Meet a bestselling novelist with a passion for teaching – a member of the Beach Hut Writing Academy
Araminta Hall – the basics.
Araminta worked for 10 years as a journalist before studying for a MA in Creative Writing at the University of Sussex.
Her first novel, Everything and Nothing, was chosen as a Richard and Judy bookclub read. They said it “superbly evoked an atmosphere of inexorable and sinister menace that builds to a mesmerising climax ” (Scroll down to the bottom to find out more)
Her second novel, Dot, is a warm and heartbreaking tale of three generations of women in Wales. It is the story of how one small action by a young girl changes the lives of those around her for ever.
Araminta is a founder member of The Beach Hut Writing Academy, a Brighton based co-op of professional writers who support new and emerging writers through small group tuition and big ideas. Her new eight week fiction course starts on January 21st.
Describe your writing career in two sentences
I had a lucky start when my first novel was taken on by Harper Collins and then became a Richard & Judy read. However, I’ve learnt that you have to work very hard and that nothing is guaranteed.
Can writing be taught?
Absolutely yes. I don’t subscribe to this ‘let the muse take you’ attitude that people have to writing. No one would presume that you could suddenly play a musical instrument or become a chef or take beautiful photographs without lessons, so why should writing be any different. As with all creative pursuits a smidgen of natural talent is needed, but after that there is so much that can be learnt.
How important do you think it is for people who teach creative writing to be writers themselves?
Essential and I’d go further and say, published writers. All writers never stop learning – every lesson I teach reminds me about all the things I need to do in my own writing. But being published gives us a bit of inside knowledge and an added dimension. You can google hundreds of creative writing lessons, but a published writer has jumped through all the hoops and proved themselves. Would you learn to drive a car from someone who hadn’t passed their own test?
What will you cover in your new course?
I cover the fundaments of writing. I am a great believer in two important lessons – everything starts with character and show don’t tell. I build my course around these two principles. We start at the beginning and work our way through, with every lesson underpinned by these amazingly important concepts. It’s a really good way to ground your work and give everything you do a solid foundation.
Who is your ideal student?
Anyone willing to learn, with an open mind and a sociable attitude. We do lots of chatting in my classes and writing exercises, so people who are prepared to get stuck in and share their work get the most out of it. And you can really be at any stage – I often mix total newcomers to writing with those with a first draft under their belts and it works really well.
What’s the most important thing you want students to take away from your course?
I want them to have had a good time, but I also want them to feel like they’ve really learnt something new. It’s wonderful to see people gain in confidence and to apply the lessons to their own writing. I had a student last term who totally changed her approach to her novel as the course continued and her final reading was quite emotional, as everyone in the class noticed the amazing difference in what she was doing. At the risk of repeating myself, we really do go over and over my two fundamental ideas around character and show don’t tell and apply them across the board. It can absolutely change how you write.
Do you offer individual feedback? How is that given?
Yes, as the course is kept to a small group, you get at least two chances to read your work and have it critiqued. As we near the end of the course we also do quite a lot of work on editing, in which everyone is able to write a short story which I edit and then we go through in class.
Thinking back to your own experience, what do you think is the hardest thing for emerging writers to learn?
I really think it all comes down to the craft and those two lessons. Without believable characters no one is going to care and if you give too much away or tell too much, the story becomes boring. It’s all about letting go of the concept of plot and focusing on the things that matter. Asking yourself all the time, what do I care about – you’ll find the answer is mainly people (or character) and using this to drive your plot. Also, being daring with your reader – leave mysteries in your story and don’t fall into the trap of wanting to explain everything. Being a writer is about being brave.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
Trust your reader – said to me by a wonderful teacher I had when I took the Creative Writing MA at Sussex University – which is really another way of saying Show Don’t Tell. Hackneyed maybe, but totally true.
Also, cut the first 20 pages – said to me by the writer Mick Jackson. In our first drafts it’s so tempting to explain (tell) too much at the beginning. It’s much better and braver and more compelling to jump straight into the story.
Naming no names, what’s the worst writing advice you been given or seen written down?
Free writing. I think that’s just lazy teaching. Write anything about anything and see where it takes you? No thanks, because it’ll just be terrible. To write well you have to know your characters intimately and have a sense of where they’re going. You can’t just sit down and write and hope something good comes out, because it won’t.
Do you ever go back into the classroom yourself to learn something new about writing?
Every time I teach I learn something new. But also I’m taking Sue Teddern’s workshop on Writing for TV & Radio, which I’m really looking forward to, as I have no idea how to do that!
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished my third novel, which has been a long time coming and been a bit of nightmare. So, I’m sure my agent and editor will have lots of notes for me to work on. I’m also really looking forward to do more teaching this year, especially with the Beach Hut Writing Academy. And I’m helping organise their first one day conference on March 12th, which is shaping up to be a fantastic day.
What’s the last thing you wrote?
As I only handed in the final draft of my novel a few weeks ago, I haven’t written anything since then. It needs to all settle in my mind. But I am looking forward to taking back up a story that’s been playing around in my mind for a while now.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
At this moment I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adice’s Americanah, which is fantastic and just as good as her amazing Half a Yellow Sun. But my three favourite books of last year were: The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill and How to Be Both by Ali Smith – read them all!
Why have you taken time out of your busy life to set up the Beach Hut Writing Academy?
Because I really love teaching. I always feel like I get as much out of the sessions as the students and it’s fascinating to see people develop and hear everyone’s stories. I also love the idea of published writers helping writers and I think we all share the same ethos of wanting to start something real and unique. It’s a very exciting idea and I’m so pleased to be part of it.
There are still a few places left on Araminta’s Fiction Writing Group BOOK HERE
Thursday morning 9.30am – 12.30pm January 21 – March 10 2 This course is suitable for new students as well as those who have taken part in Term 1.
Each session will last three hours. Learn how to write compelling fiction through writing exercises, group discussions and a focus on your own work. A small group, a friendly relaxed atmosphere and industry insider tips makes this unmissable for beginners and emerging writers.
Location: The Hive, Stoneham Park, Stoneham Road, Hove BN3 5HJ. Fee: £195