Study Skills – How to Study Effectively as an Adult Learner

With Lifelong Learning still firmly on the government’s agenda, Short Courses and Continuing Professional Development has become increasingly valued. But what happens if it’s been a while since you studied as an adult? What if the last time you were being taught you were still at school? What if you’ve never been taught how to study effectively?

Because it’s not just what you study, it’s how you manage your approach to study that maximises the educational impact. That’s where Study Skills come in. Read on for our top seven tips.

  1. Time Management

You can’t do everything all at once. Planning is essential. Make a timetable or use a digital calendar to block out specific parts of the day for studying each day or week.

  1. Set Goals

Work smarter not harder. Make sure you have clear, achievable goals for each study session and for your overall learning objectives. If you have exams coming up, or a dissertation, or an essay due, break the goal down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Regularly review and adjust these goals as needed.

  1. Note-Taking:

Effective note-taking is essential when listening to lectures or studying texts. Use short hand and abbreviations, summarise key points and organise your information logically. Highlighting key words can help to make your notes more useful when you revise.

  1. Critical Thinking:

The ability to analyse and evaluate information critically is a crucial party of studying well. Always ask questions, challenge assumptions, and seek evidence to support claims. Try applying critical thinking skills to real-world situations and academic tasks.

  1. Strategies for Effective Reading

When faced with multiple text books to read, the task can seem overwhelming. But if you can break down your reading assignments intop smaller sections and set specific goals, things become more manageable. Skimming texts initially to get an overview before reading in detail is also a very useful skill. When reading in more detail, highlight important passages, make notes, and summarise the main ideas in your note book.

  1. Utilise Resources:

Take advantage of all available resources in your place of study, such as textbooks, online courses, academic journals, and library resources. If you need support or want clarity on a particular subject, ask your tutors or seek advice from relevant online communities. Your university or college may have additional learning tools and technologies available so always find out what’s on offer.

  1. Keep things in Perspective

Studying can become very time-consuming. Make sure you also get enough sleep, eat well and exercise. Meditation or mindfulness techniques can also be very beneficial. Take reguar breaks and allow yourself time to recharge to prevent burnout and maintain your overall well-being

By developing these study skills you will enhance your effectiveness as an adult learner and make the most of your continuing educational journey.

 

 

For anyone interested in our short courses, we are running a free Open Evening and Taster Sessions on March 26 from 6-7.30pm. Register HERE.

 

 

Short Course Taster Evening 26 March 2024

 

Join us this March 26 for our free taster event, where you’ll have the chance to speak to the team, find out more about our courses and ask any questions.

You can even take part in a free 45-minute taster session to get a flavour of what it’s like to learn with us.

We will have a choice of tasters available, including:

There will also be a Novel Studio enquiry desk for anyone who wants to find out more about how to apply for our flagship year-long novel writing course.

And as a bonus, we are also offering a 10% discount on all our short courses for anyone who attends the open evening and enrols with us on the night.

Attendance at City events is subject to our terms and conditions.

City Writes Spring 2024 Competition Open for Submissions

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

 

City Writes, the showcase event for all the wonderful writing coming from our Creative Writing Short Courses at City, is only weeks away. This term’s City Writes is Wednesday 27th March at 7pm and we’re delighted to have two Novel Studio alumni, Laurence Kershook and Katharine Light, as our headline double act.

For your chance to join Laurence and Katharine and read your work on the online stage, the City Writes Competition is open for submissions and you need only send your best 1,000 words of creative writing (fiction or non-fiction but no poetry, drama or children’s fiction) to rebekah.lattin-rawstrone.2@city.ac.uk by midnight on the 1st March 2024 along with details of your current or previous Creative Writing short course. Full submission details can be found here.

The Broygus by Laurence Kershook came out in March 2022 and is an evocative exploration of the history of a Jewish East End family not to be missed. Katharine Light’s Like Me came out in November 2023. Her novel turns an adult school reunion into a possible rekindling of teenage romance. You can find out more by reading fantastic blog articles for Katharine and Laurence – simply click on their names. This will be a fantastic night full of tantalising tales and excellent writing advice.

