All you need is love

By Emily Pedder

From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, the question of love has long fascinated writers and readers across the world.

The American editor Shawn Coyne has a theory about this: ‘Love stories are so popular because people not only go to them for the entertainment value but subconsciously they’re watching a love story and they’re trying to track ways that they can become more lovable and form bonds and relationships…People don’t want to be alone.” Love stories, Coyne argues, like all stories, are ‘metaphors that help us know how to behave.’

Our creative writing short course alumni are no slouches in this ‘story’ department and also happen to know a thing or two about love. In celebration of Valentine’s Day this year, we pay tribute to some of their novels which explore the eternal quest for love.

Rachael’s Gift by Alexandra Cameron

A skillfully plotted, continent-crossing literary thriller which explores a mother’s love for her troubled daughter and the lengths she will go to protect her.

Dona Nicanora’s Hat Shop by Kirstan Hawkins

Doña Nicanora has her heart set on turning Don Bosco’s barbers into a hat shop, but Don Bosco has his heart set on her. A wonderfully warm-hearted comedy of errors set in a backwoods South American town.

Foolish Lessons in Life and Love by Penny Rudge

Join Taras, the hapless hero stuck in a futile job and still living with his overbearing mother, as he tries to win back the enchanting Katya. Brilliantly observed and very funny.

Butterfly Ranch by Remy Salters

In a remote jungle lodge in Southern Belize, a local policeman investigates the mysterious disappearance of a world-famous reclusive author. A masterful tale of obsessive love, self-destruction and unexpected redemption.

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

A letter delivered to Dr Andre Cabal in London catapults him back to his 17 year-old self in 1980s Brazil and begins the devastating and mesmerizing story of one man’s secret infatuation for the daughter of his family’s maid.

Creative Writing short courses at City

City runs short courses on everything from novel writing to writing for children.

Many of our students have gone on to publish books after completing one of our creative writing short courses. Deepa Anappara published her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, last month after completing our one-year course, The Novel Studio.

 

Short Story Alumna Wins Costa Short Story Award 2019

A former student of City’s Short Story Writing course has won the 2019 Costa Short Story Award. Anna Dempsey, an American-born writer and teacher based in south-east London, won the £3,500 prize for her story, The Dedicated Dancers of The Greater Oaks Retirement Community.

It’s been a meteoric rise for Anna, whose winning story is her very first piece of short fiction and was written and workshopped in 2019, while she was on the course.

“Several friends from my writing group told me about the course,” Anna said. “I was feeling a bit down about my focus and output so taking the class excited me since I knew I would have homework, deadlines and feedback …”

Course tutor Katy Darby said

“Anna’s piece stood out to me at once for its clear, characterful voice, the world-weary wit and humour, her pin-sharp observation and the compassion and depth she brought to her highly memorable characters. I encouraged her to expand it and submit it once it was redrafted – and I’m delighted she did!”

Short Story Writing Tutor Katy Darby

Novelist, editor and short story writer Katy, who also runs award-winning short story event Liars’ League, teaches two of City’s short writing courses, Short Story Writing and Writers’ Workshop, and has had phenomenal success with her former students. From Sunday Times bestselling author Imogen Hermes Gowar to prize-winning novelists Peng Shepherd and Luiza Sauma, many of her students have gone on to publication and critical acclaim.

“One of my favourite things about teaching the short story course,” said Katy “is the variety of students, who range widely in age, background and writing experience, and the abundance of ideas and approaches they bring to their work … I encourage every student to read their own and each other’s writing closely, paying attention not just to the strong points, but to where there might be room for improvement and the potential to polish a rough diamond to a brilliant shine.”

Her approach has clearly paid dividends for Anna: “The course helped build my confidence,” said Anna. “Katy always gave us feedback on what to improve or what she loved. Having an established writer give clear, concise and honest feedback is what I felt like I was missing. I remember Katy saying that she would read more stories with my main character and she also said to send it to loads of places before putting it in the drawer. So, I took her advice … I received many rejections until Costa! I was truly shocked, and even more shocked when I won. What a ride it’s been!”

Congratulations, Anna!

For further information on our short writing courses visit the website.

Read Anna’s winning story here.

