How to revive your neglected novel

Helen Shipman
18 June 2016
Article uploaded by
Mo Harber-Lamond

Many aspiring novelists feel a sense of trepidation when starting to write, says Simon Wheatley. Here he explains how the Faber Academy Getting Started: Beginners’ Fiction and Writing a Novel online courses helped him overcome his fears step by step.

  • Turn your ideas into stories
  • Learn writing techniques and develop good habits
  • Explore the building blocks that make good fiction writing
Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

My book had lain dormant inside me for too long, so last year I decided it was time to revive the poor thing and give it some oxygen. I had previously written various drafts and sent them off for appraisals by some professional writing companies. That had led to mixed results. Some reviewers were enthusiastic; some less so. But overall my problem was a lack of development. I would receive a detailed analysis, polish up my copy and resubmit it. The writing companies prefer to use different reviewers. Inevitably, different reviewers would find varied ways to pick apart my work, and I felt like a dog chasing its tail; a great blur of activity – but all circular.

What I needed was a foundation-upwards approach. It was while attending a writing event that a fellow aspirant told me about Faber Academy. I confess (shame) that I was unaware of Faber & Faber in any other clothing than the great publishing house. But my informant was enthusiastic, and so I took a short introductory course (Getting Started Writing Fiction) in the autumn.

Although you can physically attend courses at the Faber building in Bloomsbury, London, I chose a web-based course. Each week the ‘class’ is set a writing task. There is then a process of review by the students themselves — again by web page, with the tutor keeping a watchful eye over the dialogue that bubbles across the virtual classroom. In addition, the tutor makes individual suggestions for each of the participants.

The course is well constructed and gives you sufficient time to fulfil your tasks.

Simon Wheatley

Of course, there is a sense of trepidation at the start. You’ve paid your money and there is that moment of misgiving before you walk the sky-bridge. But actually the process is a winner.

  • The course is well constructed and gives you sufficient time to fulfil your tasks. I hold down a day job and yet find the time to apply myself to the exercises.
  • Each weekly session starts with a recorded introduction by the tutor. In the case of Getting Started: Beginners’ Fiction, the tutor was Helen Shipman, who provided enormous help to all of us.
  • In addition to the introduction there are written aids and examples, to give you the necessary guidance for the chosen writing task.
  • The process of peer-group criticism does two things. It concentrates the ‘reader’ mind that we all need to develop in order to carry out our own editing effectively. And it makes you examine your own shortcomings by identifying the perceived shortcomings of others. The tutors provide a guide to the process, and all criticism is offered in a courteous and well-intentioned manner. No egos are challenged and no feathers ruffled. In fact, it is so emollient that it is positively uplifting to be a part of the criticism process.

I concluded my Getting Started course and have moved on to the Writing a Novel course led by tutor Tom Bromley, a novelist himself who has previously worked as a literary agent and commissioning editor. I have a new group of online correspondents, but I also get the benefit of Skype discussions with Tom, to monitor progress of my novel. This is exactly what I was searching for. I am reviving my novel from the foundations up.

Helen Shipman

Helen has been teaching writing for more than 25 years. She’s written and delivered courses from evening classes for recreational writers to masters degrees in universities.

She has also been devising and teaching online writing courses since the internet was invented — well, almost.

Her graduates are international prizewinners and have published adult, young adult (YA), children’s fiction and non-fiction, and have had screenplays produced. They cite her down-to-earth approach and clear instruction as key to their progress.

A fiction writer herself, Helen was finalist in the Independent on Sunday short story competition in 2005 and her novel A Place of Drowning is with her agent. She is currently working on her second novel The Engraver, a contemporary thriller about a child’s murder.

Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

Begins: 23 May 2022