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!).

INTERIORS

Introducing: go to your room!

Squeak! This is quite scary. Today, I officially launched my brand spanking new blog: go to your room! No, not a handy advice site on how to discipline your kids (although if someone else fancies setting that up, you’ve got a keen reader here already). But a blog all about two of my biggest passions: interiors and kids!

(So, yes, just to clear up any confusion: it’s a blog all about kids’ interiors.)

Some of you may not know that I’ve spent most of my working life writing about interiors for magazines and websites. I’ve always loved poking about in people’s homes, seeing how they choose to furnish and decorate them. This blog used to have a few interiors-y bits on it, but to be honest, it was never a dedicated interiors blog, because I wanted to write about my life more than I wanted to write about design (because I was doing that every day as my day job anyway). But when I had Daphne, I really struggled to find much out there on children’s interiors. I certainly couldn’t find any blogs that ‘spoke’ to me (ugh, kill me now) full of fun, functional design-led products that both Daphne and I could enjoy.

So yes. Go to your room is my new venture. The name is tongue in cheek, obviously, but will hopefully stick in your mind! Please head on over there now and have a look – tell me what you think! There’s even a very cool shopping section, where you can buy some of my favourite pieces directly without having to leave the blog. I want to focus on highlighting independent brands as much as possible – especially those set up by parents, so if that’s you, please do give me a shout and share your story.

And of course, if there’s anything you’re searching for in particular, but you just can’t find, then do ping me a tweet or leave me a comment, and I’ll do my utmost to hunt down some suggestions for you.

Of course, you can also follow the blog on Instagram (I have like literally no followers on there at the moment, so please do come and join me!), Pinterest and Facebook.

Eeek! Hope you like!

BABY ON BOARD

Review: Tiddler Toddler Tracker

One of the best pieces of advice I (stupidly) ignored as a new mum was to keep track of your little one’s sleeping and feeding times, to help you establish a routine that didn’t result in them becoming overtired/hungry at night. I did it a bit, to begin with when Daph was tiny and seemingly drinking eighteen bottles of milk a day, but then as she got older I didn’t keep up with it. I had an app, which I never really got the hang of using (the breastfeeding ones in particular, with their built in timers, were just way too much faff for me!), and a paper chart the midwife gave me, but that soon got covered in milk/vomit.

So when I heard about the Tiddler Tracker (I saw a post about it from someone I follow on Facebook) I was pretty impressed, and really wished I’d had one in those early days, as it would have been much easier to keep on top of everything with a proper physical book. The Tiddler Tracker is a Moleskine-esq book filled with useful charts and pages for you to fill in, to track all aspects of your baby’s day. And it’s not just for babies, as there’s also the Tiddler Toddler Tracker for older kids, such as Daph, designed to be more relevant for them.

As a stationery fan, I just loved the idea straight away. I was also amazed that no one had thought of it before. I pinged off a tweet about them, and the company kindly got in touch and offered me a Toddler Tracker for review. Its arrival was very timely as we have recently been trying to keep a log of Daphne’s nap times to get on top of this early waking issue – it’s been SO helpful as we’ve realised that she actually needs to go to bed earlier than we thought if we want her to sleep in a bit later. It’s all to do with how long she’s awake for between waking up from her nap and going to bed for the night – any more than six hours, and she’s overtired and will wake in the night (and then, inevitably, wake for the day super early and grumpy).

There are several designs available to choose from, so you can find one that works for you, and the books are handily sized, so they’re not so small you’re squinting to read the pages, but they’d fit in your changing bag easily so you can take them out and about with you. Best of all the folk behind the company are parents and have really thought about the product, designing it based on personal experience of what works and what you need to keep a record of (they had a son with reflux, so understood the importance of tracking things carefully).

We’ve been using the Toddler Tracker for a week now, and we love it. Daphne’s also keen and enjoys watching us write things down in ‘her book’. I actually think the Tiddler Tracker would be a perfect present for new parents – something most people might not think of, but that would undoubtedly become an essential bit of kit for anyone coping with those crazy first months.

BABY ON BOARD Baby updates

18 month baby update

Eeek! It’s my last baby update for a while! I think I’ll do another one when Daphne turns two – it’ll be amazing to look back and compare how much she changes in six months, rather than one. But first up, my little madam is finally a year and a half old, and I know I keep saying this, but this really is the BEST age so far. She’s so bloody cute at the moment. She definitely went through a weird mental leap thing (her last ever Wonder Week – wow!) and changed a lot afterwards. The main thing I noticed is that she now doesn’t do things just because you ask her to. Ha! Before, if I said ‘Daph, go and get your shoes’ or something similar, she’d trot off like an obedient dog and bring them back to me. But now, she looks at me, thinks about my request and (usually) decides that she’d rather do something else instead. It’s actually amazing, and it fits right in with what they’re supposed to have learnt in the last leap – that they have free will, basically, and don’t have to do what they’re told. Of course, this means a LOT more frustration on both our parts, but it’s also amazing to think of her as this sentient little being with her own thoughts about things.

Another change – and the loveliest by far – is that she’s suddenly got super cuddly. She’s always giving me cuddles now – coming up to me and when I pick her up she throws her arms around me and buries her head against my shoulder and it’s soooo sweet, because she was never a cuddly baby at all. She’s also finally started sitting still a bit with me to watch television (yes I know this is terrible, but she’s always on the go and sometimes I wish she’d just have some quiet time and chill out because she wears herself out). The only thing she’ll watch at the moment is Little Baby Bum, the most random nursery rhyme cartoon thing on Netflix, but even so, it’s been lovely to have her snuggle up against me and watch it – we even ate some popcorn in front of the telly together yesterday and finally, I was living the parenthood dream. Ha.