Novel Studio alumna and bestselling crime writer Harriet Tyce supports second year of Novel Studio Scholarship

By Emily Pedder

We are delighted to announce a second year of sponsorship for the Novel Studio scholarship, generously supported by Novel Studio alumna and bestselling crime author Harriet Tyce.

Lola Okolosie

The scholarship provides a fully-funded place for one successful applicant to the course from a low-income household and aims to support a student of talent and potential who might not otherwise be able to accept an offer of a place on The Novel Studio.

Last year’s winner, Lola Okolosie, said she was ‘deeply honoured… to receive The Novel Studio Scholarship from City.  It is a huge help; without the financial assistance, I would be unable to embark on a course that I know will develop my skills as a fiction writer.’

Applicants to the scholarship go through the same process as all other applicants but will need to also include a personal statement and provide evidence of financial need. The top three applications will be shortlisted and a final winner chosen by a panel, including the course director, course tutors and Harriet Tyce. For more information on our critieria, please visit the Novel Studio scholarship page.

General applications to the Novel Studio will also open on 1st February 2020. For anyone interested in applying, please see our submissions process here.

It’s been a phenomenal start to the year for graduates of the Novel Studio. Scholarship sponsor Harriet Tyce published her debut crime novel Blood Orange in 2019 to critical acclaim, with The Observer calling it ‘Complex and menacing…a very impressive debut.’

Blood Orange was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader’s Award and selected for Richard and Judy’s bookclub choice in December 2019. Her second novel, Lies You Told – think Motherland meets noir – is due out in July 2020.

Kiare Ladner

Kiare Ladner, also a Novel Studio alumna, will publish her debut novel, Nightshift, in July 2020 with Picador. Associate publisher Ravi Mirchandani described the novel as “an immensely exciting debut.”

Kiare’s short stories have been published in anthologies, journals, commissioned for radio and shortlisted in competitions, including the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. She won funding from David Higham towards an MA (Prose Writing) at the University of East Anglia, and then received further funding for a PhD (Creative Writing) at Aberystwyth University. She was given Curtis Brown’s HW Fisher Scholarship in 2018.

Kiare recently joined The Novel Studio teaching team, bringing a unique blend of experience as a student of the course and as a published writer of serious talent.

Deepa Anappara

Another Novel Studio alumna, Deepa Anappara, will also publish this year. Her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, has won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel.  It is now being translated into 17 languages.

Deepa’s short fiction has won the Dastaan Award, the Asian Writer Short Story Prize, the second prize in the Bristol Short Story awards, the third prize in the Asham awards, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she is currently studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD on a CHASE doctoral fellowship.

Last but not least, Novel Studio alumna Hannah Begbie will publish her second novel, Blurred Lines, in June 2020. Hannah developed her debut novel, Mother, on the Novel Studio and won that year’s prize for new writing.

Hannah Begbie

Published by HarperCollins in 2018, Mother went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writing and was made Book of the Month on Mumsnet and a pick for Fern Britton’s inaugural Book Club for Tesco. Mother has since been optioned by the BAFTA-winning Clerkenwell Films for adaptation into a television drama.

Ready to join them? Find out more about our The Novel Studio Submissions process. Applications open on 1st February 2020.

An interview with Deepa Anappara

Ahead of the publication of her much-anticipated debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Novel Studio alumna Deepa Anappara took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the inspiration behind the book.

Emily Pedder: Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line? When did you know this was a story you wanted to tell? And how long did it take for you to feel you had the voice of the characters, particularly nine-year-old Jai?

Deepa Anappara

Deepa Anappara: The spark for the novel came from a spate of real-life disappearances of children in India, where I worked as a journalist for over eleven years. I used to write on education and human rights, as part of which I interviewed people who lived in impoverished neighbourhoods like the one in my novel. During that time, I used to hear stories of areas where as many as twenty or thirty children had disappeared over a span of two or three years; no effort had been made to find them because they were from poor families that had no voice or political power. I used to wonder what it was like for children to live in such neighbourhoods, knowing that they themselves could be snatched at any moment. How did they deal with that fear and uncertainty? How did they understand the unfairness and injustice they encountered in the world around them every day? Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an attempt to answer those questions through fiction.

