Novel Studio alumna Ali Thurm on the enduring group of friends she made while on the course, and her path to publication.
“In 2012 I’d been working on One Scheme of Happiness for about a year; I could tell a story with a beginning, middle and end but what I had wasn’t a novel. I’ve always read a lot and studied literature at university so I knew what a novel could be like. I knew I could write but I didn’t know how to structure a novel, how to write effective dialogue and many things I didn’t even know I didn’t know (voice, point of view, first person or third person…)
Then I saw an open evening for the Novel Studio (arts council website). By the end of the course I not only had a structure I was happy with, I also knew how to write a letter to an agent and how to submit my work. I also had a group of friends who would give valuable, objective feedback on my work. Seven years later we still meet regularly to write, share work and celebrate successes. Even in this time of self-isolation we’re Zooming together. It’s been amazing to be friends with other writers who are also balancing writing with work and childcare.
After the course I kept going until I had a draft of my novel that I was happy with, then started:
- Choosing agents and sending the first few chapters out.
- Enrolling on short courses.
- Entering novel competitions.
- Building up an author profile on Twitter.
It’s a lot of work and a lot of rejection and costs money (some courses and competitions have subsidised places).
But it all helps, and in 2015 I was taken on by Emily Sweet Associates; it was wonderful for a professional to ‘get’ my novel and to validate my writing. Emily suggested editing and redrafting – more work – but the new draft led to some long and short-listing in national competitions. To minimise the angst of waiting for more rejection from publishers (easier if your agent can soften the blow!) I drafted a new novel and set up a WordPress blog to review new books. I also signed up to NetGalley – a brilliant way of reading new books as digital ‘galley proofs’ before they’re published. For free. All you have to do is write a review after you’ve read them. I’ve read books by Kamila Shamsie, Linda Grant, Kit de Waal and many more. Reading is vital for any writer.
Finally in 2018 an indie publisher, Retreat West Books, wanted to publish my novel. Again I had more work to do on the novel itself as well as promoting it on social media, but Amanda Saint has been a great editor. On 27 Feb 2020 my debut, One Scheme of Happiness was published. Just before lock down, I had a launch and signed copies of my book like a proper author!
I’m now working on my next novel: The River Brings the Sea (third in the First Novel Award, 2019).“
You can follow her on Twitter @alithurm
Or her blog on WordPress https://alithurm.com
For anyone interested in The Novel Studio, applications are now open for entry in October 2020. Further details here.