My Short Course Experience : Gillian Belchetz

Gillian Belchetz

Gillian Belchetz

We spoke to Gillian Belchetz who completed the Writing for Children 10-week course last year, to understand what she learnt from the course and has been up to since.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am from Lancaster but have lived in Leeds for 40 yrs. I was a nurse for 37 years but also love writing, so undertook and MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at Leeds Uni as a mature student. My first book, ‘A Game of Consequences’ was published in 2015 by Fisher King Publishing, and raised money for The Alzheimers. In lockdown, and inspired by my grandchildren, I started writing for children and my first kids book was published at the end of 2021. I volunteer one day a week at a homeless charity in Leeds, St George’s Crypt, and wanted to write something that was both engaging and would raise the issue of homelessness with children. I have sold almost 1000 copies and raised over £3,500 for St Georges. Supporters have bought 350 of these books to be donated to local schools, and this year I will be visiting schools, giving them copies of the book, doing a reading and talking to the children. I love walking our dog Winnie, and am learning to play bridge – badly!

Why did you choose to take this course at City?

The Writing for Children course was well structured and specifically aimed at learning the craft of writing for children, which is similar to writing for adults, but also different.

What did you learn on the course?

Each week introduced a different aspect of writing so that we discussed how to open a book, plot, character, endings, editing etc. It was thorough and a lot was crammed into ten weeks. The different requirements for picture books up to Teen literature. Brilliant.

How did you find the virtual classes?

Excellent. A great mix of information delivery and participation.

What are the key things you have taken away from the course?

Great examples of books for different age groups were used which I find a useful reference. Writing exercises to inspire and motivate. Information on structure and how to keep a child’s attention.

What have you achieved since completion? 

I wrote and had published ‘Clara’s Geni-Ous Plan – To help a lady who is homeless,’ and experienced working with an illustrator for the first time.

I liaised with Booths Supermarkets, (Waitrose of the North) who have been selling it and donating their profits to the homeless charity I am supporting. It has been a roller coaster and a real thrill to see it on a supermarket shelf.  You can order the book now through this online form.

To find out more about the course Gillian took visit our Writing for Children webpage and for more about our other writing courses browse our course finder tool.

 

City Writes celebrates its first non-fiction guest: Ciaran Thapar

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is such a brilliant showcase for all the fabulous writing talent coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses and this Autumn’s Event was no different. There are always fascinating submissions from the Narrative Non-Fiction course run by Peter Forbes and this term we were able to celebrate some of the fruit of his teaching labours by sharing the work of Narrative Non-Fiction alumnus Ciaran Thapar whose book Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City is an insightful, honest and eye-opening exploration of knife crime and youth violence in London.

As always we began with the competition winners. We went from an exploration of infidelity and class in ‘Salesman of the Year’ by Laurence Kershook all the way to a drunken groom in Grayson Anderson-Brown’s ‘Mum’s Yard’.

Laurence is an alumnus of The Novel Studio and his story set a sinister tone for the evening. As is often the case, a theme seemed to emerge across the winners’ pieces and this time it was an exploration of relationships from people at the end of their relationship journey, through those at the start, towards those whose more intimate relationships are with their art.

We hope Laurence will come back and share his novel, The Broygus, which is due out in mid-2022.

From a jail cell (you read correctly) to a house call, we heard from Pasca Lane next as she read her story, ‘Creature of Habit’. Her main character was desperate to get rid of a fox, to rid his home of the remnants of his ex-wife. A hilariously unself-aware character, Pasca delivered his perspective with aplomb.

Alan Gray, alumnus of the Short Story Writing course, took us on a first date, expertly navigating us through the complications of desire and that human need for connection in his story ‘Nice Meeting You’. There were some great moments of dialogue and a weighty, uncertain end on a sofa.

Another Short Story Writing alumnus, Stephen Kehoe, chilled us with the opening of his novel-in-progress, Defence Mechanism next. A speculative near-future in which the protagonist exploits public officials for some unspecified end, left us all reeling and eager to find out more.

Emily Shammar took us into the world of a blind woman at a picnic next. An alumna of An Approach to Creative Writing this extract from her longer work, ‘The Complicit’ was a thrilling and unnerving ride into uncertainty.