The children in my novel were very much inspired by the children I had interviewed as a reporter. Many of them were working, or weren’t able to study, because of their difficult financial or domestic circumstances. Despite this, they were often cheeky and witty, if not downright sarcastic. I drew from the memories of those interviews, and from the children I know in my life, to create the voices of my characters.

I first tried writing this novel in 2009, but set it aside, unsure whether I had the authority to write about a marginalised, neglected community. I returned to it in 2016. I had written several short stories by then with child narrators; I had also read a number of books and watched films with child narrators. Added to this were my own personal experiences of loss and uncertainty, and the greater understanding of mortality that perhaps comes with age – all these factors in some way gave me the permission to write Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, and shaped its narrative.

EP: Jai watches lots of reality TV cop shows and adopts the role of a detective in trying to find his missing classmate. This feels like a brilliant way in to telling this story. How did the cop show/detective strand come about?

Deepa: Jai’s interest in catching the criminal stems primarily from his own fears. He understands at some level, correctly, that as a child, he is in great danger. By constructing a story about being a detective, he is attempting to reclaim the agency he lacks in real life. It is also his way of dealing with a difficult situation.

Reality shows on TV are popular in India as it is elsewhere across the world, and the one about cops that Jai watches called Police Patrol is based on a similar, long-running TV show in India. It seemed natural that Jai would be inspired by what he watches on TV; popular culture in the form of TV and Hindi films do exert an influence on daily lives.

EP: You were previously an award-winning journalist in India. How difficult was it to make the leap from writing as a journalist to writing fiction?

Deepa: I didn’t have any formal grounding in either literature of writing, so I found it quite difficult to make that transition. I had to essentially learn how to write fiction, and I also had to learn how to read fiction much more closely. As a journalist, I had to be impartial and objective and relay opposing points of view to offer a balanced perspective. To write fiction, I had to teach myself how to write from a subjective point of view, to see the world only as a character sees it. But my experiences as a journalist were integral to writing Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. I often visited neighbourhoods like the one I have written about, and I am indebted to the people who lived there, who invited me to their homes and offered me tea and chatted with me. If not for the generosity they had shown me, there is no way I could have written this book.

EP: You’ve written lots of award-winning short fiction. What do you think are the main differences, apart from length, in writing novels as opposed to short stories? And which do you prefer?

Deepa: I love both forms; I love short stories for how they can distil an entire life into a few pages, for their focus, and I love novels for their expansiveness. There are writers who have experimented with both forms, who challenge what each form can do, and make it much more difficult to describe the differences. In writing a short story, I can often see its shape in its entirety, but this is much more difficult with a novel.

EP: What’s been the most useful thing about studying creative writing?

Deepa: I learnt everything about the craft through these courses. It also gave me a community; I met fellow students whose critiques I trusted, and whose writing I admired. I found critiquing their work, and listening to their feedback, incredibly useful. It also gave me the permission to write.

EP: Do you have an imagined reader in mind when you write?

Deepa: When I am writing, the attempt is to fully inhabit the character and their perspective. The question of readership is something to be considered during the editing stage, but the reader in my head even at that point is amorphous, or perhaps a version of myself.

EP: What are you working on now?

Deepa: I am studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD at the moment, as part of which I am working on a historical novel.

EP: Thank you so much, Deepa! We wish you every success with your novel.

Deepa’s novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, will be published by Chatto & Windus on January 30, 2020.

A partial of her novel won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel.  It is now being translated into 17 languages. Deepa’s short fiction has won the Dastaan Award, the Asian Writer Short Story Prize, the second prize in the Bristol Short Story awards, the third prize in the Asham awards, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she is currently studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD on a CHASE doctoral fellowship.

Deepa is also a graduate of City’s Novel Studio programme, of which Emily Pedder is Course Director.

Applications for 2020 Novel Studio students will open on February 1st with a deadline of 24th April 2020.

How to Improve Presentation Skills

Success in business and in our personal lives does not depend solely on our message, but also on how we present the message. It can be the difference between clinching a promotion and being passed over, or between receiving investor funding and refusal. Presentation is an essential skill in business; at some point in our academic or professional lives, we will be expected to make a presentation to our peers, senior managers, or investors.

