Sunday, May 3, 2015

My first student breaks out

About eighteen months ago I was asked to participate in one of City University’s creative writing (MA) courses as a guest tutor. This course specializes in crime writing and, unusually, to get their masters degrees, participants must complete the first draft of a novel. The students are mainly guided by two in-house tutors, both eminent crime writers, but City also funds one external tutor per student. I was requested by David Young, who was writing a policier set in the former East Germany. This was the setting for my novel The Valley of Unknowing, as well as being where my wife Uta grew up.

I’ve never been on a writing course of any description, and the closest to coaching I’ve received has come from the odd book on the subject of writing. I did start out as a journalist, but there again, I never received any formal training (I suspect some of my earlier efforts made that obvious). So I know little of how writing fiction is taught. Nevertheless I enjoyed analysing someone else’s work-in-progress for a change, and my tutorials with David, all conducted in a Richmond Park café, unfailingly ran beyond their allotted time.  The dos and don’ts become clearer, it seems, when the story in front of you is not your own. So the exercise may have been as useful to me as I hope it was for him.

Either way, it was great news when David won his course’s annual prize for best novel, after which he was snapped up by an agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop in London. Even better news followed a few weeks ago when David made a three-book deal with Bonnier Publishing for world English rights. His first novel, Stasi Child, is to be published this September under Bonnier’s new Twenty7Books imprint. French rights has already been sold to Fleuve Éditions in France, and I gather there is also considerable screen interest here in the UK.

As the most occasional of three tutors, I can’t take much credit for this, if any at all, but I’m delighted that my first tutoring foray has ended so happily, and I wish David every success with the Stasi Child series.