How did I start to write fiction? Q&A with Penguin Random House UK The Writers' Academy

Insights from The Writers’ Academy Student

Posted on June 21, 2016 rhadminPosted in BlogInterviews

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An Australian native, Kirsty Manning enrolled as a student on our Creative Writing for Beginners course in September 2014. After spending ten weeks immersed in The Writers’ Academy’s online world of creative writing, she continued to put pen to paper and never looked back: she recently signed a two-book publishing deal in her home country, and her debut novel continues to be represented internationally with a major agency.  Almost two years since being a student on the course, we caught up with the now-professional author to get her thoughts on writing, creativity, and studying online.

When did you decide to start writing?

I decided to noodle around with fiction a couple of years ago when I was on holiday in France. I visited a particular chateau in Brie with my family and they had a tiny room at the top of the turret. I started to wonder … Who lived there? What happened? I had the idea of someone who loves herbs, and gardens and cooking and it went from there really.

Where do your ideas come from?

Food and travel. There are so many stories when you meander around a city. Who came here before you? What did they do? How did they dress, what did they eat? I’m always looking at the landscape too; the curve of a hill, the colour and texture of the grains of sand on a beach or a grand Italianate garden. Stories are everywhere … you just have to ask ‘what if?’.

What is your daily writing routine like?

I do the school run, go for coffee, and do emails until 10, then write until about three. Then more emails, with a break for lunch and a walk.  When I’m in full draft mode I may write for a couple of hours in the evening, but that tends to be when I get my other work done.

What inspired you to enrol with The Writers’ Academy?

I know fiction is a craft, like any other and I needed some tools to get started. I wanted to do a course, but with a job, three kids and freelance work it seemed impractical to go back as a student to a physical school as I knew I’d skip class. I liked the look of the course summary – it seemed about the right mix of rigour, exercises and time for me.

Tell us your thoughts on the course, and online study?

I liked the way it was up to us to do the work, and it was flexible. I had to go on a couple of overseas work trips and fell a few weeks behind, but I still did every exercise and got the feedback. The tutor was very generous, and happy to answer any follow-up questions. The feedback on my work was invaluable. It meant we could hone our work and redo it – which is really what writing is all about. I liked the course notes and tutorials, and also the podcasts. I still use them to refer to quite often now when I’m stuck with something, or I need a bit of inspiration. Also, the forums meant you could workshop ideas in a safe space. Writers are very generous people; it’s an extraordinary online community if you embrace it.

What have you done since taking part as a student on the course?

I just signed a two-book deal with a publisher in Australia, so I’m doing my structural edit on book one and starting to write and research book two. My first book is a contemporary women’s fiction piece set in two eras: medieval France and the modern day. It’s a classic coming of age tale with a touch of romance.

Do you ever get writer’s block, and do you have any tips to get through it?

Some days are harder than others, but you just to get the words down. Often I line up someone to read my work, so I know I have to get something to them by a certain date. Research also helps. Don’t drown in it, but sometimes if you are having a slow day then sometimes it can’t hurt just to throw yourself into the era, or the event, that you are writing about. If I’m stuck, I might give myself a checklist, or say just write a description or a character profile. Study people who do it well and then crack on and find your way to write it. Don’t look for excuses not to write.

Do you have any tips for an aspiring student?

Read all the time, and read lots of different genres.

Hold yourself accountable. I kept my writing a secret for ages because I wasn’t a ‘proper writer’. Big mistake. Think like one, act like one and soon you’ll be one!

Get some good mentors and readers. Not just someone who will be nice to you, but people who are avid readers. They don’t need to give you advice on how to write, just on what they like and don’t like about the characters, the place. It’s crucial. Your book doesn’t exist until you have readers, really!

Don’t be precious! There are so many people who want to help you and make your book as good as it can be. Be gracious and kind to your readers, tutors, and editors. You don’t have to agree 100%, but listen and be open to feedback. They are all on your side!

Overall, writing is hard but I love it!




If you enjoyed this interview and are looking for more insights from The Writers’ Academy insiders, check out our postInsights from The Writers’ Academy Tutor. Let us know what you think in the comment section below!