Novel Studio alumnus, Grayson Anderson-Brown gave us some sharply drawn characters next, in his extract ‘Mum’s Yard’ in which two brothers and a cousin try to salvage a wedding day currently not going to plan. They fail to keep the groom’s hung-over dishelvement from Mum, all summoned to her flat for a dressing down.

Mike Clarke was the last of the competition winners to read. A self-confessed City writing course junkie, he read ‘Spray Can Angel’, an extract from his novel-in-progress, Burnt Fingers, in which a female graffiti artist risked serious injury dangling from a fire escape to repair her artwork. Left dangling alongside the protagonist, the audience were hoping to see that novel in print soon.

The evening then took a turn towards non-fiction and the brilliant blend of narrative and sharp political commentary in Ciaran Thapar’s work, Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City which was published by Viking UK (Penguin) in June 2021. Told through a mixture of character journeys based on real people and considered research and argument, the book draws a reader into the lives of those living with youth violence, gaining their empathy and understanding in order to help them see a path towards change.

Ciaran gave a short reading from Chapter Five in which Carl, a young school boy, is sitting in an isolation session at school and feeling worthless and depressed. In a Q&A with host, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Ciaran then spoke further about the themes of the book and his hopes for building more supportive communities for young people. He was an inspirational guest and speaker, providing much food for thought among the audience who were also keen to ask questions. If you haven’t read it, buy it here. Ciaran will also be running a short course at City on Writing for Social Impact, which if his book is anything to go by, will instigate further fascinating and thought-provoking writing.

To experience the event for yourself, watch the full recording now. What a great way to start the festive season with fabulous fireside stories and provocation to think of others.

Novel Studio Scholarship Winner 2021

Winner of 2021 Novel Studio Scholarship Announced

The third  Novel Studio scholarship, set up to support a talented writer from a low-income household, has been awarded to Hawa Maua.

Hawa is now part of  The Novel Studio 2021/22, alongside 14 other selected writers. Speaking of Hawa’s application,  Novel Studio course director Emily Pedder said: “This was an outstanding piece of writing. Distinctive and energetic, there was an urgency to the voice which was compelling.”

 

On winning the scholarship, Hawa said: “For a long time, I dreamt of being heard, giving voice to my thoughts, my hopes, my experiences and the things that I observed. I was dreaming of being a writer and thought someone like me could never get a chance. Now I have a chance to make something more concrete.”

Harriet’s new novel out in 2022.

 

Novel Studio alumna and crime writer Harriet Tyce set up the scholarship in 2019 as a way to help talented writers who might not otherwise be able to take up a place on the course. Lola Okolosie, the inaugural recipient of the scholarship, has said the opportunity was “life changing” while last year’s winner, Janice Okoh, said that without the scholarship she would not have been able to take the course.

Harriet was a student on the Novel Studio in 2009/10 and went on to gain a place on the MA Crime Fiction at UEA, where she received a distinction. In 2017 Wildfire pre-empted her debut psychological thriller, Blood Orange. It was subsequently sold in 19 territories worldwide and became a Sunday Time bestseller. Her second novel, The Lies You Told, described by Sophie Hannah as ‘totally addictive’, was published in August 2020 to rave reviews. Her third, It Ends At Midnight, will be published in 2022.

 

The Novel Studio has been running as part of City’s short courses programme since 2004 and has been instrumental in providing a foundation for emerging writers to go on to successful publishing careers. Taught by professional writers and editors, 15 selected students develop their novels over a year. The course has a  strong publication record, with many alumni publishing novels with major publishing houses, including, most recently, Deepa Anappara, Hannah Begbie and Harriet.

 

Congratulations, Hawa! We can’t wait to see your novel develop over the year.

For more on all our writing short courses, including The Novel Studio, visit.

Skills to Start a Business

You’ve got an idea for a business and now you’re ready to take the plunge into making your dream become a reality but don’t know where to start. Fret not, as we will be sharing tips and guidance on how to gain the knowledge and support required to ensure that your new venture is successful.

Building the foundations 

If you are at the early stages of starting a business but aren’t sure where to begin, you will first need to consider the process of forming a new start-up. Ranging from legal requirements like registering your business, researching the market ensuring there is a demand, to writing a marketing plan and setting up a bank account. 

At City, University of London we offer a 10-week evening course Starting Up in Business which can help you to take the next steps, with the assistance of expert guidance. 

