We spoke to Louise Dean, author and founder of The Novelry, a collaborative writing school
Who are you, and how would you summarise what you do?
I’m the author of four novels and founder and director of the writing school, The Novelry. We grow writers! It’s a hothouse for writing talent but we welcome people at all stages of their writing.
Our online writing courses take people from no idea to a book in a year and we see them all the way through to securing top literary agents and publishing contracts. Our team is made up of authors and editors who get a kick out of working with writers on their idea, sharing a few tricks of the trade, and seeing them through to ‘The End’.
How did you get your start as an author? What was your journey to first publication like?
Writing seemed such a lofty and exclusive business and I never felt qualified. Still, I loved to read, and I loved the craft of writing. Gradually, over many years of mistakes, setbacks and rejections I discovered the big secret.
Writing isn’t so much about the writing, it’s about storytelling. Once I had that half-figured out, I was able to compose a novel that worked, and sent it to a few agents.
I received some positive responses, appointed the first agent who’d have me, and accepted the first offer from a publisher. Most writers proceed with the same lack of circumspection: just thrilled and relieved that someone likes our writing, we’ll take whatever we’re given.
I’d have liked to have had the guidance, advice and backing of an organisation like The Novelry back then. I reckon it could have saved me a few years and a fair amount of paper.
Tell us about the Novelry—what prompted you to begin this business? How does it work?
After almost twenty years working solo as a writer I began to wonder why, of all the arts and crafts, this one was an exception to the benefits of collaboration. Certainly I felt I could use some company.
Every novel is new, and a wise writer approaches a new novel in trepidation no matter how long in the tooth they are. So I decided to write my next novel with other writers writing alongside me at the same time to help me stay on track.
The Bookseller publicised my experiment and some forty writers offered to join me, so for the next 90 days I wrote ‘live’ and put together the course materials for what would become our first course.
It turns out the process for writing a novel is actually pretty consistent, so showing how to structure and pace a novel as you go has proven useful to many, and I’m grateful to them for trusting me with their journey.
Now we offer other courses too and writers can get one-to-one support from some wonderful bestselling authors to help them stay on track and see the story through.
We have an editorial team, formerly of Penguin Random House, who bring can support authors with the insights usually not available to writers until the very end of their process. We reverse engineer the publishing process, and proceed from the get-go with ideas we think readers will love.
We look at every story idea before a writer starts work to give it a thumbs up so they can write with confidence. Bold stories, beautifully told; that’s what the world’s best literary agents have come to expect from our course graduates.
The Novelry's editorial team
How does your work compliment your personality? What are the core values that drive you?
We’re all equal before the blank page. The page knows no age, no colour, no creed. It’s waiting for the words, and what happens next…
I work in a candid way with my writers, showing them how and where I made mistakes and sharing my failures as much as my successes. Because writing can be so daunting, it’s good to have someone be straight with you and just show you how it’s done in a practical way.
I hope I’m the opposite of lofty. The course videos are humourous and we have a lot of fun. I mean, why not? Writing should never be taken seriously. Books can be momentous accomplishments when they’re written with mischief and wit.
"Books can be momentous accomplishments when they’re written with mischief and wit"
We’re a business driven by a non-commercial ethos; that may seem a funny thing, but by putting what we share first and foremost, we work together with joy. I don’t think we ever had a Zoom meeting without laughter. We’re writers writing! Non-corporate, not nine to five, a homely place in which you can be yourself, only more so.
You work primarily from a houseboat in Chelsea—how does this way of life inspire your work?
I’m able to work anywhere I like now my kids are grown. Right now I’m on the Thames in London. The tide comes in twice a day and the office rocks and rolls. Ducks appear at the window. It’s awe-inspiring to be in the middle of a modern urban metropolis, with views of the city of London reflected in the river, skyscrapers, bridges and buses, yet to be moving with the ebb and flow of the tide.
Occasionally I see people ‘mud-larking’, foraging along the shoreline, for Roman coins or Victorian bottles. I saw an old 1930’s cash register wash up the other day. Working here, I am reminded very much of writing and its larger meaning.
We come and go as people, we’re flotsam and jetsam, yet when we write we leave something behind that might well come to light one day and we’ll speak again.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I don’t really observe ‘normal’ or regular working hours. Our students are worldwide so we’re open 24/7. It’s not unusual for me to be up during the night and I usually rise early, often before five in the morning and work late. I like it that way. I’m a bit of a mother hen and I like to be sure my writers are happy.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
I get much of the pleasure of writing a novel when I work with our writers on their stories. It’s exciting to see the story develop in rapid leaps and to offer wild and wicked ideas to take it in a new direction.
I am often staggered at how resilient people are in the face of adversity, how they use creativity not only to recover from the blows of life, but to somehow master their life’s own story.
To write a different outcome, get a fresh hand of cards, to start a new chapter. It’s an honour to be part of it. I don’t dislike any parts of my job after all I created the place I wanted to work, so how could I complain?
How do you establish a balance between life and work? What do you like to do to switch off?
I’m not good at switching off, doing what I love around the clock, but happily I report to a higher authority. Our Chief Wellness Officer sets the work life balance and monitors it very sternly.
He’s a small white dog, half Pomeranian, half Bichon Frise, 100% cute, and when it’s time for a walk, I don’t argue. I set out with furrowed brow and invariably come back with a sunnier disposition than when I set out.
What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement?
Love the problems. It’s the problem that creates the solution, and the solution has magic to it. And remember, if today you’re confounded, tomorrow you’ll be enlightened. Every day, we get taught the same lesson: after night, there’s day.
"Every day, we get taught the same lesson: after night, there’s day"
As for achievements, it’s a joy to see the life-changing Cinderella story of a writer getting a literary agent and a publishing contract. Each and every time it happens it’s very special.
In five years time, where would you like to see yourself? Both professionally and personally?
Sitting on a huge stack of my writers’ published books, here at the keyboard, with the Chief Wellness Officer snoring at my side. With maybe a couple more books of my own in the stack and one in progress giving me hell.
Louise and her dog, aka, The Chief Wellness Officer
If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?
I’d like to have been a London taxi driver. You never know where someone will want to go or what their story is when they get in your cab. It’s like that sometimes with the characters who enter your books, in a way, when the writing’s going great.
Lastly, a very important question—if you could only-read one book for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Raymond Carver’s short story collection Where I’m Calling From. The man knew a thing or two about compassion, and served it with a side of humour. That’s grace, and I’m glad he captured it between the pages. Is there anything more we can decently expect to leave behind us?
To find out more about The Novelry visit their website here
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