A novel approach: how short course alumna self-published her debut novel

By Rachel Mann

Since the publication of my first novel, On Blackberry Hill, many people have asked me: How long did it take to write? I find this seemingly simple question hard to answer. Maybe what they mean is: How did you do it? This is what people really want to know, isn’t it? How does one write a novel?

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists. Here’s how I did it. In the winter of 2008, I was working as an editor in educational publishing in New York, when my husband accepted a job relocation to London. With two children under five, I decided to focus on helping them adjust, while also taking the opportunity to do something I had long wished to pursue: creative writing. Enrolling on City’s Novel Studio course (then called the Certificate in Novel Writing) felt like signing up to climb Everest. I had never written a story longer than ten pages.

Anne Lamott, author of On Blackberry Hill

The course began with a focus on reading novels of all genres, and on the fundamentals of strong stories. I felt excited and ready to undertake the task of writing my own novel, as I began to evaluate writing from a writer’s perspective, not just from a reader’s. The tutors broke up the monumental process into manageable chunks, guiding us through small goals. As Anne Lamott explains in her influential book, writing is accomplished “bird by bird.” In other words: one image, one scene, one sentence at a time. The camaraderie and the ritual of meeting with other writers for hours each week really drove my commitment to spend the time necessary to complete the novel.

I decided to set my novel in an American summer camp, a setting deeply familiar to me, but foreign to every one of my classmates. Having a thoughtful audience for my earliest drafts helped to push me to make the story accessible to a wide range of readers. I finished the course with an outline and 50 pages. We had a reading for friends, family, agents and publishers, which pushed us to think of our novels as real products, not just class exercises. By the following spring, I had a complete first draft.

So what happened next? Life. My family moved back to New York, and we had a third child. I networked, went to conferences, wrote new pieces, and revised and revised my novel. There were long stretches of time when I didn’t look at the manuscript at all, as other pressing concerns took hold. In the end, it was my Novel Studio classmate and friend Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, who helped me to publish the novel at long last.

As you see, writing a novel, at least for me, was a meandering process that took almost 8 years from first scribbles to printed book. It’s been so rewarding to hear reader feedback, from old friends to other writers, to young readers who relate to the teenage characters. Writing and completing a work is its own reward, but having readers respond to one’s writing is a greater thrill yet.

I remain grateful to the community of my City Novel Studio course, many of whom gathered together to share and critique writing even after the course ended. We continue to share and celebrate one another’s successes to this day.

On Blackberry Hill is published by Create Space and is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Young Adult Literature. For more about Rachel’s writing visit her website; for more about The Novel Studio, please visit our programme page.

How I wrote Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie

by Malcolm McLean

This October saw the release of a book I have been buried away writing and editing for the last three years: a memoir about my teenage years spent obsessing over pop stars, titled Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie. It feels like an amazing achievement to have got to this point and have people reading the book that I put so much into during the last few years, and I am so proud of myself, but it wasn’t as simple as I naively thought it might be, back at the start of the project.

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

I’d thought about writing a book for a few years, but lacked the confidence. After tentatively starting the project, my sister suggested I look for a writing course to help give me more of the skills I needed to actually get the thing written and turn a series of anecdotes into a cohesive book. After looking around, I settled on the Narrative Non Fiction short course at City, University of London. The course outline was so detailed and seemed perfect for what I needed to write a memoir.

I assumed there would be an entire class of people writing memoirs like me, but there wasn’t: there were people working in media, wanting help with writing longer articles; company directors hoping to gain more confidence in business communications; and even someone writing a biography of her grandmother’s life in the 1930s. A huge mix. Peter Forbes, the course leader, was an incredible teacher. He gave us writing tools and tricks we so desperately wanted, seeing the strengths and weaknesses in our writing, and always giving such encouraging feedback. He also dispelled a lot of myths about the publishing industry and made it clear how different it is today compared to even ten years ago.

We worked on a variety of types of writing, each of which gave me a new perspective on how language can explain, explore and entertain. This allowed me to develop my book from being very fact and nostalgia-based, to having a more personal story that explored why I ended up doing ridiculous things like breaking into the BRIT Awards, or hanging out at Posh Spice’s mum’s house!

By the end of the course I was ready to submit my first three chapters and a detailed synopsis to try and secure a literary agent, and hopefully sign a book deal with one of the big publishers. I knew that my chances of getting one were slim and, despite some positive feedback, my emails to agents amounted to nothing.

