Author: Emily (page 1 of 7)

Talking Italian: ‘Rich and intensive’ language courses at City

By Lucie Langevin

Language classes “rich & intense” like the taste of Italian coffee

Learning a new language opens up a whole new world to you, and this is precisely what I love! I will keep learning until I am fluent. I want to achieve a level where it feels natural to speak Italian.

My name is Lucie Langevin and I am a Marketing Executive with an award-winning Italian villa rental company, based in London.

Lucie Langevin

At City I took an Italian Lower Intermediate short evening course.

I’m passionate about languages and have always loved Italian culture: the country, the history, the art, the cinema, the food… To me, learning Italian is about understanding this culture better and gaining insight into what makes the country and its inhabitants tick.

When choosing a class, what matters most to me is what I personally get out of the course and my own learning curve. I care about my knowledge of Italian being recognised as an extra skill that I have gained from a reputable provider. Therefore, when choosing the Italian course, I looked into classes available in my area, read reviews and compared options. City did not disappoint and the course went beyond my expectations.

What I enjoyed most about the course was getting a true feel of Italian culture. Every Thursday I looked forward to my two hours of Italian and always left the class feeling motivated and enlightened.

Veronica de Felice is a great tutor: an authentic Italian with a wonderful sense of humour, always in a good mood and keen on pushing us to learn more and get the best from her teaching.

She regularly went beyond the basics and varied the content of the lessons so that each class would be rich and intense. She always included a bit of everything: culture, grammar, speaking, writing, interactive exercises, homework to practise and prepare for the class… a great balance of activities and a very encouraging attitude towards us, her students.

We were very lucky to be in a small group, which is the best environment to learn a language. This meant we got to know each other very well. The interactive style of our exercises encouraged this even further. All the other students were also very motivated, which created the perfect atmosphere for learning, sharing experiences and interacting together in Italian.

I also enjoyed that we weren’t just taking a theoretical class: we were conversing and exchanging a lot, about life, interests, jobs and got along so well together as a group with the tutor and the other students. I looked forward to my class every week!

I always try to practise what I have learnt in my daily life. At work I feel better integrated and my Italian colleagues love it that I take an interest in their language and culture. I speak Italian with them, can understand them speaking on the phone and don’t need a translator to read emails written in Italian. I also try to pick up new vocabulary by listening to Italian radio and reading the news online.

Learning a new language opens up a whole new world to you, and this is precisely what I love! I will keep learning until I am fluent. I want to achieve a level where it feels natural to speak Italian. I want to travel even more to experience the culture and speak the language in ‘real life situations’. And I want to be able to read books and watch movies in Italian… I’m excited!

Lucie studied City’s short evening course in Lower Intermediate Italian.

For more about our short language courses, visit our web page.

Three Life Lessons Learned Volunteering for a Homeless Charity



Three Life Lessons I’ve Learned Volunteering for a Homeless Charity



By Sepy Akbarian

Since 2008 the charity Rhythms of Life has served over 1.2 million free meals to London’s homeless. But what I didn’t know when I began volunteering alongside founder, Andrew Faris, is that he, too, was once a rough sleeper. I’ve learned a lot since supporting his work…

Volunteers at Rhythms of Life

I began volunteering for Rhythms of Life in 2021. I wanted to engage with my community and for what I did in my life to align more with my values, namely helping those in need. 

The charity receives regular food donations from renowned brands such as Marks and Spencer, and Coco di Mama. It aims to eliminate homelessness, as well as to enrich lives through educational courses. In essence, it was set up to provide the tools its founder, Andrew, lacked when he was on the streets: daily nutritious meals, lessons in life skills, help getting work, and finding somewhere to live.

 

As a volunteer, I help unload the batches of food we receive, including bread, yoghurt, sandwiches and chocolate bars. In groups of around seven, several of us cook up a hot meal, while others organise food into crates. We then drive together in a van to Trafalgar Square where almost a hundred homeless people are waiting in a queue. This ritual happens four days a week. The charity is open 365 days a year.

 

Here are the three life lessons I’ve learned through my volunteering.