Book your ticket here and send us your work. We look forward to your submissions!

Why You Need to Learn Python – A Guide to What it is and Why it’s Important

Tobi Broadie, City Python Tutor

Tobi Brodie has over a decade’s experience teaching computer coding and web development in London and the South East of England, lecturing at Birkbeck University and, in his spare time, running Code Clubs for kids. He has an educational background  in Computing and Information Systems and has worked in web development with various companies, from start-ups to not for profit organisations.  Over the years he has built up skills in ‘all things web’, with a strong knowledge of the programming languages required to design, develop, and maintain them — including HTML, CSS, PHP & JavaScript. He also  teaches core computer programming languages such as Python and Java to undergraduate level.

We asked Tobi to guide us through a whistle-stop tour on what Python is and why it’s still such an important language to learn.

 

  1. What course do you teach at City? The Python course at City is split into 10 sessions, either once a week over 10 weeks or twice a week over 5. It is a very comprehensive course and we pack a lot of material into each session. It covers all the fundamental concepts of computer coding in detail, which can be applied to any coding language. We use industry standard tools and teach high quality techniques to create maintainable code. We also look at Python specific concepts that make the language one of the most used in industry.

The fundamental concepts include:

  • The use of variables, data types and basic operators
  • program control flow (loops and conditional statements)
  • Functions (reusable chunks of code)
  • Inputs (via the keyboard) and outputs (via the screen)
  • Data structures (accessing and manipulating data)
  • Error handling
  • File handling (opening files, reading and writing to files)

The Python specific concepts we cover are:

  • Accessing data from external sources (HTML & JSON parsing)
  • Using Python libraries and modules
  • An introduction to object-orientated programming using Python
  1. What is Python in a nutshell?! Python is a user-friendly programming language known for its clear and easy-to-read code. It’s used in many areas such web development, data analysis, and A.I. due to its versatility. Python has lots of libraries and modules you can make use of to add additional functionality to your code. Its simplicity makes it great for both new and experienced programmers.
  2. Why is Python still such an important language to learn? Python is often taught as the first language for beginners as the       code uses English-like keywords, so is easier to understand, and therefore a good stepping stone to more complex syntax based  languages such as Java or C#.This simplicity does not make Python only usable for beginners — the variety of different modules makes it a versatile and valuable programming language to learn, and it is one of the most used languages within computer science.In fact, Python is consistently ranked as one of the most in-demand programming languages in the job market and learning Python can lead to lucrative career opportunities in various industries.
  3. What skills or experience do you need to learn Python? You don’t need any prior programming experience to start learning Python! Whether you are completely new to programming or have some experience with other languages, Python can be easily picked up. Having a basic understanding of computer operations and how to use a computer is helpful, but is not a strict requirement. Our course at City takes you through installing Python on your Windows, Linux or Apple PC, and we provide links to useful free software as well as providing learning materials and coding examples throughout the course. All you really need to begin learning Python is curiosity, patience, and a willingness to dive in and explore. With the abundance of resources and materials we provide throughout the course, you can start learning Python today, regardless of your background or experience level!
  4. What would you recommend students study after taking your course?

This all depends on your reason for studying Python in the first place. If your reasons are job oriented, you may want to look into the different uses of Python in industry:

  • If you wanted to use Python for web development I would recommend exploring frameworks such as Django or Flask, which use Python to build dynamic web applications.
  • If you are looking into a career in Machine learning, AI or data science, I would suggest exploring and learning Python libraries such as NumPy, Pandas, Matplotlib and scikit-learn – these tools are widely used for data manipulation, analysis, visualization, and machine learning tasks.
  • If you wanted to go into software engineering, I would say you should familiarise yourself with software engineering best practices such as version control (e.g., Git), testing, debugging, code reviews, and documentation.
  • There are so many other career pathways that I could talk about, such as game development, cyber-security, network programming, automation or natural language processing, but the opportunities are too vast to list in full.

