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June 30, 2024 12:00
Carla Jenkins author of Fifty Minutes published by Trapeze, Hachette, represented by Madeleine Milburn
graduates success stories
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Carla Jenkins’s Journey to Getting Published

May 19, 2024
Carla Jenkins
May 19, 2024

Something we’re very proud of at The Novelry is our writers’ success stories. When a writer comes to us, they often say in the beginning that they’re nervous. Perhaps no-one has read their writing before, or they don’t know if their idea is enough to become a novel. They don’t know if they can write a whole book. Our writing coaches and book editors collaborate with writers on their novels at every step, and it’s a huge privilege to see the stories we love captivate a literary agent, then a publisher, and to witness the sheer delight when one of our graduates holds their book in their hands for the very first time... Magic.

Carla Jenkins is one of our esteemed graduates who took The Ninety Day Novel, The Big Edit and The Advanced Class at The Novelry. Through our bespoke submissions service, we introduced Carla to her literary agent, the world-renowned Madeleine Milburn, and we’re thrilled Carla’s debut novel Fifty Minutes is now published by Trapeze, an imprint of Hachette, one of the Big Five publishers.

Fifty Minutes follows twenty-year-old Dani, who is desperate to overcome her eating disorder, leave her dead-end job and return to her hard-won place at university. Using her limited earnings, she decides to start seeing a psychotherapist.

Richard Goode is educated, sophisticated and worldly—everything Dani aspires to be. As he intuitively unpicks her self-loathing, Dani assumes the fantasies she’s developing about him live only in her head. That is, until things take a shocking turn...

Descending into a maelstrom of twisted desire, manipulation and mistrust, the power struggle between Dani and Richard escalates until she’s forced to make a decision that might finally give her the freedom she deserves.

Perfect for fans of My Dark Vanessa, Fifty Minutes is a propulsive and bold debut that marks Carla Jenkins as a vital new voice in fiction and is available in hardback, ebook and audio now.

In this article, Carla Jenkins shares her writing journey—including what she learned from taking multiple writing courses!—as well as her writing routine and favorite writing tips.

Congratulations, Carla!

My writing journey

Like many writers, my ‘writing journey’ began with journaling as a teenager. I was angry, and writing gave me the opportunity to try to make sense of the world. Writing made me feel better and that I had some agency: I firmly believe in the therapeutic benefits of writing.

I loved English and was desperate to get a degree in it, but dropped out of two universities because I had an eating disorder and couldn’t focus. For a few years, I worked in bars, restaurants and factories but I kept writing because I was surrounded by rich material, a lot of humor and some brilliant characters. I put them on the page. This is how I learned to write dialogue, too. I listened closely and would keep repeating certain lines in my head as I served pints, served people’s dinners, or stood on the production line.

When I had my children, I stopped writing for a while. I was a working single parent with many other demands on my time, but the desire to write was still strong. I managed to finish my degree online and started to write again. Then I met someone who supported me in a way I had never been supported before. He bought me a ‘Start to Write’ Arvon course which I attended in 2017. Mark Haddon and Liz Jensen were the tutors.

I proudly told Mark Haddon I’d written 30,000 words. ‘Throw it away and start again,’ he said. I was shocked. Throw it all away? It had taken a long time to accumulate what I considered to be an impressive word count. But now I know it is great advice, and it was good I got it early. It’s wisdom I pass on.

Accept that writing is hard work and you’ll spend a lot of time writing a lot that isn’t really any good. You can’t be precious about ‘killing your darlings.’ You’ll need to write pages and pages that don’t make the final version. Don’t see this as a waste of time. The more you write, the better you will get. You’re refining your craft, and every sh*t sentence you write takes you closer to being able to write a good one.

(Tip: Put the writing that isn’t right for what you’re working on in a separate file if it’s too hard to bin it completely.)

I came back from that ‘Start to Write’ course with my confidence boosted. Mark had read some of my writing, crossed out parts, and suggested a few changes, but at one point wrote in the margin ‘You’re cooking on gas,’ which remains one of my best compliments to date. Liz Jensen was also very encouraging and supportive. They made me feel that I could write—and God, did I want to write. I came away from those five days and I knew I wanted more of it—more of that world. I wanted to take my writing seriously. The course made me feel I could and I should.

There was a ‘Writing for Therapeutic Purposes’ Masters open day at a university not too far away. I was going to sign up but, right at the last minute, they whacked up the price, so I enrolled on a ‘standard’ Masters in Creative Writing at my local university. In the first session, I looked around the room and thought everyone was a better writer than me. I was convinced, despite the fact that people hadn’t even taken their pens out yet. Yes, I was desperate to write, but like many others, this desire was competing with a persistent critical inner voice and imposter syndrome.

