stories flowing through Twitter from you all. Thank you for sharing them with us, and I hope we may get to learn more about many of them in due course. In the end we picked Jennifer’s because it’s SO intriguing. We see straight away that this is a story of family and loss; a ghost story of sorts (whatever the explanation finally turns out to be) – and also, in that last moment it turns an unexpected corner to arrive at the mystery of the missing mother.  Jennifer has packed so much into these two sentences, and has done it in a way that’s intriguing, easy to grasp and atmospheric.


Day 4 – Tip and Task from Christopher Wakling – who has taught on many of our creative writing courses

Tip: What’s not being said?  In good dialogue, pretty much everything.  There should be a discernible subtext beneath the surface conversation.  Check your dialogue for statements of the obvious and kill them.  Create that extra layer of meaning.

Task: Write a micro-conversation between 2 characters. Do your best to make what’s NOT being said shine through. eg Who has the power in the scene? Does it shift? Can we glimpse what’s REALLY going on? (No need to waste words on ‘he said/asked’ etc)

Read more about this task – and how to give depth to your dialogue – in this blog

Winner: Ellie Scott @itsemscott

This will be our last session.


You should be proud of yourself. You’ve done so well.



If I need more help, can I call you?

Not after discharge. You’d need to be referred again.

I see.

You must be pleased.

Oh, absolutely. Definitely.

This piece of dialogue is beautifully simple but rich with emotional complexity. Ellie has very effectively conveyed who these people are and what their relationship and situation is (therapist and client in their last session). On the face of it all is fine – the client is better and so the therapy is ending. It’s a moment for everyone to be happy – but actually the client is frightened, and the therapist’s cool professionalism feels like rejection. It’s a very uneasy moment, and I can imagine the fixed smiles on both faces without being told … Really well done, in this trickiest of tasks!


Day 5 – Tip and Task from Catherine Johnson – tutor of our 3-month online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course

Tip: It’s great to have a strong story arc to hang your work on. I find 5-Act structure useful (John Yorke explains this well in Into the Woods) – but in any case, make sure your story has character, an inciting incident, jeopardy, conflict & resolution

Task: All stories should have a strong narrative arc to them, no matter how long or short they are. Write a mini-story that’s fully developed (NOT just a character sketch, NOT just description) – with a beginning, middle and end – and tweet it

Read more about this task – and story structure – in this blog

Winner: @1978rebecca

You filled the baby shaped hole in my heart. You were perfect: tiny nails and long eyelashes. I held you tight and slipped off your security bracelet. As we left to start our new life, I heard your mother shriek. I placed you gently in your plastic cot and said goodbye

Amid an amazing outpouring of brilliant mini-stories, I picked this one because it was so moving and sad. What an incredible thing to manage to make a tweet-story so poignant, and so beautifully composed. Well done, @1978rebecca. But, having said that, this task has yielded the most brilliant array of responses so far – and so many strong story arcs. I love the range of material shared. I love the many worlds into which I entered when reading through them.


Day 6 – Tip and Task from Laura Barnett – guest tutor on our next 6-month London-based course

Tip 6: How do writers work to create a convincing sense of place? Consider the essential elements that distinguish a room, landscape, city or country from another: the sights, smells, sounds & textures that really bring a place to life on the page.

Task 6: Find an artwork representing a particular place: eg a Turner seascape or Hammershoi interior. Now imagine your character is there in that setting. Write their impressions in a mini-scene, using more than one of the senses (maybe all five!)

Read more about this task – and how to create a vivid sense of place – in this blog

Winner: Wiz Wharton‏ @Chomsky1 

The road is a worn out tape measure, pitted and numberless. Five times an hour he checks the curves of the pumps and flirts with their shadows. The sweetness of cypress and the black smell of gas remind him of the women he’s forgotten.

We hugely enjoyed the many lovely, sensual, evocative descriptions posted yesterday, and are late posting this up because we were so undecided about which one to choose as the winner. Wiz’s scene is very cleverly realised – the use of smell is vivid and visceral, and I particularly like the fact that we find out quite a lot about the pump attendant and his life as well as the scene we’re in. Wiz has made this simple description work very hard for her, which is exactly what we as writers should always try to do – it’s a sort of writerly multi-tasking!