Money matters 

Provided that you have funding secured to get your business off the ground, you will need to ensure you have sufficient knowledge of financial management so that your organisation runs smoothly. This applies to pricing of your products/services, taxation, interest and borrowings, investment, performance measurements and risk mitigation. 

The Finance for the Non-Financial Manager City short course explains the fundamentals of finance, including an understanding of standard financial statements, and operational messages that can be derived from them. 

Home is where the start is 

Regardless of if you are an online business or not, it is crucial to have a presence on the web so that people can easily access your business.  

Thankfully, it is relatively straight forward and inexpensive to build a website with many services offering free hosting tools. If you want to keep costs down and create a website that has more functionality, then you can set up a site yourself. The Building Websites with HTML and CSS3 helps you to develop the fundamental skills required to plan, design, develop, validate and maintain websites using HTML5 and CSS versions 2 and 3. 

Once the website is in place, you will need to fill it with enticing and engaging copy. What you write will set the tone for your company and how you want to come across. The copy needs to be interesting and informative, keeping in mind SEO to ensure keywords are relevant to increase your search rankings.  Writing for Web and Digital Media course is ideal to write more effectively and engage your audience.

Finally, any good website is visually appealing and can attract the attention of users. To do this, it is helpful to be able to produce creative assets and imagery to make your pages stand out from the crowd, aligning to your brand. Photoshop: An Introduction is a useful course teaching you how to utilise the software to edit, manipulate and create captivating artwork.  

Spread the word 

Having completed your market research, you may have identified a specific audience who will likely be interested in your product or service. Once this is established, the next step is to produce appropriate messaging to encourage interest. 

In the Marketing: An Introduction course you will learn the key theories of marketing and how to apply them in practice. Our introductory marketing course employs a mixture of presentations, discussion and group work, exploring how to gain a competitive advantage by applying marketing tools and techniques and by adopting a customer orientated approach. 

For a more digitally focused outlook, Digital Marketing Fundamentals  provides an overview of key digital and marketing skills, including: 

  • Planning a website 
  • Website promotion 
  • Email 
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 
  • E-commerce and integrating digital marketing with traditional marketing. 

Perfect your pitches 

Whether you need to persuade investors to support your business venture or deliver powerful presentations to key stakeholders, being able to effectively and confidently deliver presentations is essential for communication. 

 Our interactive Presentation Skills course helps you develop skills for crafting persuasive presentations and delivering speeches with lasting impact. The programme combines insights and techniques for an effective preparation process with opportunities to put these into practice.  

Teamwork makes the dream work 

Recruiting staff is a big step in the life of any start-up and for a small business. Hiring employees is not only a legal minefield but a massive financial burden. 

Our Human Resource Management course explains practical topics such as recruitment, remuneration and administration, to more theoretical components, such as fostering good employee relations, the Human Resource course is the ideal way to develop HR knowledge and expertise.  

If any of the courses mentioned are of interest, visit City short courses to discover more. Good luck!

City Writes Competition Winners Autumn 2021 Announced!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

You may have already booked your tickets to hear Ciaran Thapar read from his critically acclaimed book, Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City at City Writes on the 15th December 2021, if not you can register for the zoom event here. Now you have even more reasons to come to the event as we announce our wonderful creative writing student and alumni competition winners for autumn 2021. This term’s winners are:

Grayson Anderson

Grayson Anderson-Brown is a British born Jamaican author and poet. Raised in South London, he has spent most of his life writing. His catalogue of work contains songs, poetry, a science fiction trilogy, and an opinion-based non-fiction book relating to the idiosyncrasies of gender in society. He considers himself a student of humanity, culture, and nature. An alumnus of the Novel Studio, he’ll be reading ‘Mum’s Yard’.

 

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke is a City writing course junkie, having studied on several, including the Novel Studio (when it was the Certificate in Novel Writing) and Writers’ Workshop and also graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. Mike’s short stories have been performed by the renowned Liars League. He occasionally dabbles in stand-up and BBC Radio 4 has broadcast some of his allegedly amusing material. He’s been making final edits to two novels for far longer than he’d like to remember. He’ll be reading ‘Spray Can Angel’.

