Month: March 2022

Spring 2022 City Writes Journeys Into The Clouds with Author, Michael Mann

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is the showcase event for all the wonderful creative writing coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses. Combining the new voices of students and alumni with the work of published alumni, the event always brings excitement and intrigue and this term’s event had everything from healers through dealers, to feminist and Polish heroes, fabulous chickens, hallucinogenic frogs and of course a twelve-year-old boy working to escape a Victorian style workhouse in an alternative smog-filled London, the protagonist of published guest, Michael Mann’s middle grade debut, Ghostcloud.

We began the night with James Baxter reading an extract from his story, ‘The Drop’. James is an alumnus of the Short Story Writing course at City and he took us into the busy, chaotic streets of a foreign city alongside his English protagonist whose bag was filled with cocaine, wrapped in coffee paste to hide the smell. Leaving us tense and anxious, we were eager to find out what would happen next. It didn’t feel like it would be anything good.

Emma Bielecki, alumna of the fantastic Narrative Non-Fiction course, read next, remaking the familiar Ealing, into her father’s Polish ‘Eh-ALL-ing’. She tantalised our taste buds with Polish cuisine, giving us a picture of her father most at ease peeling a sausage, before expertly navigating us away from food towards the histories of her father and his Polish friends who had fled to London years before. The most topical piece of the night, Emma’s creative non-fiction was a brilliant example of how to take listeners and readers on a sensory and emotional journey to highlight different perspectives of the past that go on to alter our understanding in the present.

We took a fictional turn next, diving into the world of a young girl making money with her friend, in Sini Downing’s extract, ‘The Stink of Money’, taken from her novel. A Short Story Writing and Towards Publication alumna, Sini’s reading was an engrossing immersion into her character. We began by wondering how young girls could make so much money, and feared something darker than the unusual turn Sini introduced. Her protagonist is exhausted from healing people, her sister included. We were all hooked by the end of Sini’s reading.

Following on from Sini was Adam Zunker, another reader who, like Sini, was making his second appearance at City Writes. Adam has taken several short courses in creative writing at City University and he read another extract from his wonderful novel – just completed this week! – in which a young boy attempts to step into the Afterworld using the pus from the back of a sacred frog, a special stone, a fire and two circles. Revolting and transporting, Adam’s reading left us wanting to find out if his young character would be successful.

From frogs to chickens, we joined Alison Halsey next as she read from her novel, Minta Gets Everything Wrong.  Alison has just completed An approach to Creative Writing and she took us to the funeral of her character’s sister, to which the bereaved daughter with disabilities insisted upon bringing her chicken and slapping her half-brother round the head. A black comedy with a warm and informal narrative voice, Alison’s story had us all giggling and looking forward to hearing more.

Our final competition winner, Stephanie Donowho, alumna of Novel Writing and Longer Works, read us her story ‘Once a daughter of Eve’ next. Stephanie’s story took us into the mind of a child growing up in a Christian household, surrounded by Bible geeks, whose self-motivated exploration into less well read parts of the Bible led to finding two stories of women called Tamar, one of whom had to cheat a man into bed. A fascinating story of growing feminist awakening, Stephanie’s piece was a fabulous segue from competition winner to published author.

Our headline act, Michael Mann, read next. Michael is an alumnus of the Writers’ Workshop at City and began his debut, Ghostcloud, in that very class. A winner of Undiscovered Voices 2020 and the 2019 London Writers Award, Michael’s middle grade novel is set in the smoky, dark underworld of Battersea Power Station in an alternative smog-filled London. Michael read the opening of the book in which we met twelve-year-old Luke, struggling to shovel coal, trying to work hard enough to earn his escape back into the light of London and his family from which he was kidnapped. We met his kidnapper, Tabitha, and two of the other children suffering under her regime. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next. Click here to get your copy.

