Category: Insights

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

By Novel Studio Course Director Emily Pedder

Greg Keen is an alumnus of The Novel Studio course at City, University of London. He completed his debut novel in between stints working as a pitch consultant and a media trainer, all based in Soho. In 2015 Soho Dead won the CWA Debut Dagger. We caught up with him to find out more about his crime series.

EP: Your novel reveals some brilliantly unsavoury characters. Were they based on people you’ve met…?

GK: I’ve met a few people who share their characteristics but no one who is absolutely like them. Bella – the sex club owner – is probably closest to someone I know.

EP: Your novel is set mostly in Soho, a place you seem to know intimately. Can you tell us about your relationship to the place?

GK: I got my first job there after university. Over the next ten years the company re-located four times, always in Soho. During that period I frequented most of the pubs and quite a few members clubs when members clubs meant a dimly lit cellar bar. Few of these remain but The New Evaristo (aka Trisha’s) in Greek Street is still going strong.

EP: Which crime writers have influenced you?

GK: Mark Timlin’s Sharman series primarily. I love Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May books and Colin Bateman’s Dan Starkey novels are wonderfully dark and funny.

EP: What kind of research did you do for the book?

GK: Part of the novel is set in the seventies. Mostly it was a matter of researching what was where in Soho in that period and which drinks and cigarette brands were available etc.

EP: “His pecs needed a training bra and his gut seeped like jelly from a dodgy mould…” Humour is rife in your book. Do you see it as an important element in the crime writing you’re interested in producing?

GK: To a point. Soho Dead began life primarily as a comic novel and was rejected by agent after agent as not having a big enough crime element. Over the next four drafts (complete re-writes basically) I bumped this up. The best advice I received was in a workshop when someone commented that the humour worked when it came from the situation and not when I was trying to insert gags. If any of my three review readers think something isn’t funny then out it comes. But the short answer to your question is that noir and humour often work well together.

EP: The novel is intricately plotted with lots of satisfying sub-plots and red herrings. How did you approach the plotting of the book?

GK: Thank you. I have about 70% worked out up-front and the rest is found while writing and re-drafting.

EP: The ending of the book is nicely unpredictable. Did you have an alternate ending in mind at any point, or were you always clear where the book was going?

GK: Some crime writers only find out who committed the crime when they reach its conclusion. I find this amazing and always knew who did it and why.

EP: What are you working on next?

GK: I’m about to begin structural edits on Soho Ghosts, which is the second in the series and out next year.

EP: Have you given up the day job?!

GK: As I freelance it’s not quite that dramatic for me. I have decreased my hours to focus more on writing though.

Thanks to Greg Keen and all the best with his fantastic novel Soho Dead and upcoming Soho Ghosts.

Rewriting History: How Historical Fiction Works

By Emily Pedder

From Brooklyn to Wolf Hall, historical fiction is enjoying a boom moment. But how do you go about writing an historical novel? How ‘true’ to the past should a novelist be? And what can historical novels tell us about the world we are living in today? Last month we were given the insider’s guide to all this and more by two of City short courses’ star alumni: Anna Mazzola, author of The Unseeing, out with Tinder Press next month and Melissa Bailey, author of The Medici Mirror and Beyond The Sea, Arrow Press.

Both authors clearly shared a passion for research and saw it as one of the most absorbing parts of the historical novel writing. Both were also clear that the story had to take precedence: it didn’t matter how much research had been done, or how historically accurate the depiction of period might be, if the story wasn’t working the novelist had to go back to the drawing board.

There was also broad agreement on other characteristics of writing historical fiction. Anna spoke of the importance of giving voice to the voiceless and of uncovering voices from the past that hadn’t been heard before. Melissa highlighted the enjoyable difficulty in trying to imagine what her characters were thinking and feeling, and then imagining what was different about the way those characters might have perceived things at that time.

Well attended and with positive feedback after the event, this writing short course event gave us all food for thought. As novelist Andrew Miller put it, “at its best, historical fiction is never a turning away from the now but one of the ways in which our experience of the contemporary is revived.” Thank you to Anna and Melissa for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. For more info on our short courses, go to our website or follow us on twitter @cityshortcourses. For more on the authors and their books visit: Anna Mazzola and Melissa Bailey.

 

Digital training and the digital skills gap

by Dionisios Dimakopoulos

City Short Courses, part of City, University of London, worked with London digital agency MintTwist to create a study analysing the digital skills gap.

The study surveyed over 100 professionals who studied a digital marketing related short course with a goal to understanding:

  • Why they are seeking additional digital marketing training
  • Issues they are currently facing
  • What they hope to attain from studying a digital marketing short course at City, University of London.

We surveyed City Short Course students from 2007 – 2015. The group consisted of marketing professionals within SEO, content, social, advertising, web design and development.

“The biggest challenge in my industry is hitting the right digital marketing channels and maintaining our individuality against our competitors”

Edward Carter, SEO Manager, industry: Engineering and Manufacturing

The survey identified three key elements professionals listed as instrumental in them completing a digital marketing short course.

  • Digital’s constant state of change and evolution
  • The online competition
  • Training required to upskill internal resource on digital

Biggest issues for your company:

  • 15% – competitors
  • 19% – digital change
  • 26% – training, skills and internal resources

Biggest issues for your industry:

  • 16% – competitors
  • 16% – digital change
  • 6% – training, skills and internal resources

Find out more about short courses in digital marketing at City, University of London.

