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.

A novel approach: how short course alumna self-published her debut novel

By Rachel Mann

Since the publication of my first novel, On Blackberry Hill, many people have asked me: How long did it take to write? I find this seemingly simple question hard to answer. Maybe what they mean is: How did you do it? This is what people really want to know, isn’t it? How does one write a novel?

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists. Here’s how I did it. In the winter of 2008, I was working as an editor in educational publishing in New York, when my husband accepted a job relocation to London. With two children under five, I decided to focus on helping them adjust, while also taking the opportunity to do something I had long wished to pursue: creative writing. Enrolling on City’s Novel Studio course (then called the Certificate in Novel Writing) felt like signing up to climb Everest. I had never written a story longer than ten pages.

Anne Lamott, author of On Blackberry Hill

The course began with a focus on reading novels of all genres, and on the fundamentals of strong stories. I felt excited and ready to undertake the task of writing my own novel, as I began to evaluate writing from a writer’s perspective, not just from a reader’s. The tutors broke up the monumental process into manageable chunks, guiding us through small goals. As Anne Lamott explains in her influential book, writing is accomplished “bird by bird.” In other words: one image, one scene, one sentence at a time. The camaraderie and the ritual of meeting with other writers for hours each week really drove my commitment to spend the time necessary to complete the novel.

I decided to set my novel in an American summer camp, a setting deeply familiar to me, but foreign to every one of my classmates. Having a thoughtful audience for my earliest drafts helped to push me to make the story accessible to a wide range of readers. I finished the course with an outline and 50 pages. We had a reading for friends, family, agents and publishers, which pushed us to think of our novels as real products, not just class exercises. By the following spring, I had a complete first draft.

So what happened next? Life. My family moved back to New York, and we had a third child. I networked, went to conferences, wrote new pieces, and revised and revised my novel. There were long stretches of time when I didn’t look at the manuscript at all, as other pressing concerns took hold. In the end, it was my Novel Studio classmate and friend Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, who helped me to publish the novel at long last.

As you see, writing a novel, at least for me, was a meandering process that took almost 8 years from first scribbles to printed book. It’s been so rewarding to hear reader feedback, from old friends to other writers, to young readers who relate to the teenage characters. Writing and completing a work is its own reward, but having readers respond to one’s writing is a greater thrill yet.

I remain grateful to the community of my City Novel Studio course, many of whom gathered together to share and critique writing even after the course ended. We continue to share and celebrate one another’s successes to this day.

On Blackberry Hill is published by Create Space and is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Young Adult Literature. For more about Rachel’s writing visit her website; for more about The Novel Studio, please visit our programme page.

How I wrote Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie

by Malcolm McLean

This October saw the release of a book I have been buried away writing and editing for the last three years: a memoir about my teenage years spent obsessing over pop stars, titled Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie. It feels like an amazing achievement to have got to this point and have people reading the book that I put so much into during the last few years, and I am so proud of myself, but it wasn’t as simple as I naively thought it might be, back at the start of the project.

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

I’d thought about writing a book for a few years, but lacked the confidence. After tentatively starting the project, my sister suggested I look for a writing course to help give me more of the skills I needed to actually get the thing written and turn a series of anecdotes into a cohesive book. After looking around, I settled on the Narrative Non Fiction short course at City, University of London. The course outline was so detailed and seemed perfect for what I needed to write a memoir.

I assumed there would be an entire class of people writing memoirs like me, but there wasn’t: there were people working in media, wanting help with writing longer articles; company directors hoping to gain more confidence in business communications; and even someone writing a biography of her grandmother’s life in the 1930s. A huge mix. Peter Forbes, the course leader, was an incredible teacher. He gave us writing tools and tricks we so desperately wanted, seeing the strengths and weaknesses in our writing, and always giving such encouraging feedback. He also dispelled a lot of myths about the publishing industry and made it clear how different it is today compared to even ten years ago.

We worked on a variety of types of writing, each of which gave me a new perspective on how language can explain, explore and entertain. This allowed me to develop my book from being very fact and nostalgia-based, to having a more personal story that explored why I ended up doing ridiculous things like breaking into the BRIT Awards, or hanging out at Posh Spice’s mum’s house!

By the end of the course I was ready to submit my first three chapters and a detailed synopsis to try and secure a literary agent, and hopefully sign a book deal with one of the big publishers. I knew that my chances of getting one were slim and, despite some positive feedback, my emails to agents amounted to nothing.

For me, there was always a Plan B, as I knew that I wanted to release my book whatever happened. I researched a great deal into independent publishers, self-publishing, and ‘hybrid publishing’ – a model supposedly falling somewhere between doing it yourself and getting a deal with a big publisher. In the end, I settled on signing with RedDoor, who take on selective book projects that the author has to fund the production costs for. The team there are book lovers with lots of contacts, and I felt that they ‘got’ my idea for Freak Like Me more than anyone else. In hindsight, I feel that self-publishing may have been a better deal for me, financially, but it’s a gamble in finding the right person who can help you edit your book, and I can’t deny that the option I went with meant I was given huge amounts of freedom in producing the book that I wanted to.

