Today I start a six-month intensive course called “Writing A Novel’ at the Faber Academy in Bloomsbury. This doesn't come out of nowhere. I’ve toyed with the idea of joining a proper writing course for about a decade. I’ve spent hours scrolling through MFA program sites at NYU, Iowa, the University of East Anglia. Every year at about the same time, I’ll spend hours fantasizing about it. And then I’ll talk myself out of it. “It’s not the right time to put life on hold for a Masters”, I’ll tell myself. Or “it’s too expensive”. Or “I can’t move to New York at my age”. I’ll find something, anything, to walk away from the idea.
The truth is, I’ve always been petrified. I have loved reading and writing since I was a child. Given how I grew up, it was inevitable. It’s been the only consistent through-line in my life. And the fear is that a course like this might tell me that writing doesn’t love me back. It could tell me that I'm being delusional in those little moments where I accept this might be something I’m good at. So yeah, petrified.
But, as I creep up on my 35th birthday, I think I know how to transform my own fear and anxiety into something useful. So I applied to this course, after a couple of years of hesitation, I got in and I head to my first workshop today. I will be studying under Richard Skinner, who heads up the program and is the author of The Red Dancer (Faber & Faber), amongst others.
Even though I write regularly (bits and pieces in The Guardian, GQ, Brownbook and my first book Our Man in Beirut), this is the first time I'm being serious about a novel. I've been toying with ideas for a while, but I realize I need structural help and, well, an all-round education. So I've decided to put in the time and money to do that with the most dedicated fiction educators in London.
I will be taking the course alongside my day-job at Keeward & Bookwitty, and that is how it is designed be taken. Everyone I have spoken to who has been on the course has done it alongside a very demanding job. So I guess the title of this post is misleading: I won’t technically be writing the novel at the Faber Academy, but I'll be writing it on the tube, in planes, in every waking hour where I'm not working on something else.
I don’t expect to come out of it with a bestseller — although that would be nice. What I do expect to come out with is a solid final draft of a story I care about, and hopefully someone who believes in that same story (an agent, publisher, fellow writer). More than anything, I hope to come away with a community of peers who share the same hopes and fears that I do about taking their writing seriously. And most of all, as SJ Watson put it in his comments on the course that made him a literary star, I want to walk away with what he calls the ‘permission to think of yourself as a writer.’
A bit about the Faber Academy’s track record from the Evening Standard
“The six-month Writing a Novel course run by the Faber Academy, is fast gaining a reputation as UK publishing’s Fame Academy. Since the creative writing school, an offshoot of the world-famous publishing house, opened its doors in 2009, 62 graduates have gone on to secure publishing deals. Its bestselling alumni include SJ Watson (Before I Go to Sleep), Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), Renée Knight (Disclaimer), Laline Paull (The Bees) and Joanna Cannon (The Trouble with Goats and Sheep).
[...] Not even the University of East Anglia’s MA, the UK’s best-established creative writing course since the 1970s (Booker winners Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Anne Enright, as well as 2017 Baileys winner Naomi Alderman, studied there), or the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the world-celebrated literary launch pad featured in the fourth series of Girls, can claim an equivalent hit rate over the same period. ”