Month: April 2021

City Writes Summer 2021 Writing Competition

City Writes Summer 2021 Competition Opens

City Writes, the showcase for Short Courses creative writing talent, is back on Zoom this Summer with alumna, Alex Morrall as our professional. Alex’s debut, Helen and the Grandbeeswas published by Legend in 2020 to great acclaim.
Described as ‘Uplifting’ by the Daily Mail and ‘Breath taking’ by Awais Khan, Helen and the Grandbees is a mother and daughter reunion exploring identity, race and mental illness. We’re delighted Alex will be sharing the novel with us on Wednesday 7th July.

Alex is a Brummy artist and writer living in southeast London who took a Freelance Writing short course at City. She has had poetry published in several journals and writes food reviews for her local newspaper. You can find out more about her work on her website.

Alex Morall, author of Helen and the Grandbees

For your chance to join Alex on the online stage, all you need to do is send us 1,000 words of your best creative writing (fiction or non-fiction, YA but sadly no poetry or children’s fiction) by Friday 11th June 2021. Full submission details are here.
If you want to register for the event on Wednesday 7th July, you can do so here and if you are keen to catch up on the online events you’ve missed, check out the blog for links to videos and articles.
Don’t forget to send your best 1,000 words by midnight Friday 11th June 2021. Competition winners will be announced in week 9. We can’t wait to read your submissions.

Meet JavaScript course lecturer, Aris Markgiannakis

My name is Aris Markogiannakis and I am a Developer, a Lecturer and a Leader in London,  JavaScript Community organiser and creator of CityJS Conference. I have been teaching for the past 10 years at City, University of London and other institutions around London for the last couple years. My specialisation is in teaching Programming languages such as ASP.NET and JavaScript.

At the moment I am teaching the Advanced JavaScript short course, which happens to be one of my favourite subjects. JavaScript is a very flexible and at the moment on the top two Languages for developers.

JavaScript was invented in 1995 by Brendan Eich. At the very beginning was just a small additional scripting language to languages such as .NET and JAVA. Through the years it has developed to an autonomous programming language with the creation of NodeJS.  You can now do everything with JavaScript from reading databases, programming chips, and creating e-shops fully running with JavaScript. You will still need to know HTML and CSS as JavaScript is depending on those two web programming languages.

JavaScript comes with a vast toolkit that is developed by various companies and the developer community. Most recent one is ReactJS which is developed as an Open-Source project by Facebook. ReactJS is an abstraction on top of the core JavaScript and it fastens development by providing a set of tools and capabilities so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we create a new project. Other frameworks include VueJS, Angular. In addition there are tools such as JQuery which was quite popular a few years ago but with the creation of Frameworks its popularity decreased.

The most common mistake when you start learning JavaScript is by starting learning a framework instead of learning the core JavaScript.

  • The key advantage is that all frameworks change over time.
  • Frameworks are written with JavaScript so when something goes wrong you will need to understand why it doesn’t work you will need to know the basics
  • When using a framework you still need to use some of the core JS features.

When teaching my course , I make sure that  the student can get from  having a basic level of JavaScript  learns and understands the advanced concepts of JavaScript  and at the end can relate those concepts with the key features of the frameworks.

Some of the core areas we cover at my course are:

  • Arrays, Objects, Prototyping
  • Scoping, this, Hoisting
  • Event handlers, Bubbling and Delegation
  • Async and Await, Asynchronous JavaScript
  • REST API’s
  • TDD
  • ES6, Babel Transpiler
  • Modularisation of Applications and use of Webpack
  • Introduction to React

All those areas are covered with the main idea that students when end the course get to know how to easily adapt to a Developers working environment.

To sign up and join Aris’s course, visit our website.

 

 

 

Facing the fear of career change: from data analyst to copywriter

After years of feeling directionless in my NHS job, I’ve finally found a calling that’s reignited my passion. Here’s how I’m pivoting in mid-life thanks to a City short course.

by Christopher Hunt

For five years I’ve considered changing careers. As a Data Analyst for the NHS, the prospect of changing not only to a new career but from an employee to freelance feels daunting. I have a mortgage and two children under 12 after all. And yet, while it’s easy to make excuses, I’ve realised the only way to confront my fear is to act.