If you have completed the course because you are interested in computer coding and wanted to learn Python as a stepping stone to another language, I salute you! If this is the case, and you are interested in web development, I would recommend any of the other short courses I currently teach at City:

  • PHP — PHP is a server-side scripting language used for generating dynamic content. Its syntax is similar to C-style languages. PHP integrates with databases and has extensive libraries and frameworks. Commonly used for dynamic websites, web applications, and API development, it’s open-source, platform-independent, and widely deployed on web servers.
  • JavaScript —JavaScript is a versatile, high-level programming language. It enables interactive web pages by adding dynamic behaviour to HTML. JavaScript runs on the client-side, executing in users’ web browsers. It’s known for its event-driven, asynchronous nature and is essential for modern web development, including building interactive websites and web applications.
  • MySQL – MySQL is an open-source relational database management system widely used for storing and managing structured data. It uses SQL (Structured Query Language) for querying and manipulating data. MySQL is known for its reliability, scalability, and performance, making it a popular choice for web applications, e-commerce platforms, and when combined with PHP, is an ideal solution for data driven websites.
  • Advanced Web Authoring — This course covers web development using mobile first techniques, how to create accessible websites for all users, use of web-fonts, video and audio within websites, HTML validation in forms, using CSS frameworks such as Bootstrap and styling using SASS/SCSS .

In addition to the courses I teach, City runs short courses in Java, C/C++ , mobile applications and many more. Most of City’s short courses have the same format of 10 sessions over 10 weeks.

  1. How long does it take to master Python, or at least be able to use it in a work setting?

Once you have completed the course at City, you should have a basic understanding of the Python language which will provide you with the knowledge to move onto specialise. If you want to use Python for tasks such as scripting, automation, or basic web development, it shouldn’t take much more time and study to begin working in that field.

As with all skills, the more you use them, the better you will become. Regularly using Python to solve practical problems and create projects helps build confidence and hone your skills.

Mastering Python is something in my mind I am yet to achieve! I have been using Python for many years, and there is always some new library to learn or some new application of the language I haven’t explored yet. I would say ‘mastery of Python’ should be seen as more a journey rather than a destination.

  1. What career paths might open up as a result of learning Python?

There are so many — it depends on your interests or goals.

The following are all possible routes you could go down:

  • Software developer/engineer
  • Data analyst
  • Machine learning engineer
  • DevOps* engineer

* DevOps – a combination of software development (dev) and operations (ops)

  • Quality assurance engineer
  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • And of course, an educator/trainer such as myself!
  1. And is Python still the most important programming language to learn or have others taken its place?

I would say yes. Python is consistently ranked among the top programming languages in terms of job demand and market trends. Many companies across various industries are seeking Python developers. Roles in software development, data analysis and machine learning engineering are commonly advertised across the country.

Other languages like JavaScript, Java, C++, and others do also hold significant importance, depending on the specific context and requirements of a project or industry. However, Python is a great way to start your journey into learning code and is an ideal stepping stone into any of the other languages, due to the simplicity of its syntax.

Thank you, Tobi!

If this has whetted your appetite for learning Python, visit our course page HERE to find out more. The next course starts on 12 Feb with a booking deadline of 7 Feb .

Or check out what other computing courses we have available HERE.

 

Top Ten Tips for Branding

Anna Tsekouras and Pete Austin, the brains behind Anon Agency

Even though we’re surrounded by brands 24/7, branding is sometimes a difficult concept to understand. The reality is that good branding can be the difference between a successful company and an unsuccessful one. And building up ‘brand equity’ in an audience (the measurable ‘value’ of a brand) is something industries spend trillions of dollars on—because if you have a consistent, authentic brand which your audience trusts, there’s no end to where you can go.

Here are some quick branding tips which are just as relevant whether you’re running an in-house campaign, launching your own business or running a global brand…

 

  1. Think about your audience

Audience, audience, audience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re one store with an audience of people within 1.5km of your outlet, or a global brand with an audience of millions, you have to think about who your audience is. Consider why they would want to interact with your brand, and what you want them to do and feel when they see your brand. Who are they? What do they like to do in their spare time? What media do they consume? Audience insights can feel overwhelming, but there are ways to do it in a scaled-back way which means you can create ‘personas’ of the audience you’re looking to reach. You can then plug these into your marketing on platforms like Meta.

