Writing Magazine spoke to author and tutor Philip Womack and courses manager Maria Pace of Jericho Writers about their new Ultimate Novel Course.
The course is aimed at providing people who are really serious about their writing with the skills they need to complete a publishable novel in a year.
Why did you put together The Ultimate Novel Course?
PHILIP: Jericho Writers has been going for 15 years. There’s a vast amount of resources on writing, assessment, and an active online community. Jericho wanted to use all those resources to fashion a course that means you can write a novel from beginning to end. It has all the resources to help you get that novel into shape, and get it ready for publication.
What makes it different from other online courses out there?
PHILIP: As a tutor, what makes this course different is that it’s less academic and more practical. So alongside the tutorials and mentoring, you get a full assessment of your manuscript at the end of the course. You get information about the publishing industry, and marketing yourself. You get to go to events where you meet people in the industry. What’s really special is that includes lifetime membership of Jericho Writers – it means you get the content continuously. So you can access our events, webinars, all sorts of things. There’s a year’s standard course, and lifetime membership is ongoing, so writers on the course can continue to be part of a writing community. Jericho have been very successful in building up industry contacts so we’re putting new writers in front of that as well.
MARIA: The course gives students access to industry people, including agents. We have an agreement with The Soho Agency and they’ve agreed to read all the students’ manuscripts when they’ve finished the course, with a view to representation. And give them feedback as well.
What will it help writers to achieve and who is it aimed at?
PHILIP: It’s for writers who are serious about actually finishing a novel. A lot of people have day jobs, look after children, and they find it hard to find the time to get started. So it gives people a structured space they can fit in around their other commitments. It is a serious commitment– you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t have an idea for a novel, so it's for people who are deeply serious about what they want to write. It’s around the same level as an MA, with more of a trade aspect. It gives you an insight into the book world.
What kind of writer will the course be most useful to?
PHILIP: It would work well for a literary novel, or a more commercial novel. But it is for someone who is serious about finishing a novel. You don’t need to have been published but you’d need to show a serious interest in writing, and a commitment to it. So it’s for people who have been writing, perhaps started writing a novel, or someone who has written one and discarded it, or someone who perhaps has had interest from agents and publishers and then been turned down – which is devastating.
What are the skills that writers will develop?
PHILIP: Every aspect of writing a novel. There’s structured tuition, like an MA course, on plotting, character, point of view, using landscape and the emotions, suspense, pacing. These are the month-by-month subjects. You also have one tutor as your mentor. This tutor will read your work and give you one-to-one advice each month, either as a chat or an email exchange. Alongside that there’s a feedback forum and peer-to-peer feedback. That’s really the core of it, the academic MA-level side of it. And then there’s the practical aspect.
What practical benefits will they get from this particular course?
MARIA: The group sizes will be small, so students can talk to each other, give and receive feedback, and have that sense of community.
PHILIP: That’s a brilliant side of the course – that sense of community. And then of course the events, the contacts, the one-to-one benefits, the tutorials. It’s life-enhancing knowledge.
Who are the tutors and what experience do they have to offer the student?
PHILIP: There’s me, hello! I’m a children’s writer, I’ve written seven books. My first non-fiction book is out in September – How to Teach Classics to Your Dog.
Helen Francis has been an editor at Faber and Head of Zeus, and has worked as a literary agent as well as teaching creative writing and editing at Bath Spa. Wes Brown is a writer and tutor with a particular interest in non-fiction. Lindsey Alexander is an editor and acclaimed book coach – she’s our American tutor. This is a global course, open to people throughout the world, and it’s important to have that different focus. We’re all experienced editors and tutors.
MARIA: We cover a wide range of genres, including YA, fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, humour, thrillers, non-fiction. The tutors will be matched with the students for the one-to-ones so each student has the best experience.
What are the advantages of an online course?
PHILIP: You can make it work around your own life. The course material is published every Monday and you can do it at your own speed – in the evenings, after work. It’s very flexible. Even if you fall behind you can catch up. The hours are up to each writer – but I’d say it’s probably 10-15 hours each week, as a minimum, for reading the course material and doing the exercises. And then they’ll need to be doing their own writing as well.
MARIA: You can choose how much involvement you want, but the main aspect is for you to finish your novel. The exercises can be used to focus on the novel you’re writing.
PHILIP: So, for example, if we’re working on character, we’d have a tutorial on character, and the student would be encouraged to upload a section of work on character – perhaps their protagonist, or antagonist. So it’s all practical.
Will it give course attendees access to publishing insiders?
MARIA: There are webinars with industry professionals, events with literary agents, self-publishing webinars, events with writers, agents and publishers. The Getting Published Day and the Self-Publishing Day, the Festival of Writing. Events for Jericho Writers – webinars, Q&As – there’s a lot to choose from! Jericho Writers has a history of getting people in front of industry professionals – and students on the course will have access to our AgentMatch database. The events in March and September are live, and as we’re accepting people from all over the world we’re looking at another live event for people who can’t make it to them.
Why is it a good investment?
PHILIP: It’s a fantastic investment because it’s not just a year, it’s forever. I’ve taught on MA courses, and they just finish, but the lifetime membership of Jericho Writers is an added benefit, which is fantastic.
MARIA: You get manuscript assessments, one-to-ones, and Jericho Writers in the palm of your hands. You can pay in instalments. It’s totally worth it. And you’ll be able to complete a full-length novel between 70,000 and 80,000 words. Plus, we’re very flexible. If life gets in the way, if something happens, we understand and we can arrange for that. If you don’t finish your novel, you can come back to it. But the impetus to finish it is there.
PHILIP: I think the mentoring aspect is really crucial. I’ve mentored MA students and those one-to-ones can be absolutely vital in highlighting aspects of your work and galvanising you into looking at your work afresh.
MARIA: Mentoring, tutorials, everything Jericho has to offer, and helping as much as possible to get your work in front of agents and publishers. This is the ideal course for Jericho Writers.