For me, there was always a Plan B, as I knew that I wanted to release my book whatever happened. I researched a great deal into independent publishers, self-publishing, and ‘hybrid publishing’ – a model supposedly falling somewhere between doing it yourself and getting a deal with a big publisher. In the end, I settled on signing with RedDoor, who take on selective book projects that the author has to fund the production costs for. The team there are book lovers with lots of contacts, and I felt that they ‘got’ my idea for Freak Like Me more than anyone else. In hindsight, I feel that self-publishing may have been a better deal for me, financially, but it’s a gamble in finding the right person who can help you edit your book, and I can’t deny that the option I went with meant I was given huge amounts of freedom in producing the book that I wanted to.

The process of actually writing a book is time consuming, and so often it is hard to keep the motivation up, or to see what does or doesn’t work with your writing. After the course, a group of us decided to continue meeting up more informally, to talk about or share some of our writing. These guys became both my most honest critics, and a really useful support network!

Freak Like Me, being such a nostalgic, fun book was always going to be a Christmas release, and so, although it was signed off in early 2019, there was a long wait until October for it to finally get released. I’m immensely happy with the finished book and still flick through it or just gaze at the cover in wonderment. Just reaching this point and receiving such positive feedback from friends, family, or random lovers of pop nostalgia has made the whole experience so worth it, and I’ve ended up with skills and confidence that I couldn’t have imagined three years ago.

Malcolm McLean is a part-time writer and full-time pop music obsessive. His debut memoir Freak Like Me was published by RedDoor in October 2019. To find out more about Malcolm, visit the Freak Like Me website Or to learn about the Narrative Non-Fiction course he took at City visit the City web page.

City Writes summer sizzler

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

The City Writes Summer event of 2019 was a glorious July evening with a number of exciting firsts: our first reading from a Novel Studio Scholarship winner; two readers who had already shared work at previous City Writes events; and a visit from the wonderful Novel Studio alumna Anna Mazzola whose energy and storytelling charm are a delight to share.

We started the evening with a very funny short story about a dreadful first date, ‘Bird’s Nest’, written and read by Su Yin Yap. If you can picture a presumptuous, entitled man biting into the wicker basket his Chinese meal was delivered in, you’ve got an idea of the kind of laughter the story invoked in the audience. This was Su Yin Yap’s second story to be chosen for City Writes and it was great to have her back.

Lola Okolosie

Next Ruth Thorlby, who is currently completing an MA focussing on short stories, but whose journey began on a short course at City, read her poignant and rather haunting story, ‘Passing’, about a young person returning home to try and see her Grandmother before she dies and being unable to make it over the threshold. To say more would spoil it. With beautiful descriptions and a contemplative air, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this story that left the audience with much to think about.

Lola OkolosieOur Novel Studio Scholarship winner, Lola Okolosie, was next. The inaugural winner of the schola rship sponsored by Novel Studio alumna Harriet Tyce, who read from her novel Blood Orange at our Spring City Writes, Lola’s extract ‘Seun’, from a novel-in-progress, took us into the heart of a traffic jam in Lagos where Seun struggles to make sense of his itinerant identity. The audience were entranced. What a start to Lola’s Novel Studio career.

Bren Gosling

Bren Gosling read his story ‘Let Me Pay’ next. Another author returning to grace the City Writes stage, Bren’s tale brought an ex-soldier and a refugee together around a cafe table, their mutual romantic interest fraught with old, unspoken tensions. A taut story exploring the fall out of war on the individual even in peacetime.

Finally, we were delighted to hear from author and Novel Studio alumna, Anna Mazzola who shared some of her latest work-in-progress set in Paris in the 1700s. Not only were we transported to 18th Century France, we were also swept up in Anna’s enthusiasm for storytelling.

Her question and answer session gave us plenty of tips and food for thought – Anna’s productivity is very impressive – about how to write and work and look after children, as well as how to think about writing historical fiction as well as crime fiction. A truly enlightening reading and talk that inspired much interest in Anna’s published and prize-winning novels, The Unseeing and The Story Keeper.

City Writes ended with a little more wine, some networking, some book signing and a general sense of writing camaraderie.

