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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!).

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…

LIFE Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings: New skincare faves

Right, I promise today to not talk about babies or toddlers or anything mummy related. Instead, I thought I’d do a quick post on my two favourite things from my wonderful Liberty beauty advent calendar. And a quick note about that too: it was flipping expensive but really it was worth every penny, I LOVED opening it each day and best of all getting to try lots of different products that I would never normally even know about. So totally worth treating yourself if you can spare the dosh. This year, I think I’ll try the Lookfantastic one, as I’ve heard good things about that too, and it seems to have more make-up in it (the Liberty one was quite skincare heavy). But I’m getting ahead of myself…

There were some real gems in the Liberty advent calendar. And only a few duds – as I said on Twitter I’m fairly sure that Night Brow Balm is a solution looking for a problem, and as for the two tubes of mini toothpaste – fancy they may be but still, meh.

But there are two products I’ve repurchased – here they are and here’s why…

Eve Lom Cleanser

I know tons has been written about this already and it’s also a bit controversial because it has mineral oil (Vaseline to you and me) in it, but it’s literally THE BEST CLEANSER I HAVE EVER USED. It has truly transformed by skin. I was using Clinique’s Take The Day Off before and while it did the job it also dried my skin out quite a bit. But the Eve Lom stuff seems to both exfoliate and leave my skin super baby soft, not a hint of tightness or dryness. It also comes with the best muslin cloth I have ever used (if you don’t fancy the cleanser, maybe treat yourself to some of these instead – you can buy them in packs of three). Now, it’s ridiculously expensive, and I used the entire advent-calendar pot up before buying it as I wanted to be sure sure sure before I splashed out that kind of dough, but no regrets. It means I need less moisturiser after and I’ve also given up my Alpha H Liquid Gold (which was great but did freak me out a bit with the burning sensation) because it seems to exfoliate so beautifully I don’t need it. Hurrah. It’s a bit smelly (I quite like the smell myself, clove oil I think!) so it’s definitely worth testing before taking the plunge, but I’m a real convert and heartily recommend.

Malin + Goetz Vitamin E Moisturiser

This is a super boring looking bottle and a very underwhelming product to use. It has no discernible smell and the texture is quite thin. But it’s amazing! It leaves my skin soft and happy without being shiny at all (no need for loads of powder throughout the day) and it hasn’t clogged up my pores or broken me out. Also quite pricey, but another one I really recommend – it’s apparently great for sensitive skin too. A bit of an obscure brand (and I wish they could have put a BIT more effort into the packaging because it’s THIRTY NINE BLOODY QUID AND I WANT SOMETHING PRETTY FOR THAT) but totally worth checking out if you want something non-perfumed and kind to your skin that does the job.

Both of these are available at Space NK so I am sure you can get samples if you fancy testing them out. I also loved the Aurelia Refine & Polish Miracle Balm, but it’s just stupid money, and the Laura Mercier hydrating primer, which really does help your foundation stick around.

LIFE Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings: Belated Resolutions

Might as well, right?

I’m a bit of a grumpy cow when it comes to actually celebrating New Year’s Eve (as I’ve said before I’m allergic to organised fun), and this year was no exception. However, there’s definitely something to be said for feeling refreshed and coming to the year anew, rethinking all that’s gone before and deciding on some changes.

So, a little bit late I know, but here are my new year’s resolutions:

Lose some bloody weight

Now, I’m not the sort of person who really obsesses about their weight but that’s because up until about two years before I got pregnant I could eat whatever I liked and I really didn’t put any weight on. But then my metabolism changed completely, and suddenly I understood all the neuroticism surrounding food. When I was pregnant I decided it didn’t bloody matter what I weighed so long as the baby was growing (which she wasn’t – cue my excuse to eat even more). Then I gave birth and felt a bit horrified by my new figure, and worked a bit to get some of those maternal fat stores off. But then Daph decided to stop sleeping. And we moved house to somewhere where the car is needed to get to most places, meaning I don’t even get to go for long walks anymore. And then it got cold and then it was Christmas and I ATE ALL THE THINGS. And now I am about half a stone heavier than I was in the summer, and I actually feel gross. So yes, new year’s resolution no 1 is the most boring and predictable one of all but I must stop EATING ALL THE THINGS. Specifically, sugar. And get off my arse more. I’m back doing the XBX plan which I love (apart from the lateral bends which are bloody HORRID), and once the weather warms up, intend to start jogging again.

