On what I learned from an #Author and an #Agent


Two days ago, I finished a course by Curtis Brown Agency, UK a three-day bootcamp for aspiring novelists in Singapore.

The Singapore National Arts Council  flew down Anna Davis, an author of five novels and a Curtis Brown agent who runs Curtis Brown Creative; and  bestselling author Jake Arnott, known for books like The Long Firm and The House of Rumor, to conduct this workshop.

Curtis Brown Novel Workshop Singapore

After the Curtis Brown Boot Camp Singapore

Between them, they chose 15 candidates out of 60 applications, and I got lucky. When I caught glimpses of the work of my peers, I realized how lucky– the room brimmed over with talent. I learned as much from their questions and answers as I did from some of  Jake and Anna’s comments.

In the three-day workshop Jake and Anna covered everything from Characters and Dialogue to Rewriting the Novel– they helped reinforce a lot of of my attitudes on technique.

But what helped me most were the sessions on Story, Structure, and weirdly enough (because I’m not ready for an agent by a long shot), the Agent Query letters.

Jake gave us an interesting theory of what a story is : Story occurs when character and plot meet. Story is itself the driving force, the very DNA of prose fiction. We do not tell stories. They tell us.

This led me to think about my novel– its plot which seemed to be doing too much and leading the story by the nose.

While writing the query letter (Anna surprisingly thought mine worked, though I had spent less than  two days writing it!)  and the pitch, I kept wondering what my story was about.

Anna Davis and Jake Arnott

Curtis Brown Bootcamp by Jake Arnott and Anna Davis

The 20-minute in-person tutorials with Jake and Anna told me exactly why it can be crucial to get feedback from the real pros in this business– while I’ve been flapping along like a fledgling stork with my first draft and second, they swooped in immediately like ospreys on just what the story was. Kind and perceptive, both Jake and Anna merely asked me a lot of questions– never forcing their point of view, but helping me see my work in a way I hadn’t before.

As a result, I’m now considering sweeping changes in my work, which might mean yet another complete change of direction and rewrite. And though that means a lot of new work, and a lot of old work possibly binned, I’m thrilled.

No matter what direction I take with my novel, and irrespective of whether it ever sees light of day, I learned to ask the right questions when it comes to a novel. To me, that’s invaluable.

—-

What workshops have you taken part in? Have you ever participated in a Curtis Brown Workshop? Has a workshop ever led to major changes in your work?

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43 thoughts on “On what I learned from an #Author and an #Agent

  1. Jake Arnott is an interesting writer because he reinvented his corner of crime fiction – most is plot driven, usually at the expense, to one degree or another, of character, whereas his characters react to the plotting and this in turn twists his plotting in a way that is unique to him. The big lesson from his his books, for me, is to think outside the box.

  2. 1.) I have never taken part in a writing workshop.
    2.) So that’s a “No” to a Curtis Brown Workshop. in Singapore or anywhere else. But I have been to Singapore many times. Does that count??
    3.) Which means that there has not been any major changes in my writing.
    Dang.
    4.) I might just have to stay amateur!! :)
    Thanks for dropping by “Honey.”

  3. Pingback: Chinese Publishing Weekly: November 4-10, 2013 | Chinese Publishing Weekly

  4. In this post and the last, you (and your guest) refer to questions that these professionals asked you that gave you insight and new ideas about your novels. I would love to read a post about those questions and to see some examples.

    I believe that it is by asking the right questions that we will get better answers in our stories. I aspire to become a better questioner!

  5. You were lucky to have such a marvellous opportunity.

    Writers’ critique groups are also a lovely way to get worthwhile feedback and identify parts of your work which are not clear to a reader, while enjoying the company of like-minded writers. You’re going too fast here, we need more more detail; less there, dig deeper, this is not clear…

    I’ve been attending an excellent one for the past five years and it’s helped my prose immeasurably. The social interactions afterwards are a bonus.

  6. That resonates so much with some of the struggles one of our blog contributors us having with her wip Damnyanti.
    I think the most important lesson should be that you should give yourself a little more credit. That perhaps your instinct is more on point than your head.

    Thank you for your visits at our blog. We appreciate you taking the time.

  7. Hi-

    I am currently taking a writers’ workshop with the writer Anosh Irani (www.anoshirani.com) through the Quebec Federation of Writers. It is an 8 week critique course and when it is over I intend to write a post on what I learned from this workshop. I have taken many workshops and attended many writers’ conferences but this is by far one of the best. He is always telling us to dig deeper…to find the truth. He says, if you have nothing to say but something to discover write.

    I enjoyed reading your post and am looking to build an online community of writer friends. I hope you’ll be one of them.

  8. Sounds brilliant. I can also recommend the Faber Academy’s “After the End” course on what to do after you’ve finished your novel. Also the place where I found my agent!

  9. It sounds like a great workshop with some personal feedback.
    I recently attended a conference in a rural area and wasn’t expecting the caliber of writers who participated – you can really learn a lot from others don’t you think?
    And congratulations on being selected!

  10. Thank you for your visits to my blog, Damyanti.

    I appreciate getting your Likes.

    I enjoyed your story about this workshop. Good luck with the novel, whatever you eventually decide to do with it.

  11. How exciting, Damyanti. What an opportunity. I’d love to hear more about the bootcamp. I’ve applied for a few of those, but never been selected. I can only imagine how inspiring it must be.

    • I think we were selected to a large extent for the diversity of our books and voices. I did come away very inspired– the 20 mins each with the two tutors were more than worth the price of admission.

  12. What kind of questions did they ask you? I’m wondering what I could do without shelling out anything for a class. It sounds like you had a great experience!

  13. Sounds like this was a really productive workshop for you. There is nothing like “fresh eyes”, right! I haven’t yet participated in a workshop. No novels, just getting things off my chest. lol.

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet me up @damyantig !

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