One piece of advice we always give students on our creative writing courses is to read as much as they can. Reading, after all, gives writers their best inspiration and instruction. Matt Thorne, one of the current tutors on our novel writing courses, also advises students to read books that have been successful and popular recently, ‘Not to imitate, but just to have a sense of the world into which they will be publishing.’
Given that they read books for a living, who could be better to recommend books than the Curtis Brown and C+W agents? We asked them what the last un-putdownable novel was that they read (not including novels by their own clients), and what they liked most about it. We also asked them to tell us what kind of debut novel they’d like to see landing on their desk right now.
Last novel I loved: Kolymsky Heights. I read this in 1994, re-read it recently due to the Faber reprint, and was pleased to see Waterstones support it this month. It is the most unexpected thriller you will read – beautifully written, multi layered, very pacy and has big ideas.
What I’m looking for: I want to be surprised. Taken from the familiar to the extraordinary by way of breathtaking sentences. Not too much to ask, surely?
Last novel I loved: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Most beautifully drawn portrayal of love, relationships, ambition and the fearsome power of the human mind; and what happens when it doesn’t perform how it should.
What I’m looking for: Something really powerful emotionally, possibly historical setting, with an unexpected or unconventional ending.
Last novel I loved: Probably The Incarnations by Susan Barker. It’s the most incredible book – David Mitchell meets Haruki Murakami by way of Wild Swans, yet utterly original. A cab driver in China is left letters by someone claiming to have known him for 1,000 years, in different lives. Each letter becomes a short story in itself, spanning China’s rich history, whilst the book retains a compelling narrative thread that’s deftly crafted. I could wax lyrical about this book all day, as it’s clever, meticulously researched and wonderfully evocative of time and place, without compromising the readability of the book as a whole.
What I’m looking for: The kind of debut novel that could have come from Sarah Dunant’s pen – I have a huge appetite for luxurious, clever historical novels that put women at the fore.
Last novel I loved: My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. I have been swept up and into the lives of Elena and Lina. A wonderful evocation of place and time and the mystery surrounding Ferrante’s identity provides further intrigue.
What I’m looking for: I’d like to read something fresh that holds a mirror up to working mothers in a way that is insightful, moving and funny. While it’s a subject that’s covered by many authors, I haven’t read a recent book that feels representative or that truly resonates.
Last novel I loved: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel was the last book I read that I couldn’t tear myself away from. Quite simply, it transported me to somewhere new and unknown, there was a wonderful mix of hope, threat and intrigue, the writing was stunning and I was rooting for the characters from the word go. I couldn’t not know what became of them.
What I’m looking for: I’m eager to find an epic love story with something unique about it, whether it’s an unusual setting, situation or fantastical sense of ‘otherness’ to it. I’d also love a psychological crime writer in the vein of Tana French: compelling, with exceptional plotting and a fierce talent for building suspense.
Last novel I loved: The Two of Us by Andy Jones (a debut!). It’s the story of what happens after the Happy Ever After. Totally charming and brutally honest, I laughed too loudly on the bus and was wiping away tears on the last page. The perfect combination.
What I’m looking for: I’d love to find a bittersweet coming-of-age love story (a la Rainbow Rowell or John Green – I know, I know, everyone says that) for the crossover YA/adult market, or a creepy psychological thriller about couples keeping secrets.
Last novel I loved: I couldn’t put down Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved it because it managed to discuss important cultural issues within the context of a compelling narrative with fascinating characters (and a wonderful love story, to boot!)
What I’m looking for: I would love to see a debut novel that does the same thing.
Last novel I loved: Stoner by John Williams. Such a surprise, so compassionate yet cruel at the same time, so resolved in its form yet with so much emotional unfinished business. An amazing emotional balancing act.
What I’m looking for: A fresh and powerful voice in crime fiction by someone who knows and understands the tropes, but doesn’t parrot them, and who is so on top of their story that they aren’t afraid of trying to pull things inside out.
Last novel I loved: The Girl On the Train. Loved the pace and how intriguing it was. I found it impossible to carry on with ordinary life as I was just desperate to carry on reading and find out what on earth was going on.
What I’m looking for: Something that transports me to another world.
Last novel I loved: The Girl on the Train; because it was like watching a Hitchcock film and it is nice to read something for grown-ups once in a while!
What I’m looking for: A real-life middle-grade novel with a truly unique hero/heroine, set in the UK
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).
We’re also offering a low-cost ‘taster’ course, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel course (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 23 October).