  1. Our past doesn’t dictate our future

 

The charity’s founder, Andrew Faris, ran a lucrative estate management firm before a hit to the financial climate led to bankruptcy. For the next six years he was confined to the streets. 
His story is not rare. I soon discovered that a sizeable proportion of the local homeless community previously held sought-after jobs, including in aircraft engineering and teaching, but were now homeless due to no-fault evictions – a leading cause of homelessness.

 

Before this, in my ignorance, I believed most people on the streets came from broken families and poor backgrounds. Escaping abusive relationships and leaving prison and the army are also reasons people find themselves without a home.

 

Andrew, in the midst of his homelessness, landed a role selling The Big Issue. He managed to save money to buy a camera and became a photographer, which became his career. He pledged to not turn his back on the community that he once belonged to and has since dedicated his life to the charity.

 

  1. The less you have, the more you give

In the week leading up to Christmas Day 2021, a middle-aged lady who regularly uses Rhythm’s services entered our office and presented us with a red envelope. “Don’t open it yet,” she said mysteriously, then disappeared. 

When we opened the card, we were awed to find a £50 note inside. Overcome with joy, I was reminded of the beauty in humanity’s generosity and the words of Saint Mother Theresa: “The less we have, the more we give. Seems absurd, but it’s the logic of love.”

 

  1. Kind conversations give comfort

My journey at Rhythms of Life has opened my eyes to the extent to which the homeless community feel alienated. After queuing, at times for over an hour, they’re given – in conveyor-belt fashion – a hot sandwich and a drink, then dismissed. 

Many have expressed to me that they feel seen but not heard. Homeless people want to have intelligent conversations. They want to be humanised. We can do this by asking open questions and by talking like we’d talk to our friends and family.

 

The experiences of the homeless serve as a reminder that even if we have no monetary change to offer, we can create change by stopping for a brief conversation with our fellow humans. “If somebody spoke to me when I was homeless, I was then more open to suggestions about getting off the streets,” Andrew has said.

 

I would recommend to anybody thinking about volunteering to jump in! There’s a lot of flexibility around when you give your time. And not only do you get to help change lives, but you may also meet people who’ll become your friends for life.

 

Sepy Akbarian took City’s Introduction to Copywriting course taught by Maggie Richards. Sepy is an optometrist with a passion for words; she is currently writing a poetry book.

 For more information on our non-fiction writing short courses visit our subject page.

City Writes Summer 2022 Competition Opens

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is the showcase event for the fabulous writing coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses and this term’s event will feature two published alumni from the same Novel Studio cohort: Attiya Khan and Simon Culleton. Both writers had their debuts published in 2021 with exciting independent publishers and have fascinating publishing journeys and heart-felt writing to share. The City Writes termly competition is now open for you to join these published authors at the Zoom event on the 7th July.

Attiya’s debut novel Ten Steps To Us

Author Attiya Khan

Attiya Khan’s debut, Ten Steps to Us, is a Young Adult Romance that readers have described as ‘captivating’, ‘the perfect teen romance that covers religion, romance and diversity’. The book outlines the ten steps devout, hijab wearing, Aisha, tries to take towards a romance with non-Muslim, Darren. Will she be able to keep her faith, her identity and get the boy of her dreams? Published by Hashtag Blak, you’ll have to read it to see.

 

Attiya and her three sisters grew up in a loving Indian Muslim family. Channelling her inner Jo March, she started writing diaries and short stories as a teenager and continued as a medical student at Barts, junior doctor, and now as a busy East London GP. An alumnus of the prestigious City University Novel Studio, Attiya started writing her first novel in reaction to what she saw around her: ‘I’m fascinated by how cultures and lives intermix and intertwine, and I get inspiration from the people I meet and the stories they tell’. Attiya lives with her husband, and their three children.

Simon Culleton’s debut, Shadows of Fathers, published by Stairwell Books, follows one father’s fight to stay close to his children in a journey that crosses geographical, cultural and emotional borders. The author, Heidi James, described it as ‘a delight – told with warmth and humour, and just a hint of steel’.