Alan Gray

 

Alan Gray is a writer/psychologist born in Horden, County Durham. He holds an MSc in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford and lives in London. A Short Story Writing alumnus, he’ll be reading ‘Nice Meeting You’.

 

Stephen Kehoe

Stephen Kehoe is a recovered drug addict from Preston and splits his time between London and the Northwest. His degree in English is from Goldsmiths and he studied creative writing at City, University of London. His work has been performed live at Liars’ League. Defence Mechanism, his novel-in-progress, from which he’ll be reading, is a dystopian thriller and the opening scene is the first thing he ever wrote. He’s an alumnus of the City Short Story Writing course.

 

Laurence Kershook

Laurence Kershook is based in Hackney, East London. He’s been a teacher of languages and a jazz musician, but now he devotes most of his time to writing. While attending the Novel Studio course in 2018-19 he started working on his novel The Broygus, a mystery story set in the 1970’s that chronicles a young man’s quest to find meaning in his life by unearthing the long-buried secrets of his East End Jewish family. The Broygus will be self-published in mid-2022. He’ll be reading his story ‘Salesman of the Year’.

Pasca Lane

Pasca Lane is a professional storyteller working in the not-for-profit sector. She has won numerous awards for her work – bringing stories to life through compelling words and creative multimedia content – and currently heads up the Media team at the British Red Cross. She loves to travel, and has contributed to a number of travel publications including Lonely Planet. Pasca lives in North London and is proud of her family’s long-standing roots in the capital. She hopes one day to tell the story of previous generations on her mother’s side, who served as Thames Watermen in the East End. Pasca is an alumna of our Feature Writing course ( which no longer runs but we hope to bring it back soon!) She’ll be reading ‘Creature of Habit’.

 

Emily Shamma

Emily Shamma is a City periodical journalism graduate. She started her career as a fashion journalist, before moving into business journalism. Emma then spent time as a retail analyst in the City, before working as a Director at Tesco for 17 years. She lives in Islington with her husband and 11-year-old daughter Estella. Emma now writes creatively for pleasure, and her other interests include modern art, cookery and the theatre. An Approach to Creative Writingalumna, she’ll be reading her story ‘The Complicit’.

As you can tell, City Writes Autumn 2021 is going to be a fantastic showcase of the creative writing talent coming from City’s creative writing short courses, with readings and a Q&A with Ciaran Thapar. Don’t miss out and register now for your link to the zoom event on the 15th December at 7pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

Benefits of learning a language  

For many of us, learning a second language is nothing new. Some may have distant memories from school mustering up your first words in French including ‘Oui’ and ‘Comment tu t’appelles’. Others continued their journey, studying languages throughout middle and upper school and even into college or university. However, not everyone had this opportunity, the interest or the motivation to learn a language at that time in their life. 

Choosing to study as an adult feels more rewarding in many ways, primarily because you have a choice and can pick what interests you. There is a much wider variety of languages at your fingertips from Japanese to Portuguese, Arabic to Italian. Learning is more accessible, with content online 24/7 via apps, platforms such as YouTube, or taught as live short courses by professional native speakers at reputable institutions like City, University of London.  

If you are considering trying your hand at a second language, you will find many benefits that could make significant changes and improvements to your life, and not just professionally.  

Improving your memory 

Who would have thought that learning a language can help to improve your short-term and long-term memory? It is well known that we can build muscle memory through crosswords and puzzles, but research has also found that learning a language can help, as it promotes brain growth. It can help to recall words and places, which can benefit your work and everyday life. 

 Building new relationships 

It might be that you are considering picking up a specific language because you have met a partner who speaks in this tongue and you want to be able to communicate better to improve your relationship and connect with their family and friends. Alternatively, having friends or colleagues who speak another language could spur your interest to learn, surprising them with your new skills while feeling a sense of achievement. Plus, you will feel more involved in conversations where English is not spoken, and if your name is mentioned you might finally understand what is being said. 

Window to other cultures 

Taking a short course in a language means that you won’t just be learning new words and numbers, you will also gain an insight into the culture. You can discover popular traditions, celebrated holidays, what the locals eat and do for fun. We are lucky to live in a world full of diversity, and even if it might not be possible to get to the other side of the globe at this moment in time, you will get a glimpse of various cultures through native speakers who teach language short courses. 

