These are among the many things I’ve learnt on the Curtis Brown three month novel writing course: the synopsis is probably the thing authors dread the most; you need to have an idea for a second novel up your sleeve before you’ve even got the first one published and David Mitchell (who came to speak to us on the course) recommends daring to be different with speculative fiction. But how much can you expect readers to suspend their disbelief?
I will return in a later blog to more details of how the course has helped me but in the meantime, I’ve dashed out a synopsis for a second novel:
Once upon a time there was a school. It wasn’t a perfect school. Some pupils did better than others. It was rumoured that the people who ran the school made too much money. But they also built roads so that people in far flung areas could get to school. They said if everyone got an education the whole community would benefit. But some people didn’t like children coming in from Other Areas because they sometimes needed extra help and that cost money.
One boy (let’s call him Nigel), particularly didn’t like this. He said they’d all be better off if they tore the school down. He campaigned to have a vote on this. He said the pupils should have control. He said that the money that was spent on the school and the pupils from Other Areas could instead be spent on things they wanted to buy for themselves. This became known as the treat money. Nigel got one of the popular boys to help him. He was called Boris and the pupils liked him because he was always saying stupid things in class. Partly thanks to Boris, the idea gained popularity among some of the 33 pupils. Others said it would never happen and they laughed at Nigel.
An education expert (let’s call him Mark) was called in and asked for his opinion. He said: “If you tear the school down, my best guess is that it will have a negative impact on your education, you probably won’t enjoy much more control and you will be sitting in the ruins.”
One of Nigel’s friends (let’s call him Michael) said: “Pah! Experts! Pupils are fed up with experts!”
And anyway the children were pleased to have an opportunity to vote on something; they liked the idea of taking back control, although none of them remembered ever having had control in the first place because the school (like all schools, everywhere) had always been run by the teachers and governors.
At last their day came and they had a democratic vote and voted by a majority of 17:16 to tear the school down and Nigel said it was a victory for the ordinary pupils and: “by the way, ha ha, you’re not laughing now, are you?”
But the 16 losers felt sad about the school and there was even more shouting and arguing than there had been before the vote and everyone felt angry and bitter.
Meanwhile, Boris hadn’t really wanted to tear the school down, he’d just wanted to boost his popularity so he could be head boy. Michael said actually, he wanted to be head boy and he and Boris had a scrap about it. In the end it was decided that neither of them deserved to be head boy. The head girl pointed out there might not be a school to be head boy of.
Then, when the pupils asked for their treat money, the boy called Nigel admitted he didn’t know where the money for the treats was actually coming from (let’s call that A Lie). He decided, for reasons unrelated to his Lie, to stop going to school.
It turned out that tearing the school down would be a difficult process and it wouldn’t start immediately because specialist contractors (experts) would need to work out how best to do it to ensure everyone’s safety. They told people it might take up to two years. So in the mean time it was suggested that their education should continue as before.
After a month, the children who voted to ‘tear down’ said: “Hang on, the education expert said voting to tear the school down was a bad idea. But it hasn’t been that bad so far and we still know exactly the same amount of stuff as we knew before the vote. So our education hasn’t been affected. The education expert is a liar.”
The education expert took a deep breath, pinched the bridge of his nose and said through gritted teeth: “But you haven’t actually torn it down yet…”
And the children replied: “But still, Nigel said we’d be better off — we think he’s right!”