How to build a platform and strategy for your writing that engages readers

By Emily Pedder

Advances in digital technology have brought unparalleled opportunities for modern authors. Writers can now publish, promote and market their work in unforeseen ways. But how do you navigate this new terrain? And how do writers create that elusive ‘platform’ which builds interest and readers?

Last month, as part of Inside Out Festival, City short courses hosted an evening chaired by Novel Studio tutor and writer Emily Midorikawa to look at the reality of the modern publishing world and what is required of an author aside from the writing.

With the help of three industry experts: publishing consultant Heather O’Connell, City tutor and writer Katy Darby, and best-selling novelist Mark Edwards, the audience were introduced to topics such as using social media as an author; building an author ‘brand’; finding target readers; negotiating publishing options, from indy to traditional and engaging with readers both online and in the real world.

Perhaps Mark Edwards’ colourful pie chart,  ‘what do authors do all day’, has the final word on what it takes to be an authorpreneur. According to Mark, ‘writing’ takes up 35% of his day, while ‘checking amazon’ uses 10%, ‘admin’ 30%, and ‘social networking’ 15%. Good to hear, then, that there was still room in the day for the writer’s all important ‘staring into space’ time, at 10%.

With thanks to all our speakers and guests for a great evening.

For more events like these don’t forget to follow our updates on @cityshortcourses or email us at shortcourses@city.ac.uk to be added to our mailing list.

 

Getting Your Book Noticed Online

Last month short courses took part in a panel event on marketing your book online as part of 2014’s Inside Out Festival. Novel Studio Course Director Emily Pedder chaired a lively panel discussion to a sell out crowd.

The panel experts included Polly Courtney, author of six novels and a regular commentator on TV and radio. Polly is famous for walking out on Harper Collins in protest at the chick lit branding assigned to her books and has been successfully self-publishing ever since.

Also on the panel were Chris McCrudden, Head of Technology and New Media at Midas PR and author of the Guardian book Digital and Social Media for Authors; and City’s very own Novel Studio alumna Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, CCO at Autharium and Publisher in Residence at Kingston University.

Tips for authors trying to market their book online included the following:

  • Make sure your cover design, title and blurb all reflect your book’s genre.
  • Target your readers: find out what readers of your particular kind of book listen to, like, follow online and start communicating with that audience.
  • Develop your author brand – talk about the issues you cover in your book, or whatever it is that makes you unique, and make it newsworthy so that journalists have an angle to write about.
  • Don’t write a press release about your book. The book’s publication is the least interesting thing about your book: find a particular peg to hang it on.
  • Use social media to be a reflection of yourself and your book.
  • Build your platform BEFORE you publish.
  • Set up your own website.
  • Curate yourself – readers don’t need to know everything about you, just the bits that are relevant to your author profile.
  • Write a blog. Keep it current. Follow up quickly and courteously on comments.
  • Keep a database of contacts. Add to it whenever you meet someone new. Follow up within 24 hours.
  • Hand out business cards: professionalize yourself as a writer.
  • Use marketing in its truest and most resonant form, i.e. sharing something you’re passionate about with other people who are passionate about the same thing

Afterwards several members of the audience expressed their gratitude for the event, while one tweeted ‘brilliantly useful panel discussion’. For more events like these don’t forget to follow our updates on @cityshortcourses or email us at shortcourses@city.ac.uk to be added to our mailing list.

How one student turned his computing hobby into a full time career

by Dionisios Dimakopoulos

Lukasz Buczynski came to Britain to learn English so that he could further his career back in Poland. But after living and working in London, and meeting his fiancée, Lukasz decided to embark on a new career here in the UK.

At City Lukasz took two short courses in computing. At first he viewed computing as a hobby, “I had always seen computing as an entertainment tool for games, movies and music. I had always been interested in computers and electronics but I never thought of working as an IT professional.”

Despite considering some online courses, Lukasz decided that learning in a classroom environment had more advantages: “You can talk to people interested in the same things as you, and develop valuable contacts. In my opinion, classroom based teaching is the best experience you can get.”

I wanted to do something that I love and that would also give me real satisfaction. City’s Java programming course offered a really good coverage of programming in Java for beginners, plus the price was really good.”

City, University of London was the perfect place for Lukasz to study for his new career, as it offers short courses for all levels of competency, from beginners to advanced: “I gained a really good foundation, including how to develop computer programs and how to communicate in a technical environment. I liked the Java course so much that I enrolled myself to Level 2, and I also started to prepare myself for the Oracle Certified Java Programmer qualification.”

It was these courses and qualifications that led to Lukasz being accepted to study an MSc in Computer Science at Birkbeck University of London: “The programming foundations and qualifications I gained at City helped me a lot, and even though I work mainly in C++, I’m sure that without attending the Java course, I wouldn’t be so successful now. Whilst still a student, I was offered my dream job, and now work for an internet security company as an Associate Software Engineer. I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else. I think that if you want to start something new, change your lifestyle, career, this is the way to go.”

“My hunger for knowledge is always increasing so it is very possible I will come back, especially as City, University of London offers the biggest range of courses I have ever seen.”

To view our full range of computing courses visit our home page here. Or follow our updates on events and courses on twitter @cityshortcourses.

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