 

  1. Know yourself — be authentic

Authenticity is absolutely key for every brand. If you’re inauthentic, audiences will see through you very quickly. There are so many examples of when brands have fallen foul of deviating from their authentic voice or purpose. Audiences don’t want to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. The most successful brands find an ‘authentic voice’ and ‘authentic vision’ and stick to it.

 

  1. Create a strong visual identity

The Nike tick. The McDonald’s golden arches. The Chanel interlinking Cs. The Nickelodeon orange splat. All brand agencies will tell you that a brand is about more than the logo, but it doesn’t mean the logo and a strong visual identity isn’t vital. If it’s done well, your visual brand (colours, fonts, imagery) and creative mark can do a lot of the heavy-lifting for your brand and how it makes your audience feel.

 

  1. Consider all elements of ‘brand’

Although a logo is obviously a vital brand touchpoint (see above!) branding is everything which makes your audience think or feel a certain way. For example the ‘brand’ for a restaurant must consider basic things like menu colours, logos and fonts – but also it’s the ‘physical brand’, so the type and volume of music, scents, quality of cutlery, staff uniforms, levels of lighting, the greeting guests receive etc. Think about how different it feels to sit in a burger joint than a high-end restaurant.

 

  1. Be consistent

Branding is nothing without consistency. Of course, companies can ‘re-brand’ which changes their look and feel, but the core tenets of a brand should not fundamentally change. With every brand you’re aiming to build your ‘brand equity’ —this is the ‘value’ you add to your company or organisation through branding and the association your audience has with it. This is built up over time, and conversely can be lost overnight if not handled properly.

 

  1. Don’t skip the basics: Vision and Mission

There are vital Brand ‘building blocks’ you simply cannot skip. Your Vision is your ‘why’ and your Mission is your ‘what’. Defining a brand mission is usually pretty straightforward, but it can sometimes take much longer to define the Vision. We’ve seen clients take months to come up with their Vision statement – but once it’s done, it’s a core part of everything the business does. It’s usually why the Vision is front and centre on organisations’ websites or in staff induction packs.

 

  1. Identify your point of difference

Brands can become obsessed with competitors — this is something we wouldn’t advise. It’s important to know your competitors and what they’re offering, but you should spend more time working out what is different about YOU. It’s this point of difference that is the essence of your brand. It’s what sets you apart from the rest, and the centre point from which you can build out the rest of your brand.

 

  1. Know your limits — don’t overreach

When you’re working on a brand it’s easy to get carried away; especially if it’s your own brand or company which you’ve poured countless resources into. But we’ve seen clients licence IP for trainers and energy drinks for their brand before they’ve thought about their Vision statement. Branding is a process, and if you follow the right steps you’ll end up with a strong and clear brand. And if you look at any successful business, a strong and clear brand is always at the heart of it. Resist the temptation to get distracted and move too quickly, overlooking the important bits of branding.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid of failure

We hear every day from clients: “we have to get this right”. It’s true, of course. But we always tell them “we’ll get it wrong a few times first”. There’s no way that any brand ever stumbled across its final iteration without rounds and rounds of edits (and probably arguments!). From re-written Vision and Mission statements, to logo changes — brand is an evolution. If you want to get it right the first time, you’re probably going to be disappointed!

 

  1. Get help!

Branding is a conundrum. It can sometimes seem like the most simple thing in the world, but at the same time feel totally overwhelming when you’re not getting it right. We see it every day with clients. Getting a good brand agency or expert to help steer you through branding for your product, company or campaign is vital – and definitely pays dividends in the long run. You often live and breathe your brand, and getting an outside view can give you the perspective you need.

About the Authors

Pete Austin and Anna Tsekouras are the dynamic duo behind Anon, a story-led brand agency. Since launching in late 2020 the Agency has created new brands from scratch for a number of start-ups as well as taking existing small businesses through to funding rounds. Both qualified journalists with over twenty years’ experience on newspapers and national magazines, they transferred their story-driven skills into communications, brand and PR where they worked on major partnerships and campaigns across national government, higher education, charity and the arts. Some of the organisations, clients and businesses Anna and Pete have worked on brand briefs or partnerships with: UAL, Goldsmiths University of London, Hayward Gallery, IBM, Barclays, British Airways, Barbican, Grayson Perry, Design Museum, British Museum, TATE Modern, VICE, Bustle, Evening Standard, BBC, DAN’S and Public Offerings Ltd.

