All Posts By

Charlotte Duckworth

Writing life

The Faber Academy Writing a Novel course

I have been meaning to write this post for AGES. I finished the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course back in March, and kept thinking that I must remember to write a little review of it on my blog, because when I was researching the course I didn’t find much online about what it was really like. From people who’d actually been through it and come out the other side. What happened to them all? Was it so scary that they never wrote another word? Were they all far too busy writing their bestsellers to have time to blog (hint: in many cases this IS the reason)? Was it just utterly rubbish?

So, for people in the same boat, here are the thoughts and ruminations of a survivor! (that’s a joke btw).

I applied for the course last August, after making a decision that I was going to give the whole ‘one day I’ll be a proper novelist’ dream a real shot. I was at the end of my maternity leave and didn’t have a job to go back to – a scary prospect and a story for another time. I had some regular freelance work to keep the wolf from the door, but I didn’t have a ‘plan’. And I’m a Capricorn, and I like a plan. So I made one: apply for Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, write novel during six months on course, get publishing deal. Live a life of fame and riches, etc etc.

So I applied, and then waited. And waited. And didn’t hear a peep. My plan was falling at the first hurdle! But, as a Capricorn, I had a Plan B. Plan B was to apply for the Writing a Novel daytime course AS WELL, which started at the same time as the evening one. I figured I’d doubled my chances, and hoped the tutors wouldn’t be confused and think I wanted to do both.

While waiting to hear whether or not I got a place, I did some pretty obsessive googling and found someone on a forum saying she had been offered a place already. My hopes dashed, I resorted to Plan C, stuck two fingers up at Faber, and puked out 5000 words of something completely new in one evening. Who needed a writing course to write a novel anyway?

But then the next day, when I was licking my wounds of rejection and feeling smug that I’d at least started something, I got an email. Saying I’d got a place on the evening course, and that Joanna Briscoe wanted me to be in her group. To say I was chuffed would be an understatement, as I’d always wanted to be in Joanna’s group. I read her haunting novel Sleep with Me years ago and knew she was exactly the kind of writer I wanted to learn from.

I was so nervous that first day, waiting outside in the rain for someone to open the Big Black Door. In truth, I don’t remember much about the first session at all, apart from that everyone was very polite and very nice, and the mix of backgrounds and experiences was brilliant. It was a really diverse group – I had thought it would all be journalists like me, but we had screenwriters and actors and architects, and a huge age range too. I remember we had to do a writing exercise to warm us all up, which definitely broke the ice, and I was so impressed with the people who volunteered to read theirs out to everyone (I still remember yours Tommy!).

I don’t think I spoke much for the first few weeks, but as we all got to know each other, I found my feet. I absolutely loved reading everyone else’s work – it was amazing seeing the variety of voices and stories, and I learnt so much from hearing other people’s critiques. It’s a fascinating process and really made me think. Joanna was a thoughtful and considerate tutor, never bossing us about but gently leading us, and pointing out things less experienced writers might not know or notice.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I was really gutted when the first term came to an end. But – and this was the best bit – I had a first draft. An entire first draft, written in three months. Having that course to motivate me to keep going and ploughing on every day was crucial – Joanna asked us each week to set ourselves word counts, and then would check up the following week to see how we got on. The pressure was helpful, rather than scary, and everyone worked at their own pace, encouraging each other.

The second term flew by in a flash. Each term, we all had one ‘peer review’ session, where we submitted 5000 words of writing for the rest of the group to read and comment on. We’d then have a 45 minute group discussion once we’d all read the extracts. It’s as terrifying as it sounds, but also a necessary part of learning to write if you want to share your work one day with real readers! From time to time discussions got a little heated as with any creative endeavour, opinions are so subjective. But the lively discussions always got my brain going, and I found the feedback on my own work fascinating.

Our final class – sniff!

 

By the time the course came to an end, I think everyone was feeling a bit bereft. After having a baby and having a year off work, I’d loved having the structure of the weekly sessions (plus the long Saturday ones each month) and feeling like I had somewhere ‘grown up’ to go, to focus on my writing. Some of the passages we wrote in class for exercises actually made it into my completed novel, and they were easily some of the best. I also met some truly inspiring and interesting people, and count my 14 classmates as real friends. We continue to meet once a month, with several members of the group still sharing and reviewing each other’s work. A gang of us also went to the Hay Festival together in May, and I know I have writing friends for life.

