23 January 2017

Online children’s writing course with Catherine Johnson – a review

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by Stuart White From Our Students

It’s always great to see groups of ex-students from our creative writing courses keeping in touch, and continuing to work together. One group, who took one of our children’s writing courses in 2015 now run a collective blog together. They’re called The Scribblers, and their blog is full of useful tips and ideas on novel-writing, and the often difficult journey to publication. Stuart White has kindly allowed us to re-post his review of our Writing YA and Children’s Fiction Course, which he wrote at the end last year – as we think it gives a fantastic overview of what we offer to children’s writers.

July 2015.

I have completed my Masters portfolio and submitted it, my new baby is due in less than a month and I am busy with a thousand other things… so what do I do – I apply for a very prestigious, intensive and selective writing course… obviously.

Like many writers, I was crippled with self-doubt and uncertainty about the quality of my writing. I’d managed to do well in my Masters (but there’s always that nagging doubt that when you’re paying for something like that, they will just let you in anyway to get your money…), but I hadn’t got very far with submissions and queries with anything I’d written until then. I fully expected, with the number of people applying for the course, that I’d get a polite rejection (my only experience of the industry until that date).

But around this time, things began to change. First, I applied at the last minute for the children’s writing course and I received an email a week later, saying they loved my opening 3,000 words and would be delighted to offer me a place on the course. I was thrilled. Then, I got longlisted for a couple of novel awards, finishing runner-up in one of them. This was a timely boost with the course beginning in September.

So when the course finally began, I felt less like a fraud and more like I merited a place. Of course, the self-doubt always creeps in from time to time, but every writer feels this at some time or another…

So the course began – initially there was a bit of navigation of their online platform to be dealt with and meeting 14 new writers, your tutor and Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus was all very overwhelming for me at first. Some of the people got stuck straight in, posting and commenting lots; others, like me, stood back a little. I guess that’s human nature and precisely what would happen even if the course was in person and not online.

Once we got going, the course structure was simple: every week three of us would submit 3,000 words, to be critiqued by the other 14 writers and Catherine Johnson, and we would also get writing notes, a video and an exercise from our tutor (you also got two lengthy Skype tutorials with Catherine on a one-to-one basis, which I really valued) – so there was plenty to keep us busy. And it was very busy. The 12 weeks or so flew past in a blur and by the time the end of the course arrived, we had formed a tight-knit group, a Facebook group set up for post-course and all of us ready to submit our opening to the Curtis Brown and C&W agents to have a look over. This didn’t count as a formal submission, so those who were worried about being finished needed not.

Throughout, the feedback received from my peers was invaluable – imagine having 15 sets of notes for 6,000 words of your novel and feedback on an additional 6,000 words from your one-to-one tutorials – and I felt my novel really developed and took shape during this period. My confidence grew, as did my writing network. I had a new-born baby to deal with, two academic textbooks to finish, and a busy full-time job as a teacher, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed despite the workload of the course. Every submission was enjoyable to read, and I learned loads from feeding back on others’ work. Especially as I really had to be critical (the standard was very high, so you had to really look deeply at the writing to give points for development) and, while time-consuming, the experience developed my own editorial skills and ability to reflect on my writing in a more objective, critical way.

So what came of the course for me? Well, the novel I worked on got a lot of agent attention afterward, however nobody was wanting another Dystopian novel at that time, and I had to move on. But with the notes, videos, experience and skills I developed while doing the course, Catherine’s knowledge and advice, and the best critique group imaginable (we’ve set up our own blog about the writer’s journey), I’ve continued to write and have now finished another novel, about to be sent out to the world…

And if you don’t believe me about the merits of the course, here’s what the others had to say –

  • ‘I gained confidence in my writing, a slightly thicker skin, improved critiquing skills and a new bunch of supportive, creative – and importantly for the purposes of writer sanity – very funny Scribbler buddies.’
  • ‘Our tutor, Catherine Johnson, was brilliant and I met some of the most generous and talented writing friends I could imagine…’
  • ‘Thanks to Catherine’s amazing advice and the support and expertise of my writer colleagues on the course I managed to land an agent two months after finishing!’
  • ‘For ten years I walked this road alone, now I am surrounded by good company. And the journey is so much better with friends.’
  • ‘The course really helped to catapult me forwards in my writing journey. In no small way thanks to Catherine and my fellow writers. Their critique & support was/is phenomenal.’
  • ‘Understanding the external versus internal was a critical turning point in my writing career – I have the course to thank for that.’
  • ‘Facing some painful facts about my novel has lead me to a whole new and vastly improved place. Thank you Catherine Johnson and the brilliant CBC group I had the good grace to be landed with.’
  • ‘The course allowed me to see my work through the eyes of others, which was invaluable. I now try to look at each scene through fresh eyes.’

You can find out more about The Scribblers here.

If you’re writing a book for children or young adults, take a look at our online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course with tutor Catherine Johnson. The deadline for applications is midnight at the end of Sunday 10 March.

We also offer a series of online courses in Writing and Illustrating Children’s Picture Books, check out all of our current courses here.

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