Category: Voices from City (page 1 of 3)

Cut Short: the debut book from short course alumnus Ciaran Thapar

This summer, Penguin will publish Ciaran Thapar’s debut book about youth violence, Cut Short.  Novel Studio course director, Emily Pedder, caught up with him to find out more about his path to publication and the book David Lammy has described as ‘honest, authentic and raw’.

Emily Pedder:  Your book, Cut Short, is an urgent look at the UK’s serious youth violence epidemic. What first drew you to this subject?
Ciaran Thapar: As an education and youth worker in schools and youth clubs in London between 2015-2018, I came to see how youth violence was playing out on the ground as an overwhelming force in the lives of young people I was working with. I therefore noticed that the myopic, if-it-bleeds-it-leads way the British media were reporting on fatal stabbings across London and beyond was not only detached: it was actively harming communities who were suffering most by telling stories that distorted, rather than informed, wider society’s understandings about social breakdown. So, moved by my interest in writing and journalism, I started to write about issues which I saw as orbiting the violence: austerity, school exclusions, drill music.

Ciaran Thapar’s debut, Cut Short

What’s more, 17-year-old Michael Jonas, the older brother of my first mentee, Jhemar Jonas – who I first started working with in January 2015 when I was a postgraduate student at LSE – was stabbed to death in November 2017. Quite suddenly I was required to become a consistent source of support for Jhemar and his family. It made me double down on trying to understand and solve why violence happens among young people. The book was primarily borne out of this motivation.
And then, in the hot summer of 2018, with London simultaneously celebrating the weather on the one hand while becoming weighed down by unprecedented death and tragedy on the other – divided by lines of race, class and postcode – I started writing my proposal. Cut Short’s creation is therefore moved by my practical journey as a youth worker learning the ropes, seeking to make impact and forging empathy with young people, as well as my intellectual attempts to understand these last few years in British society, map out how we are all connected and responsible for civic unity, and provide a hopeful blueprint for steps forward.
EP:  You’re a youth worker and a journalist. How easy was it to make the transition to writing a book?
CT: The researching, interviewing, planning and structuring of stories I wanted to include in the book between the summers of 2018 and 2020 – the start of the proposal to the end of the first draft – was never easy, but it was manageable. I went freelance in May 2018 after working for six months in London prisons, and for a while I was struggling to make ends meet financially. Dealing with the stress of that time was very difficult. But pressure makes diamonds: I wrote so much journalism to stay afloat as a result that I became more confident in my arguments and observations about themes I was seeing firsthand in my youth work: social exclusion, inequality, austerity and music culture. I have long been interested in writing long form journalism – I rarely read anything else – so in the end, on realising the book idea’s potential, it felt more natural to switch from writing lots of shorter pieces to focus and go long for the book.
The bit of the transition I found truly hard, however, is the impact it had on me psychologically. It is, I think, impossible to fully immerse oneself in a book-length project while sustaining other areas of life with any normality. I am very proud of the jump I made from youth work and journalism to the book, and what I’ve created in the end. But it has been difficult juggling everything. I’ve skated very close to burnout. Fortunately, my writing practice is now more patient and protected than it ever was before. I compartmentalise it on certain days and protect it to focused sessions, rather than letting it affect my youth work or personal life.
So, in sum: it wasn’t difficult to make the transition to writing a book, and it has enriched my life beyond belief. I’ve learned a huge amount and built a platform that will, I hope, allow me to advocate for change going forward. But, as with anything sustainable and meaningful, the transition came with obstacles and burdens that I’m only really starting to make sense of now. I feel a responsibility to say that here.
EP: What are the most important lessons you have learned in writing your book?

CT: First, you can’t rush or force quality, and when things don’t go to plan, it’s okay, because they’re not meant to. I became so stressed at first when interviews fell through or huge distracting events happened in my youth work in the process of writing the book. But I soon realised that these developments are a

Ciaran Thapar (photo by Tristan Bejawn)

prerequisite for anyone trying to craft a nonfiction story. Real life is not predictable, and it moves in imperfect directions, so writing a book that grapples with that truth will never go exactly to plan. I’ve learned to see this as an exciting and rewarding truism, and be grateful for it, rather than worry too much about stuff I can’t control.