They also teach our intensive Branding A to Z short course at City.

Sign up for Intro to Branding HERE. Next course starts Feb 26 — BOOK NOW.

See what other writing courses we have on offer HERE.

Or browse our full range of short courses HERE.

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 Artsy.net 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.

Novel Studio alumna Katharine Light’s path to the publication of her debut novel, Like Me

Katharine Light’s debut novel, Like Me

When I was a young girl, my dad used to make me little books of paper and I would love to write in them. In my teens these became stories I wrote for my younger sister about a girl who falls in love with the bass player of a pop group. Absolutely not based on John Taylor from Duran Duran.

Later on I tried my hand at writing a Mills & Boons. At around 50,000 words it was great practice, but not quite the right genre. When my children were small, I did a year long creative writing course with the Open University. Two years later I did the advanced version. Then, working full-time and a busy family life meant I kept writing only sporadically until 2018 when I started The Novel Studio at City, University of London. It was a brilliant year with excellent tutors in Emma Sweeney, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and Kirstan Hawkins. Fourteen of us completed the course, meeting twice a week and sharing our lives through writing. They are a very supportive and talented bunch.

At the end of the year, I had interest from three agents, and signed with one at A M Heath. This is it, I (naively) thought, on my way to publication… Sadly, during lockdown, having worked on this first novel, Like Me, (her suggestions definitely improved it), she said she wasn’t the right person to take it forward. This was followed by a dispiriting lack of response from several agents she recommended as well as the two who had previously shown interest.

Throughout the pandemic, the Novel Studio cohort kept in touch, via a WhatsApp group. Before covid, about half of us carried on meeting in person, and carried over onto zoom. Laurence Kershook published The Broygus to Amazon in March 2022. Fellow alumna Lara Haworth’s book Monumenta will be published by Canongate in 2024.

On publication, I bought Laurence’s book in paperback and was very impressed. It’s a high quality, professionally produced book, as well as a terrific read, and I began to think maybe I could do that too. Independent publishing seeks to emulate the traditional publishing route, with a professional book edit from the wonderfully talented Emily Pedder at The Book Edit, and a great book cover from designer Simon Avery of Nice Graphic Design. Caroline Goldsmith of Goldsmith Publishing Consultancy ensured the manuscript was print and eBook ready, and Philippa Makepeace of Studio Makepeace created the website. My advice is to surround yourself with people who know that they’re doing!

There was one major hiccough. The book has always been on the long side, and when it was first uploaded to KDP Amazon, although author royalties sounded generous, the print costs on the paperback version were so high, they were almost entirely swallowed up. After a drastic re-think, I cut fifty pages of the book, and added those onto the beginning of book two, which has now become two books. The manuscript for book two has just gone to the editor. The hope is to publish both that and book three in 2024.

There was a point at which I began to feel that the traditional publishing route was becoming less and less likely. Now I’m in my 50s, I developed a sense of urgency, fostered by reading Harry Bingham, founder of Jericho Writers, who is enthusiastic about indy publishing. It has been wonderful to hold the actual book in my hand. We held in person launches where I live in London, and in Altrincham, the fictional Millingham of the series. Lots of kind and lovely people came. As the book is about a group of teenage friends who meet up again twenty years later in their late thirties, the events have been the perfect excuse to reconnect with old friends from the past. As we said, life is now imitating art. We’re doing the fictional reunion for real, just many years later…

Katharine Light took City’s Novel Studio course, a year-long programme for aspiring novelists.

Katharine’s debut novel, Like Me, is available HERE.

Author Katharine Light, photography by Alexandra Vanotti

For more on all City’s writing short courses, visit HERE.

 

 

City Writes Autumn 2023 – The [bad pun pending] Advent of the Season!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

« Older posts

© 2024 City Short Courses

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Skip to toolbar