 Creating exciting opportunities  

As well as benefitting both your health and relationships, this skill can open the doors to new opportunities. Depending on where you are in life you might want to study in a foreign land, purchase a retirement property near the beach or progress in work and land a promotion overseas – there’s really no downside to where it can take you. The world is your oyster! 

Keeping the brain in shape  

Numerous studies have shown that learning a language can help stimulate the brain and in turn aid the brain’s growth and development. It can also improve your concentration as supported by a study led by Dr Thomas Bak. Similarly, Swedish scientists performed scans to monitor the brain proving that learning foreign lingo can in fact increase the size of our brains. Evidence suggests that it may even lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

So, what’s stopping you? Join a short course by either starting at the very beginning with a language that interests you or build on your existing skills with an advanced level course. Find yours today at www.cityshortcourses.com.  

4 Must-Read Debut Novels by Black Authors

By Sila Kabongo

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve picked four brilliant books that celebrate  – and reveal – black culture. Read, learn and enjoy.

Love in Colour by Bolu Babolola

A Sunday Times bestselling collection of mythical tales from round the world ‘remixed’ into joyful modern love stories. I loved that the author made all the female characters the narrators, giving them a voice, contrary to the original tales. Like competitive swimmer, Osun – inspired by the story of Yoruba river goddess Oshun – who is courageous enough to leave her polygamous husband for another man who sees more than just the surface.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

After seeing that this novel is based on a young Black British woman in London, I had to read her story. Queenie Jenkins, 25, is a Black Jamaican journalist living in Clapham with her grandparents after splitting from long-term partner, Tom. Soon she takes a downward spiral, getting involved with the wrong men, and self-sabotaging at  work. Despite the constant drama, her friends and family are always there to help her. Queenie is being developed into a TV series, coming to Channel 4  in 2023.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This isn’t a mystery; we know the killer is Ayoola – a beautiful and popular Nigerian woman who attracts dead-end relationships. Literally. Her older sister and nurse, Korede, assists Ayoola with disposing of the bodies of her male victims. Korede is in love with a doctor at her hospital – but he is in love with her serial killer sister – and her loyalty is tested. I spent more time thinking about why Ayoola is psychotic than her crimes, analysing flashbacks to the siblings abusive upbringing. Winner of the British Book Award for Crime & Thriller Book of the Year 2020.

 Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

A poetic and emotional easy-read whose unnamed main character is a Black British male and photographer who falls in love with a dancer he met at a bar. Open Water is written in the second person, giving it an immediacy in which we, the readers, face racial profiling, loss, grief, and the strain that all the trauma puts on his relationship. Caleb gives no character a name, perhaps as a metaphor for us being in the shoes of the main character. A rare and rhythmic read for understanding the culture and perspectives of black men growing up in London today.

Read more of Silas book reviews at RealReadsOnline – Fall In Love With Reading.

Sila completed Introduction to Copywriting with Maggie Richards.

London Culture Shocks from an Irish Perspective

by Megan O’ Reilly

I’d always had a feeling that I’d love London. From the bustling tourists to the stuffy Tube, every element contrasted with the small Irish town Id called home for 23 years. Despite feeling ready for my move across the Irish Sea, I didn’t anticipate the culture shocks Ive come to know so well.

 

Adjusting to life in a new environment can be difficult for the best of us, and perhaps I was a bit naive when I gathered my belongings and headed to a city of ten million, coming from an island with a population of half the amount. I’d lived abroad two years before – in Bologna for my Erasmus year – and thought myself well versed in new experiences. 

 

Stepping off the plane at Stansted was something I’d envisioned since I’d left school, and after settling into my new house in Twickenham and getting to grips with the trains (who knew tapping in and out could cause such grief!), I started to see the small differences between my Galway and London lives. This was in 2019.

 

London

Galway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started working at Fortnum and Mason as a Retail Host. The considerable gap between social classes soon made itself apparent in the 300-year-old luxury establishment, something that isn’t as obvious in Ireland. I found it difficult to understand how such wealthy people could live and shop only a few roads away from a growing homeless population finding shelter in Green Park Tube station.

 

I noticed how much more diverse London was – a very positive aspect which I admire a lot. My colleagues and customers came from a range of backgrounds and cultures. They made working there not only refreshing but extremely interesting. While Ireland is slowly becoming more culturally diverse, theres still a long way to go.