A second lesson I’ve learned is that, compared to writing a piece of journalism, a book requires long-term immersion. It necessarily becomes a big, the biggest, part of your life. Giving it space, switching on and off from it, finding modes of self-care and people who you can be vulnerable with to support you, is the best way to keep in check. I feel like now that I’ve written a book, my writing practice is totally transformed for the better, and I’ll have that for the rest of my life.
EP: You studied Narrative Non-fiction at City with Peter Forbes. Did you do other courses before or after? And what was it about Peter’s course that you found most useful?
CT: I’ve not done any other writing courses, per se, but I think it’s important to credit the MSc Political Theory I did at LSE between 2014-2015 as an essential step for my career. It gave me the ability to consume and form strong moral arguments quickly. Ultimately, Cut Short amounts to a grand moral argument about the vitality of the state, civic participation and public responsibility. I make a case for compassion and empathy in spaces like schools and criminal justice where, as far as I can tell, these values are being systematically rooted out, often in the name of profit. Academic study gave me the critical thinking and language skills to forge this as a binding ideology. Peter’s course two years later then made me appreciate nonfiction writing as a creative craft in which every word counts. So then it became about making arguments and political advocacy fun, listenable, readable and colourful. The course also created the weekly pattern in my life of sharing my words with a group and getting feedback; it built my confidence. Without that pattern I think I would have struggled to put myself out there in the way I eventually did.
EP: What’s the most helpful piece of advice anyone has given you as a writer?
CT: Writing is like dancing: it’s best when nobody’s looking. I’ve heard these words spoken by the former Guardian journalist Gary Younge – who features in Cut Short! – a few times, and it really rings true now that I think about it more and more. Having a target audience and being self-conscious is to some extent important to guarantee quality and think about an aim for a piece of writing. But too much focus on who is reading your words, or how that makes you feel, can distract from the task of speaking truth.
EP: What advice would you give to someone starting out on their writing journey?
CT: Being a good writer is only partially anything to do with the actual writing: it’s also about being an adaptable, humble human being; someone who is willing to listen, learn and observe. Before you put pen to paper, create patterns in your life which give you freedom to think and be inspired. If you’ve got nothing to write about, then it doesn’t matter how good your language skills are: the words won’t flow. So focus on acting as well as writing. And then write every day in a journal. Once you’re ready to get your writing into the public domain, reach out to as many editors and writers as possible, offer coffees, ask for phone calls. Make yourself memorable. Pitch regularly, and if a pitch isn’t accepted, ask for feedback, embrace the learning, and take the opportunity to improve. Never see failed pitches as failures. (Some of my most successful articles were the result of failed pitches; Cut Short was the result of many!) And finally, stick to writing about things that you know intimately because everyone has a story worth telling and a perspective worth sharing, it’s just a matter of putting in your 10,000 hours trying to figure out how to articulate it. The only way to fail is by giving up, so don’t give up.
EP: Can you describe your route to publication?
CT: I was emailed by my legendary agent, Matt Turner, in the summer of 2018 after he’d read some of my pieces. We met at a pub in Brixton and he asked if I had a book idea. I didn’t, but the conversation, stretched over several meetings, quickly turned to my experiences as a youth worker and my aspirations to write something long form that could make a real impact on how youth violence is understood in British society. I was and still am surrounded by characters who are heroic and deeply inspiring, and I felt like their stories needed to be told in a book.
From that moment onwards, I spent 10 months struggling to write the proposal. Really struggling. But despite the delays, Matt stuck by me, editing whatever I sent him, sometimes binning it altogether and telling me to start again, and building my profile in his industry network. He didn’t need to remain loyal like this, or wait for me to get my act together, but he did, and for that I will be forever grateful. His supporting role was perfectly executed. So by the time we submitted the proposal in June 2019 – it took tens of draft attempts, many sleepless nights and many, many instances in which I thought I might just give up – we had a willing audience of editors ready and waiting to read the idea for Cut Short. In the end, I was pleased to gain 9 offers from publishers, and I chose Penguin Viking because I could see how passionate their team were about converting my ideas into a reality.
Then in August 2019 I got to work, slowly at first, and I was roughly halfway through writing the first draft in March 2020 when lockdown hit. I wrote the second half in lockdown, between March-July 2020, which was bizarre, but I think it worked well as I could pour all my time and energy into it. The book gave me a sense of purpose that I may have otherwise lacked during such a disruptive period for the world.
Since then, the book has gone through 10+ editing and proofreading stages, I’ve had to have many, many conversations with my editor, contributors, advisers and friends about the ethics and safeguarding of the story. I’ve worked with the main characters – particularly Jhemar and another young legend called Demetri Addison, who I used to mentor at his sixth form college – to make sure they are totally happy with how it all reads and represents them. And now I’m trying to enjoy the calm before the storm of publication in June. It’s very surreal getting feedback from early readers. I’m ultimately nervous and excited in equal measure.
EP: How will you celebrate the launch of your book if we are still in lockdown when it’s published?!
CT: The book comes out on 24th June, three days after lockdown is supposed to end. My 30th birthday is one week later. It’s going to be a special summer.
EP: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
CT: Two things, which I state early in the book: an understanding of some of the problems which lead to youth violence, and a practical blueprint of some solutions.
Regarding the problems, I’ve chosen to focus on presenting and evidencing an argument which says that the British state is failing particular groups of young people, and this is why youth violence occurs. Austerity is to blame, but so is technological change and systemic discrimination in our public institutions, going back generations.
Regarding the solutions, I’ve tried to show through the stories I tell and analysis I present how we are all connected, if subtly, to serious youth violence, and therefore how we might think and act differently in future to collectively solve it. I want readers to connect with the story, understand these arguments, feel something and then act on that feeling; adults to care, young people to feel platformed and inspired. Cut Short is a call to action. It is not just a book, it is my way of making change and turning the armchair thinker into a frontline doer.
EP: What are you working on now?
CT: I run my own charity, RoadWorks, which I launch at the end of Cut Short. We explore music culture and social theory to support young people at risk of exclusion and violence. I also now write consistently for British GQ – I have a monthly column about youth and music culture online called ‘All City’ – and I’m working on one special long form piece for the print magazine this summer which I’m excited about. Otherwise, I’m doing more work behind the scenes on making sure the book’s publicity and promotion is where I want it to be. Watch this space!
Congratulations, Ciaran! We can’t wait for the book to come out.
Cut Short will be published by Penguin in June 2021.
Narrative Non-Fiction runs on Tuesday or Thursday nights for ten weeks.