Day 7: Tip and Task from Anna Davis (back again with a task that ties in with our Edit & Pitch Your Novel course, which starts next week …)

Tip 7: A great title is striking and evocative. It steers us TOWARDS your novel, and is right for genre – eg don’t call it The Killing Day if it’s literary fiction. Oh, and don’t base your title on an obscure idea which confuses readers – even if YOU love it!

Task 7: Tweet the title of a novel or story you’re writing. Just one! If you’re writing in genre, state it. If you don’t want to share your title, think of an alternative to tweet. If you don’t have a title yet, try one out for size – we might just like it!

Read more about this task – and what makes a great title – in this blog

So … For this Day 7 task, we just couldn’t all agree on one winner from among all these great titles. We wanted to recognise more than one – and anyway, we make the rules here, so we can have more than one winner if we want to! Today’s 6 joint winners (all of them getting course discounts) are:

Playing With Razors – (psychological suspense/crime) – @holymoly100 Rebecca Kelly

The Outrageous Fortune of Albion Truelove – (historical/supernatural) – @MikeEllison7 

The Curiosity Locker – (YA) – Melissa Welliver @Melliver 

The Stone Dancers – @KarenAnkers1

An Explanation of Love – @tinycharlotte72 – dark quirky psychological suspense 

The Diamond Cutter – Anna E Brooke @AE_Brooke (9-12 yrs adventure)

AND … we’re also giving a special achievement award for all-round fabulousness across these 7 days of tips and tasks. Yep, it’s just got to be … the one and only … Rebecca stay gold ponyboy Williams @stupidgirl45 – course discount for you too, Rebecca!

FINAL WINNER: We’re delighted to announce that the overall winner of our 7-day #WriteCBC challenge is … (drumroll) … Wiz Wharton @Chomsky1. Her winning task (from Day 6, above) went way further than the exercise required: In addition to conveying a setting and scene via the senses, she also managed to reveal a character and his back-story – and all within the space of a tweet! Wiz was also a great contributor across all tasks. Well done, Wiz!

And to our ANNOUNCEMENT: We (the CBC team) have been completely blown away by how well this 7-day challenge has gone. #WriteCBC has exceeded all our expectations – we’ve been delighted at how many people have participated; wowed by lots of the writing; and actually really moved by many of the messages we’ve read about how you’ve enjoyed the tasks, found them useful and met lots of other writers. So … We’ve decided we’re going to run a #WriteCBC Tip & Task day once a month. We’ll be doing it on the first Thursday of every month from now on – at 11am – with the result the next day (Friday at 11am). Every month there’ll be one tip and one task from a CBC tutor or team member, or from one of the CBC alumni – or maybe even one of the CB or C+W agents … Every month we will give away one free place on a 6-week course to someone who’s written a great response to the task (or a reimbursement of course fee if the winner has already taken all of our 6-week courses) – plus we’ll give away two £50 discounts on a 6-week course fee for two runners-up. This will all start on 5th July, so come and join in! And in the meantime, we hope we’ll see some of you – and your writing – at greater length on the three 6-week online courses that start next week. Also, if you’re not already on our mailing list, do join (at the foot of the home page on this website) to get our weekly newsletters with lots of writing tips, agent-interviews, offers and course information. Hope to see you again soon, people! 



A few rules …

  • Only one entry per person per day, please
  • Over-18s only
  • This one’s just on Twitter – there isn’t another way of taking part. Sorry to anyone who doesn’t use it and doesn’t want to – we’ll do something else that’s non-Twitter soon
  • Discount winners and the overall winner get to choose between Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel – (standard fees for those courses are all £200)
  • If you’re in receipt of more than one discount offer, you can only trade in one per course enrolment 
  • Discounts and free place valid only on courses running in 2018. 
  • If a winner has already paid and enrolled on one of the applicable courses (yet to run), we will refund the £200 fee/discount (as relevant)
  • If a winner has already taken all three courses, they may use their discount/free place on a new six-week course to launch this Autumn (yet to be announced) or gift their discount or full fee (as relevant) to another writer. 



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