By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone


The 13th December 2023 was the perfect night for a wonderful selection of readings from competition winners and our professional, Caroline Green. At the showcase event for all the fantastic talent coming from the Creative Writing Short Courses here at City, University of London, this term’s City Writes brought the supernatural into Christmas and took us on such an emotional journey it was like living through a night with Scrooge. What a way to celebrate a season where we all want to cosy up and hear stories around the fire.

We heard from the competition winners first. Chosen from a group of students and alumni of Creative Writing Short Courses who sent in 1,000 words of fiction or non-fiction, this term’s winners had me crying from laughter and despair.

We started with skullduggery loving, Writers’ Workshop alumnus, Martin Corteel whose extract, ‘Cat Among the Pigeons’, is taken from his novel-in-progress Dover Soul about battling publicans at the outset of the First World War. His lively reading followed publican Archie who attacked a rival pub dressed as a temperance lady. No need to say more. It was hilarious.

Martin was followed by Vasundhara Singh, a Novel Studio graduate joining us from India. Vasundhara’s story, ‘The Last Woman of Gwalior’ was a harrowing tale in which the women of India have been wiped out by a virus. The museum to the lost women was both beautifully and wittily depicted. Without women to beat and complain to, the men drift about and stare at off-coloured bras in the museum. There’s so much more to it than this, though – what a story.

We came back to the UK with a painful and moving story of a woman haunted by the loss of her baby. Alumna of An Approach Creative Writing, Cathie Mullen, read her story ‘Tulips’ leaving many eyes on those zoom screens very moist. The sparse space of simple domestic tasks laced in the dull agonies of despair was very powerful indeed.

Thankfully, Novel Studio, Crime and Thriller Writing and Writers’ Workshop alumnus, Mike Clarke took us to Spain next with an extract from his novel-in-progress. Magenta Bougainvillea and White Jasmine took us into the secluded mansion of an imposing older woman walking with a skull-headed cane. It was such an atmospheric piece with floral scents and basking lizards and left us all wondering quite why these three women were meeting after so long and what secrets or relationship dramas were about to unfold. Get writing, Mike!

Tunde Oyebode, alumnus of the Writer’s Workshop, who is working on a collection of short stories, read next. If his story ‘Never Born’ is anything to go by, we have to hope he gets this collection out soon. Even over Zoom the silence was palpable. The story was told from the perspective of a young boy writing about feeling he wished he was never born as he witnessed the distress caused to his fragile, but caring mother around their difference in skin colour and hair texture. A boy at school says that can’t be his mother because they don’t look alike. They get into a fight. You’ll have to watch the Zoom recording to find out more. A very powerful, personal and nuanced story about love and systemic racism.

Reeling a little, we were brought back into the festive spirit with Emma O’Driscoll’s extract from her crime novel-in-progress, Trapped by the Flood. An alumna of the Crime and Thriller Writing Summer School and Novel Writing and Longer Works courses, Emma took us into the soon to be sold and dismantled manor house recently inherited by Richard. With the whole family gathered for Christmas and the flood trapping them in the house, Richard lords his control of the family finances over the family and, for fun, suggests a game of murder… I think we were all hoping he’d be the one to go.

Having gone on such an emotional rollercoaster with our competition winners, we went from the closed-room style mystery of Emma O’Driscoll to crime writing with a supernatural twist as we delved into brilliantly compelling world of the Rose Gifford series as our professional prize-winning writer and City tutor, Caroline Green read from her novel The Whisper House, the second in the Rose Gifford series.

Caroline Green is not only a tutor at City, she also teaches for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and is writer in residence at both Pentonville Prison and East Barnet School. Alongside her teaching, Caroline finds the time to write prize-winning fiction in three different genres: YA, adult psychological thrillers and crime. We were very lucky to have her.

Not only did we get treated to a reading from The Whisper House, Caroline was kind enough to answer some of my questions as well as several from the audience who asked about how she plotted out her novels, which parts of writing she liked the most, what her writing schedule was like, the research aspects of writing crime and what it was like to work in Pentonville Prison. Caroline explained the midpoint is the most significant focal point for her planning – that she doesn’t always know what will happen at the end. We heard about her days writing at the British Library and the amazing writing competition she recently held at Pentonville prison.

For more on this, all of Caroline’s extra tips and of course, a full rendition of all the wonderful readings, you can watch the night in full here. City Writes was definitely my advent of the season.

Don’t forget the City Writes competition next term when we have a double act from Novel Studio alumni Laurence Kershook and Katharine Light. The Broygus by Laurence Kershook came out in 2022 and Katharine Light’s Like Me came out earlier this year. This promises to be another fantastic night. Watch this space for more information in the New Year.

And for any past or present City Writing Short Course students, there’s 10% off if you book a spring 2024 short creative writing course (excluding the 1, 2 or 3-day courses) by 20 December 2023.