If the idea of delivering a presentation brings you out in a cold sweat, you are not alone. Somewhere between 20 and 75% of the population suffer from Glossophobia – a fear of public speaking, making this the most common phobia or fear in modern society.

The good news is that no one is born with the ability to present well – and with enough preparation and practice anyone can become a good presenter. It just requires a few simple training techniques and personal adjustments.

What are presentation skills?

Presentation is a soft skill, meaning it is transferable and relevant to any job. Like other soft skills, it has a broad definition with many elements:

  • Content: a speech, a Q&A, an interactive presentation, an informal talk, or PowerPoint presentation, a series of slides or photographs
  • Voice: The ability to speak clearly and with authority on a given subject, at a reasonable pace, and to a tone that engages the audience
  • Body language: How you present yourself during a presentation
  • Verbal language: Your choice of words also matters for audience engagement. Maximum engagement occurs when you reach out to as many participants as possible

Presentation is important as people with good presentation skills come across as reliable and dependable.

Improving your presentation skills

The benefits of being able to present well for career advancement and personal development are clear, so why do so many of us dread the idea of giving a presentation and why are so many presenters unable to captivate their audience? The key to overcoming your fears and delivering engaging presentations lies within two elements: practice and preparation. Mastering these will help to build confidence and skills needed to deliver well.

Here are some practical tips to help you to improve:

Step 1: Learn non-verbal communication

An academic study calculated that over half (55%) of what makes a presentation a good one came from non-verbal communication. Your audience’s attention will depend more on how you make your presentation than its content. Learn the need for a good posture, the right body language for the audience, open expression and an air of confidence. Acting confident, even when nervous inside, presents the air of authority and knowledge that you need to get through the presentation.

Step 2: Know your audience

You can only communicate properly when you know your audience. The content is appropriate, but so is how you communicate that relevant information. An audience of children will have different demands and expectations and require a different tone and body language than a meeting about business development. In turn, this audience will have different expectations from a panel of experts council watching a presentation that seeks to acquire funding for scientific research. Before the presentation, research and understand the expectations of the audience and build an approach with this in mind.

Step 3: Use good structure

The audience will need to know the content of the presentation, so start with an introduction. Divide the content into specific sections and use the introduction to explain how the presentation will be divided. Each attendee may have a different expectation and interest from the person next to them. The presentation should conclude with a summary of the main points acting as a memory aid. This is especially useful if there is a Q+A session.

Step 4: Rehearse

Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Rehearsal is not about memorising one’s lines as it with an acting rehearsal, but about knowing the content enough to be able to carry on with the presentation if technology fails. Memorise the structure and the broad points, not the line by line account. It is also about adapting the presentation to the audience – emphasise points when they seem interested and hasten points when they appear bored. Plus, rehearsing improves the confidence in your tone and presentation skills, and helps you work out what does and does not work in the content before the final delivery.

Step 5: Ask for audience feedback

It is normally good policy to have a question and answer session at the end of a presentation. Sometimes it helps to gain feedback during the presentation. A good way to do this is to offer interactive elements such as a show of hands or setting aside time for ideas and suggestions. This will help develop your presentation skills for the future and adapt the current presentation to the audience. This feedback will be positive or negative and help you develop in the right direction.

Step 6: Record your presentation

It is easier to see what went wrong after the fact and from the point of view of an observer. Review the video days or weeks later when the presentation is no longer at the front of your mind. Your errors will be much clearer and you will be able to learn from those mistakes. When the presenter is mindful of what did and did not go well, they can tweak their presentation style and length of each section. They should also adapt and their general skills and the confidence that goes with it.

Presentation is about having a solid foundation in how to communicate the message, whatever that is. Confidence, the ability to present a speech and impress, are all teachable skills through a dedicated short course on presentation skills.

 

 

Getting to know you: Our winter short courses open evening

City, University of London were proud to host our winter Open Evening on Tuesday 10th December 2019.

Our Open Evenings are a great opportunity to visit our campus and meet out tutors – and this December we had a great turnout of guests, looking to find out more about all the evening and weekend courses that we offer at City. We offer light refreshments and some free gifts to take away with you.