For those of you who don’t know about City Writes, it is an exciting event that showcases the best of City’s Short Courses Creative Writing talent. Held once a term at the University, City Writes hosts readings from alumni, students and tutors. One reader offers a professional perspective, reading from a new or award-winning publication, and the other readers are selected on the basis of a 1,000 word submission to a termly fiction writing competition open to all current and previous students of a City Creative Writing Short Course.

We are doing something a little different with our 2019 Winter City Writes event: our guest readers are all in the wonderful Story Cities anthology edited by Rosamund Davies (Novel Studio alumna), Cherry Potts (City Visiting Lecturer) and Kam Rehal, published by Arachne Press. We will have several shorts read by alumni who have been published in the anthology and will be seeking flash fiction submissions of 500 words or less, meaning we will have a bumper number of readers in December. It’s going to be a flash fiction extravaganza! Do check the website for further details.

 

 

Get ahead with your business writing

By Howard Walwyn

Almost everyone in their daily work needs to write clear, accurate business English, whether that is in the form of emails, letters, reports, minutes, digital copy, marketing materials, technical manuals or other formats. Even tweets are increasingly used as a marketing tool for both Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer communications.

Yet not everyone is confident that their business writing skills are up to the standard they would like. Many people working in communications departments, HR or marketing teams, regardless of their native language, strive to write refined and polished business copy.

Similarly people working in IT or quantitative fields are often less comfortable writing business English than they are dealing with code or numbers and see the need to obtain specific training in business writing skills, to help them reach an even better standard of written English.

City, University of London’s Writing for Business short course gives hands-on practical training in the principles of clear business English and how to write good business copy, whether it’s an article, a press release, a CV, a product review or a letter or email. It also covers some of the wider aspects of being a writer, such as research and planning, interviewing, promotion and marketing; and legal and editorial topics. The course explains how the key principles behind writing clear business English – such as brevity, clarity and consistency – are the same, whatever the length and format of the piece you are writing.

Due to high demand, we are delighted to be offering the course on two nights of the week.

On Tuesday evenings the Writing for Business course is taught by Howard Walwyn who has spent 30 years writing and editing copy in the financial sector, focusing mainly on risk and regulatory content. He now uses that experience, alongside his degrees in English Language & Literature and Economics, to help clients and students write clear business English – both in the financial sector and in other areas of business.

Every Thursday, the course is taught by Maggie Richards, a freelance journalist and copywriter with 20 years’ experience writing for the likes of The Guardian and The Times and working with all kinds of businesses from sole traders to global giants, such as Harrods and Marks & Spencer.

Writing for Business is a 10-week short course starting in October.

Travellers on the Same Road

By Emma Claire Sweeney

I love to hear from Novel Studio students that our conversations have spilled from the classroom into chats over coffee in the campus café, or glasses of wine at The Peasant. It was just these kinds of tête-à-têtes that first fired my friendship with Emily Midorikawa, my former Novel Studio colleague.

We were lucky enough to have chanced upon each other almost fifteen years ago, back at a time when we were both living carefree lives as young English teachers in rural Japan. I have vivid memories of the moment when we first admitted that we were both secretly writing: the bowls of garlicky spaghetti we were eating; the acquaintance who unexpectedly showed up at the restaurant, putting a stop to our conversation; the way we picked up where we’d left off as we wandered through a shopping mall on our way home.

At the end of that formative year, I headed off to South East Asia carrying my notepad from noisy Bangkok hostels to crumbling villas in Laos, while Emily continued to type away in her tiny Japanese apartment surrounded by carparks and convenience stores.

Many messages pinged between the computer in Emily’s Japanese staffroom and the internet cafés I visited in Chiang Mai and Hanoi and Luang Prabang. According to Emily, it was during this time that I sent her a message in which I daydreamed about the two of us writing together one day. It was a throwaway remark – one I can’t remember making. Back then, we were both just beginning to forge our own paths. We didn’t know where we were heading so we could hardly invite anyone else along for the ride.

We would have been delighted and surprised, I think, to see the similar directions in which we’d travel during the years to come: each working away on our own stories, becoming City colleagues, and eventually finding a way to co-write.

The route we could take for writing together became clear during a chat one summer’s afternoon. We got talking about how much we’d come to appreciate our own friendship and wondered whether our favourite female authors of the past had enjoyed similar types of bonds.

