Literary Kitchen's founder shares her recipes for a good book

Andrea Mason is the founder of a south London literary institution: Literary Kitchen. LK is an award-winning business which offers creative writing courses, events, consultancy, mentor and manuscript services. She talks constructive feedback, the changing literary scene, and how writers can benefit from sharing work with their peers. Where did you get the idea for Literary Kitchen?

I was teaching a Short Course at Central Saint Martins, just as cover. My group had gelled really well, and I had an idea to set up a Workshop course. I needed to earn a living, and I saw that no one appeared to be offering an MA style workshop course. Eight or nine of those students wanted to take the course, so we started in the October, running it out of the apartment of one of the students. What makes you different from other organisations or writing collectives?

I am writer led, as opposed to being management led, if that makes sense. As a writer I know what support and advice and encouragement beginner writers need, and as it’s my business I can be very adaptive, and react quickly to changes in demand, or needs of my students. Also, as it is my business I am very passionate about each and every one of my students. Tell me about your courses/workshops/services. What do they involve, and what do writers learn?

The courses are 10 week evening courses. The main course is Creative Writing for Beginners. I only advertise that course, as it’s integral for each student to have undertaken this course before progressing. We cover the nuts and bolts of creating narrative fiction (or non-fiction). And students must complete a short story by the end of the course. Also, the students get used to my teaching style which is fast-paced, and I get to know them as writers. Follow on courses include a short story course, Writes Workout, and Writers Workshop. I also run a Novel in a Year mentor programme, and I offer a manuscript appraisal service. What sort of challenges have you faced running LK? What are your favourite things about it?

The challenges are of course myriad, mainly, finding a suitable and affordable venue. And then marketing. Marketing is the thing I find hardest. What I love is seeing students develop, enjoying their successes when they submit a piece, seeing them develop a sense of themselves as an artist and writer, and hearing the student work. It is always exciting to hear the work produced in the classes. What kind of success stories have you had?

Anna Mazzola is Literary Kitchen’s most visible success. She won a two book deal a few years ago now with her book The Unseeing, which began as a short story in Creative Writing for Beginners. Several students have gone on to do Creative Writing MAs, and several students have had short stories chosen for Liars League events, and for other publications and competitions. Let’s talk about constructive feedback and getting writers to show their work to other people. How do you handle it with aspiring authors, and what are your tips for dealing with it?

Constructive feedback is the core tool for teaching creative writing. Students write and feedback from the very first class. For the first feedback moment I ask the students to share their work in pairs, which galvanizes their courage. We then share to the group, if the student is happy to. It is very rare for a student to not want to share. By the end of the first class everyone is comfortable having shared and raring to continue. What sort of changes have you seen in publishing since you’ve been running LK?

The independent publishing scene has really blossomed since I started running Literary Kitchen, which is exciting and encouraging. Many prizewinning books now come out of independent publishing houses. There are also more and more book fairs, as of course indy projects thrive on the community and collaboration of these types of events. The independent publishing scene also allows for a true diversity of styles and subject matter. What kind of advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Well of course I want aspiring authors to take a course with Literary Kitchen. My main advice to an aspiring writer is … take instruction. Don’t feel you can or need to do it alone. Writing can be very isolating. And, just as an aspiring artist will go to art school, an aspiring actor will go to drama school, an aspiring musician will go to music college, so too an aspiring writer will benefit tenfold from going to writing school. Whether that’s a 10 week short course or a Creative Writing programme, the instruction, critical feedback and the community and aspiration of a peer group are invaluable. Literary Kitchen runs creative writing courses for beginners with their next course starting in October. Visit their site for more details.

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