Writing has always been part of my life. I’ve self-published a supernatural novel, written guitar-related blogs and even scripts for a short-lived YouTube comedy series. I also have a fascination with psychology. Searching the internet for jobs related to these interests I discovered a career called copywriting. I could be paid to write!

Introduction To Copywriting’ by City University runs over a single weekend, fitting conveniently around my job. The course is taught by author and copywriter Maggie Richards. One of the first things she said is from novelist Ernest Hemingway: “The only writing is rewriting”.

I love this quote because it can be interpreted in different ways. While on the surface it’s telling us to rewrite our work until concise, it also encourages action – to start writing and overcome the ‘fear of the blank page.’ We can refine our work later.

This encouragement to move toward the unknown resonates with my aspirations: the initial steps toward a new career are similar to the first tentative words a writer must put on the page. Many of my doubts and insecurities are really just fears of the unknown.

As author Seth Godin says in ‘The Practice’: “The career of every successful creative is… a  pattern of small bridges, each just scary enough to dissuade most people.” Much like the act of writing allows a writer to clarify their thoughts, it’s by taking action that we can find our next step and the step after that, slowly lifting the fog that obscures the path ahead.

City’s online workshop offered many opportunities to take action with practical copywriting exercises, working individually and in small groups. One of my favourite was writing home page copy for an imaginary app.

My team came up with ‘Fitness Friends’, where users meet new people sharing similar fitness goals:

 

Headline:          Meet, Motivate, Get Fit.

 

Introduction:     Walk, Run, Gym. Meet your goals with new local friends.

 

Call to Action:   Find Fitness Friends Now.

 

Maggie pointed out that the headline and introduction used the same three-part staccato punctuation. I realised the importance of varying the rhythm of the words, blending punch with flow. Creativity should not cloud clarity.

I’m now taking steps to start my copywriting career alongside my NHS job, hoping to eventually become a full-time copywriter. I’ve signed up to a freelancing website and contacted small business owners in my network, offering my writing assistance.

Writers spend so much time living in their heads that it can feel uncomfortable taking physical action.  But the pages of my life so far don’t have to dictate where my story goes next. Realising that no first draft is perfect, I now know I can shape my path until I reach the outcome I desired all along.

 

Christopher Hunt took City’s ‘Introduction To Copywriting’ course. You can find him on LinkedIn.

City offers short writing courses in everything from short story writing to writing for the web and digital media. To find out more about all our writing courses, view our full range here.

City Writes Spring 2021: an evening of spellbinding stories and creative writing tips

City Writes Spring 2021: another fabulous evening of readings from the writing short courses alumni

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes Spring 2021, although held on April 1st, was no joke. With the fabulous Kiare Ladner as our professional writer, reading from her debut Nightshift (Picador, Feb 2021), the event was an evening filled with spellbinding stories and creative writing tips.

 

The event marked the fifth year of City Writes, an event that showcases the best of City’s creative writing short courses. The event is fuelled by a termly creative writing competition open to all current students and alumni of creative writing short courses at City. Five to six pieces of writing, either fiction, nonfiction, complete story or extract, are chosen each term to share their work in front of an audience and alongside a publishing professional from amongst the short courses staff or alumni. Having started with the Visiting Lecturer Emma Claire Sweeney in 2016, it was great to have another Visiting Lecturer, Kiare Ladner, share her work. 

 

Though we’ve moved from in-person events to Zoom, there is something about the intimacy of online readings that mirrors the magic of holding a book in your hands.

 

The night began with the first of our competition winners, K Lockwood Jefford. Alumna of the Novel Writing Summer School, Kate read her haunting and harrowing story, ‘Driver’, about a woman driving to the address of the man who killed her nephew in a car accident. Kate’s reading set our pulses on fire with the pain of grief and the anxiety of what the narrator might do about it.