City Short Courses also offers a range of taster sessions – 40-minute classes to give you a flavour of what it is like to study at City. We are hosting our next Languages Taster Event on Wednesday 15th January 2020. We will be running taster sessions in seven languages – Arabic, Chinese Mandarin, French, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. Find out more and book your place on the webpage.

We have over 120 courses across subject areas – business, computing, creative industries, languages, law and writing. Next term starts Monday 20th January 2020, enrol online!

Fabulous Fantasia of Flash Fiction at City Writes

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

Celebrating the flash fiction anthology, Story Cities: A City Guide for the Imagination (Arachne Press 2019), this term’s City Writes was a flash fiction extravaganza held on Wednesday 11th December. The City Writes competition accepted submissions of 500 words or under, just like the anthology which was the brainchild of Novel Studio alumna Rosamund Davies, who edited the collection alongside Kam Rehal and our very own Cherry Potts of Arachne Press who is a tutor for the Approach to Creative Writing course.

The shorter word count allowed for a greater host of competition winners whose stories were diverse in content, style and genre, but equally excellent. We really were flooded with talent this term and competition was tough.

First up was Shibani Lal’s story ‘What She Knows’ about a girl whose knowledge is of the hardest and darkest kind. What she knows gives us a sense of everything she doesn’t know, of everything we are lucky enough to know, giving the event a difficult but breathtaking beginning. Sadly, Shibani, an alumna of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course, couldn’t be with us but I was delighted to be able to read this heart-breaking story for her.

We moved to a reinterpreted bonfire night next with Natasha Mirzoian’s story, ‘The Ritual’. Seeing the bonfire and fireworks from a new perspective gave an interesting insight into this part of the English calendar that we take part in without question. An alumna of Novel Studio, Natasha is embracing the flash fiction form at the moment and we look forward to hearing more from her in future.

Shabnam Grewal, an Approach to Creative Writing alumna, took us into the world of work next, with her story, ‘The Ghost’. Her protagonist finds himself lost between departments, employed without a role, going into the office simply to keep himself from the couch and the call of the chocolate biscuit. The ideal job for a writer, but watch out, at the end someone was watching…

Revati Kumar

Revati Kumar, another Approach to Creative Writing alumna, read next, transporting us into a new world and the beginnings of love in her story ‘The First’. Her main character describes arriving in a new country and staying in alone all day as the light fades until her love buys her a coat and shares the snow with her for the first time.

Next up, Bren Gosling, who has read three times at City Writes now and who has taken many courses at City, including the Short Story Writing Course and the Novel Studio, took us into the countryside in his story, ‘Where we were happiest’. A story of nostalgia for the lost days of youth, Bren is building up a huge collection of prize-winning stories we hope he’ll find a publisher for soon.

Current Novel Studio student, Helen Ferguson, read her story ‘Mother’s Kefir’ next, describing her protagonist’s struggle to keep her mother’s kefir alive, different jars of fermenting milk moving around the kitchen and fridge amid the jossle of family life, and the potential date with a vegan who might not be so excited by the kefir that soon turns rotten.

Andrea Holk

Short Story Writing alumna, Andrea Holck read her emotive story ‘Birth Story’ next. A devastating and funny story about birth, death, grief and unexpected discoveries, we all needed a breath before we were ready for the next flash. Luckily Angus Whitty was able to lighten the mood with his hilarious and satirical story, ‘Mattress’ about all the mattresses his character has loved.Another current student on the Novel Studio, Kathrine Bancroft, read next, taking us back to WWI with her story, ‘A Fish Called Fred’. A young boy shows us the blossoming love between his Uncle Fred and his mum through the story of his fish, named Fred after his Uncle.

The last of our competition winners, Harriet Atkinson, an alumna of Peter Forbes’ Narrative Non-Fiction course, took us into memoir next with her flash, ‘Marginalia’. How do you learn about a father who died when you were a baby? You find him in the margins of his library, in the words he underlined, in the pages he marked, in the curve of his handwriting. Thoughtful and tender, the audience were left with a whole host of thoughts and impressions from this stellar bunch of alumni and students.

Rosamund Davies and Cherry Potts

Moving into the next part of the City Writes remit, we turned to our published professionals whose work appears in the Story Cities anthology. Novel Studio alumna, Rosamund Davies and Publisher and City Visiting Lecturer, Cherry Potts, introduced the anthology, explaining how it came about, how they were hoping to create a city guide with a difference, one in which story could connect and interweave city experience across the world.

