Sarah Hull, Creative Director of Writers’ Essentials, is launching a whole range of creative writing courses and workshops this week, which have a pragmatic, intuitive approach and involve the expertise of many others in the field of creative writing.
Sarah spoke with The Fountain about the ethos behind Writers’ Essentials, it’s history, what makes her courses different to others out there and who these creative writing workshops are geared to.
TF: Can you explain to us what Writers’ Essentials is and how long you have been going for?
We celebrated our 4th birthday last Thursday 4th May and we are a literary consultancy, which means people consult us for advice on creative writing, on how to improve their writing. We originally set up because we saw there was a big gap between aspiring writers and the publishing world, and a lot of people find it near impossible to bridge that gap. If someone submits a book to an agent or publisher and it’s rejected, they will often receive a generic rejection letter, with no feedback on how to improve their work, as agents and publishers do not have time to provide it. So we offer that service to people.
TF: So you have gone and launched these new creative writing courses. What makes your courses different to those that already exist?
So we put together a novel writing course a couple of years ago, after we realised new writers tend to make the same mistakes. Since then, I’ve been developing material that teaches the principles of good writing. There are certain things that every novel has to do and I thought that if I could teach those, I could help people avoid the big pitfalls. This year’s classes are expanding on that idea. To teach people the principles and rules of writing, there should be a methodology, in the same way there is for teaching art or cooking or playing a musical instrument. And that’s what underpins the structure for this year’s courses. We’re encouraging people to approach creative writing, (storytelling specifically) the same way they would approach learning a musical instrument. It’s hard to cook someone a nice meal or create a nice noise with a violin, if you don’t know the technique, and we’re encouraging people not to expect writing to just come naturally or to expect themselves, or others, to be able to just write a really good, even best selling, book. Instead, we’re encouraging writers to give themselves a break, and the time and the space to actually learn how story writing works, how to do it properly and how to fix it when it goes wrong.
TF: Can you give me a little bit of background about yourself Sarah? How did you acquire the skill to teach writing courses?
I started doing copy editing and then became interested in structural editing, analysing character development, setting, dialogue, etc . Sadly I couldn’t do formal training in structural editing as there wasn’t any, I wish there was. I learned that from a couple of things. One was studying literature at school and University and the other was going on writing courses. My mother works in publishing and I spent ten years learning from her, following her on writers courses and learning from other writers. She taught me as well, trained me to an extent. The rest was about picking up a manuscript, working out what was wrong with it, what would put a reader off reading on, and how to correct those weaknesses.
TF: From what I can gather you are also working with other writers to deliver these courses. Do you want to elaborate a little on that?
Yeah. It’s quite exciting. I specialise in writing fiction for adults and we have recruited guest tutors that specialise in other areas. Our first confirmed tutor is Keith Gray, and he will be teaching writing for young adults and older children, aged eight to twelve. He is doing Monday evening classes, from the end of May till end of June and two all day workshops in late June and early July, and we will be announcing other guest tutors soon.
TF: I noticed that you are also focussing on genre writing, as well as more general writing courses. What inspired you to make that decision?
So, to go alongside the evening classes (the evening classes are really the ones that teach creative writing stage by stage) I decided to do more genre specific workshops. These are for small groups of up to six people and provide an opportunity for writers to bring along their manuscripts, or their short stories, and actually get one-to-one feedback from the tutor as well as benefiting from the input of the rest of the class. I thought the best way to organise them was to make them genre specific, as I thought it would be good for writers to work alongside people writing similar books. Also every genre has its own characteristics, which writers need to be aware of and understand in order to write successfully for that market.
TF: Who are you focusing on with these courses? Is it the dedicated writer or those that are wanting to try something new?
The first set of classes are for beginner writers, people just getting into it. The intermediate classes and workshops are aimed at people who are already writing and want to get their work to a publishable standard. And the advanced level classes will be for people who want to really polish their writing to the highest standard, taking it from good genre fiction into the realm of literary fiction. All the courses are for people who are passionate about the writing as there is a high level of commitment required. They are also accessible, down to earth and practical and would appeal to people who take their writing seriously. Courses are aimed at people who want to learn, to get better, and it should be a lot of fun as well.
For more on Writers’ Essentials and the new courses click here. Photos courtesy of Chris Scott and Vicki Bell.