Month: January 2024

From Short Course to Stand Up – Suchandrika Chakrabarti’s Writing Journey

Suchandrika’s sell out show I Miss Amy Winehouse

Suchandrika Chakrabarti is carving out quite a name for herself on the comedy writing circuit, but you may not know that many years ago she took some writing short courses at City.  Back in 2009, she took Novel Writing and Longer Works class, then taught by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and in 2010 she took part in the Novel Studio.

Speaking of her experience on City’s courses, Suchandrika said ‘I guess I’d have to preface this with some context on where I was in my life at the time, because that really affected my experience, and my relationship to writing. I was in my mid-twenties, and I had lost both my parents in my late teens, so I was really in the depths of double bereavement. I had always thought of myself as a writer, and my parents had enthusiastically supported me in that idea, but I wasn’t writing. I came to the courses at City in that headspace, i.e. not the ideal one.

‘In the years since I took the courses, I have gone on to teach others how to write personal essays, which are often about trauma. I’ve found that there are two stages in wanting to write about the experience: the first is often the result of a rush to make sense of what happened for the writer themselves. It’s incredibly vulnerable and isn’t conducive to editing; it shouldn’t be published. The second stage is about shaping the experience in a way for the reader to find meaning in it; this version can be published, as the writer has processed the trauma, at least to some extent.

‘I was deep in stage one at the time I took the courses. I wasn’t ready for class feedback, or to write from my own emotional experience. It did feel good to be writing at all, though. I found the teachers supportive and very encouraging. The courses introduced me to the process of getting class feedback, the value of being around other writers and of engaging with their work, too.

‘The courses gave me back some faith in my own writing as the teachers were so thoughtful and considered in their feedback. I had a story published in a literary magazine called Decongested Tales, and had the chance to read it out at an event at Foyles bookstore. These were really important events that helped me gain some confidence back in writing, and I still think of them fondly.

‘It wasn’t until I went freelance in 2018 that I was able to make some headway. I started with writing personal essays, in which I explored using metaphor and more literary language to write about grief, my parents’ stories and my experiences.

‘Over the next two years, I wrote a number of personal essays for a wide array of journalistic outlets, from Marie Claire to Prospect Magazine, by way of and gal-dem. Then the pandemic happened, and during that time I found myself teaching online, setting up a Personal Essays Masterclass with the London Writer’s Salon.

‘Personal essays were a helpful middle ground between journalism and memoir / fiction for me; they allowed me to write what I had once felt was unwriteable, and put it out into the world.

‘I’ve always loved comedy and watching stand-up, but I had no idea how to begin with trying it out. After hosting a podcast at my last staff journalist job, at the Daily Mirror, I had a lot of people asking me if I did stand-up. I wanted to give it a go, but couldn’t guarantee free evenings until I went freelance. Finally, in January 2020 – the twentieth anniversary of my mum’s death – I did a six-week stand-up course at The Bill Murray in Islington, a two-room north London pub set up by comedians. I loved it, and found that performing improved my writing – plus I was in a much better frame of my mind to take on the live feedback that stand-up comedy brings.

‘During the pandemic, I made a start on a novel that drew on my experiences of grief, but was definitely fiction. That wasn’t quite the right format though, and I felt that maybe the narrative voice sounded more like stand-up. So I challenged myself to write my story as my Edinburgh Fringe debut. I wrote I Miss Amy Winehouse, which is creative non-fiction rather than fiction, written in a month (May 2021). I worked it out in various performances across the UK and Europe, then took it to Edinburgh in August 2022, supported by Soho Theatre’s Edinburgh Labs. It’s the closest I’ve come to writing my novel.

‘I’ve had a couple of poems published recently, and I’m working on some scripts, as well as my second Edinburgh show. I’ve even started playing about with character comedy, including wigs and other silly props! I wrote for TV for the first time this year, on ‘Have I Got News For You’, which would make my parents incredibly proud.

‘Writing a novel is still the ultimate dream, and I really hope to get there one day.’

Author and comedian, Suchandrika Chakrabarti

Suchandrika Chakrabarti is a writer, comedian and podcaster from London. She is currently working on her second solo show, Doomscrolling.

If you’re interested in following in Suchandrika’s footsteps, check out our full range of short writing courses HERE.

Or see what else we offer HERE.




Don’t Wait, Just Do It! – Novel Studio alumna, Catherine Till, on her path to publication


I first had an inkling of my own intentions when, as a City staff member, I went along to a Taster Session for creative writing short courses at City, University of London. In answer to Katy Darby’s probing questions I found myself blurting out, ‘I want to write about the story of my family, but in a fictional form, not as a memoir.’

Some time later I enrolled on the Approach to Creative Writing course, where we had to complete weekly writing exercises, such as dialogue, character portraits or interior monologues. Although not consciously chosen, the subject matter of my homework pieces written for the course were all taken from family memories.

I got the writing bug and was aching to continue, so I took the plunge, applied for the year-long Novel Studio and was accepted. Then, just before starting the course in the autumn of 2019, my elderly mother, living on her own in Budapest, had a fall, and I had to put off starting the course.

Mentioning this delay to a friend I got some wise advice, ‘You don’t have to wait for the course, if you want to write, just write!’ Six weeks later the pandemic struck and, during the long Covid lock-downs, I did just that. In between going for socially-distanced walks I researched documents online, constructed a structure for my novel and wrote. The writing exercises from that introductory course the year before became the kernels of my chapters. By the autumn, when I took up my deferred place on the Novel Studio, I had written forty thousand words.

