Tag Archives: unthank books

Unthank Books – How to Write a Novel

Having had a case of the wobbles mid-way through rewriting my book, I did what I often do when I’m panicked about something, I enrolled on a course. Unthank Books, based over in Norfolk, publish fiction and teach creative writing. A three month online course on something called How to Write a Novel looked just the thing for me. I applied.

First up, an email arrived from the tutor, Stephen Carver, telling me a little more about the course. It was friendly and welcoming, and reinforced my thought that this was a good idea. This particular course was billed as ‘intermediate’ and could apply to anyone, at any stage of writing a novel.

The action for each course takes place through the discussion board – a forum post for each exercise as we worked through the modules. It started off with some basics, drilling into everyone the importance of writing every day, and the modules delved into character, plot, place, dialogue, followed by pacing and point of view. The final module was about publicity and publishing – including feedback on agent letters and synopses. Each module featured a series of exercises to complete, some of these were posting up scenes from your work in progress, some were looking at structure and breaking down what kind of a writer we all were. We could experiment with point of view, try to break down our books to their bare bones and talk about setting – all in a  supportive way. And finally we had an assignment – the opening 10,000 words of our novel – which was critiqued for improvements.

There weren’t many of us on the course which enabled us to connect nicely on the forum discussion boards. (We have subsequently set up a secret Facebook group to continue discussions.) Feedback from anyone is always good, if you’re prone to self-deprecation as I am, and a bunch of supportive fellow writers who are wrestling with a whole range of other literary endeavours was really helpful. But of course, these courses are all about the quality of the teaching and to have a professional reader and editor to critique parts of the novel was the best thing about it and a real boost to my writing confidence.

Steve’s points were constructive, pinpointed the issues or stumbling blocks that I needed to think through but did all this with so much encouragement that I started to believe that I could do it. And more than that, that this might not be a vanity project. I know the story is good, but was worrying about my capacity to do it justice. This course has made things much better.

You sit at your desk, before or after work, you have scraps of paper, notebooks and index cards. You pin up research to inspire you and you get stuck in. And then you read something by another writer and the doubt creeps in. By the time you’ve gone back and forth on a scene you have no idea any more what’s good and what’s not. My writing group is helpful and supportive but they’re all incredibly busy. This course has given me a better idea of what I still need to do and told me that I can feel proud of what I’ve managed so far.

Rewrite number two is well on its way now. Thanks Steve!

Unthank School of Writing runs a number of courses – you can find out all the details here.

Review: Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins

Anyone who knows me will realise that a book with the word ‘knitwear’ in the title was bound to pique my interest. But Chrissie Gittins’s book has so much more to recommend it than just its name.

The book is a memoir of Chrissie growing up, and then as an adult who has to deal with a period of her life when she lost both her parents. The ‘story’ is told across a series of short chapters, each discussing a certain tiny incident or exchange.

What makes the book so absorbing is the level of detail packed into each chapter. I’m sure, if asked, what you most remember about growing up or about your parents’ habits, you could come up with a hundred little memories – shouts, smells, snippets of conversation – just random things that have stayed with you. That’s what Gittins has done here. The chapters are packed with everyday detail but all are drawn so vividly and each one tells its own story about how difficult things were for her – to deal with her mother’s mental illness, to manage visiting her parents at the other end of the country when one slipped into dementia and the other just into frail old age.

My favourite was the chapter entitled ‘Piercings’ which told of a week’s holiday Chrissie took with her mum, to Wales. It describes the time leading up to the holiday, where her father has been taken into a home and her mother gets confused with the shopping. The time the two of them spend away is full of small memories – getting her mother’s ears pierced, going on train journeys – but it’s during this time that Chrissie can talk to her mother about more important things, things they’d not discussed before. “The ECT was very frightening.” “Did you mean to kill yourself?”

What this chapter highlights for me is that moment when you realise as an adult that your parents are adults too, and how your relationship subtly changes. Sure, they used to look after you and in so many cases you may well end up looking after them but there’s this other bit, where you’re both equals trying to get through life as best you can. For me, the rest of the book – its emotional punches, the mental struggles and the grief that Chrissie describes – all come from that moment where she has to paint as accurate a portrait of two people she loves, and doesn’t want to use a child’s lens to view them with.

I urge you to read this book. If you’re of a certain age, some things will ring as true for you as they did for me (reading Lady Macbeth’s speech out loud in class seems to have been a rite of passage), but there are universal observations for all of us – in how we treat ourselves and each other. While some of the subject matter covered in the book may sound bleak, the book itself is not, it’s an affectionate portrayal of good people and their love.

Between Here and Knitwear by Chrissie Gittins is available from Unthank Books priced at £10.00

*Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of this by Unthank Books.