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.
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.
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?