We knew about Coleridge and Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. But did Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë have female confidantes outside their immediate family circles? Could the great George Eliot ever have deigned to single out another female author as an equal? And did Virginia Woolf look for a woman of comparable talent away from the male-dominated Bloomsbury Group?

In search of answers to these questions, we began co-writing literary features for the broadsheets and magazines, and we then set up a literary blog, SomethingRhymed.com. Together we gradually uncovered a wealth of hidden yet startling collaborations, which led us to be commissioned to jointly author A Secret Sisterhood – a non-fiction book about the hidden literary friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf.

Our book was published simultaneously by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA to coincide with Jane Austen’s 2017 bicentenary. On launch day, we were delighted to celebrate not only the joint road on which we had both travelled but also the trailblazing work of the female writer friends who made our journey possible.

A Secret Sisterhood is available here.  For more about Emily and Emma’s journey, please visit their website.

To find out more about The Novel Studio and its growing list of published alumni, visit.

Taking a walk on the wild side of business

By Brenna Boyle

Brenna was working as a wildlife ranger in the Scottish Highlands before attending the Starting up in Business course at City, University of London. Brenna’s ambition was to make a successful business showing communities the diverse range of wildlife on their doorsteps.

An average day as a wildlife ranger would involve guiding groups of visitors around stunning scenery and viewing species including Golden Eagles and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. But I left the Highlands and returned to London, driven by a desire to prove that the wildlife of London, whilst perhaps not as iconic or dramatic as that of Scotland, is abundant, diverse and fascinating.

My goal was to set up a business delivering guided wildlife walks and nature discovery activities for groups of adults, families, communities and schools within London. And yes, lots of people thought I was nuts! I knew from previous experience that the wildlife of London really is surprising, rich and interesting, in that I had faith. What I didn’t have so much faith in was my ability to build and run a business. I had so many questions and doubts about everything from protecting my brand to tax, marketing, the law and hiring other people. My new business, Wild Capital, had officially begun before I enrolled on the course; it was very young but the website was operational, I was insured and I’d delivered a few programmes. However, I felt I was holding back on allowing the business to grow through uncertainty about how to proceed. My fear was that I would invest everything into the business and one day some scary bloke in a suit would appear and tell me I’d done something wrong and I owed thousands of pounds in fees or fines!

I chose to undertake an introduction to business course in order to deal with my concerns, and go forwards in business confidently. I did quite a lot of research into different options before settling on the Starting Up in Business course at City. The course was very appealing as it covered a wide array of business topics, but with a total duration of 20 hours over 10 weeks there was time to delve into each topic, rather than just scratch the surface. There was a choice of doing the course on either a Tuesday or a Thursday night, so I was able to select the night that most suited my schedule.

The course itself was a mixture of taught material delivered with PowerPoint presentations (all the slides were uploaded to an accessible website in advance of the class so you could print them and make notes on the hand-outs), class activities such as working in groups to review existing businesses and personal work done in our own time which cumulated in writing a full business plan that was read and reviewed. Kulan Mills, who delivered the course was extremely knowledgeable and helpful; you really felt you could ask him anything. Kulan obviously has a great deal of experience with a wide range of businesses. He would tell us anecdotes from his own experiences, which were insightful and interesting. Kulan took interest in everyone in the class; he made himself available before and after the sessions to answer questions and discuss ideas. He also put students in touch with people from his extensive network of useful contacts; I had a very helpful meeting with the manager of an outdoor activity centre, instigated through Kulan.

Several of the students, myself included, already knew what type of business we wanted to develop. Others knew they wanted to run a business but weren’t yet sure what kind. The course was very suitable for both groups of students, with many ideas thrown up for those looking to create a new service or product. For all these reasons and more, studying at City was a great experience. The nice coffee shop and free WiFi were also very welcome!

Since completing the course at City I have had the confidence to expand my business; I now work with both local councils and London based charities, providing wildlife discovery activities for communities. The numbers of new private bookings for adult wildlife walks and family adventures are increasing all the time, and I’m now looking at rolling out a selection of programmes for schools.

I wouldn’t hesitate to enrol on another course at City. Perhaps further down the line I’ll a need a course to develop my skills as the director of an expanding company!

To find out more about Wild Capital please visit the website www.wildcapital.co.uk, follow on Twitter or like on Facebook.

To find out more and enrol on City’s Starting Up in Business short courses visit the webpage.