We were then lucky enough to hear four of the pieces in the anthology, from City Short Courses alumni and tutor, Cherry Potts. Evleen Mann, another Novel Studio alumna, took us from the village to the city where her character grew into a woman amidst the buzz and culture. She then read Maire Malone’s piece that explored the darker histories of cities scarred by bullet holes. Sadly, Maire couldn’t be with us as she was promoting her novel, The Dream Circle on Irish Radio. Jayne Buxton showed us the softer side of the city next, those relationships built upon proximity and neighbourhood kindness as her character watched an old lady being served in a restaurant. Finally, Cherry Potts read her story that took us back to the very beginnings of all cities, that first person who looked upon the lay of that piece of land and decided to stay, to take my place to our place, to a place that should open it arms any traveller who decides, just as they did, to stay.

With book buying, book signing, wine and mince pies to end the evening, the City Writes Autumn Event really was a flash fiction extravaganza showing not only the talent coming from our wonderful students, but the diversity and power of the flash fiction form itself. Hooray for the short story!

Next term’s City Writes will host the fabulous Shahrukh Husain whose stella career includes screenplays, plays, fiction and non-fiction. Editor of The Book of Witches, reissued by Virago in October of this year, Shahrukh Husain with be exploring the ongoing relevance of the witch and myth and fairytale in general. Watch this space for details of next term’s competition deadlines (we’ll be moving back to 1,000 words) and booking details. You can read Emily Pedder’s interview with Shahrukh Husain here.

Thanks to everyone who helps to keep City Writes going. We’re building a community for our fabulous students, tutors and alumni to share work and grow together.

 

Bewitched: An interview with Shahrukh Husain

After teaching Shahrukh Husain back in 2004, Emily Pedder, Course Director of The Novel Studio, catches up with the successful author and City Short Courses alumna about her recently reissued book, The Book of Witches, and the relevance of the book for feminism today.

Shahrukh Husain is that rare breed: a prolific writer of screenplays, plays, fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children who also happens to be a practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Her adaptation of Anita Desai’s Booker-nominated In Custody for Merchant Ivory productions won the President of India gold medal and received an Oscar nomination; her most recent work was screened on ITV this autumn in the six-part series Beecham House, set in India in the late 18th century. Her books have been translated into 17 languages including Estonian, Turkish and Korean, and in October 2019, Virago decided to reissue The Book of Witches, edited by Shah, for which she was asked to write a new preface.

In 2004 I was lucky enough to teach Shah on City’s Novel Studio (then the Certificate in Novel Writing). You may wonder why such a talented and successful writer would choose to go on a writing course. But Shah is unashamed in her lifelong pursuit of learning. ‘My family say I’m addicted to courses,’ she tells me at the kitchen table of her beautiful house in Willesden where we met last week to talk about her latest book and her long and interesting career.

I began by asking Shah how she had come to edit the original incarnation of The Book of Witches, first published in 1993: ‘I’ve always been passionate about fairy tales,” she told me, “and witches in particular…from childhood. I’d corner people and force them to tell me stories and I remember my parents saying: “You can’t just go up to people and ask them to tell you stories about ghosts!” Years later, Angela Carter wrote her book about fairy tales, (The Virago Book of Fairy Tales) and I just loved it. So, I found out who was in charge of the series, it was Ursula Owen at the time, and she told Ruth Petrie who was the series editor, who called back within about 10 minutes and said, (in those days there wasn’t any internet) “we’re commissioning you,” just like that.’ The book became Shah’s breakthrough as a writer, selling in eleven languages, and the first of four subsequent non-fiction books for Virago.

Virago’s decision to reissue the book, 26 years, later was influenced by the rise in interest in witches and their potency, particularly in relation to female anger and the #metoo movement. In her new preface, Shah brilliantly highlights the relevance of the witch today: ‘resilient, edgy, awe-inspiring and potent. She never disappears from our culture for long.’ At a recent sold out Virago Speakeasy event celebrating the book, Shah was joined by award-winning writer and fellow City short course alumna Imogen Hermes Gowar, to explore the power of the witch today.