Michael then took part in a Q&A with Novel Studio tutor and City Writes host, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, followed by questions from the audience. Michael helped us understand his inspirations, the development of the novel and how publication and the expectations of publishers has changed his writing practice. Generous in his sharing of tips and ideas for budding children’s authors, you can follow the whole discussion and catch up with our competition winners’ readings, by watching the recording of the event here. Michael was keen to remind the audience that he loves visiting schools. If you do have connections to a Primary School near you, you can contact Michael on mbmann@gmail.com

City Writes is a great space for sharing the creative writing talent that abounds from City’s short creative writing courses. Look out for the Summer event and if you are an alumni or current student, don’t forget to enter next term’s competition. We have two published alumni reading for us next term: Simon Culleton and Attiya Khan, both Novel Studio alumni, whose novels respectively are, Shadows of Fathers about a father’s battle for child custody across national borders and Ten Steps to Us that follows a young Muslim girl’s struggle to maintain her faith in her quest for love. Watch this space for further details of the event and the competition.

Watch the full event here.

Five things I’ve learned about writing for business by teaching writing for business

By Jenny Stallard

Writing for Business is a, well, tricky business. The balance of the formal and informal, the words we choose being a key part of whether a client will perhaps want to meet us, work with us or indeed pay us.

 

In the 8-week course that I teach for City, University of London, we cover a lot of the practicalities of Writing for Business, from blogs and bios to emails and CVs. However, there is always a lot of discussion about the emotional side of things: how we might develop a tone of voice unique to us and our business, the formality vs informality of email styles and how to address different clients or potential clients.

 

These are also all things I come across in my daily life as a self-employed coach and writer! And it means that, during the course, I always have moments of clarity about my own Writing for Business. Tutoring on Writing for Business (WFB) has actually taught me a lot about the methods and choices we make when it comes to our language in business.

 

 

Here’s what I’ve learned:

 

1: Our style and tone of voice is always a work in progress. Particularly if we are writing for our own business. I have found that my style has evolved more since teaching the course, too, as I hear the lessons each time and apply them to my own Writing for Business! We must, of course, adhere to style guides where appropriate, but being ‘brave’ enough to build our own style is something we should and can work on constantly. And, it’s OK if it changes over the course of time, too.

 

2: The types of writing for business are always expanding. At the beginning of each 8-week course, we brainstorm what forms writing for business can come in. There is always something new from someone to add to the list. For example, we discuss whether podcasts are WFB (I would argue that the show notes are), or TikTok and Instagram (well, captions are writing, aren’t they?).

 

3:  If in doubt, probably leave it out! This is particularly true for the emoji, which comes up for discussion in the module I teach on emails and etiquette. An emoji in an email is a total no-no for some, while, in the media industry and particular newsletters, I often see emojis in the subject line and indeed the body of an email. As with everything, if you’re considering using an emoji, think whether it adds anything, and always go back to whether the client/reader would be on board with it.

 

4: Sometimes the smallest words are the best. One of the parts of the course I love teaching is about calls to action – those small sets of one to three words where a site, article or post gets us to click to either sign up, buy, or find out more. Often, we can see writing for business being about the long form writing, from reports and brochures to presentations and articles. And of course, it is! But there is a real skill in shortening words down, and, in particular, self-editing. Writing a call to action, an 8-word headline or just 100-word bio is often the most satisfying as we work our magic to make the fewest words say the most.

 

5: The biggest challenge isn’t the words, it’s the confidence to write – and publish – them. From a blog post to an email asking for ‘that’ meeting about a promotion/pay rise, to a social media post or a profile and bio. Selling – whether it’s a product or ourselves – using words is hard. Often what holds us back is ‘but what if nobody reads it?!’. Having the courage to publish, press send, or upload our writing for business is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. I hope that my writing this piece, and putting it ‘out there’ inspires readers and course members to do the same.

 

 

Jenny Stallard teaches City’s 8-week Writing for Business course. For information on our other writing courses, visit our website.