Announcing City Writes Competition Winners for Spring 2021

City Writes Competition Winners Spring 2021

What a bumper month of submissions! City Writes, a showcase for City’s short courses creative writing, is certainly going strong. The competition winners should be particularly proud and this term we’ll be

Kiare Ladner

following stalkers, witnessing the seismic shifts of history, rebuilding humans with computers, struggling to find the right words for garden parties and contemplating our mothers, all alongside the fabulous Visiting Lecturer Kiare Ladner whose debut novel, Nightshift, a tale of obsession amid London’s night shift workers, came out just this February. Described as ‘toxic, sexy and pacy’ by Elizabeth Macneal of The Doll Factory fame and ‘A meditation on obsessive female friendship that sinks into the bone’ by Irensosen Okojie acclaimed author of Nudibranch, this is a debut everyone’s talking about.

Sign up for the event on the 1st April here. For more information on our wonderful competition winners, read on.

Sini Downing

Sini Downing  (Short Story Writing) is a creative storyteller who loves to put pen to paper. In her day job, she champions great writing and truthful character performances in video games. Based in London, she needs aworld map to keep track of her friends and family. Having attended various City writing courses, Sini is currently editing her first novel, Where You Left Me, and seeking representation. She’ll be reading ‘The Opposite of Grace’.

Lara Haworth

Novel Studio alumna, Lara Haworth is a writer, visual artist and filmmaker. Her visual work has been exhibited internationally at places including Yokohama, Japan, Toronto, Canada and Chemnitz, Germany. Her writing has been published in magazines such as Visual Verse, Biography, LAKE, ACME and Nōd. Her new film, All the People I Hurt with My Wedding was released on February 12, by Don’t Google It. Her debut novel, The Straits, is represented by Jo Bell at Bell Lomax Moreton.

Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones’ (Writing for Theatre, course no longer running) career has involved various twists and turns between teaching and journalism. Until recently he worked as a columnist for the Times Educational Supplement and he currently teaches literature in a London FE college. He has been writing fiction for twenty years, but – despite attracting interest at times from publishers and agents – publication has so far eluded him. The writing bug though just won’t go away! He’ll be reading an extract from the longer work, ‘Pearl’.

