After studying and graduating together, a trio of MA Creative Writing (Novels) alumnae from the Class of 2010 have all published their new novels this summer. To mark the occasion, they held a joint reading in central London, giving their audience an opportunity to hear snippets of each of their thrilling books. We caught up with Elizabeth Davidson, Kate Worsley and Hannah Michell to find out more about their novels, their time at City and what’s next for these authors…
Elizabeth’s first published book is Residents of Honeysuckle Cottage, a novella in the folk-horror genre. It is about a couple, Laura and Monique, who move from the city to a remote rural location. It seems idyllic but soon Laura starts to feel something is not quite right. They meet a young man who seems troubled and obsessive. An entity, referred to only as “Wiley” may, or may not, be watching them.
“I love literature that involves the supernatural—essentially literary code for our fears, insecurities, hang-ups and anxieties. This may be because I have an overactive imagination, scare easily and have an irrational fear of the supernatural. The prose in these types of novels is often exquisite, using the power of suggestion to build fear in the mind of the reader, and they tend to comment on societal issues and prejudices, particularly society’s fear of ‘the other’. My writer idols date back to the 1970s – Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives) and the godmother of horror Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House, We All Live in the Castle) – as well as contemporary authors such as Samanta Schweblin (Fever Dream) and Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts, The Cabin at the End of the World),” shared Elizabeth.
Hannah’s second book, EXCAVATIONS, is the story of a former journalist and young mother of two boys who takes up the investigation of the events leading up to the collapse of a landmark building when her husband disappears following the disaster. Her investigation reveals not only corporate secrets, but family secrets too, as she learns her husband is not who she thought he was.
Hannah told us: “EXCAVATIONS began as a very intellectual idea: I wanted to write the story of a man who personified the Korean economy, but who is a very unreliable narrator. I wanted to write this to demonstrate how the story of Korea’s growth is often only described as an economic miracle, which is only true if you ignore the realities of human rights abuses and labour exploitation under dictatorship.”
Kate’s novel, FOXASH, is also her second, a rural-gothic novel about life on an English smallholding in the 1930s. ‘With slow, quiet intent, Kate Worsley builds a tense atmosphere of looming horror. This book demands to be savoured, even as it clamours to be devoured’ (The Times).
On why she was inspired to write it, Kate said: “My first novel SHE RISES – which I drafted while on the City MA Creative Writing (Novels) with Jonathan Myerson – was a wide-ranging lesbian sea-faring adventure queering Smollett’s 18th-century picaresque narrative RODERICK RANDOM. After that I really wanted to write something with a tiny cast of characters who stayed in one place, so I could explore characters and relationships more. I was toying with writing about witches, specifically the 15th-century witch trials local to me in Essex, but at that point it felt like everyone was doing witches, so I combined the themes of ‘magic’ women and rural folklore with a very modern rural experiment also local to me, the biggest back-to-the-land movement of them all, the Land Settlement Association, which retrained unemployed industrial workers in horticulture during the great depression of the 1930s.”
All three authors had different experiences when writing these novels. While Elizabeth didn’t worry too much and wrote Residents of Honeysuckle Cottage quite fast, Hannah found writing her second novel a much more challenging process than her first, with it taking eight years to write. For Kate, the process started off well, however, life quickly got in the way and she lost her writing confidence. Fortunately, with the help of many, including Jonathan Myerson, her agent and other writers, Kate was able to get back on track!
Having all now successfully published books, the alumnae trio reflected on how their degree at City enabled them do so. Elizabeth shared: “I studied for an MA Creative Writing (Novels) at City, which gave me confidence, led me to take my writing seriously, helped me improve my skills, and gifted me the friendship of a small but very supportive circle of bookish aspirants with slightly introverted characteristics, vivid imaginations and a fondness for coffee and hanging out.”
For Hannah, it was the structure of the course that helped her publish her novels and she felt “very lucky to have met so many wonderful writers who have provided community and support long after the course was over.”
Kate also praised the ‘approach’ of the course in supporting her career: “Jonathan Myerson’s course proved an entirely practical no-nonsense immersive apprenticeship in how to build a novel and that approach has stood me in good stead ever since. He persuaded Sarah Waters, who has remained an invaluable support, to take me on as her first-ever mentee; brought in a huge range of international writers to speak to us; and gathered dozens of agents for our final roof-top showcase event, which was how I found my agent Veronique Baxter, partner at David Higham Associates. It also provided me with an incredibly inspiring cohort of writing peers, who continue to support each other to this day.”
The three authors discussed why they had chosen to study their MA at City. Elizabeth explained: “I was already living in London and could continue to work as the course was part-time over two years, which made it affordable. However, I would have chosen City anyway, due to its standout reputation, lively environs and its location at the centre of it all, which meant we got outstanding visiting speakers throughout the course. We had tutorials and talks with impressive writers who I really admired. It was amazing.”
Hannah, who had previously taken a series of short writing courses, wanted to be in a community with other writers, who were equally committed to completing a novel. “The Creative Writing MA is unique in promising writers a structured programme to help them finish a novel by the end of the degree.”
Similarly, Kate felt City’s MA was the one for her as it was ‘entirely focused on the craft of novel writing’, which she was keen to pursue.
With a supportive network, this alumnae group really enjoyed reading each other’s work and sharing their own. Hannah recalled: “The writer’s showcase was an event where agents were invited to hear our work, but it was also an excellent opportunity to present our work to our friends and family – it was a wonderful and memorable event. We also had acclaimed writers like Bernardine Evaristo, Jonathan Coe and Joshua Ferris come and speak to us and that was very memorable too.”
A standout memory for Kate, who also taught on the MA after graduating, was: “The day I struggled in from Essex in a huge snow storm to find only a handful of students waiting, even those who lived within walking distance had stayed home. But then there was the seminar on suspense when one student came back from the half-time break with the news that there was a man with a knife outside roaming St John St, although in that instance the students displayed remarkable sang-froid.”
Looking ahead, Elizabeth, Hannah and Kate are all hoping to publish their next novels that are already in process! Kate will also continue to run her online writing workshops and mentor writers.
Thank you to Elizabeth, Hannah and Kate for sharing their new books with us and their experiences at City. We wish them the best for these new books and the future novels that are already planned!
How you can support:
Hannah Michell, author of Excavations, published by Penguin Random House on 11 July 2023. Hannah’s first novel, The Defections, was published by Quercus in 2014. She currently lives in California, where she teaches at the University of California, Berkeley
Follow Hannah on Instagram @_hannahmichell
Buy her book at: bit.ly/excavationsbook
Kate Worsley, author of Foxash, published by Tinder Press on 27 April 2023. Her first novel, She Rises, was published by Bloomsbury in 2013
Follow Kate on Instagram @worsleywrite
Buy her book at: https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/kate-worsley-2/foxash/9781472294890/