By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone
On the warm summer evening of the 7th July, when most of the nation was preparing to watch the game that doesn’t need a mention, the fabulous students and alumni of City, University of London’s creative writing short courses were providing entertainment of a literary kind. With a fantastic group of competition winners, many alumni of Peter Forbes’ excellent Narrative Non-Fiction course, the audience were in for a treat that culminated in Alex Morrall reading from, and discussing, her debut, Helen and the Grandbees published by Legend Press in 2020.
Anne Manson began the evening with a haunting and gripping post-apocalyptic tale, ‘Bones’, about a father and child subsisting against all the odds on a small patch of land surrounded by toxic floodwater. An alumna of the Crime and Thriller Writing course with Caroline Green and the Short Story course with Katy Darby, Anne’s superb delivery was spell-binding and thought-provoking.
Susanna Morton – the first of our Narrative Non-Fiction alumni – read her minutely observed domestic drama next, ‘Regrowth’, where a couple struggle to communicate about lost money and time is marked by the slow progress of a dent in a nail growing from the cuticle to the fingertip. Quiet and precise, this unique glimpse into a couple’s life sent a visible hush through the zoom audience.
We heard from another Narrative Non-Fiction alumna next as Jen Metcalf read her fascinating account of a lost place and time in her personal Berlin, ‘Tentstation’. Reminding us of the wonderful ways in which writing can capture places and moments, and of the magical way in which each of us creates a unique understanding of the places in which we live – your city not ever quite being the same as mine – Jen transported us into a swirl of transient lindy hopping.
Alumnus Adam Zunker read next. Having taken both the Introduction to Creative Writing and the Writers’ Workshop courses, Adam shared an extract, ‘Mosquitto Gods’, from his fantasy novel-in-progress, taking us into the afterlife with his character. We tasted the goat droppings and felt the swirling winds of spirits passed on, making us eager to find out what would happen next.
Returning to the complex world of dating and relationships next, Helen Ferguson, Novel Studio alumna, read an extract from her novel, End Cuts. Poignant and carefully observed, the extract explored the main character’s relationship with Matthew, a man whose love was more potent and exciting when contained by brief time spans and a boring town rather than the glory of a child-free holiday in the Adriatic.
Glenda Cooper, our final Narrative Non-Fiction alumna, was the last of the competition winners to read and she took us back into the annals of English history with an extract from her novel-in-progress, The Heaven Born, an account of the scandalous life of her great-grandmother. We were skillfully placed right into the heart of a trial in which the woman in question, the ‘slut’ behind the crime, was sitting in the courtroom listening to all the gossip she’d generated. It was a striking end to an outstanding set of readings from the competition winners.
Having heard from the soon-to-be published, we were then treated to a reading from our professional alumna, Alex Morrall. Alex, who took a Freelance Writing short course with Susan Grossman, shared a passage of her debut, Helen and the Grandbees, published by Legend Press in 2020. We were introduced to Helen and learned a little of her history, exploring her need to escape difficult truths from her past and being given the origin of the term grandbees. It was an excellent way in to a discussion about the novel, a mother and daughter reunion that explores identity, race and mental illness.
Alex gave interesting and thoughtful answers to my questions, allowing the audience a chance to investigate some of the novel’s central concerns and the particulars of Alex’s writing practice. Inspired by her voluntary work, we were amazed that Alex is able to write in front of the television and that she has already written another novel and is halfway through her third. Go, Alex! We can’t wait to read the next one!
For those who haven’t read Helen and the Grandbees, you can get access to a 20% discount from Legend Press by going to their bookshop and entering this code at the check out: HELEN20. The offer lasts until the 12th July, so hurry!
If you weren’t able to attend on the night, don’t worry, we recorded the session and you can see it here. Don’t forget to watch out for future City Writes events and competition dates. If the City Writes Summer 2021 event was anything to go by, you can’t afford to miss the amazing talent coming from the creative writing short courses, so do look out for our Autumn event next term.