Some of my Faber group in the Welsh countryside earlier this year

 

So my thoughts on the course… blimey, this is already over 1000 words, I’ll try to keep it speedy. I think it’s a really enjoyable and interesting experience. It’s a selective course, so everyone who gets a place has already shown they’ve got the potential to get published one day. But I don’t think it’ll get you published if you don’t put the work in. Like so many things in life, you get out of it what you put in. It’s not some kind of quick route to publication, or a way of bypassing the hard slog that comes with writing a novel. There’s a lot of hype around the agents’ reading day at the end of the course (when a group of literary agents come and listen to everyone read from their work). I do think this is a great way to get yourself ‘seen’ by agents, but if the work isn’t up to scratch, it won’t make a difference to whether or not you get taken on.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! In fact, once the course ended I started looking at other Faber courses, and wondered if I could justify the cost of the Editing Your Novel one. I also fully intend to do a poetry course there at some point in the future, as I’ve never really written much poetry and think it would be wonderful to learn about a completely different way of writing.

As you probably know it’s an expensive course. In some ways, I think this filters out the less committed. If you pay that money to get on, then you’re clearly going to take writing seriously. Which is great. But it’s a lot of money (although you do get a discount if you’ve already done a Faber course). Faber have announced that next year they’ll be offering two free places to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to do it, which is absolutely brilliant.

I’m happy to answer any questions about the course – just leave me a comment below. As far as I am aware, different tutors have different teaching styles, so I can’t guarantee your experience will be the same as mine, but the peer review element is the foundation of the whole thing, so happy to give any feedback on that.

Oh and just in case you were wondering, my plan worked! The novel I wrote on the course will be published next year, but that’s a whole other blog post…. (coming soon!).

Accessories

GIVEAWAY! The Junior Fine Bedding Company [Closed]

**** THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED! ****

I’ve got a fantastic giveaway for you today from the folks at The Fine Bedding Company – one of the UK’s leading bedding brands. Their Junior range is suitable for children from 12 months, and has everything you’d need and expect to give your little ones the same lovely cosy sleeping experience that you enjoy. Or at least, the lovely cosy sleeping experience you would enjoy if it weren’t for the little rascals getting you up five times in the night… *deep sigh*

The Junior range from the Fine Bedding Company features a number of bedding essentials including a range of mattress protectors. Now I don’t know about you, but Daphne’s mattress protector has certainly earned its keep over the past two years… I’ll spare you the details, but it was definitely one of my most sensible purchases!

There are two mattress protectors available in the range. The Anti-allergy Mattress Protector was specially designed for babies and toddlers with sensitive skin and its hypo-allergenic material features a dust mite barrier to protect against allergic reactions. As well as being totally waterproof, it has a silky soft 100% cotton cover.

There’s also a Protector Pad with peach soft cover to help guard against night time accidents. It’s easily transportable and can also double up as a handy play mat. Available in cot, cotbed and single bed sizes, both products are machine washable.

I have a eight mattress protection prizes (a combination of Mattress Protectors and Protector Pads) to give away – four in the cot bed size and four in the cot size.

To enter, simply leave a comment below stating how many hours’ sleep you had last night (be honest!) and I’ll pick the winners at random. Good luck!

T&Cs
* Competition is only open to legal residents of the UK, 18 years or older.
* The competition period is from 9.00am 30 July 2017 to midnight, 12 August 2017. Any entries received outside the competition period will be void.
* The winner will be notified after the closing date.
* Eight winners will receive one mattress protector or protector pad from The Fine Bedding Company. Subject to availability, non transferable or refundable.
* No cash alternative will be given.
* Only one entry submitted by any person during the competition period will be eligible.
* The winner is selected at random, from correct entries received, after the competition end date.
* Correspondence will not be entered into.
* Allow 3 weeks from selection to dispatch of prize.

**** THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED! ****

The winners are Jo Tubbs, Sophy Deary, Sharon Lou Johnson, Rachael O’Brien, Simone Griffin, Esme McCrubb, Terri Dudey and Samantha Buntain. See proof of random result: http://www.randomresult.com/ticket.php?t=358382A2937

Interview

The Nursery Blind Company

I’m really excited to share today’s post with you because I genuinely think it’ll be incredibly helpful. Like many new mums, I didn’t realise quite how important the window dressings in my baby’s nursery would be. Not only did they need to look lovely (of course!), they also needed to be safe and block out as much light as possible in order to maximise the holy grail of all parents: sleep. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of The Nursery Blind Company when I was doing up Daph’s nursery and so we settled for paper-thin polka dot curtains from Ikea, topped off with blackout fabric suctioned to the window panes. Classy.