Storytelling clearly runs through Shah’s veins. Though resident in the UK for most of her life, Shah’s childhood was spent in Pakistan where she spent hours listening to the adults telling stories: ‘my mother’s family weren’t academics, my mother and her mother weren’t even educated…they told stories and everything was embedded in history and culture…if they wanted to tell us off they’d tell a story and then they’d go on to explain or encourage us to ask questions, like ‘was she a real queen?’ It was such fun, I soaked it all up…’

This deep-rooted understanding of the links between stories, history and culture has continued to influence Shah’s work as a writer and her career as a Jungian psychoanalyst. All four of her books for Virago are themed around different aspects of womanhood and illustrate the universality of so many myths: Women Who Wear the Breeches, Erotic Myths and Legends, Temptresses, and The Book of Witches. As she puts it, they are all about ‘women and myths who’ve had a bad press, they’re all themed, so it’s about knowing that these things exist in every culture really…’

Not surprisingly for someone so knowledgeable about storytelling and narratives, Shah is passionate about the value of creativity and imagination in the lives of both adults and children: ‘‘I really want people to have imagination in their lives… I remember when my daughter was six, she came to me and said: “Mum everybody keeps saying there’s no such thing as magic but is there?” So, I said the funny thing about magic is that if you don’t believe it you never find out about it, so you have to believe it, and it’s the same with miracles…and I said to her we’ll go in the garden in the morning and I’ll show you, and I showed her the dew, we see it falling and it looks like a diamond, so that’s kind of a miracle. And she came back afterwards and said “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s not kind of a miracle, it is a miracle because actually that is a diamond…”’

The Book of Witches is published by Virago.

For more about Shah’s work please visit her website.

For more about City’s short writing courses, including the Novel Studio please visit.

 

Children’s author Jennifer Gray’s top five books for kids this Christmas

By Jennifer Gray

As Christmas approaches, let short course alumna and children’s author Jennifer Gray guide you through her top 5 ‘must have’ cosy winter warmers for the festive season.

5. William at Christmas – William takes on Christmas with his usual blend of enthusiasm and outraged indignation. Hilarious fun which will make you eternally grateful for your own children at a time when you might otherwise not be.

4. Pippi Longstocking – Very happy in her own skin with a unique look and a keen sense of justice (not to mention enough strength to lift Santa and throw him twice round the moon), she’s very much a 21st century girl. Pippi’s stockings would look great on the mantelpiece and I can’t imagine her worrying too much about cooking! Good to have around at Christmas.

3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – I don’t care what anyone else says. In my view stepping into a magical, snowy world through a wardrobe of fur coats has to be the best beginning to any children’s book, EVER. And you’ve got to admit it’s a very Christmassy story at whichever level you choose to read it.

2. Charlotte’s Webb – Christmas is a time for friends and family. Charlotte reminds us they can come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from places you wouldn’t look. A lesson not just in Christmas spirit but also how to write a really original, touching, animal tale. And thank goodness Wilbur doesn’t end up on the dinner table.

1. Paddington – everyone’s favourite bear. I love him. (So do my children and the youngest is 18.) I can’t better Wendy Ide’s review of his film persona in The Guardian as ‘a slightly sticky beacon of hope for these dark and unsettled times’. Indeed. You can reassure the kids he’s just as good in the books. Guaranteed to make you feel Christmassy.

About the author

Jennifer Gray

Since studying at City on our Writing for Children and The Novel Studio, Jennifer has carved out a successful and prolific career as a children’s author. Her latest book in the Atticus Claw series (book 6) finds Atticus solving crimes in a Scottish castle where ‘danger lurks everywhere on the misty moor…’.

Her new series came out in January 2018 with Usborne and is called The Travels of Ermine. The latest Ermine adventure, The Big London Treasure Hunt, was published in June 2019.

