02 May 2019

#WriteCBC: Writing Tip and Writing Task from Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer, Author
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

This month we’re celebrating not one but TWO birthdays … It’s the 8th birthday of Curtis Brown Creative, and the first birthday of #WriteCBC – oh yes it is! So, for those of you who’ve been taking part in our monthly Twitter writing competition for the full year, help yourselves to a virtual slice of cake (don’t worry, #VWG – it’s a big birthday cake – plenty for all of you!). And to those newcomers out there, you couldn’t have picked a better time to join in! Here’s a blog with information about how to play and the prizes you can win. Oh, and when you post your task up on Twitter, do make sure you use the hashtag #WriteCBC and tag us @CBCreative – otherwise we might not see it …

Our very special birthday guest for this edition of #WriteCBC is the wonderful Kate Hamer – who took a Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course in London way back in our very first year. Kate wrote her first novel with us, quickly gaining representation with Curtis Brown literary agent Alice Lutyens and a publishing deal with Faber. The Girl in the Red Coat became an instant bestseller on publication, and was shortlisted for many prizes including the Costa First Novel Award and the CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger. It has since been followed by The Doll Funeral, and, on this very day – 2nd May – by her third novel Crushed – so actually it’s a kind of birthday for Kate too! We are delighted to welcome her to #WriteCBC.

So, let’s find out what Kate has in store for you all …

Kate’s writing tip:

Stuck for ideas? Take a look at the fairy tales and myths that have been with us so long they’re practically part of our DNA. Powerful tales like Red Riding Hood and Snow White have much to teach us about story arcs, archetypes, and who we are …

This is great advice from a writer whose own work is steeped in fairy tales – most obviously in The Girl in the Red Coat. You wouldn’t even need to have read the novel to guess the Little Red Riding Hood influence, I’d say. But if it’s not already clear from the title, readers of that book will quickly encounter Carmen, the enigmatic, dreamy little girl at the heart of the story, who goes wandering off with a man who purports to be her grandfather …

When I asked Kate if she was consciously evoking the folktale in her novel, she told me it was “certainly floating round … Although I didn’t realise quite how much until I’d finished the first draft.” She went on to tell me, “Snow White informed The Doll Funeral – there’s a mirror in it and Ruby [the protagonist] goes into the dangerous woods after being cast out of home.” And now Rapunzel is in Crushed, says Kate – though more subtly …

Kate very much feels that fairy tales and myths find their way into your unconscious – and from there they can make their way through into your writing, without your even trying. Today, though, she’s going to ask you to play with a fairy tale or myth very consciously …

Kate’s writing task:

Take a fairy tale or myth & use the beating heart of it to write a short scene in a modern context. FYI I’m not looking for Cinders or Medusa to appear – I’d like you to find inspiration from a story passed down across the years to create your own

Kate Hamer is far from the only writer to draw on the stories that run deep through culture. The recently announced 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist includes two mythical retellings inspired by the Odyssey and the Illiad, Madeline Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. Last year, Kamila Shamie’s Home Fire – a modern-day Antigone – won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 2016 Colm Tóibín retold Greek mythology in the acclaimed House of Names and 2014 saw the publication of Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird – another Snow White retelling. Further back there’s Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, based on the fairytale The Robber Bridegroom – and inevitably we should raise our hats to Angela Carter …

But yes – now it is your turn. We’d like you to use a fairy tale or a myth as inspiration for a little tweet-length scene. You can use characters or situations from a work-in-progress, if relevant, or you can invent something wholly new. Your scene can be an opening – but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be from the middle or end of a story or novel – so long as it makes use of a myth or fairy tale – ideally recognisably so – and provided it’s a good read in and of itself.

Just to clarify absolutely – we want your character and your story in this exercise. You’re not just moving the fairy tale or myth into the modern day – we’re asking you to invent your own story, inspired by its well-known forebear.

Also, try to avoid fairy tale cliches: we don’t want “once upon a time” or “they all lived happily ever after”. Give us something fresh.

AND for this birthday tip and task, we’d also like to invite illustrators and writers of children’s picture books to join in:

If you like to write children’s picture book texts, then you can write this tweet-task as you would in a picture book for young children, and put #PB at the end (as well as including the #WriteCBC hashtag).

And if you’re an artist, tweet us your illustration (whether it’s full-colour or a black and white sketch) of a scene from a fairy tale transposed to the modern day. 

For the artists taking part we have a special guest judge, author-illustrator Marie Voigt! In keeping with this month’s theme Marie’s first picture book Red and the City is a modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

Red and the City, by Marie Voigt

Good luck everyone, and we’re looking forward to finding out which tales and legends are the ones that inspire YOUR writing …

This month’s winner is Carolyn O’Brien‏ (@CarolynManc):

Yes, she’d have them hung right round the boardroom: headshots of her short-lived predecessors, sharp suits captured in black and white. Non-reflective glass though, she specified – the new MD – her manicured nails snaking through her hair. 

We love Carolyn’s skillful allusions to the Medusa myth the ‘headshots’, ‘non-reflective glass’ and ‘snaking’ hands all subtly nod to this iconic female anti-hero. This modern day Medusa is a fantastic reimagining of the character which inspired her, she is a female boss with a cut-throat attitude who we already love to hate.

Congratulations, you’ve won a free place on the 6-week online novel-writing course of your choice.

And this month’s runners-up – each getting a £50 course discount – are KirstyW‏ @pkzc123, Louise Sharland‏ @LouisePSharland and with a picture book course discount Sue Lancaster‏ @WritesSue. Well done everyone!

This month’s illustration winner as chosen by the fantastic Marie Voigt is Helen Cochrane! We love this edgy version of Snow White.

Illustration by Helen Cochrane

Illustration by Helen Cochrane

And this month’s illustration runners-up – each getting a £50 Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book course discount – are @Clairelouise82, @jayceek33, Ian Martin‏ @iawima and S J C Lilley‏ @SagasofAion. Congrats all!

We run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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