 

Another car accident was at the heart of the next piece, ‘The Opposite of Grace’, written and read by Sini Downing, alumna of Short Story Writing. If you can capture motion with a machine, can you recreate a better version of them on screen? Sini’s narrator fought to reconcile the elegance of the dancer with her graceless personality and the energy of her performance was breathtaking.

 

Lara Hayworth, Novel Studio alumna, took us across Europe with an extract from her story ‘Monumenta’ next. Which massacre would be remembered in a monument that would take a character’s house? How many histories are buried beneath our pavements and homes? Poignant and political, the extract asked us to imagine many characters and the borders crossed through their connections.

 

Alumnus of City’s former Theatre Writing course, Stephen Jones, read an extract of his story, ‘Pearl’, next. Here windows were reimagined as screens and watching took on a new, unnerving, eerie direction. What story would our windows tell of us?

 

From characters to memoir, Avril Joy, alumna of the Memoir Writing Course, read an extract from ‘Clothes my mother made me – A Memoir’ next. Using the motifs of creative writing suggestions to begin with what you know, to start with something other than death, Avril took us to the deathbed of her narcissistic mother and explored the idea of living on ‘a diet of stones’. A moving reading filled with poetic imagery, it was a taste of the joys the finished memoir will bring.

 

The last of our competition winners to read was Vasundhara Singh, a current Novel Studio student. She read her story ‘Feel, Feeling’ about a pregnant woman at a garden party in India. When confronted with the question, ‘How are you feeling?’ the character longed to answer such a direct and complex question in Hindi rather than English. Exploring the complexities of social interaction, Vasundhara’s performance of the story, her careful rhythms and attention to etymological nuance, was brilliant.

 

With these wonderful stories to follow on from, Kiare Ladner spoke next. She read from the beginning of her debut, Nightshift, an exploration of obsession amidst London’s night workers. Kiare’s character Meggie introduced us to Sabine, the woman with whom Meggie becomes fascinated to such a degree that their friendship ripples through into Meggie’s more mature adult life. Who is Sabine? Where does she come from? Could Meggie ever emulate such insouciant charm?

 

Following her fantastic reading, Kiare answered questions from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Visiting Lecturer for the Novel Studio, and also took questions from the audience. The discussion explored the complexities of female friendship, the subtleties of translating in relationships and Kiare’s writing inspirations, methods and tips. She was a fascinating and candid City Writes guest with helpful ideas for all the budding and established authors in the audience.

 

If this sounds too tempting to miss, you can see a video of the whole event here. Click to be transported and do watch out for the City Writes event next term when our professional will be Alex Morrall who’ll be reading from her debut, Helen and the Grandbees (Legend, 2020).

Watch the full event here

Major Event Management webinar hosts an international panel

Students from City’s Major Event Management short course are once again given the chance to attend as leading international event practitioners come together for a discussion of the effects of Covid-19 on their industry.

This event will have a more international focus where special guests will discuss events from across the globe and how differently the pandemic has affected their work.

Kassiani Benou

Kassiani Benou

Born and raised in Kalamata, since 2006 Kassiani has been at the National Museum of Contemporary Art Athens (EMST), where she is the Arts and Cultural Manager and Communication Manager. Having taken her first degree in Greece, she completed her Masters in Arts and Cultural Management in New York and followed it with internships at some of the US’s great cultural institutions. A former host and editor of a national TV show Kassiani is also a founding member of an organization that focuses on the restoration and promotion of Ancient Greek theatres.

Aya El Kara

Aya El Kara

Aya El Kara has long been passionate about event management. After working on a wide variety of corporate and private events in Dubai – including the prestigious Dubai Shopping Festival – she co-founded her own company Essence-Ciel Events in her home country of Lebanon. Essence-Ciel continues today, with Aya as CEO, to provide clients with the best and most memorable events. Aya has also been very socially active, working to support the Beirut community during the period of inflation, covid lockdown and the blast of August 4th.

