We spoke to UNWC course alumnus Alan Fraser, who has just received a publishing deal, about the crucial things he learned about revising his work ready for submission.
JW: What was your favourite part of the Ultimate Novel Writing (UNWC) course?
For me, the part I loved most was actually the part I thought I would like least: commenting on other people’s work – and having them comment on mine. Thinking about why I like, or don’t like, someone else’s writing made me think more about my own. It’s easy to pick holes in other people’s writing, but, more often than not, as I started to type out what I thought could be improved, I’d find myself thinking, ‘But haven’t I done exactly the same thing in my book?’ And having people critique my writing in detail was fantastically helpful in sharpening up the book
Thinking about why I like, or don’t like, someone else’s writing made me think more about my own.
JW: Tell us about your journey to finding a publisher. What steps did you take, and were there any turning points/transformative moments?
I started writing my first novel more than eight years ago when I was stuck on a plane with nothing to read and no access to my tech. I had the arrogance of a beginner and, after I’d mapped out the basic structure of the plot, just started writing with no help, and without doing any research about how to write a novel. It was only when I came to think about submitting the completed 192,000 word opus I realised there was a whole load of stuff I needed to know – and really should have thought about before I’d even started.
That was how I first came across Jericho Writers. They gave me a manuscript assessment which really helped me get to grips with what writing a novel involved, so I signed up to Harry’s weekly emails. This meant that when I was working on my second novel, I was far more aware of the industry’s expectations. I was determined to be more professional this time and signed up for the UNWC in the hope it would help me navigate publishing. Whilst on the course I started submitting to agents. I had five full manuscript requests in the first six months which gave me real hope – but then nothing. On one of the agent one-to-ones I got with the course, an agent said that the industry had moved on and what I was writing didn’t fit with what publishers were looking for now. I was despondent, but everyone in my tutor group – and my mentor – said how much they liked my book and reminded me that my writing was really strong. So I decided to have a ‘last throw of the dice’ and submit to small presses. In the end, I got two offers of publication but opted to go with Lightning Books.
I was really lucky to be in a fabulous and supportive tutor group. There’s no way I would have kept going without their encouragement.
JW: In what ways has the UNWC helped you to where you are now in your writing journey?
I was really lucky to be in a fabulous and supportive tutor group. There’s no way I would have kept going without their encouragement. When the rejections started to come, they really rallied round and encouraged me to believe in my writing. I also had an excellent mentor in Helen Francis. She believed in the book, but more than that, she believed in me as a writer and believed I could get published. Every time I thought I’d come to a dead end she encouraged me to keep going. The fact that she works in the industry, took the time to really understand my manuscript, and still felt that I should keep going when I’d lost all hope myself meant the world to me.
JW: Do you have any advice for new students for making the most of the course?
Don’t think you know it all. Commenting on other people’s stuff and responding humbly to other people’s comments about yours is actually a surprisingly effective way to become a better writer. Oh, and make sure you take advantage of every opportunity the course offers. It’s pointless investing in a course like this if you don’t commit the time to learning. I picked up loads of great tips – often in the places I least expected to. The course only works if you work the course!
Alan Fraser is a writer from Birmingham (UK) who, after his dreams of rock stardom were cruelly dashed, took up writing. His play, Random Acts of Malice, won the inaugural Derek Lomas Prize for New Writing, but for the past eight years his focus has been on fiction. His novel, The Muse of Hope Falls, will be published by Lightning Books in the second half of 2023.
You can follow Alan on Twitter here.