A taste of learning with City

City, University of London proudly hosted our first ever open evening and taster sessions event on Thursday 11th July 2019. Thank you to everyone who made the evening such a success and to all of our attendees – we hope that you found it interesting.

Throughout the evening we offered a series of 30-minute taster sessions in a select number of our short course programmes to give students a feel for what it is like to study a short course with us.

We started the evening on a high with a taster session in one of our most popular courses, Introduction to Programming with Python. Lead by programming expert, Philip De Grouchy, this session was packed out with young professionals looking to try their hand at coding.

Our digital guru, Elliott King, ran a parallel session in Strategic Digital Marketing, combining theoretical knowledge with step-by-step guidance on delivering online marketing campaigns.

Katy Darby lead an interactive session in Short Story Writing, for those looking to nurture their creative flare while Marian Wancio delivered a more practical course in Project Management.

Ping Chai, leading a Chinese Mandarin taster session

We also ran sessions in Immigration Law, Adobe InDesign, JavaScript Programming, Writing for Business, Writing for the Web, Curating & Exhibition Management, Japanese; and Chinese Mandarin.

Feedback from our attendees was overwhelming positive, with the vast majority stating that their questions were answered adequately by our staff. Our taster classes were also well received, rating the quality of the sessions highly.

However, there is always room for learning and improvements! As a result of our feedback, we intend to replace the current format with two separate events. In December 2019, we will be hosting a ‘meet our tutors’ open evening, an excellent opportunity to speak to our experts one-to-one about the wide variety of courses we offer at City. In the summer of 2020, we will be continue to run a full evening of taster sessions, offering a glimpse of what is it like to learn at City.

We will also be extending out taster sessions from 30 to 45 minutes to allow more time for learning. See the Visit Us section of our blog to find out more about our visitor events or book your place on our December open evening.

Short Courses Alumna, Luiza Sauma, on National Writing Day

By Emily Pedder

This year City’s Short Courses have partnered with National Writing Day, an initiative designed to  inspire people across the UK to get writing. To  celebrate we are bringing you an interview with one of our most successful alumni, the novelist Luiza Sauma.

Luiza took several short courses at City before she began her career as a novelist. Her first novel, Flesh and Bone and Water, was published in 2017 by Viking to great acclaim. Tomorrow sees the launch of her second novel, Everything You Ever Wanted. Set on a perfect parallel planet the book explores our ‘age of anxiety’. This interview was conducted by Emily Pedder, Course Director for the Novel Studio

EP: Luiza, thank you so much for being part of this year’s National Writing Day. We’re thrilled to be involved with such an important initiative which aims to inspire creative writing from the very earliest stages.

Can I start by asking whether there was a teacher or adult who you got you interested in storytelling at a young age?

LS: Sometimes I feel like I’m the only author who didn’t have an inspiring English teacher. I loved literature, but I didn’t thrive at school. Luckily I grew up in a house full of books and my parents encouraged me to read widely from an early age. They’re both psychoanalysts, so storytelling is central to their work – psychoanalysis is all about stories.

EP: What was the first book to make you cry?

LS: Books don’t often make me cry. I think I shed a tear when the dog died in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I read when I was a teenager. I found that scene unbearably tender.

EP: Who were your favourite authors as a child?

LS: Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott, C S Lewis, Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain and Hans Christian Andersen. Dahl in particular. I used to re-read Matilda every couple of weeks.

EP: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

LS: I would say, ‘Believe in yourself,’ because I wasted too many years on anxiety and self-doubt. But believing in yourself is easier said than done when you’re surrounded by critical voices. Our society is very hard on young women.

EP: What is it about writing that motivates or inspires you?

LS: Sometimes it feels involuntary – I write in my head all the time. Both reading and writing are a comfort to me; they help me to understand the world.

EP: You recently became a mum. How has that experience affected your writing?

LS: I’m not able to write at the moment – my baby occupies all of my time. But I’m still writing in my head, like always. I’m very sleep-deprived, but the ideas are percolating. Motherhood has been so challenging, intense and joyful. I feel utterly changed. I’ve never had so many ideas.

EP: Your latest novel is a dystopian take on the modern world. What prompted you to set it in an imagined future?

LS: Everything You Ever Wanted is set in the near future – a world that everyone would recognise, apart from the fact that people are being sent to live on another planet. When I came up with the idea, I was writing my first novel, working full-time in an office and feeling quite trapped. This was before Brexit, before Donald Trump became president, but there was a sense of increasing anger and anxiety in the world, and social media seemed to be making it worse. I knew I wanted to explore these things.

