My Job in Five: Jennifer Kerslake

My Job in Five: Jennifer Kerslake

Describe your role. 
As senior manager at Curtis Brown Creative, I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the writing school, including the running of our short online courses and our longer selective-entry courses, which we offer online and—in non-Covid times—in London. I work closely with our courses manager and team assistant to select students, organise schedules and logistics, engage tutors and editors, and ensure the smooth running of our educational platform.

What do you enjoy about your role?
I love delivering end-of-course tutorials to our novel-writing students. It’s a joy and a privilege to discuss what’s working well and what could be improved in their writing, and to hear how they’re planning to use everything they’ve learnt during the course to make their novels the best they can be. Over 110 of our former students now have publishing deals, and it’s always a very special moment when we hear of a student signing with an agent or publisher. 

What are you working on at the moment?
We’re gearing up to launch a new course this month—Creative Writing for Beginners—which we managed to film just before lockdown, and I’m working with some of our tutors to create new teaching videos for our selective online courses (to be filmed as soon as we’re able). I’m also really excited about the Breakthrough Writers Programme, which offers free courses, mentoring and scholarships to under represented writers.  

What skills do you need for your role?
With so many courses and students, an ability to juggle multiple projects and responsibilities is important. As well as being organised and efficient, I’d say having a passion for writing and learning, being creative with commercial nous, and communicating sensitively are all key. I also have several years of experience as an editor, which I bring to my one-to-one work with the students.  

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry?
It can be a competitive industry to break into, but if you’re passionate and persistent—and approach different areas and roles with an open mind­—you stand a good chance. I’d recommend applying for as many paid work experience schemes as you can, and make an effort to get involved in anything that might relate to publishing, for example reviewing books, university journalism or helping out at literary festivals.

How has the pandemic affected your working life? 
We’ve sadly not been able to run our London-based in-person courses since March last year, but applications to our online courses have remained strong throughout the pandemic. We’ve strengthened our online offering, adding agent tutorials (via Zoom) to our selective novel-writing courses, and we launched two new six-week courses last year—Writing a Psychological Thriller with Erin Kelly, and Writing Historical Fiction with Stephanie Merritt. We also created a free Weekly Writing Workout for those wanting to stay creative and brush up their skills during lockdown. The team have been keeping in close contact through daily video meetings and Teams chats, which has helped enormously—though it’s not the same and I am looking forward to seeing them in person again soon.
How did you get to your current position? 
I spent several years as an editor at W&N, working with writers to hone their manuscripts and liaising with sales, marketing, publicity and production during the publishing process. When I saw the role with CBC, I thought it sounded perfect for me—a chance to work with writers at an early stage, helping them to develop their ideas and writing and get smart about the industry. From talking to Curtis Brown agents, I knew CBC would be a great place to work—fast-paced and creative, with an inspiring but practical approach to teaching—which it has proven to be.