So yes, I’m really pleased to introduce Debbie Chan to you today. Debbie’s a mum, and her business does exactly what it says on the tin – I’ll let her tell you more…

How long ago did you start The Nursery Blind Company, and what inspired you to do so?

I started in 2010. I was lucky enough to be working for an interior design company and had access to all the beautiful fabrics and trims which were available. My own children were very young so I designed and made the Roman blinds for their bedrooms. Everybody who saw them loved them and I realised that lots of mums didn’t know where to start looking for something more creative, and also struggled to visualise how they would look.

We think that there is so much choice out there but in fact a lot of it is very similar and of poor quality.

So I thought it would be a good idea to design a small range of hand-sewn blinds that not only looked beautiful but would be available online and are easy for customers to buy at any time. A lot of my enquiries and orders come in during the night and I think it’s mums up nursing their little ones and browsing the internet in the peace and quiet. 

Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before? 

I had done lots of things before, and without realising it at the time, they all came together to help me. When I was much younger I was a children’s nanny for a European family and was surrounded by beautiful and stylish homes and children! Later on I professionally trained to make hand-sewn curtains and blinds and from there was asked to manage the soft furnishing department of an interior design company.  Being a mum helps hugely as you understand the conflicting needs of parents and children. However it also can hinder as you become time poor!

Where do you start when designing a new piece? 

I think as most designers will tell you – they are always looking out for new and exciting things. I always carry a notebook out with me and am scribbling away at ideas. I visit lots of trade fairs for inspiration and look at magazines and also Pinterest. Mostly though I am very mindful that the blinds have to be both beautiful and practical and I have to love them too. I think about trends but also about traditional styles and try to blend them both together. I gather lots of swatches together and make samples up to see what they look like when finished.

Lots of my customers return to me to make curtains and blinds for other rooms in their home and this has led to me offering a range of wool tweed blinds also with pom pom trims, which has proved enormously popular.

Which is your favourite design in the collection? And the most popular?

My favourite design is my newest one – with bunnies appliquéd onto the top edge – I love their little pom pom tails!

The most popular is the grey stars cotton print, with white pom pom trim, as it looks beautiful in both boys’ and girls’ bedrooms and blends with all the lovely soft greys that are so popular at the moment.

Which types of fabrics work best in nurseries and children’s rooms?

Smaller prints or stripes work especially well as windows in children’s bedrooms tend to be smaller. Cotton prints or weaves are also nice as they are natural fabrics and look good whether the blind is up or down.

Please share your five top tips for parents choosing blinds for nurseries and children’s rooms.

Firstly – is it safe? – when the new child safety recommendations came in a couple of years ago I spent a lot of time fully understanding the requirements and ensuring that everything I supply is compliant. There is a lot of confusion in the industry but all blinds now need to be supplied with breakaway devices so that a loop cannot form. It is really important to me that I only supply compliant blinds so naturally everything meets these requirements.

Secondly – Make it fun! As they grow up children’s rooms mean the world to them as they’re spaces just for them, where they feel safe, play with friends and have make-believe adventures. If you get the interior right it can inspire their imagination and creativity.

Thirdly – Make it practical. I use blackout lining on all my blinds and although it will never keep the room completely dark it will make the room dimmer for longer – especially important during long summer days. It’s also a signal to babies that it’s now time to sleep, which all helps with routine.

Fourthly – Try to make it flow with the rest of your house. It is so much easier if you decide on the fabric first and then choose the paint colour to match. I happily send out swatches as I realise how important it is to get this right. I personally don’t like cartoon characters etc. as they tend to be vary garish – and children quickly get tired of them. It can become expensive to keep replacing.

And lastly, Roman blinds are neater and less bulky than curtains – leaving more room to play!

What piece of kids’ design do you most admire?

I love built-in cabin beds that look like dens, or castles or even shabby sheds! They look great and I know from experience how many hours of fun they create. 

When you’re not running the business, how do you like to spend your time?

Ha – well – there’s a question! When I am not ferrying my own children around to various events I do like to play tennis and I also learnt to sail earlier this year as it was something I had always wanted to do.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I love to hear when customers are delighted and some even send me pictures of their blinds up. Some customers have questions beforehand and may want guidance and reassurance especially if it is a first baby – getting the nursery right is a very exciting time! I like to answer questions very quickly and in a personal way as every customer is cherished, exactly as if they had come into a bricks and mortar shop.

