Browsing Tag

faber academy

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!).

LIFE Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings: Life updates

life-update-lifebylotte

More trees today, sorry!

Long time no blog. I apologise. If I’m honest, I’ve been a bit stuck for topics. Now Daphne is older, there isn’t so much to write about her on a regular basis (although she’s changing all the time, of course, it’s all quite subtle now and we’ve settled into a reasonably happy routine). I’d love to blog about the house but the truth is we’ve done a big fat NADA to it since we moved in. I don’t know how people manage to do up houses with babies/jobs/lives.

But here are a few little updates, just to reassure you I haven’t died:

  1. We have found a childminder! From January, Daphne will be going to a lovely lady in the village next to ours for one day per week. Even this feels slightly traumatic/scary, but at the same time, incredibly exciting as it means a whole day to myself to do whatever I like! Well, mostly work, of course, but still. I will have time to reply to emails, to plan stuff, to get ahead, to work on my book… I cannot wait.
  2. I have finished the first draft of my novel. It’s a bit of a mess (a massive mess in fact) but still, I’m really pleased as now I finally know what the story is about, and how to fix it. I had my critiquing session with my group at the Faber Academy last week (we share our first 5000 words with each other and give feedback) and it went really well, which was reassuring. I am sure it’s super boring reading on a blog about someone working on a book, but I have and I’m afraid it has been taking up most of my headspace lately, leaving little room for anything else. But I’m going to have a bit of a break from it over Christmas, and then get stuck in with the redraft in January. If anyone’s interested as to what it’s about, let’s just say it’s about new motherhood not turning out exactly how someone had planned…
  3. And on that note… I’ve been having a real think about the blog lately. When I first started blogging after Daph was born, it was as an outlet for all the experiences I was going through that felt so alien and new. But now I feel a bit more sorted (not much, but a bit) and also more like I should stop with the oversharing, as if I’m honest, I don’t think it’ll help me try to relaunch a career (more on that in a minute). So I’m trying to work out how the blog can fit into this new way of thinking. I don’t go to glamorous events anymore. My restaurant review days are well and truly over. My life on a day to day basis is incredibly mundane. I’m not one of those supermums who does crafts round the clock with their offspring, providing plenty of blog fodder. I could blog more about interiors, but somehow that doesn’t feel like it fits with the content I already have on here (plus there are a gazillion interiors blogs out there already). So yes. I need to make some decisions. I want to know what people find (and don’t find) interesting, so if you fancy sharing what YOU want to read about, that would be awesome and very helpful. I try to be honest about motherhood, and these posts do seem to be the most popular, but then I worry I sound like a right moaner… Generally it seems my real life friends like reading the personal stuff as a way of keeping up to date with my life when everyone’s so busy, but for those who don’t, I’m sure it’s a massive snorefest. Pondering pondering… and open to suggestions!
  4. Careers. Hmm, I shouldn’t write much about this really, but I am feeling so so saddened by the state of my former industry (magazine journalism). I haven’t done proper journalism for ages now, just bits and bobs here and there, but still, it was a bloody awesome job while it lasted. I found out the other day that the interiors website I worked on for four years from launch has been rebranded and basically turned into a shadow of its former self, with loads of staff being made redundant. I nearly wept! It is crazy how journalism has just died a death thanks to the internet. So yes, in 2017 I need to start making some firm decisions about what the hell I am going to focus on for the rest of my working life. SCARY stuff. I have written a list of priorities for my new career, top of which is not having to commute into London every day. More on that soon…
LIFE Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings: Writing and Dancing

the-last-tango-press-night-lifebylotte

Look it’s a photo of me for a change! And my sister. At The Last Tango press night 🙂

Hello hello, sorry I haven’t done a midweek catch up for a couple of weeks (and this one is a day late). Sometimes I get all cringey at myself and think, god Charlotte, midweek musings, what are you on about, who the F cares? But then I remember that, er, I care, and it’s nice to have these little diary entries to look back on. Especially since I have the memory of an aged goldfish.

So, yes, it’s been a busy old week or so. Oli opened with his show, The Last Tango. In case you haven’t heard about it, or seen the posters on the tube, it’s another dance show from the very lovely Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone, and Oli sings all the songs for it. On stage. He had to learn 17 songs for this show, which made for an interesting (read: stressful) two weeks when he was in rehearsal… But it’s opened now, and is going well, and he’s had some fab reviews which always makes me all proud and glowy inside. I went along to the press do last week with my sister and it was full of folk from Strictly, who are all universally lovely, it seems. There were also a few slebs there, but I’m pretty shocking at having a clue who people are (I swear I could be stood next to Angelina Jolie in Boots* and have no idea who she was), so my sister had to fill me in. Unlike at the press night for Oli’s last show, she didn’t get drunk and offend Brendan Cole (long story). No gossip, everyone was very well behaved. And everyone I spoke to told me how proud I must be of Oli, and how fabulous his singing is, which is always cheering.