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I spent around 15 hours on the first assignment—a 1,000-word piece on Waiting for Godot. I cried onto my keyboard while repeating, ‘This is not sustainable!’ I think that sometimes imposter syndrome can make people freeze or give up, but my imposter syndrome made me work harder. A couple of weeks later, we had to go to pick up the essays from the tutor, himself a Samuel Beckett lookalike with wild white hair. ‘I only gave out two distinctions, and yours was one of them,’ he said. It was another lift I needed and made me feel I deserved to be on the course.

There was a big break in the middle of the MA, and so on the recommendation of a friend I’d made on the Arvon course, I enrolled with The Novelry, which gave me all I needed to write the first version of Fifty Minutes from start to end.

You can’t underestimate the importance of a good writing course, or a good teacher, and in Louise Dean I had one of the best writing teachers I have ever known. Louise Dean is a powerhouse. The Novelry lessons are of the highest quality, and if you follow them, you will write an excellent novel. I was learning on the job while I wrote Fifty Minutes. I felt the arm of The Novelry around my shoulder throughout and in Louise and the team, I could not have asked for more.

The story behind the story...

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had counseling and psychotherapy on and off. It’s an area that fascinates me because while there are some great therapists out there, there are others who are not, and arguably, some will be drawn to the profession as it gives them access to people who are vulnerable. Unfortunately, psychotherapists and counselors are not regulated by the government under a statutory scheme. This means that when a therapist does do something which is entirely inappropriate/untoward/abusive, they can carry on practicing as the title is not protected.

When a person goes for therapy, there is often this huge power imbalance as they look to the therapist as the one who is going to solve their problems. The client is revealing all their secrets and insecurities, which makes them vulnerable. It makes for a great story.

Fifty Minutes is about Dani, a young working-class woman who starts having psychotherapy to overcome her eating disorder. (Yes, I do draw from some life experience in my novel.) Dani is enthralled by Richard Goode, her therapist, as he represents all she aspires to be: educated, sophisticated and worldly. Dani assumes the fantasies she’s developing about him live only in her head. That is, until things take a shocking turn... Fifty Minutes is a novel about the fight for justice and Dani is a character you will want to spend time with—unflinchingly honest, flawed, but funny too.

My writing routine

First thing in the morning before anything else has had a chance to get hold of my brain, I let the dogs out, make coffee, let the dogs in, turn the computer on and open the Word document with the latest draft of my novel. I have to be disciplined because if I start looking at anything else, that’s my writing time gone. I write as much as I can for an hour, and then I wake up my kids and go to work.

Learn more about The Novelry’s ‘Golden Hour’ method here.

My personal writing tips

Think about why you want to write, and what writing does for you. I wanted to write as it was good for my mental health, I loved the creativity involved, and I wanted to complete a novel to the best of my ability—because it is a huge achievement. Be clear on what you want to write and why. Writing is hard at times, so it helps to remember why you are doing it, and why you love it.

Read books on how to write—there are some brilliant ones out there. If you only read one, I recommend The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr.

Find a writing community. Find other people whose writing you admire and swap with them for feedback. Throughout all the courses I have done, I’ve always asked people if they wanted to swap for feedback. I knew how it helped my writing—it’s easier to notice the mistakes you’re making in other people’s work.

Go to writing events: readings, open mic nights, author talks. Immerse yourself in the writing world.

Go on writing courses. As many as possible. Different teachers have expertise in different areas and you’ll learn different things from them.

Enter writing competitions. It is great for building your writing CV and will get you noticed by agents.

Enjoy the first draft of the first novel because you’ll never experience that again. Approaching your second novel with all the information you’ve learned from the first is a different experience. There is a great Buddhist quote: ‘In the beginner’s mind, there are endless possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.’

Remember above all else that if you are writing, you are a writer, so write.

For one-on-one help writing your novel, join us on a creative writing course at The Novelry today. Sign up for courses, coaching and a community from the world’s top-rated writing school.

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Carla Jenkins
Carla Jenkins

Carla Jenkins lives in Devon. She’s always loved writing but only started taking it seriously three years ago after attending her first Arvon course. She promptly left her job as a secondary school English teacher and signed up for a Masters in Creative Writing. She started getting up at four in the morning and wrote her debut novel, Fifty Minutes.

Members of The Novelry team