Glenn Spicker

Glenn Spicker

Glenn Spicker moved to Prague just after the Velvet Revolution and retired as an intrepid traveller and below average student of international relations. Excited about a new democracy and capitalism he ventured into the Restuarant business and also salvaged communist artifacts nobody wanted (or wanted to admit they had) and opened Prague’s Museum of Communism. 25 odd years later he still lives in the city and runs his Burrito Loco fast food shops, the jazz club U maleho Glena, the museum as well as 2 fine dining restaurants  Agave and Cali Brothers. He’s opened more then 20 different businesses…. some of which still survive as of this writing ).

Caroline Wade

Caroline Wade is a hugly-experienced freelance events professional who has worked for Primary Talent and Harvey Goldsmith Entertainments amomg others, and has a relationship of over thirty years with the International Live Music Conference.

Dave Powell

Dave Powell

Dave has 30 years’ experience in event ticketing. He worked at the Royal Albert Hall for 10 years. He has also worked for a number of ticket agencies and venues and in 2020 managed the set-up of ticketing for later cancelled Edinburgh International Festival.

Tune in tonight, Tuesday 13th April, 19:00-20:00 (BST) to watch the event on the City Short Courses Facebook page.

Cut Short: the debut book from short course alumnus Ciaran Thapar

This summer, Penguin will publish Ciaran Thapar’s debut book about youth violence, Cut Short.  Novel Studio course director, Emily Pedder, caught up with him to find out more about his path to publication and the book David Lammy has described as ‘honest, authentic and raw’.

Emily Pedder:  Your book, Cut Short, is an urgent look at the UK’s serious youth violence epidemic. What first drew you to this subject?
Ciaran Thapar: As an education and youth worker in schools and youth clubs in London between 2015-2018, I came to see how youth violence was playing out on the ground as an overwhelming force in the lives of young people I was working with. I therefore noticed that the myopic, if-it-bleeds-it-leads way the British media were reporting on fatal stabbings across London and beyond was not only detached: it was actively harming communities who were suffering most by telling stories that distorted, rather than informed, wider society’s understandings about social breakdown. So, moved by my interest in writing and journalism, I started to write about issues which I saw as orbiting the violence: austerity, school exclusions, drill music.

Ciaran Thapar’s debut, Cut Short

What’s more, 17-year-old Michael Jonas, the older brother of my first mentee, Jhemar Jonas – who I first started working with in January 2015 when I was a postgraduate student at LSE – was stabbed to death in November 2017. Quite suddenly I was required to become a consistent source of support for Jhemar and his family. It made me double down on trying to understand and solve why violence happens among young people. The book was primarily borne out of this motivation.
And then, in the hot summer of 2018, with London simultaneously celebrating the weather on the one hand while becoming weighed down by unprecedented death and tragedy on the other – divided by lines of race, class and postcode – I started writing my proposal. Cut Short’s creation is therefore moved by my practical journey as a youth worker learning the ropes, seeking to make impact and forging empathy with young people, as well as my intellectual attempts to understand these last few years in British society, map out how we are all connected and responsible for civic unity, and provide a hopeful blueprint for steps forward.
EP:  You’re a youth worker and a journalist. How easy was it to make the transition to writing a book?
CT: The researching, interviewing, planning and structuring of stories I wanted to include in the book between the summers of 2018 and 2020 – the start of the proposal to the end of the first draft – was never easy, but it was manageable. I went freelance in May 2018 after working for six months in London prisons, and for a while I was struggling to make ends meet financially. Dealing with the stress of that time was very difficult. But pressure makes diamonds: I wrote so much journalism to stay afloat as a result that I became more confident in my arguments and observations about themes I was seeing firsthand in my youth work: social exclusion, inequality, austerity and music culture. I have long been interested in writing long form journalism – I rarely read anything else – so in the end, on realising the book idea’s potential, it felt more natural to switch from writing lots of shorter pieces to focus and go long for the book.
The bit of the transition I found truly hard, however, is the impact it had on me psychologically. It is, I think, impossible to fully immerse oneself in a book-length project while sustaining other areas of life with any normality. I am very proud of the jump I made from youth work and journalism to the book, and what I’ve created in the end. But it has been difficult juggling everything. I’ve skated very close to burnout. Fortunately, my writing practice is now more patient and protected than it ever was before. I compartmentalise it on certain days and protect it to focused sessions, rather than letting it affect my youth work or personal life.
So, in sum: it wasn’t difficult to make the transition to writing a book, and it has enriched my life beyond belief. I’ve learned a huge amount and built a platform that will, I hope, allow me to advocate for change going forward. But, as with anything sustainable and meaningful, the transition came with obstacles and burdens that I’m only really starting to make sense of now. I feel a responsibility to say that here.
EP: What are the most important lessons you have learned in writing your book?