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced
Congratulations to this term’s winners of the termly City Writes Competition, showcasing the best creative writing talent from alumni and students of City’s Short Creative Writing Courses. The winners are: Harriet Atkinson, Kathrine Bancroft, Helen Ferguson, Bren Gosling, Shabnam Grewal, Andrea Holck, Revati Kumar, Shibani Lal, Natasha Mirzoian and Angus Whitty.
This term we are running a flash fiction extravaganza event to celebrate the Story Cities anthology edited by alumna, Rosamund Davies and tutor, Cherry Potts, as well as Kam Rehal.
The City Writes Autumn Event is on Wednesday 11th December at 6.30pm in the City 125 Suite, City, University of London. Tickets are £10 and include wine/juice. Buy them here now. City Writes Autumn Event 2019 is going to be storytelling gold. There are lots of authors and lots of readings, but they are all short flashes of brilliance guaranteed to scintillate and mesmerise.
We’ll be journeying all over the globe and into childhood memory, falling in love with mattresses, finding a deceased father in the scribbled margins of their old library, seeing snow for the first time, rethinking bonfire night, trying to look after milk and so much more. Don’t miss out, book now.
In the meantime, meet this term’s wonderful, festively large list of competition winners below.
Harriet Atkinson is a historian of design and culture, based at University of Brighton. Currently, she is writing a book about the design of British propaganda in the 1930s and 40s. Her book The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People was published by I.B. Tauris in 2012. She has written for a range of academic and non-academic publications. Harriet studied Narrative Non Fiction with Peter Forbes. Find her on twitter at @HRAtkinson1

For more than 20 years, Kathrine Bancroft’s career has been at the forefront of broadcast journalism, political and not for profit communications. She is currently a Public Engagement Manager for UKRI. An alumnus of City’s workshop and creative writing courses, Kathrine is currently a 2019/20 Novel Studio student and a creative writing volunteer mentor with ‘The Ministry of Stories’.

Helen Ferguson is a translator of Russian and German and writer based in Ely. Her work has appeared in Lighthouse Literary Journal and she is currently working on a novel with City’s Novel Studio.

Bren Gosling’s writing has been performed at The Pleasance, Arcola, OSO Barnes, Rose and Crown E17, Bloomsbury Festival and Brighton Fringe. He is an award-winning short story writer – Exeter, London Short Story Prizes; Highly Commended 2017 Brighton Prize. His play Moment of Grace – inspired by Princess Diana’s handshake on Britain’s first AIDS Unit – sold out at 2018 Bloomsbury Festival. Bren is a Novel Studio alumnus @BrenGosling

Shabnam Grewal is a Londoner who makes Radio and TV programmes. She is also a parent, a partner, a friend and a reader. A big reader. Shabnam studied on Cherry Potts’ Approach to Creative Writing course.

Andrea Holck is an American-born writer and former English teacher. She is currently on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing course at City. Her writing has been featured in Popshot, Kairos Literary Journal and Run Like the Wind, a literary magazine about running.

Revati Kumar is based in North London, and took the Approach to Creative Writing course in 2017. She currently works full time as a doctor in the NHS and continues to write (non-medical) fiction in her spare time. 

Shibani Lal is an alumna of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course. Shibani’s short stories have been longlisted for the Bristol Prize, Cambridge Short Story Prize and the Fish Short Story Prize. She was also runner-up in the Asian writer prize, and her work has been published in anthologies in the UK (Dahlia Press, Linen Press). Shibani holds an MPhil in Economics from Cambridge University, and is currently working on a short story collection.

Born in Russia and of Armenian origin, Natasha Mirzoian moved to London when she was a child. While working in book publishing, she completed the Novel Studio at City in 2005. She then went on to gain an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University. She lives in Kent with her family and is working on a collection of short stories.

Angus Whitty was brought up in South Africa towards the end of Apartheid, schooled in England, and spent his life moving between the two. He started writing at sixteen, and worked as a cub reporter for a newspaper at 19. He has studied journalism and film making and done a Masters in Anthropology. He works as a freelance journalist and invented a product for reading books called “Thumbthing”. Over the past 10 years he has used ocean plastic as a resource in design. Now living in Valencia, Spain, he is part of a weekly writing group who are trying to produce a booklet of language-exchange short stories. Angus studied at City ten years ago on a course called Towards Publication, now Writers’ Workshop. Find him on instagram/anguswhitty

With stories from the competition winners and from the Story Cities anthology, you’ll be getting more than £10 ticket worth. Sign up here while there’s still room.

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