 

Author Attiya Khan

Author Simon Culleton

Simon was born and bred in Essex England, where he lives with his two children. His love for writing began when he wrote a short story at age 17, while sat in a derelict car, which went on to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He loves to travel and has worked his way around the world, undertaking jobs from snow clearing in Sweden, to construction work in California, to working as a farm-hand on an Australian sheep station. Simon has a passion for chronicling everyday people, including interviewing war veterans in his earlier travels, which extends even to himself: he has maintained a personal daily diary for over 40 years.

For your chance to join Attiya and Simon on the virtual stage, you need only submit your best 1,000 words of fiction or creative non-fiction to Rebekah.Lattin-Rawstrone.2@city.ac.uk along with details of your City Short Course. Though we’re happy to read Middle Grade and YA, we don’t accept children’s picture books, poetry or drama, but… anything else goes! Click here for full submission guidelines.

The deadline for submissions is midnight 10th June 2022.

You can register for the Zoom event on Thursday 7th July at 7pm now.

We can’t wait to check out your entries and see you at the event when these two fantastic writers will be joined by the brilliant competition winners whose work is already making its journey through the web as you read this post.

Get writing, get submitting, and good luck!

Novel Studio to Broygus: a bumpy but worthwhile journey

By Laurence Kershook

 

Thursday 11th October 2018: the first session of City, University of London’s 2018-19 Novel Studio course. Fourteen would-be novelists seated side-by-side around a table back in those distant days when people used to sit side-by-side around tables and not think anything of it: no masks, no social distancing, no worries; just a shared eagerness to take the first tentative steps that would eventually lead to us writing our novels and fulfilling our ambition to see them published.

 

Fast forward to Thursday 24 March 2022. The date when my debut novel, The Broygus, finally went on sale on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats. Between those two dates there’d been seven re-drafts, three editorial assessments, a global pandemic and around forty submissions to agents.

 

In common with so many people, I’d long thought about writing a novel, and had mulled over various ideas in my head and occasionally on paper about what sort of story I’d like to tell. But it wasn’t until my friend Jane, herself a Novel Studio alumna, told me about her experiences on this course that I thought, maybe this is the time. So, after submitting a sample of my writing and being invited to come along for an interview, I was in.

 

The things I learned in that year were a total revelation to me: the three-act structure, the character arc, the inciting incident… plot, sub-plot, synopsis … a whole new language to learn, and most importantly a powerful set of tools to acquire. I’m happy to say that ours was a friendly, supportive group; we all felt that we could safely share our writing efforts with each other in the workshop sessions, and give and receive feedback with openness and confidence.

 

What I remember most vividly is the week when it was the moment for our newly-developed plot synopses to be evaluated in one-to-one tutorials. When it came to my turn, my tutor Emma Claire Sweeney amazed and impressed me by going straight to the heart of my plot, putting her finger decisively on its weakest point and offering me an inspired suggestion that gave me the key to making the whole thing work. True, it meant I’d have to demolish the entire structure and start all over again, but she’d given me such a good idea that I was only too happy to take that on. And looking back, if I hadn’t been on that course, if Emma hadn’t made that suggestion, The Broygus simply wouldn’t have come to life.

 

By the end of the course my novel had pretty well taken shape, and after a second re-draft prompted by a meticulous line-by-line edit from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone an optional extra and totally worthwhile I prepared my introductory letter and sent out the first of my forty submissions to agents.

 

Here’s where I have to admit that not one of my submissions was successful. There eventually came a point where I had to come to terms with the fact that, whatever its reasons, the publishing industry simply didn’t seem to want The Broygus. But after going through the stage, well-known to writers, where I thought about throwing my manuscript into the trash and taking up pottery or knitting, I regained my belief in The Broygus, together with a renewed determination to see it published.

 

In the third term of the course, the one that focused on the business aspects of the writer’s journey, I’d learned some facts about the publishing industry that had left me, frankly, uncomfortable. Top of the list: your novel must fit into an identifiable genre category. Is it a romance? A thriller? A family history? Is it YA, or speculative, or maybe post-apocalyptic? I learned that you need this clear genre identity so that an agent will consider taking you on, a publisher will know how to market your book and a bookseller will know which shelf to put it on. And then, publishers want readers to be able to identify your book with recent successful ones they may have read. Example:  “A love story for the young and free –– think Eleanor Olliphant crossed with Where the Crawdads Sing.”