On the subject of dancing, someone else in our family has decided to try it (I say someone else, Oli can’t dance for toffee, and neither can I). We noticed this week that little Daph has now started bopping her body about when she hears music – it is SO. BLOODY. CUTE. She can even keep time pretty well – it’s sooo sweet and funny. Especially as she doesn’t really smile while doing it, which makes it seem like some kind of strange involuntary reaction – CAN HEAR MUSIC, MUST MOVE BODY kind of thing. Babies are amazing.

In other news, I started my six-month Writing a Novel course at the Faber Academy last week and am enjoying it immensely. Aside from anything else, it’s so lovely having something to get a bit dressed up for (this sounds wrong, afear ye not, I’m not turning up in stilettos and a ball gown – I just mean putting on something other than stained jeans and a t shirt) and it’s fab to be using my brain again and talking to creative types. We’re in groups of 15, and my group is a really eclectic mix of screenwriters, actors, lawyers, journalists, film producers and even an architect. The best thing about this course so far is that every exercise is focused on the novel you are meant to be writing, so everything is relevant – there’s no pointless academia or tests or anything like that. I’ve been making quite good progress with my novel, and I’m up to 12,000 words now. I’m setting myself a target of 10,000 words a week, which is pretty ambitious, but I’m at home five nights a week alone while Oli is working on this show, so I figure I ought to be able to get 2000 words done each time. Obviously this is creating the very model of a shitty first draft, but that’s OK. I want to get my first draft finished by Christmas, so I can edit it next term. Fingers crossed!

*an unlikely scenario, granted

LIFE Midweek Musings

Midweek Musings: Exciting news and Daph updates

lifebylotte-daphne

She’s OBSESSED with sunglasses at the moment

Phew! It’s been a busy old week. Oli has started rehearsing for his new show, which has meant childcare musical chairs for everyone so that I can still do my in-house office work. Again, thank god for my mum. It’d be so much easier to get Daph a childminder sometimes but I don’t think anyone would have us with our annoyingly inconsistent hours.

But anyway, the future is looking a bit different (read: exciting!) for me, as I found out last week that I got a place on the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. I applied a few months ago and it’s been literal agony waiting to hear if I got on – I even googled myself into insanity by finding someone on Mumsnet who had applied for the same course and was offered a place about a month ago. I was convinced, therefore, that I hadn’t got on.

For those not in the know, it’s a six-month course, run by publishers Faber & Faber and based in their Bloomsbury office. It’s spawned a load of exciting writers, including SJ Watson (Before I Go To Sleep) and numerous book deals. It’s not cheap, and even though a few of my friends said I was mad to apply because a) one of its main aims is to get you a literary agent and I already have one and b) I could just spend the money on clothes and write the damn book on my own, I really really love working with others and meeting new people and collaborating and just sharing experiences. I’m a bit of a sucker for training/education in that sense. And it gives me a goal – I’d like to finish the first draft of the new book I’ve just started by the end of the course, and doing it also means I HAVE to take writing seriously for the next few months. It’s so easy with writing to let it fall to the back burner in favour of bread and butter stuff (which is obviously essential!) but I feel a bit like it’s ‘now or never’ for me. I’m really lucky in that I’ve still got money left from selling my business so I can afford to have a career break right now. Although I am still working a couple of days a week too, as well as doing my half of the childcare… hmm, hopefully my social life will still be there when I’m done?!

Oh, and eeep, the course I’m doing is run by Joanna Briscoe. Even more exciting. If a little intimidating.

Anyway, before I found out I got a place I started writing something new. Something a little bit different and a little bit risky but I’m feeling fired up about it which is such a great feeling after so long. I forgot how addictive and obsessive writing can become when you’re excited about something!

In other news, we took Daph for her development check up yesterday. The doctor was pleased with her progression re crawling, but she’s still not pulling up to stand, or standing by herself if we pull her up. She also always rests her weight on her tiptoes – in fact sometimes her feet kind of curl right over so that she’s resting on the top of her foot which looks so painful and wrong! He said she has really tight calf muscles (weirdly so do I) and in fact her muscles are a little ‘too strong’ so we have to massage her feet and ankles to try to get her to put her feet flat. He seems to think she’ll get there eventually, but she may walk on tiptoe for a few months. Like I’ve said many times, she ain’t gonna be an Olympic gymnast, bless her.

He actually said he was more worried about the fact she wasn’t using specific words for specific people/things yet. She’s thirteen months old on Saturday and a few of my friends with babies of similar ages don’t seem to think theirs do either, but perhaps they’re being nice. Daph says LOADS now – makes a huge range of sounds and lots of baby googledegook with mixed consonants/vowels etc. But nothing really specific. She says Dee Dee and Daddy a lot, but not at anything or anyone in particular. She also says ‘Dink’ which my mum thinks means she wants a drink but I’ve yet to really truthfully spot a correlation there. So a bit concerning but I still think she’ll get there – we know she’s running on a slightly delayed schedule but she does seem to always find her way in the end. The doctor even said she might just be a bit shy at trying to do things she’s not good at, which kind of makes sense, she’s definitely a cautious soul! Anyway, he told us to come back in two months if she still wasn’t using five or more words with meaning, and then he’d ‘refer her right away’. So another little target for our little girl – fingers crossed she can do it!