Avril Joy

An alumna of the Memoir writing course, Avril Joy’s short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss & the Lives of Women. Her work has been shortlisted in competitions including, the Bridport, the Manchester Prize for Fiction and Raymond Carver Short Story Prize in the USA. In 2012 she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Award. Her latest novel, Sometimes a River Song, won the 2017 People’s Book Prize.

K. Lockwood Jefford

Originally from Cardiff, K. Lockwood Jefford (Novel Writing Summer School alumna) is based on the Kent coast. She worked in NHS mental health services, took several City short courses and has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck. Her short story, ‘Picasso’s Face’, won the 2020 Royal Society of Literature’s VS Pritchett Prize. Her work appears in several publications including Prospect Magazine online and Brick Lane Bookshop’s 2020 Prize Anthology. She is working on a collection of short fiction and will be reading ‘Driver’.

Vasundhara Singh

Vasundhara Singh lives in Bhopal, India and is a graduate of Journalism from Delhi University. Enrolled on City’s Novel Studio, she aims to write a novel about people she has known, loved and sometimes, hated. She is a photography nerd and an occasional poet. She’ll be reading ‘Feel, feeling’.

After hearing from these astoundingly accomplished winners, Kiare Ladner will be reading from her debut Nightshift (Picador 2021) and taking part in a short question and answer session with Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone. As a child, Kiare Ladner wanted to live on a farm, run an orphanage and be on stage. As an adult, she found herself working for academics, with prisoners and on nightshifts. Her short stories have been published in South Africa, where she grew up, and the UK, where she lives now. Nightshift is a debut whose depth of theme matches its searing plot.

This Spring City Writes 2021 on Thursday April 1st at 7pm is not one to miss. Sign up for free here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Interview with Novel Studio alumna, Kiare Ladner

Kiare Ladner’s debut novel, Nightshift

Novel Studio alumna and tutor, Kiare Ladner, published her brilliant debut novel, Nightshift, in February 2021. Novel Studio Course Director, Emily Pedder, caught up with her to find out more about the book and her path to publication.

EP: ‘Your debut novel is set in a pre-pandemic London, in the nineties. Reading it now feels like entering a different country. How do you imagine London will recover in the years to come?’

KL: ‘London has so much kinetic urban energy. At its best, it’s a place where a person can have the freedom to be whoever they want to be (or are), and find others who are like them.  What I hope change will bring is a city with more realistic rents for its workers. With affordable space for creative endeavours. With the arts right there, accessible, at the heart of it. A city revitalised by new ways of thinking in culture, economics and politics. An urban landscape that holds the thrill of the avant-garde alongside home gardens created to give nature refuge. A place that builds on the sense of community some have felt more keenly recently. And that always welcomes the immigrants we rely on.  Even now, there’s a lot to appreciate about being here. The parks, the free art galleries, the brilliant hospitals, the possibilities for anonymity, the joys of simply wandering. . . When asked if I feel British or South African, my gut response is that I feel most like a Londoner.’

EP: ‘Meggie is a fascinating character, full of contradictions. She could so easily have been a passive character, with Sabine taking all the decisions, but it feels as if you’re showing us it’s Meggie who chooses what happens to her, and Meggie who has to deal with the consequences. Was this a deliberate choice from the beginning or did you need to consciously make her decisions more active?’

KL: ‘From the start, I was curious about the idea of wanting to escape the self, wanting to be other, and how far you can push it. During the writing process, I felt that Meggie was driven by this desire rather than acted upon. As a writer, I inhabited her in the way that an actor inhabits a character, and from there her decisions came intuitively. However there is one scene in the book in which she is less passive than I’d initially written her, thanks to an inspired suggestion from a beta reader. The changes were subtle but kept my narrative more in line with my vision for it. Beta readers are invaluable!’

Novel Studio alumna and tutor, Kiare Ladner

 

EP: ‘Sabine is one of those characters I feel everyone will recognise. That sophisticated, aloof person we all secretly aspire to be. How important was it to you to interrogate the personas people create and what lies beneath?’

KL: ‘This disparity is perhaps what first drew me to writing. Fiction allows us to investigate and express a less commonly portrayed sense of what lies beneath exteriors and dominant narratives. So I’ll probably be interrogating it forever…’

EP: ‘Where does a story usually start for you? With a character? A line of dialogue? A ‘what if’ plot question? A feeling?’

