Photo: Course buddies Robbie Glen, Loraine Peck and Charlie Tyler in Oxford, UK.

 

When I’ve really enjoyed a book, I find it hard to let go. What happens next? I wonder. I start missing the characters immediately. In my eagerness for the reading experience to continue, I always flick to the acknowledgements section. In those last pages of Jane Harper’s award-winning first novel, The Dry, I found out about the Curtis Brown Creative online novel-writing course (https://www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/), based in London. I had zero experience as a writer; I knew I couldn’t possible apply to CBC. Instead, I tentatively chose an online course with The Writers’ Studio (https://www.writerstudio.com.au/, based in Sydney. 

The spectacularly named Owen Ravenscroft was the tutor for the course ‘Unlocking Creativity’. Four weeks of enjoyment was all lined up when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bugger. But it turned out that having something else to do with my mind—instead of worrying about what was happening to my body—was the perfect tonic. To say that doing the online course helped me through the operation and recovery would be a huge understatement. Not only was it fun, but I also discovered my imagination! 

I started the next course immediately. This time it was The Writers’ Studio ‘Novel & Script First Draft’ ten-month course, again online, with the wonderful Zahid Gamieldien (https://zahidgamieldien.com/). The course taught me how to structure the all-important and difficult first draft. How to come up with characters I would care about enough to live with them for years. And how to structure a plot that would take my characters through a classic story arc, on a hero’s journey. The result was my first draft of The Second Son. Back then I called it The Gangster Next Door. Sometimes I can still hear Zahid’s voice in my ear, suggesting a way to pick up the pace.

What I didn’t expect from an online course was to meet new friends from all over the world, friends I hope will be with me throughout my life.

The 80,000-word first draft in hand, I applied to Curtis Brown Creative and was hysterically happy when I was accepted. The online-novel course, led by Lisa O’Donnell, (http://cwagency.co.uk/client/lisa-odonnell) gave me the tools to dig deeper into my characters, experiment with point-of-view and really test my plot. Critiques from both Lisa and my fellow students were immensely useful as I wrote the third and fourth drafts. I also learned to own my book, now called The Second Son, and to fight for it. 

What I didn’t expect from an online course was to meet new friends from all over the world, friends I hope will be with me throughout my life. The support has been enormous and powerful. It changed my life. 

One of the major benefits of doing an online novel-writing course with CBC is that it gives the students access to the literary agents of one of the most prestigious literary agencies in the world. And that’s how I met Alice Lutyens (https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/agent/alice-lutyens). I particularly wanted to submit my first book to Alice because she was Jane Harper’s agent in the UK. And, as you may have already guessed, Jane is my hero. 

Alice read The Second Son in two days and told me she loved it and wanted to represent me. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Then the work really began. 

If your dream is to write a novel, I suggest you enrol in writing courses, learn the craft and write the book you want to read. Because you’ll be reading it over and over and over and over and over!