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS!

What’s your favourite…

…holiday destination:

Italy – I love the food!

…children’s interiors brand:

The Little White Company – excellent quality and value for money.

…way to relax:

Sunday morning with the papers (which are usually from the week before!). Sitting in the garden with friends having a drink or just reading a book in peace.

…thing about being a mum:

Enjoying the privilege of being a mum – there was a long time when I didn’t think I was going to be one, so now I enjoy and appreciate everything and just hang on and enjoy the rollercoaster!

Visit The Nursery Blind Company website, NOTHS page and Etsy page.

Furniture GTYR Loves

Nidi Design

Something for bigger kids today! Nidi Design by Battistella is an ultra-cool Italian brand that specialises in creating modular and customisable furniture for children. And the designs are beautiful.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, my bedroom was 100% Ikea. Apart from my bed, which may have been Argos. Anyway, if I recall correctly there was a LOT of beech chipboard and silver tubular metal (along with my petrol-blue walls and hot-pink stencilled border, but the less said about that the better…). The furniture wasn’t much to write home about. If I could have had even one thing from Nidi Design, I would have been over the moon and the envy of all my mates, I’m sure.

So back to their offering – it is huge. So much so that I’ve just featured a few of my favourites in this post. But you get the idea – modular furniture, plenty of different colour and finish options (more than 15 in fact) and lots of clever storage, which is always a massive bonus, especially when children become teenagers.

The main thing to note is that kids can mix up the pieces to create a bedroom or play space that is completely unique to them – using bold pops of colour combined with more natural wood finishes. There’s also a bespoke service available, so if you’re contending with an awkward-shaped room, you can have furniture custom-made to fit perfectly and make the most of the space available.

Where the brand really stands out from the crowd is with its desks. They’re all gorgeous, and feature clever little additions such as mirrors hidden under the lids, converting them instantly into a dressing table. The wardrobes are also striking – proper statement pieces that could completely lift a room’s design.

As with most Italian design, it’s not cheap. Having said that, I’d expect the resale values on these pieces to stay strong, especially if they’re taken care of. If you’re interested, you can see a huge range of Nidi Design pieces at Nubie.

Go To This Shop

Antipodream

Today’s super shop is one I wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for my interview with the lovely Lucy last week (if you missed that, btw, check it out here). Something I have noticed since I’ve been researching children’s interiors is that the Australians have so many more original and quirky products for kids on offer than we do here – I think it’s something that’s interestingly a bit lacking in UK designers. So if there are any out there reading this, I reckon there’s a real niche to be filled!

Antipodream, as the name might suggest, specialises in products from Australian and New Zealand. And their collection is full of quirky, colourful designs that are a world away from the Scandi minimalism we see more often.

In their own words: ‘The Antipodream collection focuses on bright colours, bold designs and print layering.  Every item has been carefully selected with an eye for quality, durability and sustainability – allowing you to create colourful, relaxed spaces for your children that suit their tastes as much as yours.’

Sounds good to me. Let’s take a look at some of their star products…

First up is the amazing collection by Electric Confetti. Neon signs have been a ‘thing’ in mainstream interiors for over a year now, but there’s no sign of the trend waning. And these kid-friendly versions are absolutely amazing – I love them and want them all. I think they work just as well in teenager’s rooms as they do in little kids’ rooms too. Or a playroom. If you’re lucky enough to have a playroom in your house, they’re just perfect.

There are eight different designs to choose from, but my favourite is the lollipop above – I love the colours and the ombre effect. Although the unicorn is pretty nifty too.

On to even more kitsch delights – this rainbow mirror is made from shatterproof plexi glass and has more than a nod to the 70s and 80s.

Next up in my top picks is this unusual wall shelf – I love the vibrant colour and the perforated metal – it’s magnetised too, so you can stick things to it easily.

There’s also a range of limited edition prints on offer, and I’m rather taken with this bird by Pete Cromer, and his lovely feathered headdress.

Last but not least, this is my fave from their fab pillowcase range. Dinosaurs in every colour. Love it.

Phew! I think this might be my most colourful blog post to date. Hope you love these picks as much as I do – let me know what you think by leaving a comment below, or chatting to me on Facebook or Instagram!