KL: ‘For me, it tends to start with a conundrum. Something that causes an itch in my brain, some question or situation I keep fiddling with. So the beginning is fairly abstract. Then if I give it time and space, scribbling and thinking, it tends to attach itself to a voice, and from there the story builds.’

EP: ‘I love how your novel taps into that complicated question of identity, particularly for those who live far from their native country. As a South African whose made London your home, is that an experience you relate to?

KL: ‘Definitely. I have gained a lot from being a stranger in a country, and the freedom to find my own tribe. But there are also aspects to leaving your country of origin that are painful, complex and irresolvable. Much to keep grappling with, in part through writing, I guess.’

EP: ‘You’ve studied creative writing at many levels, from short courses at City right up to PhD at Aberystwyth. What’s been the most important thing you’ve gained from that study?’

KL: ‘I’ve had some excellent tuition over the years. But I’ve also learned so much through other student writers. Not only from their brilliant and inspiring work – which has shown me the range and versatility of fictional prose – but also from their work ethic: their perseverance, resilience and determination.’

EP:  ‘Do you think creative writing can be taught?’

KL: ‘It certainly involves craft, and learning. And a course environment makes space for a particular quality of attention to the work. I like how George Saunders puts it when he says that even for those, “who don’t get something out there, the process is still a noble one – the process of trying to say something, of working through craft issues and the worldview issues and the ego issues – all of this is character-building and, God forbid, everything we do should have concrete career results. I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”’

EP: ‘How are you finding teaching on the Novel Studio, a programme you took yourself?’

KL: ‘Years ago this course gave me an inroads to the nuts and bolts of writing a novel. Its structure was invaluable in maintaining momentum and providing a sense of progression. And some of the other writers’ novels had me in awe! Now, what I find most exciting is to see the growth of the students’ writing over the course of a year. How hard some of them work, and how much they can do and learn and change. Also, the ways they engage with each other’s texts, their generosity in terms of time, attention and encouragement, is very heartening.’

EP: ‘What are you reading right now?’

KL: ‘I always have lots on the go in different genres (poetry, short stories, biography, comfort-for-the-middle-of-the-night etc). I’ve just excitedly added Mary Ruefle’s lectures Madness, Rack and Honey to my pile. And the novel I’m reading is This Mournable Body by the wonderful Tsitsi Dangarembga.

EP: ‘What are you working on now?’

KL: ‘A new novel called Skylight. I dare say no more!’

 

Kiare Ladner

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. Her debut novel, Nightshift, was published by Picador last month and is available to buy now.

For information on the Novel Studio and how to apply, visit City’s website.

For those who want to hear Kiare read from her novel, she will be the guest at our next City Writes on 1 April.

Register for free attendance here.

City Novel Studio Agent Competition Winners

By Emily Pedder

We are  delighted to announce the winners of City’s Novel Studio Agent Competition 2020. In a rare opportunity to bypass the slush pile, all applications to the Novel Studio are automatically considered for our literary agent competition, run in conjunction with Christine Green Authors’ Agency.

Competition winner Nana Wereko-Brobby

This year’s winners are Janice Okoh, Freya Sanders and Nana Wereko-Brobby.

Novel Studio tutor Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone said ‘The standard of submissions this year was really high and these three winners are writers with some serious promise. Alongside depth of character and enticing plot, their writing shines with eloquence. This is a group of writers to watch!’

Competition winner Janice Okoh

The Novel Studio is City’s flagship year-long course for aspiring novelists. Established for over a decade, the course has a strong track record of published alumni including bestselling authors Harriet Tyce and Hannah Begbie, and debut novelist Deepa Anappara.

Competition winner Freya Sanders

An early winner of the agent competition, Hannah Begbie has gone on to publish two award-winning novels, Mother and Blurred Lines. Another winner, Louise Beere, was shortlisted for the 2019 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize.

Congratulations to Janice, Freya and Nana! We can’t wait to see your writing careers develop over the coming months and years.

Novel Studio Scholarship Winner 2020

Winner of 2020 Novel Studio Scholarship Announced

By Emily Pedder

The second  Novel Studio scholarship, set up to support a talented writer from a low-income household, has been awarded to Janice Okoh.