 

As Irish twangs go, the Galway accent is on the softer side, and when I first started working in the capital, I was asked what part of Canada I was from! I wouldn’t consider my accent particularly strong, but of course, I received affectionate comments from my London friends on how I pronounce certain words.

 

Two years on, I’ve adjusted some of my slang. I now say “trainers” rather than “runners”, and when asking hypothetical questions I’m conscious of using “Shall we?” not Will we?”. You’d be surprised how quickly people pick up on the smallest of differences.

 

As much as I miss Ireland, I’m glad I left. London has so much to offer, and Im ready for even more new friends and new excitement! I’ve started making a list of at least 20 new restaurants to try out, and have given Soho’s bustling bars great business since the end of lockdown. And yet there’s a reassurance in knowing that I’m never far from another Irish person.

 

I often think of a time when I was on holiday in Spain with an English friend, and we bumped into a lovely lady from Dublin. It was St. Patrick’s Day and any and every Irish person was celebrating. My friend couldn’t believe I’d stopped to talk for five minutes with a stranger. Apparently, she’d never do this if she met someone British abroad. This sense of community across the globe is in our Irish blood.

 

For anyone thinking about taking the leap to pastures new, I cant recommend it enough. Diving into a new place in which to discover yourself and flourish is a fantastic experience, and something I believe everyone should strive for. As scary as it may seem, you might just find yourself in your new home. By being in a new environment you allow yourself to escape your comfort zone. Just expect a few surprises along the way!

 

Megan completed our Introduction to Copywriting masterclass with Maggie Richards. For more information on our writing short courses visit our home page here.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The Road Less Travelled: City short course alumnus Simon Culleton’s long journey to publication

By Simon Culleton

‘I know a literary agent,’ said my opponent as we passed at the net. I tried to act casual to disguise my eagerness so waited until we had played two more games and passed again. I feigned breathlessness.

‘Perhaps,’ I said still catching my breath, ‘Perhaps you might want to put in a word for me.’ He sucked the air through his teeth and looked as though I had just asked for one of his kidneys. He waited until we were stood in front of a crowd of people on the clubhouse veranda before counting off three fingers.

‘One, I’ll need a letter of introduction, he said. ‘Two, a brief outline of what the book is about and three…’ he now had the complete attention of a gathering crowd, ‘And Three, I’ll need the full manuscript with no spelling mistakes.’

‘What, no spelling mistakes?’  I didn’t say that of course, I just accepted his request with a subservient bow of my head. I’m a writer, and like all writers am desperate to get published.

I’d love to tell you that I let him win the tennis match, but he far outranked me and was always going to win. I had only agreed to play with him because I heard he had a friend who was a literary agent.

It had been three years since I’d first walked into the classroom at City University of London’s ‘Novel writing’ evening class. One of the first tasks that our tutor, Martin Ouvry, had set for the class was to document why we wanted to write our chosen novel. It was a telling exercise.

My answer was honest; I didn’t want to write this novel, I wrote. It was too personal and raw. More accurately, I continued, ‘the last thing I wanted to do was remember. Yet inevitably, almost fatally, whenever I attempted to write a different storyline, all my characters were either divorced or battling in some way for their children. So eventually I submitted. It was always going to be ‘Shadows of Fathers’ first.

I remained with City and progressed to their year-long Novel Studio course. I enjoyed the twice-weekly structure and the twelve-thousand word, deep critique was a particular landmark in my novel progress.

The Novel studio course paid particular attention to obtaining an agent worthy to champion our book. Emphasis was put on presentation, catchy letters to attract an agent:

“Dear Madam, I respectfully submit… Dear Sir would you please consider…  or   Dear Michael I read in your bio that you enjoy stories that surprise you…  Hey Sarah, like you I play tennis (badly) …

I sent over fifty, all of which got nowhere, most didn’t bother replying. I even tried some of the foreign literary agents. A reply email from Hamburg went something like this:

Thank you for your story, Simon. Everyone in the office really enjoyed it although the literary agency no longer owns these premises, we are boat engineers.

I stayed with City University and enrolled in a further three workshops with Katy Darby as well as travelling to Greece for the Athens international School Of Creative Writing. One particular highlight was attending a flash fiction class taught by the excellent writer Heidi James.