 

None of this sat comfortably with me, and I found myself, whether rightly or wrongly, coming more and more to think of agents and publishers as the unassailable gatekeepers and arbiters of readers’ tastes. And I could see that my novel was doomed to failure because I was incapable of fitting it into any of those required categories. Or maybe there was another reason: maybe I should accept that it just wasn’t good enough. But that wasn’t the message I was getting back from the few carefully chosen, plain-speaking people I’d invited to read it.

 

What finally got me where I wanted to be was my introduction to self-publishing. Once considered very much the poor relation of the publishing industry and sadly it hasn’t altogether shaken off that stigma  it’s now accounting for a steadily-growing segment of the industry’s output. Acting on the advice of other writers who’d successfully gone down that path, I did some research and met with some industry people who had the necessary know-how. It’s via that route that The Broygus was eventually published, and so far it’s working out very well.

 

Of course, self-publishing isn’t entirely straightforward; in fact, there are definite drawbacks in contrast to the conventional agent-publisher route. But counter-balancing all of those is the very liberating feeling you get of being in the driver’s seat and in control of your own destiny –– and above all, knowing that it’s only on the judgement of readers that your novel will stand or fall. All I can say is, it’s working for me. And thanks, Novel Studio, for the essential part you played in enabling me to bring The Broygus to life.

 

 

About the author

Previously a teacher, education consultant and gigging jazz musician, Laurence  Kershook grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London. He completed his first novel, The Broygus, after graduating from City’s  Novel Studio.

Charting the history of a Jewish East End family torn apart by events spanning three-quarters of the twentieth century, his novel follows one family member’s determination to see the hurts healed and the conflicts laid to rest.

You can buy The Broygus in paperback or e-book.

If you are interested in applying to the Novel Studio, applications are now open for 2022/23 with a deadline of 29th April 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.

Five Mindful Practices for A Good Day at Work

By Holly James

Finding a work-life balance can be tough. Maybe you feel like you never get any time to yourself, that you’re too stressed, or you just aren’t doing your best at work. Try these simple daily practices to change things for the better.

    1.  Meditate in the morning

Start out simple and easy. It’s important to be gentle with yourself. Begin by finding a comfortable position for your body, where you won’t get disturbed. Sitting cross-legged or laying down on your bed are options, but if you’re worried about falling asleep, try sitting first!

Once you’re settled, close your eyes and focus on the quality of your breathing. In meditation, you want to lengthen both your inhales and exhales, to provide an oxygen-rich relaxation experience for your whole body. Insight Timer is a great free app offering guided meditations and soothing music to help.

    2.  Pen a positive intention

Make sure it’s specific and achievable. It could be something like “Today I will go for a walk outdoors”, or “Today I’ll drink water instead of coffee”. Write it on a bright post-it and stick it to your computer screen, or jot it in your journal to remind yourself later. Remember to always be kind. It’s an intention, not a measure of achievement.

    3.  Do a quick clean

Tidy house, tidy mind. It can be hard to feel productive and creative when your living space is messy. Set a 15-minute timer before work and get hoovering! If the noise doesn’t wake you up, the movement will.

   4.   Play with the Pomodoro technique

You might have heard of this technique for boosting productivity, but try using it to schedule regular breaks instead. It works by setting a timer that splits a time block. For example, 45 minutes of work, and a 15-minute break. You can move your body in your breaks, drink water, or go outside for fresh air. Our bodies need regular movement, and our brains ample rest for us to feel energised and happier.

  5.   Befriend your breath

Just pause for a moment and take a single deep breath. Notice where your breath goes when you inhale – does it fill your belly, or get stuck in your throat? Are your exhales short and forceful, or long and relaxing? When we‘re stressed our breath shortens, and less oxygen can get to the brain, which it needs to function fully. Try breathing deeply for a couple of minutes and see how you feel. 

When I was struggling to get up in the mornings to go to my 9-5 job these techniques were a lifeline. Breathwork and meditation especially helped me stay positive, even when I hated my job. I hope that by doing these practices, you find something positive shifts in your life, too.
 

By Holly James, who felt so inspired after doing our Introduction to Copywriting that she’s now a copywriter!

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