Janice will now join The Novel Studio 2020/21, alongside 14 other selected writers. Speaking of Janice’s application,  Novel Studio tutor Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone commented: “I was totally gripped by the story that Janice Okoh sent in with her application. Her work is filled with character, pace and a beautiful sense of place. There is an urgency to get across a British Nigerian experience that sings from the page.”

Janice Okoh, winner of Novel Studio Scholarship 2020

On winning the scholarship, Janice said she was “thrilled to be able to  further develop my novel writing skills on such a prestigious course.  I have so many ideas, I can’t wait to focus on one of them and interrogate it for an entire year. Like a lot of people, the effects of the pandemic meant that I lost a substantial part of my planned income so without the scholarship I would not have been able to attend the course. Thank you, Harriet Tyce.”

Novel Studio alumna and crime writer Harriet Tyce set up the scholarship in 2019 as a way to help talented writers who might not otherwise be able to take up a place on the course. Lola Okolosie, the inaugural recipient of the scholarship, has said the opportunity was “life changing”.

The Lies You Told, Harriet Tyce’s second novel

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

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

Congratulations, Janice! We are so looking forward to seeing your novel develop over the year.

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

What short courses can I do online?

Covid-19 has changed adult education overnight. With all classroom learning postponed until further notice, many of us are seeking out alternatives ways to upskill or pursue a new interest.  And there is certainly no shortage of choice!

The internet is over-saturated with distant learning providers, from prerecorded lectures to technology led learning, it’s hard to know where to begin. If you have found yourself asking the question ‘what short courses can I do online?’ we have some top tips for finding an online course.

Top 3 tips for picking an online course

  1. Find a reputable provider

With so many options online, is can be hard to identity reputable providers from a host of low-quality distant learning courses. Do your research. Be cautious of unknown providers or courses offered at exceptionally low cost – if it seems too good to be true, it may well be.

  1. Be mindful of group sizes

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are free online courses open to anyone across the world. While this may seem like an attractive offer, it is a learning experience that will not suit everyone. You’ll be one of tens of thousands of students taking a course, meaning there won’t be opportunities to have one-to-one meetings and direct feedback from the tutor. If you want a tutor-led experience, where the tutor will be mindful of whether you are doing well or you need extra support a MOOC is not the answer.

  1. Look for courses with live tutor engagement

The term distant learning can mean many different things. To really get the most out of your time, look for a course that provides live, two-way interaction between you and your tutor. Not only can building a rapport with your tutor and peers improve your performance, it also makes a much more personable and enjoyable learning experience.

Short Courses at City, University of London

City, University of London has already started teaching short courses remotely. We hope that you’ll learn with us and enjoy the benefits we have on offer. If you’re still not sure, here are some reasons to study online with City.

Quality education from a world-leading University

City, University of London is one of the most trusted names in adult education, with a longstanding reputation for excellence across all our short course provision. As part of the prestigious University of London Federation, we offer industry-led education at a world-class University.

Learn as part of small group

Traditionally a face-to-face provider, City Short Courses can bring the benefits of classroom learning to your home. You will learn as part of a small group, with no more than 20 other students – but usually less than ten and often just four or five others – creating a personable and tailored learning experience.

“It’s great to be able to participate in classes from the comfort of your own home and it helps to have a small class size, so we get lots of time to talk about our work and get feedback from the tutor.”

Hamdi Khalif, The Novel Studio student

Quality time and feedback from your tutor

Due to our small group-size, you’ll be guaranteed a high level of interaction with your tutor. Our tutors will be available to you live throughout the class, giving you ample opportunity to ask questions and work at a pace that suits you.

“Each group and class I teach is completely unique. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in my classes, they are very much led by the individual students’ interests or areas of concern. The students get so much more out of the lessons when learning is directed by the students’ needs”.

 Dionisios Dimakopoulos, Tutor and Computing Course Coordinator 

Next term starts Monday 28th September 2020, find out more about our courses and enrol online.

City Writes Takes to Zoom with Magical Effect

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

What a delight to be able to share our fabulous City Writes competition winners alongside alumna, author, screenwriter and folklorist Shahrukh Husain, with a Zoom audience on Wednesday the 8th July 2020. After delaying the Spring event due to the pandemic, it was brilliant to be back online.