I quite literally immersed myself in the writing world. Although I had yet to find representation; a nagging doubt that was always with me. One of the hardest things I found about writing a novel is that you have to finish it before knowing whether it will be a success.

During the first lockdown, I became despondent until a chance text conversation from an old friend I had not seen since my school days. (When we were young teenagers she had let me hold her hand at the bus stop). ‘I know someone who is a publisher’ she texted. A sudden vision of the man standing on the tennis club veranda came into mind. But this was Bernadette, I thought. I had missed a bus for her when I was fourteen.

As it turned out, my tennis friend didn’t

Author Simon Culleton

know an agent, after all, he only knew the father of the agent and had subsequently fallen out with him, (possibly over a spelling mistake).

So once again I sent off my synopsis and the first fifty pages. After a few weeks, I received a request to send the rest of my novel. I was on top of a wobbly tower scaffold laying heavy blocks when I received an online zoom invitation. Rose Drew of Stairwell books, an American woman from Florida whose exuberant hand gestures took up the whole of the computer screen, was enthusiastic. She had read my book and could relate to all my characters and recite any passage from my novel. I had found my champion.

It has been a long and arduous road with weekends and evenings spent writing in libraries and coffee shops, London university corridors and crowded Greek restaurants. At work I was forever scrawling notes for my novel on pieces of timber and newly plastered walls; conversations were cut short while I retained a thought later to be added.

It takes dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness to complete a novel and in my case a lot of help and guidance too. City was a wonderful place that helped harness my book idea to the finished debut novel that is Shadows of Fathers.

About the author: Simon Culleton 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. Simon has a passion for chronicling everyday people which extends even to himself: he has maintained a personal daily diary for over 40 years.

About the book: When Richard realizes his German wife is not returning to England with their children, the subsequent journey he must take encompasses new geographical and emotional realms. With the help of comic but effective German lawyer Otto Lehmann, Richard’s fight for his family is both heart-wrenching and humorous, in a story that crosses countries and cultures. Shadows of Fathers offers an alternative view of separation: a dedicated father fighting for the right to parent in a new and relevant take on contemporary fatherhood: not only in the mid-1990s setting but also in today’s society.

Simon’s debut novel, Shadows of Fathers

Shadows of Fathers is available for pre-order on Amazon, Google books and many more. Published by Stairwell Books in October 2021, the first chapter can be viewed on the ‘Coming Soon’ page at Stairwell Books.

City Writes Autumn 2021 Competition Opens 

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

This term’s showcase for the creative writing talent coming from City’s short courses may not be until the 15th December 2021 but we’re delighted to announce that Narrative Non-Fiction alumnus Ciaran Thapar will be our professional writer this term.

Ciaran Thapar is the author of Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City, which was published by Viking UK (Penguin) in June 2021. As a youth worker in schools, youth clubs and prisons, Ciaran completed the Narrative Non-Fiction Short Course at City in 2016 in an attempt to tell stories about his work on the ground. Alongside completing mentoring and workshop facilitation with young people, he writes regularly for publications such as British GQ and The Guardian, usually about youth culture, race politics and rap music in the UK.

Cut Short has had a fabulous reception from people as wide-ranging as the writer Nikesh Shukla to David Lammy MP. Exploring the lives of different characters involved in Britain’s youth violence epidemic, Ciaran includes interviews and research that reveal a society fracturing along lines of race, class and postcode. Author Candice Carty-Williams calls it ‘A devastating and beautifully-drawn tribute to the young boys that the media turns into statistics of knife crime’.

For your chance to join Ciaran on the online stage, you need only send 1,000 words of your best creative writing, fiction or nonfiction (though no poetry or children’s fiction) to rebekah.lattin-rawstrone.2@city.ac.uk with details of which short course you took or are taking. Full submission details can be found here. The competition is open until 19th November 2021 and entrants will be informed of the outcome of their submission by the 26th November 2021. We look forward to receiving your work.

In the meantime, those of you keen to hear Ciaran read from Cut Short, can register for the City Writes Autumn event on the 15th December 2021 here. There will also be a short Q&A with Ciaran so get a head start and buy his book in advance here. City Writes Autumn 2021 will be a fabulous way to start your festive season, thinking of others and sharing some wonderful stories. We can’t wait to see you there!

Ciaran Thapar

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