 Register for our Virtual Open Evening next Thursday 31 March at 6pm

City Writes Spring 2022 Competition Winners Announced

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

We’re delighted to announce the winners of this term’s competition who will be reading their winning entries alongside debut author, Michael Mann at this term’s virtual event on Wednesday, March 30th at 7pm. Register now to join them

Spring 2022 winners

This term’s winners (in alphabetical order) are:

James Baxter

James Baxter is a long-term resident of Hackney and has been London-based since graduating from the LSE in the early 90s’. His career has been spent in the media and film sectors, including a 15-year stint as a journalist and magazine editor. James founded the PR consultancy JBM in 2010 and the film production company Mean Time Films in 2012. He is currently writing his debut short story collection. He is an alumnus of the Short Story Writing course. He will be reading an extract from ‘The Drop’.

 

Emma Bielecki

Emma Bielecki, a Narrative Non-Fiction student, is a cultural historian who splits her time between London and nineteenth-century France. She has written about things that interest her (Bob Dylan, French Belle Epoque crimes serials, pet cemeteries) for outlets such as The Junket and The Conversation, as well as in fanzine form (at www.misfitsisters.com). Emma will be reading her nonfiction short, ‘Eh-ALL-ing’.

 

Stephanie Donowho

A student of Novel Writing and Longer Works, Stephanie Donowho is from Austin, Texas, where she worked as a video editor before moving to London in 2017 to pursue a Masters in Shakespeare Studies at the Globe theatre. She has acted in over a dozen plays, co-founded a theatre company, and currently works in financial services in London. Her work was published in Mslexia‘s 2021 anthology Best Women’s Short Fiction as a runner-up in the Flash Fiction competition. She will be reading ‘Once a daughter of Eve’.

 

Sini Downing

Sini Downing (Short Story Writing and Writers’ Workshop alumna) often finds her international experiences worming their way into her creative writing. The novel, from which her excerpt, ‘The Stink of Money’ is taken, and from which she will read at City Writes, was inspired by an intense 19 months living in downtown Baltimore. Now based in London, she is Head of Studio at a production company specialising in character performances for video games. She is currently seeking representation.

 

Alison Halsey

Alison Halsey is a fiction writer and a former financial services professional, with a career lasting over 40 years. She has also served in many roles supporting charities with a focus on young people with learning disabilities. A student of An Approach to Creative Writing, Alison is currently editing her first novel Minta Gets Everything Wrong, for which she feels she has far too much personal research material, resulting in an elongated editing process. She will be reading an extract from this novel.

 

Adam Zunker

Adam Zunker has taken several short courses in creative writing at City University and is working on his first novel, a fantasy story about death, faith and hallucinogenic frogs from which he will be reading an extract for City Writes. He has spent far too many years working in politics and journalism, though both have probably provided some grounding in creative writing. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

 

These fantastic authors will take you on a journey of frog-licking, London exploring, drug dealing, funeral attending (with chicken), feminist Bible reading, healing wonder. Reading alongside debut author, Michael Mann whose middle grade novel, Ghostcloud, set in the smoky underworld beneath Battersea Power Station, is causing quite a stir, this will be an unmissable event. Sign up here now! We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

 

Lessons in Love and Other Crimes – Elizabeth Chakrabarty on the writing of her debut novel

Novel Studio alumna Elizabeth Chakrabarty published her brilliant debut novel Lessons in Love and Other Crimes with Indigo Press  in 2021. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions from Novel Studio course director Emily Pedder about her writing life.

Have you always written?

 

Yes, I can’t remember not writing — stories, poems, a journal.

 

Which book was the first to have a real impact on you as a reader, and which as a writer?

 

I remember reading Villette, at a really young age; I was about nine. I’d got through my library books one evening, and took it down from my mother’s bookshelves. I was aware of reading it, and not understanding it exactly, and yet at the same time it interested me as a reader, this literature for adults; it intrigued me more than books for children. As a writer, so many books over the years, it’s difficult to think of a first, unless it’s that dual creative experience of reading as a writer, being really aware of the writing. Anna Karenina is one particular novel I’ve returned to as an adult, and reread sections very much as a writer, looking at its construction and language.