Other developments – she is finally walking, but only with her push along walker dog. I know this isn’t a big deal for people with babies who’ve been walking from 10 months, but for us, this has been a bit mindblowing, and she looks so pleased with herself as she trots along behind him. She’s also taken a few steps towards me if there’s a gap between me and whatever she’s standing against – it’s almost as though she CAN walk, but she’s just too scared to do it, in case she falls over. Because she does it without thinking sometimes (admittedly only a few steps, like I say) which proves she IS capable. She just overthinks things. She’s got until the end of the month if she wants to beat me as I walked at 18 months, and I’m not sure if she’ll get there, but we’ll see… She’s standing really well now, too, finally!

Sleep has been another big big change this month. We’ve finally transitioned to one nap. Which has been SO brilliant, as usually it’s at least an hour, so we get a decent ish amount of time to get stuff done during the day finally. I know some babies sleep for two or even three hours a day, but that’s just not going to be Daph, I don’t think. She much prefers a shorter nap and an early bedtime, and is still going to bed around 6.30pm (but it has been 5.30 when her nap has been too short). Wake up times have been all over the shop, but that’s because she’s been ill the last week or two, so she seems to be waking in the night with a sore throat about 3am, and then going back to sleep quickly (a miracle in itself) until past six. This morning was 6.40am, which is the latest we’ve had in absolutely ages, but then I was awake at 1.30am myself coughing, as well as going in to her at 3 with milk, so we didn’t really feel much benefit! Typical! I’m hoping once the sickness subsides, we’ll get some kind of firm routine in place that we can stick to for the next year or so. That would just be amazing. Currently she’s sleeping from 11.30am to around 1pm, which is quite good as it means we have a decent length of time in the afternoon to do things – in fact today, we had a Sunday roast at my parents, which we haven’t been able to do for months.

Another big thing that’s happened this month is that Daphne started at the childminder. The childminder is like an angel sent from heaven – she’s absolutely wonderful, and Daphne has settled in really well. It’s changed my thoughts about childcare so much, actually – I thought it was all about the parents having time to work, but in fact, it’s Daph who seems to be benefiting the most, as she’s getting to interact with other kids, play with different toys, and generally have a whole day focused on her development and needs, rather than fitting in at home with whatever (not) exciting things we’re doing that day. We’re actually going to go up to two days at the childminder’s in March, and it makes me so happy to see how happy she is when I pick her up on Thursday evenings – she’s always really chatty and excited, almost a different child. Also, the childminder has taught her to drink out of a beaker on her own. FINALLY.

Speech wise, there haven’t been any noticeable changes this month. I think Daph has added to her repertoire of ‘b’ words – she can pretty much say anything beginning with B if you say it first. But other than that, not much to note. Still obsessed with the cat (is this normal?!) and still can’t say Mummy. The cutest thing in the world though is every morning when Oli goes in to get her hearing her excitedly squeak ‘Daddy’ when she sees him.

The best thing about this age is seeing the development of Daph’s personality. She’s really becoming a little person. Loves the cat, loves giving things to people (will crawl over to any grown up and hand them a piece of Duplo within minutes of meeting them), loves Duplo, is very cuddly and affectionate, will wave at anyone, loves other kids – especially bigger kids… Doesn’t have any patience for Peppa Pig, is SO OVER the Teletubbies now, likes to dance to music (shake her head and wave her arms around), can’t go to sleep without clutching one or more muslin cloths, is still obsessed with milk and only drinks milk from bottles, loves her baths, hates being in the pushchair, thinks soft play is a load of crap, only likes pop up books… I could go on and on forever. I’m so proud of her.

LIFE

Oh so quiet…

LOOK HOW HAPPY SHE IS ASLEEP. WHY DOESN’T SHE DO IT MORE. WHY WHY WHY *weeps*

Things that aren’t oh so quiet:

Daphne at 4.30 in the morning.

The sound of my current cough.

The cat deciding to join in as soon as it hears ANY KIND OF NOISE during the night.

Things that are oh so quiet:

This blog.

Yes, hello hello out there. I am sorry I have been neglecting you. The truth is, I’ve been working on something else, something a bit secret at the moment but that I hope to be able to reveal to you shortly (and no, it’s nothing to do with the novel, aren’t you relieved, FINALLY SHE’S STOPPED BANGING ON ABOUT THE NOVEL – although I am still working on that too – HA). But yes, new Secret Project (how annoying and wanky am I, you are welcome to hate me) has been taking up all my naptimes (Daph’s, not mine, although how I wish I could work while napping myself) and Life by Lotte has been left trailing in its wake.

Having said that, it feels like a bit of a natural time to wind down this blog anyway, actually. As I said in my last baby update, I don’t particularly want to chronicle Daph’s monthly developments forever more, especially not once she’s old enough to work out that I’m sharing all her personal info with a load of (very lovely, admittedly) strangers online. I’ll definitely be back for her 18 month baby update, but after that I think I’ll put LBL into a mini hibernation while I try to get the other project off the ground.

So yes, back soon, I promise, with more of my ramblings, but in a different guise. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much as this one. That’s the plan anyway.

Laters alligators and may all your nights’ sleeps be restful and undisturbed, and may your mornings not start at 4.45am with a poo, as mine did today. Daphne’s poo, not mine, I hasten to add…