The Professional Course

Next in our series of “what made a difference” to our writing lives, we talk about “the professional course”.  Workshops by publishers and agents have been big news – and have led to some big advances for debut writers.  What are they really like – and how did they make the difference?
Plague LandFor SD Sykes, author of Plague Land, the Curtis Brown Creative 3 month novel writing course offered a new perspective.  ““My novel just wouldn’t have happened without attending the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course, but I would say the thing that really made the difference for me was my new frame of mind. I’d spent years trying to get scripts commissioned, and I’d started to try second guessing what they would go for. With my novel I didn’t do that at all. I just wrote what interested me.”  The course provided vital insight on the business of writing and publishing and gave her the freedom to write in a new way.
Acts of OmissionFor Terry Stiastny, author of Acts of Omission, it was just the form she needed.  Of her 3 month Faber Academy course, she said, “I had just taken voluntary redundancy from my job at the BBC and thought that if I didn’t take that chance to try writing a novel, I would never know whether I could do it or not. The course gave me a structure that I needed to get started; having been a journalist, the impetus of a deadline was important to me.”  During the course, they submitted 5,000 word sections of work in progress for peer review and discussion, while workshops focused on character, plot etc.  “It helped to have to turn up every week and make that commitment to myself and the rest of the group. I think the financial commitment of having invested in the course was also an incentive not to waste my time.  By the time the course finished, I had made enough headway with the book that I had the momentum to continue.  I finished a first draft by June and sent it out to agents in the autumn.”
her-name-is-rose-2Christine Breen, author of Her Name Is Rose, attended the 8 month course run by The National Academy of Writing at the FreeWord Centre. “It had 12 writers and we met weekly. We had mentors and guests from the late Ian Banks to JoJo Moyes. Because it was 6 hrs we had enough time to critique and be critiqued. It was really well run. Richard (Beard) is a terrific reader. I didn’t finish my book until 1 1/2 years later and, to date, I’m the only one of the 12 to be published.”  
For Matthew Blakstad, whose debut Sockpuppet will be published in 2016, the  6-month Faber Academy course gave him his start.    mattblakstad“The peer review approach makes you a better reader which I think is a vital step to being a better writer; and the regularity of a group like this means you can’t slack off or you have someone to answer to.”  A professional course provides a vital network, from writers whose training reflects yours to professional contacts.  Recently, Matthew has started writing a blog for the Faber Academy, which will provide great support once his book is published.
Could a professional course make a difference to your writing, helping you to make the vital contacts to getting you published – or at least get you on the road?  It made a difference for these Prime Writers.  And if you need more incentive, there’s a brand new scholarship created by accountants HW Fisher at Curtis Brown Creative.  As SD Sykes said, “I saw the advert and thought – why not?”


3 thoughts on “The Professional Course

  1. Pingback: The Professional Course | theprimewriters

  2. I think what comes out of all these experiences is that the courses had certain things in common: they provided companionship, deadlines and confidence to write your way.
    A creative writing class led by the late Jan Mark gave me all three to start with but after the class finished I ran into difficulties and gave up. Later a life-writing class led by John Banham gave me back some confidence and I took up my novel again. This time however I had a personal mentor, provided by the Oxford Literary Consultancy. Elizabeth North, herself a successful novelist gave me someone to talk to, deadlines (I saw her once a fortnight) and confidence: I believed her when she said what I had written was good because she didn’t hesitate to criticise when it wasn’t. Under her aegis I finished the first draft. Jane Gardam who I’d met on an Arvon course, read this and liked it.
    These people gave me the confidence to carry on through the next frustrating years. However I don’t entirely regret the setbacks because it gave me time to do a lot of re-writing. The final version is a much better novel. Also during that time even the rebuffs weren’t entirely negative. To be told,’You write very well,’ by an agent who still doesn’t think she can sell your novel,’in the present climate.’ isn’t totally demoralising.
    In the end I opted for self-publishing which has had its positive side. My book, scrupulously proof-read by an ex- language teacher, is free from the errors that bedevil so many professionally published books. Self publishing also gives the author control over the production of her book. A graphic designer adapted a painting by my artist sister for the cover and it’s been a huge success. I’ve had wonderful feedback, by no means all from friends and family, and sold enough copies to be admitted to the Society of Authors, which alone shows how the image of self-publishing is changing.
    Now, however, although I have some confidence in myself as a writer I miss companionship and deadlines. Liz North died a few years ago and in any case I don’t feel I can afford another mentor. Published writers may not make much money unless they are a famous name; self-published writers usually end up in debt .

    ‘But I’ll Remember This’ by Pam Nixon is available as an eBook on Nook and Kindle. Paperback version from Blackwell on line or 3Score Publishing Stonesfield, Oxon


  3. Just want to express my gratitude to inspirational teachers on short courses, especially David Almond (Guardian masterclass), who made me believe I really did have an imagination and Sara Banerji (Oxford University Continuing Education) who is still going full steam ahead in her eighties.
    After these there was the University of East Anglia/Guardian Certificate course, held at UEA’s London campus.This course is selective and having the support and critical input of a small group of already brilliant and experienced writers as well as from our tutor Adam Foulds set my novel on its way to publication. Worth every penny to me, though at times the going was tough.


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