 

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

 

Just to do what you’re doing: to live and to read, and then to write, and not to listen to anyone at all who tells you you can’t be a writer.

 

Why do you write and what makes it so vital for you?

 

I can’t imagine not writing, it’s what I do every day in some way; it’s like exercise, something I have to do, going for a walk in my mind, taking the characters somewhere interesting to discover things about them and their world.

 

We worked together many years ago on the Novel Studio (then called the Cert in Novel Writing). What do you think of the view that creative writing can’t be taught?

 

Techniques and discipline can be taught and encouraged, and particularly in a group, it is a great way of learning from peers, as other readers and writers. After that though, it’s up to the individual, whether they have something to say in writing, and whether they feel pushed to write — that they have to do it — and if they have the endurance to work at it, despite the immense odds.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of being published? Has anything been surprising, in a good or bad way?!

 

It has taken a long time to get small pieces, and then a novel published. I was first published in translation in Swedish years ago, then in French, and finally in English. I met my agent, and gradually we’ve worked together, and she’s stuck with me, and now my debut novel has been published in the UK, EU, Australia and the US in 2021. What’s surprising has been how many stages there are of the publishing process, after your book has been accepted, such as all the levels of editing, the marketing — all the care and attention. What’s been less surprising is just how non-diverse the publishing industry is in the UK, although that seems to be changing.

 

Which fiction writers inspire you at the moment?

 

Carmen Maria Machado, Sarah Hall, Jeanette Winterson, Bernardine Evaristo.

 

Do you have a particular writing process? Favourite place or time of day to write? Favourite pen or notebook?

 

No, I’ve learnt to write wherever I am, with whatever I have with me. I feel like having things that you have to do, to make writing right, are counter-productive.

 

At what point in the writing of the book did you decide to structure it in the way you have? And what impact did that have on the structure as a whole?

 

I started by writing the novel, that is the fiction, but then gradually realised I wanted to add elements of creative non-fiction, to make clear that I had experienced the specifics of the hate crime I was writing about; that the racism is not fiction. That led to writing about how I thought through how to write about crime and racism in fiction, and became the essays bookending Lessons in Love and Other Crimes. As the book became hybrid, a novel with creative non-fiction essays bookending the fiction, that in turn impacted the fiction, and so I then also intercut the fiction with metafictional author’s notes.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I’m now working on the second draft of a new novel, which I’ve been working on during, and since we’ve come out of lockdown. I’ll be sending it to my agent soon — she is always my first reader — so other than that, I won’t say more, but as they say, watch this space. In the meanwhile, thank you for reading my work!

 

Thank you so much, Elizabeth, and huge congratulations on your fabulous debut. We are really looking forward to welcoming you as our guest alumna at next term’s City Writes.

 

Lessons in Love and Other Crimes is available now. Elizabeth was also recently shortlisted for the Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction, for which her story will be published in an e-anthology by Comma Press. Her story ‘Eurovision’ was shortlisted for the Asian Writer Short Story Prize in 2016 and published in Dividing Lines (Dahlia Publishing, 2017). Her poetry has been published by Visual Verse, and her short creative-critical work includes writing published in Glänta, Gal-Dem and New Writing Dundee, and more recently in Wasafiri, and the anthology Imagined Spaces (Saraband, 2020). She received an Authors’ Foundation Grant from The Society of Authors (UK) in December 2018, to support the writing of Lessons in Love and Other Crimes, and was chosen as one of the runners up for the inaugural CrimeFest bursary for crime fiction authors of colour in 2022.

 

The Novel Studio is now open for applications for 2022/23 with a deadline of 29th April 2022. To find out more about the course register for our virtual open evening on March 31st 2022 6-7.30pm. For more on all our writing short courses visit our website.