Stop spending so much money

I’m not terrible with money – I don’t really have any debt apart from my mortgage, but neither do I have a pension and I only save enough dosh each year to pay my tax bill in January. From next month I’ll be getting less income each month (long and complicated story, but some of my revenue from selling my business was deferred, and this comes to an end next month). So I need to stop buying things on a whim. I am a terrible whim-buyer – I see things I like and I buy them, without really thinking twice. Stupid stuff like coffees I don’t really need, a new umbrella because it’s prettier than my old one, another lipstick that’s identical to one I already own but a different brand etc etc. If frittering money away was an Olympic sport I’d ace it. So I’ve started a new budget – actually written down all my outgoings on a spreadsheet and given myself a fixed sum each month to spend on crap clothes, beauty etc. It’s not much but it should be enough to get by. Just to prove I’m down with the zeitgeist, I’m calling it Mindful Spending.

Read more books

I make this resolution every year. It’s pretty obvious. Stop pissing time away on Facebook at night and instead spend more time with my Kindle. Specifically I’d like to read some more classics, rather than just stuff that’s in the bestseller lists. I didn’t do English A Level (and I call myself a writer – shock horror!) and there are some serious gaps in my reading that I’d like to fill (Oli was disgusted to hear that I’d never read Wuthering Heights last week when we were watching the Bronte programme on BBC… *hangs head in shame*).

Sort out my career

Ah the biggie! I am trying, honestly. I have been totally lost in sleep-deprived motherhood career-wise and I have so many thoughts on it all that I’d love to clarify in my own mind (do I try to find a full-time job? set up another company? continue freelancing in an industry that inconsiderately decided to die on its arse while I was off having a baby? retrain as a librarian? (seriously, have been considering this!) if not then what what what?) and then share, but I don’t have time because, well, I’m a mother. So yes, more soon. Hopefully. Once Daph’s settled into the childminder!

LIFE

To sleep, perchance to dream… if bloody only

My beautiful little sleep thief

It’s 2017 folks! I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. Usually for new year I make a whole load of decisions about life and how I’m going to handle things going forward, and I start new projects and generally feel motivated to make changes. But this year I haven’t had the energy. Mostly, I have realised, this is because I am obsessed with Daphne’s sleep. Or more specifically, her lovely new habit: early rising.

It’s beyond ironic that you can dream for months of your baby sleeping through the night, believing that once that happens, everything will be fine and dandy and you will be reborn, back to your old self, fizzing with energy all day. HA. Daphne does indeed now sleep through the night, and it’s great. To a degree. However, the unwanted side effect of this is that she now thinks the day should start at around 5.20am. And there ain’t no getting her back to sleep after that time (we have tried EVERYTHING but unless we get up with her, she screams and screams).

Having my day start with a 5 basically makes me feel like I am permanently jetlagged. It is far more exhausting than being woken in the night. I would actually go back to a 2am wake up, if it meant that the day didn’t have to start till 7am, or even 7.30 (what a treat!). It’s been suggested that I should adjust my own sleep schedule to accommodate it (going to bed at 9pm or whatever – ugh) but I really do believe that biologically people are wired differently. I am a night owl, and my most alert and awake times are in the evening, after dinner – it’s the time I do most of my creative writing. Before I had a baby if I woke before 8, I’d feel pretty knackered for the day. My body clock just does not agree with super early mornings, and when they’re pitch dark and freezing, as the heating hasn’t even come on yet, then they’re even more hideous.

I won’t bore you any more with what I’ve been trying to sort this problem out until I find something that works. When I do, I’m going to patent that shit and market it to all the other sleep-deprived parents of toddlers and make my fortune. This morning she slept til 6am, so there is hope. I think. I pray. I am so jealous of people whose babies sleep from 7pm-7am every night. I am SO jealous. And I don’t get jealous.

Good things about 2017: Daphne starts at the childminder’s next week. I will have a whole day per week to myself to work. I need to finish my novel, and that really must take priority, but I also desperately want to get another project off the ground that’s been bugging me for nearly a year now, and also decide what on earth I am going to do with this blog. But like I said, before my brain can wrap its knackered matter around that little lot, I need to sort out this sleep thing. So please please please – wish me luck (and leave me any suggestions you think might work!)!