The process of actually writing a book is time consuming, and so often it is hard to keep the motivation up, or to see what does or doesn’t work with your writing. After the course, a group of us decided to continue meeting up more informally, to talk about or share some of our writing. These guys became both my most honest critics, and a really useful support network!

Freak Like Me, being such a nostalgic, fun book was always going to be a Christmas release, and so, although it was signed off in early 2019, there was a long wait until October for it to finally get released. I’m immensely happy with the finished book and still flick through it or just gaze at the cover in wonderment. Just reaching this point and receiving such positive feedback from friends, family, or random lovers of pop nostalgia has made the whole experience so worth it, and I’ve ended up with skills and confidence that I couldn’t have imagined three years ago.

Malcolm McLean is a part-time writer and full-time pop music obsessive. His debut memoir Freak Like Me was published by RedDoor in October 2019. To find out more about Malcolm, visit the Freak Like Me website Or to learn about the Narrative Non-Fiction course he took at City visit the City web page.

City Writes summer sizzler

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

The City Writes Summer event of 2019 was a glorious July evening with a number of exciting firsts: our first reading from a Novel Studio Scholarship winner; two readers who had already shared work at previous City Writes events; and a visit from the wonderful Novel Studio alumna Anna Mazzola whose energy and storytelling charm are a delight to share.

We started the evening with a very funny short story about a dreadful first date, ‘Bird’s Nest’, written and read by Su Yin Yap. If you can picture a presumptuous, entitled man biting into the wicker basket his Chinese meal was delivered in, you’ve got an idea of the kind of laughter the story invoked in the audience. This was Su Yin Yap’s second story to be chosen for City Writes and it was great to have her back.

Lola Okolosie

Next Ruth Thorlby, who is currently completing an MA focussing on short stories, but whose journey began on a short course at City, read her poignant and rather haunting story, ‘Passing’, about a young person returning home to try and see her Grandmother before she dies and being unable to make it over the threshold. To say more would spoil it. With beautiful descriptions and a contemplative air, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this story that left the audience with much to think about.

Lola OkolosieOur Novel Studio Scholarship winner, Lola Okolosie, was next. The inaugural winner of the schola rship sponsored by Novel Studio alumna Harriet Tyce, who read from her novel Blood Orange at our Spring City Writes, Lola’s extract ‘Seun’, from a novel-in-progress, took us into the heart of a traffic jam in Lagos where Seun struggles to make sense of his itinerant identity. The audience were entranced. What a start to Lola’s Novel Studio career.

Bren Gosling

Bren Gosling read his story ‘Let Me Pay’ next. Another author returning to grace the City Writes stage, Bren’s tale brought an ex-soldier and a refugee together around a cafe table, their mutual romantic interest fraught with old, unspoken tensions. A taut story exploring the fall out of war on the individual even in peacetime.

Finally, we were delighted to hear from author and Novel Studio alumna, Anna Mazzola who shared some of her latest work-in-progress set in Paris in the 1700s. Not only were we transported to 18th Century France, we were also swept up in Anna’s enthusiasm for storytelling.

Her question and answer session gave us plenty of tips and food for thought – Anna’s productivity is very impressive – about how to write and work and look after children, as well as how to think about writing historical fiction as well as crime fiction. A truly enlightening reading and talk that inspired much interest in Anna’s published and prize-winning novels, The Unseeing and The Story Keeper.

City Writes ended with a little more wine, some networking, some book signing and a general sense of writing camaraderie.

For those of you who don’t know about City Writes, it is an exciting event that showcases the best of City’s Short Courses Creative Writing talent. Held once a term at the University, City Writes hosts readings from alumni, students and tutors. One reader offers a professional perspective, reading from a new or award-winning publication, and the other readers are selected on the basis of a 1,000 word submission to a termly fiction writing competition open to all current and previous students of a City Creative Writing Short Course.

We are doing something a little different with our 2019 Winter City Writes event: our guest readers are all in the wonderful Story Cities anthology edited by Rosamund Davies (Novel Studio alumna), Cherry Potts (City Visiting Lecturer) and Kam Rehal, published by Arachne Press. We will have several shorts read by alumni who have been published in the anthology and will be seeking flash fiction submissions of 500 words or less, meaning we will have a bumper number of readers in December. It’s going to be a flash fiction extravaganza! Do check the website for further details.