CT: First, you can’t rush or force quality, and when things don’t go to plan, it’s okay, because they’re not meant to. I became so stressed at first when interviews fell through or huge distracting events happened in my youth work in the process of writing the book. But I soon realised that these developments are a

Ciaran Thapar (photo by Tristan Bejawn)

prerequisite for anyone trying to craft a nonfiction story. Real life is not predictable, and it moves in imperfect directions, so writing a book that grapples with that truth will never go exactly to plan. I’ve learned to see this as an exciting and rewarding truism, and be grateful for it, rather than worry too much about stuff I can’t control.

A second lesson I’ve learned is that, compared to writing a piece of journalism, a book requires long-term immersion. It necessarily becomes a big, the biggest, part of your life. Giving it space, switching on and off from it, finding modes of self-care and people who you can be vulnerable with to support you, is the best way to keep in check. I feel like now that I’ve written a book, my writing practice is totally transformed for the better, and I’ll have that for the rest of my life.
EP: You studied Narrative Non-fiction at City with Peter Forbes. Did you do other courses before or after? And what was it about Peter’s course that you found most useful?
CT: I’ve not done any other writing courses, per se, but I think it’s important to credit the MSc Political Theory I did at LSE between 2014-2015 as an essential step for my career. It gave me the ability to consume and form strong moral arguments quickly. Ultimately, Cut Short amounts to a grand moral argument about the vitality of the state, civic participation and public responsibility. I make a case for compassion and empathy in spaces like schools and criminal justice where, as far as I can tell, these values are being systematically rooted out, often in the name of profit. Academic study gave me the critical thinking and language skills to forge this as a binding ideology. Peter’s course two years later then made me appreciate nonfiction writing as a creative craft in which every word counts. So then it became about making arguments and political advocacy fun, listenable, readable and colourful. The course also created the weekly pattern in my life of sharing my words with a group and getting feedback; it built my confidence. Without that pattern I think I would have struggled to put myself out there in the way I eventually did.
EP: What’s the most helpful piece of advice anyone has given you as a writer?
CT: Writing is like dancing: it’s best when nobody’s looking. I’ve heard these words spoken by the former Guardian journalist Gary Younge – who features in Cut Short! – a few times, and it really rings true now that I think about it more and more. Having a target audience and being self-conscious is to some extent important to guarantee quality and think about an aim for a piece of writing. But too much focus on who is reading your words, or how that makes you feel, can distract from the task of speaking truth.
EP: What advice would you give to someone starting out on their writing journey?
CT: Being a good writer is only partially anything to do with the actual writing: it’s also about being an adaptable, humble human being; someone who is willing to listen, learn and observe. Before you put pen to paper, create patterns in your life which give you freedom to think and be inspired. If you’ve got nothing to write about, then it doesn’t matter how good your language skills are: the words won’t flow. So focus on acting as well as writing. And then write every day in a journal. Once you’re ready to get your writing into the public domain, reach out to as many editors and writers as possible, offer coffees, ask for phone calls. Make yourself memorable. Pitch regularly, and if a pitch isn’t accepted, ask for feedback, embrace the learning, and take the opportunity to improve. Never see failed pitches as failures. (Some of my most successful articles were the result of failed pitches; Cut Short was the result of many!) And finally, stick to writing about things that you know intimately because everyone has a story worth telling and a perspective worth sharing, it’s just a matter of putting in your 10,000 hours trying to figure out how to articulate it. The only way to fail is by giving up, so don’t give up.
EP: Can you describe your route to publication?