Sumo: A world of dedication and focus that epitomises Japanese business

The centuries-old world of traditional Japanese wrestling provides many insights for our rough-and-tumble world of business.

By Raju Thakrar

You might be surprised to learn that Japanese executives have always been huge fans of sumo. Not only is this because the sport is quintessentially Japanese, but it’s also due to the similarities between the sumo ring and the office. From the perspective of these high-level “salarymen”, the world of sumo and any single bout has the potential to teach them things that they can implement in their everyday work lives. These include dedication, the rewards for loyalty, thorough preparation, knowing your opponent, and treating others with respect. But Japanese executives are not the only people who can learn how sumo can improve their work lives – anyone working in a company can as well.

Keeping it in the family

Most recruits to a “sumo stable” – the name for the group where wrestlers live and train together – are on average 15 years old. Each stable is headed by a stable master and his wife, both of whom act as parental guides for the young sumo trainee.

Wrestlers belong to one stable their whole career. The stable repays their loyalty by investing a huge amount of time and money into ensuring they succeed as far as they can in the sport. Not only are the wrestlers given a roof over their heads and fed, but they are also provided with one-on-one instruction and welcomed into a system that looks after them throughout their career. Each wrestler, for example, is provided with a mentor who cares for them like a “big brother”.

It’s not an easy life being a sumo wrestler. But those young men who decide to dedicate their lives to it know that with hard work and determination, they could be rewarded with fame and glory – just like with business. This is the reason why young Japanese boys from poor, rural areas join: they want to better themselves. More recently, teenagers from Mongolia, a much poorer country than Japan with its own form of wrestling, have chosen to try their luck in the sumo world. Some of them have made it to the upper echelons of the sport.

Sharing the fruits of your success

No matter how successful a wrestler becomes, he never forgets that he belongs to a stable. Top-ranking wrestlers who are paid a monthly stipend have to share part of that with their stable. What’s more, whenever a wrestler wins prize money offered at a bout by sponsors – on occasion this can amount to thousands of pounds – the wrestler has to share the money with the rest of his stable.

When wrestlers reach the top ranks, it’s great PR for the stable, as it attracts wannabe wrestlers who believe that by joining the stable they too can one day become rich and famous. Talent is organically attracted to a successful stable. For example, Kokonoe stable, whose stable master was Chiyonofuji – one of the most famous wrestlers in recent years – now boasts more highly ranked wrestlers than any other stable in the sumo association.

A mindset of focus and mutual respect

Many sumo bouts only last for a few seconds. That means wrestlers prepare all day to be in the ring for a match that could be over in a blink of an eye. Preparation is thus key. In fact, wrestlers spend most mornings training all out so that they can win in tournaments and rise through the ranks. Chiyonofuji had these words of wisdom for wannabe sumo stars: “You must train to get stronger now but also to be stronger in three years from now”.

Even when they enter the ring, the bout does not immediately start. As part of a centuries-old ritual, the wrestlers normally face off four times before they actually charge full throttle at each other. This run-up period is where mind games are usually played, so much so that it’s often said that a bout’s outcome is decided at this stage. That’s why, as with business, keeping your cool is key in sumo. After the bout is over, win or lose, you are not allowed to show your feelings, out of respect for your opponent.

Sumo may have been around for hundreds of years, but some of the things that it can teach people are very much relevant to today’s corporate world: how companies can care for and reward their employees; how working hard on a daily basis can bring about long-lasting results; how business negotiations can change in an instant; and how, win or lose, respecting others is so important.

Which sport do you think best represents what an office environment is like?

Raju Thakrar is a consultant working at GR Japan, Japan’s leading government relations consultancy. He can be contacted via  his LinkedIn page.

Raju is a current student on City’s short Writing for Business course taught by Jenny Stallard. For more on our short writing courses, from novel writing to copywriting, please visit.

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