 

 

Get ahead with your business writing

By Howard Walwyn

Almost everyone in their daily work needs to write clear, accurate business English, whether that is in the form of emails, letters, reports, minutes, digital copy, marketing materials, technical manuals or other formats. Even tweets are increasingly used as a marketing tool for both Business-to-Business and Business-to-Consumer communications.

Yet not everyone is confident that their business writing skills are up to the standard they would like. Many people working in communications departments, HR or marketing teams, regardless of their native language, strive to write refined and polished business copy.

Similarly people working in IT or quantitative fields are often less comfortable writing business English than they are dealing with code or numbers and see the need to obtain specific training in business writing skills, to help them reach an even better standard of written English.

City, University of London’s Writing for Business short course gives hands-on practical training in the principles of clear business English and how to write good business copy, whether it’s an article, a press release, a CV, a product review or a letter or email. It also covers some of the wider aspects of being a writer, such as research and planning, interviewing, promotion and marketing; and legal and editorial topics. The course explains how the key principles behind writing clear business English – such as brevity, clarity and consistency – are the same, whatever the length and format of the piece you are writing.

Due to high demand, we are delighted to be offering the course on two nights of the week.

On Tuesday evenings the Writing for Business course is taught by Howard Walwyn who has spent 30 years writing and editing copy in the financial sector, focusing mainly on risk and regulatory content. He now uses that experience, alongside his degrees in English Language & Literature and Economics, to help clients and students write clear business English – both in the financial sector and in other areas of business.

Every Thursday, the course is taught by Maggie Richards, a freelance journalist and copywriter with 20 years’ experience writing for the likes of The Guardian and The Times and working with all kinds of businesses from sole traders to global giants, such as Harrods and Marks & Spencer.

Writing for Business is a 10-week short course starting in October.

Travellers on the Same Road

By Emma Claire Sweeney

I love to hear from Novel Studio students that our conversations have spilled from the classroom into chats over coffee in the campus café, or glasses of wine at The Peasant. It was just these kinds of tête-à-têtes that first fired my friendship with Emily Midorikawa, my former Novel Studio colleague.

We were lucky enough to have chanced upon each other almost fifteen years ago, back at a time when we were both living carefree lives as young English teachers in rural Japan. I have vivid memories of the moment when we first admitted that we were both secretly writing: the bowls of garlicky spaghetti we were eating; the acquaintance who unexpectedly showed up at the restaurant, putting a stop to our conversation; the way we picked up where we’d left off as we wandered through a shopping mall on our way home.

At the end of that formative year, I headed off to South East Asia carrying my notepad from noisy Bangkok hostels to crumbling villas in Laos, while Emily continued to type away in her tiny Japanese apartment surrounded by carparks and convenience stores.

Many messages pinged between the computer in Emily’s Japanese staffroom and the internet cafés I visited in Chiang Mai and Hanoi and Luang Prabang. According to Emily, it was during this time that I sent her a message in which I daydreamed about the two of us writing together one day. It was a throwaway remark – one I can’t remember making. Back then, we were both just beginning to forge our own paths. We didn’t know where we were heading so we could hardly invite anyone else along for the ride.

We would have been delighted and surprised, I think, to see the similar directions in which we’d travel during the years to come: each working away on our own stories, becoming City colleagues, and eventually finding a way to co-write.

The route we could take for writing together became clear during a chat one summer’s afternoon. We got talking about how much we’d come to appreciate our own friendship and wondered whether our favourite female authors of the past had enjoyed similar types of bonds.

We knew about Coleridge and Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. But did Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë have female confidantes outside their immediate family circles? Could the great George Eliot ever have deigned to single out another female author as an equal? And did Virginia Woolf look for a woman of comparable talent away from the male-dominated Bloomsbury Group?

In search of answers to these questions, we began co-writing literary features for the broadsheets and magazines, and we then set up a literary blog, SomethingRhymed.com. Together we gradually uncovered a wealth of hidden yet startling collaborations, which led us to be commissioned to jointly author A Secret Sisterhood – a non-fiction book about the hidden literary friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf.

Our book was published simultaneously by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA to coincide with Jane Austen’s 2017 bicentenary. On launch day, we were delighted to celebrate not only the joint road on which we had both travelled but also the trailblazing work of the female writer friends who made our journey possible.

A Secret Sisterhood is available here.  For more about Emily and Emma’s journey, please visit their website.

To find out more about The Novel Studio and its growing list of published alumni, visit.

Taking a walk on the wild side of business

By Brenna Boyle

Brenna was working as a wildlife ranger in the Scottish Highlands before attending the Starting up in Business course at City, University of London. Brenna’s ambition was to make a successful business showing communities the diverse range of wildlife on their doorsteps.

An average day as a wildlife ranger would involve guiding groups of visitors around stunning scenery and viewing species including Golden Eagles and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. But I left the Highlands and returned to London, driven by a desire to prove that the wildlife of London, whilst perhaps not as iconic or dramatic as that of Scotland, is abundant, diverse and fascinating.