CT: I was emailed by my legendary agent, Matt Turner, in the summer of 2018 after he’d read some of my pieces. We met at a pub in Brixton and he asked if I had a book idea. I didn’t, but the conversation, stretched over several meetings, quickly turned to my experiences as a youth worker and my aspirations to write something long form that could make a real impact on how youth violence is understood in British society. I was and still am surrounded by characters who are heroic and deeply inspiring, and I felt like their stories needed to be told in a book.
From that moment onwards, I spent 10 months struggling to write the proposal. Really struggling. But despite the delays, Matt stuck by me, editing whatever I sent him, sometimes binning it altogether and telling me to start again, and building my profile in his industry network. He didn’t need to remain loyal like this, or wait for me to get my act together, but he did, and for that I will be forever grateful. His supporting role was perfectly executed. So by the time we submitted the proposal in June 2019 – it took tens of draft attempts, many sleepless nights and many, many instances in which I thought I might just give up – we had a willing audience of editors ready and waiting to read the idea for Cut Short. In the end, I was pleased to gain 9 offers from publishers, and I chose Penguin Viking because I could see how passionate their team were about converting my ideas into a reality.
Then in August 2019 I got to work, slowly at first, and I was roughly halfway through writing the first draft in March 2020 when lockdown hit. I wrote the second half in lockdown, between March-July 2020, which was bizarre, but I think it worked well as I could pour all my time and energy into it. The book gave me a sense of purpose that I may have otherwise lacked during such a disruptive period for the world.
Since then, the book has gone through 10+ editing and proofreading stages, I’ve had to have many, many conversations with my editor, contributors, advisers and friends about the ethics and safeguarding of the story. I’ve worked with the main characters – particularly Jhemar and another young legend called Demetri Addison, who I used to mentor at his sixth form college – to make sure they are totally happy with how it all reads and represents them. And now I’m trying to enjoy the calm before the storm of publication in June. It’s very surreal getting feedback from early readers. I’m ultimately nervous and excited in equal measure.
EP: How will you celebrate the launch of your book if we are still in lockdown when it’s published?!
CT: The book comes out on 24th June, three days after lockdown is supposed to end. My 30th birthday is one week later. It’s going to be a special summer.
EP: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
CT: Two things, which I state early in the book: an understanding of some of the problems which lead to youth violence, and a practical blueprint of some solutions.
Regarding the problems, I’ve chosen to focus on presenting and evidencing an argument which says that the British state is failing particular groups of young people, and this is why youth violence occurs. Austerity is to blame, but so is technological change and systemic discrimination in our public institutions, going back generations.
Regarding the solutions, I’ve tried to show through the stories I tell and analysis I present how we are all connected, if subtly, to serious youth violence, and therefore how we might think and act differently in future to collectively solve it. I want readers to connect with the story, understand these arguments, feel something and then act on that feeling; adults to care, young people to feel platformed and inspired. Cut Short is a call to action. It is not just a book, it is my way of making change and turning the armchair thinker into a frontline doer.
EP: What are you working on now?
CT: I run my own charity, RoadWorks, which I launch at the end of Cut Short. We explore music culture and social theory to support young people at risk of exclusion and violence. I also now write consistently for British GQ – I have a monthly column about youth and music culture online called ‘All City’ – and I’m working on one special long form piece for the print magazine this summer which I’m excited about. Otherwise, I’m doing more work behind the scenes on making sure the book’s publicity and promotion is where I want it to be. Watch this space!
Congratulations, Ciaran! We can’t wait for the book to come out.
Cut Short will be published by Penguin in June 2021.
Narrative Non-Fiction runs on Tuesday or Thursday nights for ten weeks.

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