As the end of the year approaches, we’re looking forward to January and the new term, when we’ll be welcoming the next set of students onto our six month Writing A Novel course. The course is now in its tenth year, having launched the careers of over a hundred authors, and we’re really proud of it. As applications start to come in, we asked our tutors to tell us what it is they’re hoping to see when they sit down to read through them – and what makes them want to offer someone a place in their class.
In the writing sample, I’m on the lookout for latent signs of that rare thing ‘an original voice’, which is hard to define yet unmistakeable when you read it. It often emerges out of risk, nonconformity and difference. Unusual dialogue is a good sign. Irreverence and wit also. With the letter, I’m usually thinking of what a good writing group needs – insight, humility, self awareness, commitment, a range of viewpoints and experiences.
Shelley agreed that the letter tells her a lot about how prepared an applicant might be for the challenges of the course:
The prose extract is important but, more than a piece of finely honed fiction, I look for freshness, a sense of urgency, an eye for the quirks and oddities in life. The letter should be articulate and coherent, expressing the potential student’s passion, realism and determination: passion for the crazy endeavour of long-form fiction, realism about the challenges involved, and determination to see it through.
Our tutors for the evening version of the course, Richard Kelly, Sarah May and Richard Skinner, are also looking for promise in both a potential student’s writing and their ability to contribute to the group. Richard Kelly told us:
What I love to find in an application is a sharp and original idea, some well-made sentences, and an overall sense of the writer’s readiness to share and exchange – which is the making of a great class.
Sarah May doesn’t expect an applicant to come with their novel fully-formed – it’s the raw material which matters most:
What am I looking for? Passion and potential in the writing sample. These outweigh polish and perfection every time. The covering letter needs to demonstrate commitment and an ability to work collaboratively.
And Richard Skinner, who created the course in 2009, agreed that polish isn’t everything – talent always shines through.
Of course we’re looking for good writing but, as long as a less polished piece has that certain something in it, that thing we’re all looking for but can’t name, then we’re interested.
Applications close for this iteration of the course on 31 December 2019. If you’re thinking about applying and want to know more, you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0207 927 3868.