School’s in – my first week at Curtis Brown Creative
By Antoinette di Michele, recipient of the KWL Scholarship
Writers get used to things like carpal tunnel, Minute Rice, inspirational walks, and rejection. Now imagine all that (minus the rejection and plus new friends!) in London, England and with so much more!
Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Anna Davis, Director of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school (also major agent and author published in 20+ languages) stating I’d won a place in the novel writing course AND the Kobo Writing Life Scholarship (which made ‘YES!’ possible). It didn’t occur to me then that I’d be overseas writing, editing, and chatting with industry majors and fellow writers about my passion project, now taking on a new, professional, and global dimension in less than a week.
I had an introductory drink with the uber friendly and accessible Anna, instructor Nikita Lalwani (critically-acclaimed and commercially successful author of Gifted and The Village), and my fourteen debut novel-writing classmates spanning a wide range of ages and vocations.
We pitched our concepts, discussed the course, and shared some writing. We laughed nervously as Nikita chose readers at random (“We spent years building the templates for these courses, and I’m waving a pen over a cluster of names!”). We were encouraged to develop our individual voices. “Take us to an unexpected place,” Anna requested.
It was all too surreal for me. Twenty-four hours ago I was waitressing in Toronto, writing freelance alone in a room with a secret manuscript only I had seen. Four hours ago I was stuck in customs until I confirmed with an agent that yes indeed I was “a writer, not contributing anything, living off a scholarship and friends for the next three months.” Not until I was mingling with my classmates who’d left all sorts of cities and opportunities to pursue this chance did it finally register that this was happening, and it was time to work hard and enjoy.
A brilliant banker who left a major position at a global firm to write a fast-paced family comedy spewed off some statistics he’d calculated: we were the top 6% at the number 1% course where 95% of new talent was discovered (but don’t quote these figures – I’m not one for math, and I’d had two drinks). I didn’t feel ready on my own, but now I was part of a killer team – a professor emeritus with a creepy psychological thriller, a barrister with a posh accent and penchant for historical fiction, a TV executive with an LA expose, a mother of four with a rural drama, a PhD in Biology, a Glaswegian busing back-and-forth! We had passion and commitment (and themes!) in common!
We dove right in. We read and discussed openings for over an hour – the power of the first sentence, the impression the first paragraph makes, the first page, all the detail of story and character, the promise of the writer, the agreement the writer makes with his or her reader, all present in a well-written opening (no pressure). A top Curtis Brown agent shared stories and insights, explaining industry standards and expectations. A commissioning editor listed off great reads for right now, concepts that excite him, and everything he’s looking for from a debut writer and his or her work.
There is so much to write and so much to read – Anna, Nikita, and fellow classmates have suggested ten books already. I’ve spent hours procrastinating (a writer’s favourite hobby) and filling my new Kobo Glo (free gift from Kobo!), exploring and Instagramming the sights, writing blog posts, and drinking one million coffees because I’ve finally got people to work with, my novel to write, and did I mention I’m living in London? Next week: How to plan out a novel. It’s overwhelming, but step by step…step by step…
About the Author:
Antoinette di Michele was born and raised in Toronto. She has her B.A.H. from Queen’s University in Politics and an MSc in Media and Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She left her job in the film business last year to finish two screenplays, a play, and her debut novel. Currently in London as the Kobo Scholar on the Curtis Brown Creative 3-month course, she is writing her novel for her family and friends, the patrons of her art.