My goal was to set up a business delivering guided wildlife walks and nature discovery activities for groups of adults, families, communities and schools within London. And yes, lots of people thought I was nuts! I knew from previous experience that the wildlife of London really is surprising, rich and interesting, in that I had faith. What I didn’t have so much faith in was my ability to build and run a business. I had so many questions and doubts about everything from protecting my brand to tax, marketing, the law and hiring other people. My new business, Wild Capital, had officially begun before I enrolled on the course; it was very young but the website was operational, I was insured and I’d delivered a few programmes. However, I felt I was holding back on allowing the business to grow through uncertainty about how to proceed. My fear was that I would invest everything into the business and one day some scary bloke in a suit would appear and tell me I’d done something wrong and I owed thousands of pounds in fees or fines!

I chose to undertake an introduction to business course in order to deal with my concerns, and go forwards in business confidently. I did quite a lot of research into different options before settling on the Starting Up in Business course at City. The course was very appealing as it covered a wide array of business topics, but with a total duration of 20 hours over 10 weeks there was time to delve into each topic, rather than just scratch the surface. There was a choice of doing the course on either a Tuesday or a Thursday night, so I was able to select the night that most suited my schedule.

The course itself was a mixture of taught material delivered with PowerPoint presentations (all the slides were uploaded to an accessible website in advance of the class so you could print them and make notes on the hand-outs), class activities such as working in groups to review existing businesses and personal work done in our own time which cumulated in writing a full business plan that was read and reviewed. Kulan Mills, who delivered the course was extremely knowledgeable and helpful; you really felt you could ask him anything. Kulan obviously has a great deal of experience with a wide range of businesses. He would tell us anecdotes from his own experiences, which were insightful and interesting. Kulan took interest in everyone in the class; he made himself available before and after the sessions to answer questions and discuss ideas. He also put students in touch with people from his extensive network of useful contacts; I had a very helpful meeting with the manager of an outdoor activity centre, instigated through Kulan.

Several of the students, myself included, already knew what type of business we wanted to develop. Others knew they wanted to run a business but weren’t yet sure what kind. The course was very suitable for both groups of students, with many ideas thrown up for those looking to create a new service or product. For all these reasons and more, studying at City was a great experience. The nice coffee shop and free WiFi were also very welcome!

Since completing the course at City I have had the confidence to expand my business; I now work with both local councils and London based charities, providing wildlife discovery activities for communities. The numbers of new private bookings for adult wildlife walks and family adventures are increasing all the time, and I’m now looking at rolling out a selection of programmes for schools.

I wouldn’t hesitate to enrol on another course at City. Perhaps further down the line I’ll a need a course to develop my skills as the director of an expanding company!

To find out more about Wild Capital please visit the website www.wildcapital.co.uk, follow on Twitter or like on Facebook.

To find out more and enrol on City’s Starting Up in Business short courses visit the webpage.

A taste of learning with City

City, University of London proudly hosted our first ever open evening and taster sessions event on Thursday 11th July 2019. Thank you to everyone who made the evening such a success and to all of our attendees – we hope that you found it interesting.

Throughout the evening we offered a series of 30-minute taster sessions in a select number of our short course programmes to give students a feel for what it is like to study a short course with us.

We started the evening on a high with a taster session in one of our most popular courses, Introduction to Programming with Python. Lead by programming expert, Philip De Grouchy, this session was packed out with young professionals looking to try their hand at coding.

Our digital guru, Elliott King, ran a parallel session in Strategic Digital Marketing, combining theoretical knowledge with step-by-step guidance on delivering online marketing campaigns.

Katy Darby lead an interactive session in Short Story Writing, for those looking to nurture their creative flare while Marian Wancio delivered a more practical course in Project Management.

Ping Chai, leading a Chinese Mandarin taster session

We also ran sessions in Immigration Law, Adobe InDesign, JavaScript Programming, Writing for Business, Writing for the Web, Curating & Exhibition Management, Japanese; and Chinese Mandarin.

Feedback from our attendees was overwhelming positive, with the vast majority stating that their questions were answered adequately by our staff. Our taster classes were also well received, rating the quality of the sessions highly.

However, there is always room for learning and improvements! As a result of our feedback, we intend to replace the current format with two separate events. In December 2019, we will be hosting a ‘meet our tutors’ open evening, an excellent opportunity to speak to our experts one-to-one about the wide variety of courses we offer at City. In the summer of 2020, we will be continue to run a full evening of taster sessions, offering a glimpse of what is it like to learn at City.

We will also be extending out taster sessions from 30 to 45 minutes to allow more time for learning. See the Visit Us section of our blog to find out more about our visitor events or book your place on our December open evening.

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