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Time To Write Your Novel?

February 22, 2014
by the gentle author

The Bronte sisters arrive in Cornhill to meet their publisher Thackeray, 1848

In response to popular demand, we are running our HOW TO WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL course again in Spitalfields on the weekend of Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd March. The course is hosted by two writers who achieved notable success with their first novels – Rosie Dastgir author of A Small Fortune published by Quercus & Kate Griffin author of Kitty Peck and The Music Hall Murders published by Faber.

As guests, Walter Donohue, Senior Editor at Faber, will be talking about what he looks for in a first novel and Spitalfields resident Clive Murphy will be amusing us with his experiences as a novelist in London in the seventies.

The course will be held at 5 Fournier St, an eighteenth century weavers’ house, on Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 5pm. Lunch catered by Leila’s Cafe and tea, coffee and cakes by the Townhouse are included within the course fee of £250.

There are just fourteen places available, email to book your place on the course. Accommodation at 5 Fournier St can be provided upon enquiry.

Walter Donohue, Senior Editor at Faber

“I am looking for a distinctive narrative voice and an arresting first line, one that makes the reader ask, ‘What happens next?’ Of course, any novel must have structure – a beginning, middle and an end, though each part doesn’t have to be of equal length. I hope for characters that are grounded and authentic, with whom  the reader can empathise, and prose that flows across the page, drawing the reader into a believable world. Originality and imagination are essential, expressed in a strong story. But above all, I look for a certain confidence that derives from a writer responding to what their instinct tells them to write about.”

Rosie Dastgir

“I never made a conscious decision to be a writer.  Writing was always something I did from a very early age.  But I did make a conscious decision to write a novel when I moved to New York in 2005, it was the moment to try something new. I’d been writing screenplays and had worked in documentaries at the BBC for many years. One day, a project that I’d worked on for a while stalled and I was so demoralized that I decided I’d write something that didn’t require a committee of approval. So I wrote a short story, inspired by a trip I’d made to Pakistan when I was a teenager, and that became the seed of this novel. It evolved over several years and went through many iterations, as I rewrote it.  I finished it in New York where it was published in 2012.”

Kate Griffin

“Writing is an oddly lonely thing to do. 
It’s just you, staring at a notebook or a laptop, perhaps the sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the background, the occasional gurgle of central heating pipes, maybe a radio playing softly in an another room, a child laughing in the street?

That’s my experience anyway. I’m sure every writer will tell you something different. We all work in different ways. 
Despite the impression I might have given above of an isolated hermit-like existence, the main reason I write is that I love being surrounded by people. More specifically, I love it when my own sense of self is crowded out by the characters in my head clamouring to have their say.
 On a good day, they tell their own story – I don’t even have to do the work! On a bad day, I give up and attempt to find inspiration in the fridge. (It’s never there.)

Writing appeals to the thwarted theatrical in me. Not only do I get to set the scene, build and decorate the sets and write the script, I get to play all the parts too. 
Sometimes I run characters’ lines through my head as I type (I’m a lap top writer, not a long-hander) and at other times I read them aloud in suitable voices to make sure they sound right. There’s a chasm of difference between words on a screen and words spoken aloud. Often the only way to bridge that gap – and find out if they fly – is to try them out.

Having the opportunity to become a new person and explore an alien world through their eyes is something that motivates me to write. It’s like setting off on an adventure – even if you think you’ve got a map and a plan you’ll often surprise yourself. That’s part of the fun and part of the challenge.

My first novels ‘Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders’ and ‘The Jade Boy,’ for children, were published in the summer of 2013. I think it’s no coincidence that on Midsummer’s Day last year I also turned fifty. 
It was a watershed moment.

I’ve always written, in some way, for a living. I started out as a journalist on a local newspaper and then I hopped over the fence to work as a press officer. I love playing with words, but increasingly I found myself frustrated that I was telling other people’s stories not my own. 
I don’t think I ever admitted this, even to myself, but at some level, a small but horribly insistent voice kept insinuating itself into my mind, whispering that there was something else, something more creative and personal, that I could be doing with my ‘skills’.

Eventually I listened. Outside of work, I started writing about things that interested and entertained me. I was quite surprised at some of the macabre, strange, fanciful, gothic and, frankly, camp scenes that leapt from my head to the page. 
Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I was like Cecil B. DeMille directing a private and slightly mad epic. I’ve realised I don’t really do ‘small’. I’d love to pretend that I write with the precision and miraculous delicacy of Jane Austen, but, in truth, my characters and stories have a larger than life quality that owes a great deal to fairy tale, pantomime and the stage – the great obsessions of my childhood.

Actually, those passions have never gone away. They’ve clearly been marinating on a low flame for nearly half a century, but now they’re ready to serve and I’m grateful that despite the terrible things I put them through, my characters – the repertory company that lives in my head – still want to talk to me and tell me what happens next.

When they don’t, I’ll start to worry.

Clive Murphy, Poet, Oral Historian & Author of three novels – Summer Overtures, Freedom For Mr Mildew & Nigel Someone. Brigid Brophy wrote of Summer Overtures, “It makes angelic use of words (and sentences and paragraphs). It is lucid, cool, sly and inventive … may well be required reading, having become a classic.”

HOW TO WRITE YOUR FIRST NOVEL, 22nd & 23rd March, 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. February 22, 2014

    Well, that’s what I want to try out for myself one day! And it is sure: I WILL definitely!

    Love & Peace & Inspiration

  2. February 22, 2014

    Another dream mini-conference…

  3. February 23, 2014

    I read Rosie Dastgir’s wonderful novel after seeing your info about her on this blog in an earlier post. I expect she’s a fabulous novel writing tutor! Good luck – and what a beautiful setting. Nicola

  4. Mos permalink
    February 24, 2014

    Wish I could be there, particularly as it’s about writing my first novel AND being held in a weaver’s house in Fournier St., Spitalfields, as I am thinking of writing my first historical novel, featuring my ancestors who were weavers, living in Fournier Street., Spitalfields, along with other streets, from the 1500s through to 1900s with Bethnal Green also featuring later…

    Perhaps I should get started on 22nd March, despite being 12,000 miles away!!! Good luck with it all.


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