Then I heard an episode of the podcast Love + Radio about a woman who wanted to take part in the Mars One mission – which would involve leaving Earth, never to return – and suddenly there was my idea. A lot of people have been joking, lately, about leaving Earth, because things are so awful right now – but what would it take to actually do it? I was feeling stuck, so I thought I might as well try and write something completely wild. At the very least, I thought it would be fun.

EP: Do you see your novels as completely separate or is there a thread that links them for you?

LS: One of the things that excited me about Everything You Ever Wanted was that it felt completely different to my first novel, which was deeply rooted in Brazilian culture, the immigrant experience and the real world. But when I finished writing it, I realised I had written another novel about immigration – just on a larger, cosmic scale. I was born in Brazil and I come from a long line of immigrants from various countries. It’s the defining story of my family, and quite hard to shake off.

EP: Finally, if your daughter grows up and says she wants to be a writer, what would your advice be?!

LS: I would tell her to find a day job that doesn’t eat up all her time and energy, to be ambitious in her work, but also to look after herself – both mentally and physically. Writing is an unstable career, so it’s important to find stability elsewhere.

EP: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Luiza, and so much luck with the next novel!

Everything You Ever Wanted is published by Viking on 27th June 2019.

For more about the short courses Luiza took at City, visit our short course writing home page.

Luiza Sauma, image by Tim Goalem

 

 

City Writes Spring 2019 event

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes Spring 2019 Event was busier than ever, the room filled with writers and their friends sharing conversation and blood orange gin cocktails, all to suit the theme of our professional writer, Harriet Tyce, whose debut thriller Blood Orange has taken the publishing world by storm.

Before we heard from Harriet, the City Writes competition winners treated us to five short creative pieces that took us from distributing ashes, through war zones, lazy summers and an imagined meat-free future, to the humble garden trampoline.

Competition winners

Harriet Pavey

We began with Harriet Pavey’s story ‘Dad’, telling the history of her character’s relationship with her father as she distributed his ashes. A recent graduate of An Approach to Creative Writing, Harriet Pavey filled her story with poignant detail from both present and past that set a contemplative tone for the night.

Next up, we heard from Ursula Hirschkorn, a current Novel Studio student whose story ‘Summer Time’ took us through three characters’ experiences of one summer: the adolescent on summer holidays, desperate to avoid her set texts and talk up foreign encounters with boys; the working mother exhausted by the efforts to manage a holiday with her family; the patient, adept at understanding the terminal nature of their illness.

Not quite ready to dispel the sombre mood, Jake Leyland, an alumnus of Peter Forbes’ brilliantNarrative Non-Fiction course, took us into a war zone in his character study, ‘Portrait of the Technician in a War Zone’. Hidden beneath their desks, the writer considers the technician he is meant to be managing as gun-fire rattles outside their thin walls.

Stephanie Pride

Taking a different turn, Stephanie Pride, who had just finished Cherry Pott’s Approach to Creative Writing course, took us to the future in her story ‘The best way to a man’s mind is through his stomach’. The story asked more questions than it answered as the narrator walked above the grids of groaning meateaters. I’ll just leave you to imagine this one.

Our final competition winner was Ben O’Donnell Bourke, most recently an alumnus of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course, whose ‘Negative Habits’ told of another father and child relationship spun around the demise of the garden trampoline. Like the tip of an iceberg, the trampoline gives us access to the depths of the family relationships stretched deep below the surface.

The audience, their minds already filled with the fascinating tales of our competition winners, were then eager to hear from Harriet Tyce, Novel Studio alumna and fierce supporter of the creative writing short courses at City.

Harriet Tyce on Blood Orange

Fresh from a whirlwind book tour for her debut psychological thriller, Blood Orange, that took her through England, Scotland and into America, Harriet decided to side step the opening bang of the novel to give us the morning after when her heroine, Alison, is woken by her husband and daughter as she sleeps slumped in her office chair.

As well as whetting our appetites for the rest of the book which explores what it means to have it and risk it all, Harriet gave us an insight into what it was like to bring a novel into the world and happily shared stories and answered questions afterwards as the audience queued to buy signed copies of Blood Orange. It was a fantastic night. A real example of what City Writes was set up to be: a supportive space for writers from City’s Creative Short Courses to share their experience and success.