Nine months later, as the Novel Studio was ending, I still only had forty thousand words, but how much better they were! Thanks to the workshops and tutorials, I revised some old stuff, ruthlessly scrapped others and re-fashioned memories into fiction. After the course, while looking after my mother long-distance, it took me more than a year to finish the manuscript, occasionally reading what I considered interesting bits to friends who were willing to listen without being bribed to do so.

My novel, No Fence Made of Sausages, was finally ready to face the world.

I approached a few agents, choosing carefully on the basis of writers they had taken up and trying to find a connection with them, as we were taught to do. I sent emails, waited weeks for replies, followed up, waited some more, received rejections or silence. After seeing the statistics of what a tiny percentage of writers get published, I realised I didn’t want to wait years to get my novel into the hands of readers who might be interested in the world it depicts. I decided to publish it myself.

If only it had been that simple. I didn’t anticipate what a steep learning curve lay ahead. In comparison with what was to come, the writing had been the easy part.

First, there was the long slog of editing, proofreading, formatting, typesetting and designing, which I mostly did myself, with ‘in-house’ help from my partner. Then, on the advice of a Novel Studio classmate, I explored the Amazon direct publishing route, but eventually decided against it. I thought UK bookshops wouldn’t stock my work because they regard Amazon as a competitor.

The next idea was to have the books printed and distributed myself. I approached a printer recommended by a friend and ordered a number of copies, paying upfront. When I received my printed proof copy, however, I found the quality of the printing below my expectations and had to cancel my order and fight for a refund.

I then tried to identify a reliable, quality printing firm by looking at the copyright pages of the paperbacks on my shelves. I chose a long-established, traditional firm, which had a collection of services suitable for Indie Publishers. They also had a link with a distributor from where most bookshops would source titles.

I set myself up as a publisher and followed the necessary steps to get into trading relationships with all the separate entities in the chain that would eventually make my book available to the public. After a lot of form filling I finally paid the Purchase Order and a few weeks later my Author/Publisher copies arrived. My novel became available to order online from bookshops and I am working on getting it stocked by brick-and-mortar stores.


About the author

Author Catherine Till

Catherine Till grew up in Hungary and came to live in the UK in her early twenties. After a chequered career involving architecture, sinology and handbag design, she became obsessed with shining a light on her native country’s recent past through the tale of a family whose lives are buffeted by history as they struggle with their own personal demons.

About the book

No Fence Made of Sausages is a tale of emigration and homesickness, love and betrayal, addiction and wasted talent. The novel opens with the nail-biting scene of the main character’s attempt to defect from Soviet-dominated Hungary. We then follow three generations of her family from the beginning of the twentieth century, through wars, revolutions and regime changes, right up to the 2015 European migrant crisis.

For more on City’s writing short courses, visit HERE. Or to follow in Catherine’s footsteps, check our our year-long Novel Studio programme HERE.

How I developed three personalities, and why…

Like many multi-linguals, I have varied personality shifts. I am professional in English, friendly in Portuguese, but reserved in Russian.

I was born in St. Petersburg and spoke Russian for the first fourteen years of my life. Then my family moved to Porto in Portugal where I went to an international school. All my classes were in English, but at breaktime everyone spoke Portuguese. It forced me to improve my English and become fluent in Portuguese, in just nine months. 

An epiphany

I’m twenty-five now and was recently confronted with the fact that I behave differently depending on which language I’m speaking. After a work call with a Russian tech client, a colleague remarked that I hadn’t been myself. I was more serious, less confident and made fewer jokes. 

Chatting about it later with bilingual friends, I understood I’m not alone. My Brazilian friend Sarah – who I met at international school – for example, is ambitious in English, a bit anxious in Portuguese, flirty in French, and funny in German!

When in Rome

While learning a new language we tend to get acquainted with a new culture – and change the way we portray ourselves to fit in. Dr Francois Grosjean , author of Bilingual: Life and Reality, says that this is most common among those who are integrated into the culture of the language they’re adopting. 

Portuguese culture, for example, is friendly, open and kind. Now, whenever I’m speaking it, I become all three. It works like a switch and comes very naturally to me.  When I was first learning Portuguese, my school friends regularly said ‘Com prazer’ (With pleasure) and ‘Está tudo bem?’ (Is everything good?), which made me feel welcome as the new girl in school. These kind phrases are now part of my vocabulary too.

Light switch

Last summer I got talking to an entrepreneur at a tech networking event. I was being professional until I realised she was Portuguese. As soon as we switched to Marta’s mother tongue it felt as if we knew each other, and we laughed.

Not many people speak to their boss like they do to their best friends. Therefore, when bilinguals develop their language for a specific purpose – for work, for example – they tend to sound formal and professional, even in informal situations. 

Serious struggle

This theory by Dr Nathan Young explains why I always feel younger when speaking Russian, which I mostly do when around my family. I also struggle to explain to them what I do for a living, because I lack the vocabulary. ‘When are you going to start doing something ‘serious?’ they always ask.

The cause of my personality shifts is probably a combination of both Grosjean’s and Young’s theories. Either way, my daily personality shifts are a blessing and a bit of a ‘curse’. They make me more flexible at work and in my social life. But they also make it difficult to know which traits are truest to me. I’m looking forward to finding out for sure.

Viktoriia Tkachenko is a freelance startup consultant. She is also an alumna of City’s Writing for Business course, taught by Maggie Richards and Tamsin Mackay. As part of the course, students are invited to pitch a blog post idea which, if successful, will be edited and published on our site. 

Viktoriia today in London

Viktoriia, 18, with family at her graduation from international school, Porto.

Viktoriia, aged six, St Petersburg.

For more on our writing courses, visit our full range HERE. For all our short courses visit HERE.

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