Now that the Curtis Brown Creative six-month creative-writing course has been running for a few weeks, we’re starting to see the first fruits of the students’ labour. Techniques have been taught, dialogue developed and sentences scrutinised, and the next crop of debut novelists are now hot on the heels of previous Curtis Brown Creative success stories Jessie Burton, Tim Glencross and Jake Woodhouse – all of whom have secured deals for their first books.
‘The course is going well from my point of view,’ says novelist and tutor Christopher Wakling. ‘There’s a spirit of respectful, constructive criticism in the group sessions: no grandstanding, nobody point-scoring. All punches are glovingly delivered and graciously absorbed. They’re talented writers and perceptive critics.’
Christopher recently set the students a challenge: to write a minor character sketch that would bring a background figure to life in as few words as possible. ‘I suggested the exercise as a way to highlight the power of demonstrative detail over superficial summary (or showing-not-telling, as the mantra goes),’ he says. ‘We looked at some vivid examples. We had a go at writing one ourselves. And I stressed that a novelist can use both gears – a bit of summing up, intercut with sharply observed action/dialogue – to do the job of creating memorable bit-part players.
‘There were some excellent efforts – and I enjoyed glimpses of, among others, vampish mums-to-be, Japanese wraiths and hardheaded businesswomen. But, alas, we couldn’t publish them all here. These are my three favourites’:
Bichette was the ubiquitous nickname for one of the brothel’s most popular and enduring whores. Four years ago, this plump, good-natured girl had presented herself to the bawd that ran the brothel and announced without preamble that she was ready to become a whore. The bawd was initially at a loss for words, but then asked about her experience (limited but enthusiastic), health (clean with no disease apart from a rough, red rash on her hands) and age (not sure, but old enough). Why did she want to enter this particular profession, asked the bawd, unable to resist the question. The girl replied simply that she liked regular food and hated the travails of domestic work; here, she had presented her cracked, raw hands pitifully to illustrate her point.
Ensconced in the brothel, Bichette quickly gained a reputation as a generous, willing girl who bore any amount and variety of poking with bovine patience in return for the sweet pastries and desserts that she craved. Consequently, she was brought bouquets of conceits, cakes and comfits by her many admirers which were often snuffled up delightedly by Bichette even as the men hurriedly undressed. She in turn repaid the bearers richly with a surfeit of overflowing flesh, bountiful affection and sugary stickiness, and was often to be found naked, propped up in her sagging bed like an everyman’s Venus, regretfully devouring the last of her sweet morsels, with a happily satiated man or two pillowed on her vast breasts, slumbering happily in that treacle-scented boudoir.
Lever’s father had reached old age suddenly by a series of invisible compromises with immortality which ultimately would prove fatal. Even once difficulty of mobility came, he retained the appearance of strength: he would lower his cane onto the ground at intervals between edgings-forwards with great adamance. Besides the walking stick, his only concession to frailty was a tendency to reminisce; there was an accidental and minor comedy about his memories; ‘I remember’ somehow always came out as ‘I remember’. His reminiscences continued at night: he would drift into sleep to the imagined sounds of Holkham Bay, the reconstruction of unvisitable waves had become inexplicably precious to him. In the mornings, he would sometimes wake vaguely angry. To soothe himself he would consult a picture of his wife taken in Amalfi in 1988. He had the same picture on all his various screen-savers; in later years one of his chief interests was photoshopping old images.
My words streamed like a waterfall of acid, spitting with hatred and venom. Abi listened, adopting the furrowed brow of concern while nodding vacantly, twiddling with the toe charms on her left foot, tap, tap, tapping against the arm of her chair. I was still in full flow when she unfolded her legs from beneath her frayed, floral skirt – the one fashioned from a tablecloth she’d bought at a car boot sale – and sprang out of her seat.
‘You know what will make you feel better?’ she interrupted, not waiting for an answer. ‘A film. Heathers is showing at The Hyde and it’s supposed to be amazing.’
The clock said 5:13. We’d started the conversation at 5:09. I’d made particular note of the time to see how long she lasted. Four minutes. I’d witnessed the horror of my best friend in a lovers’ clinch with my ex and it warranted a mere 240 seconds. The girl was getting worse.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.