Now well into its second year of events, City Writes is a termly event that hosts readings from alumni, students and tutors. One reader offers a professional perspective, reading from a new or award-winning publication, and the other readers are selected on the basis of a 1,000 word submission to a termly fiction writing competition open to all current and previous students of a City Creative Writing Short Course. Out guest reader for next term’s City Writes, which on the 17th July, is Anna Mazzola. Anna is a Novel Studio alumna whose debut novel, The Unseeing, won the Edgar Award in the US, and whose second novel, The Story Keeper, has recently been longlisted for the Highland Book Prize. Watch this space for this term’s entry details.

The Novel Studio Scholarship

For full details on the incredibly generous Novel Studio scholarship set up by Harriet Tyce to support a talented writer from a low-income household; the deadline for the scholarship is 30th May 2019.

Read more about The Novel Studio Scholarship

Sci-Fi, folk songs and mince pies at City Writes Autumn 2018

Competition winners and visiting lecturers perform and read their work at this year’s City Writes Autumn event.

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

With our headline act, visiting lecturer Cherry Potts, bringing along performers from her Solstice Shorts literature and music Festival, the City Writes Autumn 2018 Event was always going to be a bumper and festive night, but the quality of the work being read and performed really exceeded expectations.

First, we had our wonderful competition winners, chosen from a fantastic group of submissions. Angelita Bradney began the evening with her story, ‘A Chance to make things better’, that beautifully depicted the memory of a British seaside town after environmental meltdown. Evocative and moving, the closing setting sun offered some hope for the future.

From there we moved to Italy with Kate Henderson’s meticulously weighted rendering of the mundane minutiae of relationships, ‘The Bay of Naples’, as a woman on holiday tried not to think about her feelings for her husband. It’s amazing what a cup of tea can do for love.

As we contemplated the intricacies of long-term relationships, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt stood up and took us to America in her story, ‘Four Minutes in April’. Different characters and voices were expertly wound together to give us a story of love and loss in different generations and across racial boundaries.

Meera Betab was our final competition winner, taking us into the near future AC (After Copies), with her story, ‘Copy’, in which a professor has created a copying machine capable of created a perfect duplicate of a human right down to its memories, to every thought and feeling that makes us most individual. The twist at the end gave us all something to think about as Cherry Potts took to the stage.

Cherry read us a tantalising extract from her story ‘The Midwinter Wife’ from the Shortest Day Longest Night anthology, the second of the Solstice Shorts anthologies. We were left wondering what the strange woman, taken in, clothed and fed by a 15-year-old boy, would do next. He found her naked and scratched being hissed at by the local cats. Though his friend and neighbour helps him by lending a coat, the boy is soon left on his own with this woman who appears to be shifting, transforming in front of him every time he returns to his bedroom where she has curled herself in his sheets.

Leaving us hanging, keen to buy a copy of the anthology to find out what happened next, Cherry then introduced Katarina Watson who performed her story ‘Threshold’, mesmerising us with a memorised performance about a young woman preparing to open the door to her home and her famous lover, not knowing what weather front he would confront her with once she’d turned the key and stepped over the threshold.

Finally, Ian Kennedy and Sarah Lloyd sang a beautiful folk song Cherry herself had translated and set to music. Their harmonies perfectly transported us to distant times and opened up a field of debate as Cherry fielded questions from the audience.

With book buying and signing and wine and mince pies to follow, City Writes Autumn 2018 event was a brilliantly seasonal night. Thanks to all involved.

For those unfamiliar with City Writes, it is an exciting termly event that showcases the best of City’s Short Courses Creative Writing talent. City Writes hosts readings from alumni, students and tutors. One reader offers a professional perspective, reading from a new or award-winning publication, and the other readers are selected on the basis of a 1,000 word submission to a termly fiction writing competition open to all current and previous students of a City Creative Writing Short Course. Our guest reader for next term is Harriet Tyce whose debut Blood Orange will be published in February 2019 and has been toasted as the most talked about thriller of 2019. Harriet was a criminal barrister for ten years before starting her writing career. A graduate of the Novel Studio in 2010, she is now part way through a PhD in Creative Writing at UEA. The next event will be held on the 9th April 2019 and tickets will go on sale next term. Details of the upcoming competition can be found here.

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