Competition winners, Alexandra McDermott, Marina Nenadic, Mike Clarke, AS Renard and Linda Fripps all shared their stories, taking us from Kansas, to a fish market in Gothenburg, then to a comedy club in Hackney, a horse ride through Mexico and finally to a treatment room in a Children’s A&E department. The authors all read brilliantly. Something about Zoom really lends an intimacy to readings that creates a plus side to missing out on seeing people in the flesh. It’s great to be spellbound by voices that transport us with their stories.

Following the readings, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Shahrukh Husain. A former student on the Certificate in Novel Writing (the Novel Studio as was), Shahrukh is an incredibly experienced and talented writer with a love and enthusiasm for storytelling that is infectious. Focused around the recent republication of The Virago Book of Witches, which she edited and wrote a new forward for, our conversation explored the witch across cultures and through history. 

For those of you wanting a more in-depth experience, a video of the event is available to watch here. I thoroughly recommend it. The readings and conversation were inspiring. I left wanting to get reading and writing as well as feeling filled with enthusiasm for next term’s City Writes (also to be held on Zoom) that will host the wonderful Deepa Anappara, whose novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, was longlisted for the Booker Prize earlier this year. Watch this space for announcements of competition deadlines and event dates.

Our Turn to Learn: How Short Courses Adapted to Covid-19

In week eight of the short courses spring term the country was hurled into lockdown and all classroom teaching was formally suspended.

News of these much-needed safety measures was welcomed by the Short Course team; but with two more weeks of teaching to go and a new term around the corner, the pressure was on.

Having seen the situation unfold in the weeks prior, we’d already started planning for remote learning; but it was safe to say the global pandemic had thrown us in at the deep end.

Now that safety had been addressed, our first concern was completing the spring term so that current students could finish the courses they had been working so hard for.

Led by Bill Richardson, our team catch-up meetings were upped to twice a week, to talk through issues arising and ensure our students got the quality teaching that they deserve.

All students were notified that the final two lessons of spring term would be taught remotely and were provided with clear instructions for using the online learning tools, Moodle and Microsoft Teams. Course Coordinators worked closely with our tutors to offer training and technical support for running online classes.

Next we had to consider our approach to the summer term, due to start in a matter of weeks. We had to make a choice – postpone teaching or embrace the challenge. Encouraged by positive feedback from the spring term and a desire to fulfil our commitment to students, we decided to make it work.

Our marketing creative required a total overhaul to focus on remote learning. We communicated our new offering via emails, blogs and the City website. This was not without its complications. Our online message to students coincided with a University-wide content freeze of the City website, delaying our plans.  We pushed term back by one week to give us more time to prepare.

Grappling with issues of student IT logins, joining instructions and training for online platforms, there was a lot of work to be done. Forward thinking from the Short Courses Administration team meant that students were contacted to talk through any technical difficulties before the start of term. Computing courses presented their own set of challenges of software setup and configuration.  Our Computing Coordinator offered step-by step guidance and live email and phone support.

The first week of term went smoothly – largely due to the dedication and hard work from the team. We had 474 students confirmed on over 50 short courses. A welcomed consequence of these unexpected events was collaboration within the team – and beyond it. From Course Coordinators leaning on one-another to navigate through set up and planning; to Research & Enterprise’s Stefan Rankov, who particularly went out of his way to offer training support on Microsoft Teams.

Now into our fourth week of the summer term, we are undergoing a careful evaluation process, requesting feedback from students and tutors to identify any problems and adapt our approach accordingly.  We have some tweaks to make but so far, our response has been overwhelmingly positive from tutors and students alike.

 “I had a great time learning C with you. Specific thanks for putting together the virtual class, I found this super helpful and think I actually preferred the format.”

Benjamin Wade, C++ student

“The short courses team expeditiously responded to my training needs and were able to provide close guidance and support on adapting my classes to enable online seminars, chats, calls, screensharing, and file sharing, so that I could seamlessly move into virtual teaching.”

Nasreen Chaudhury, Law tutor

None of this would have been possible without our tutors’ admirable approach to change, their enthusiasm to teach and their wiliness to get to grips with online learning techniques. Even more wonderful is the willingness from tutors to share their best practice techniques and teaching experiences with one another.

Thank you to all of our staff and tutors for making our move to online teaching such a success.

How has your experience been of learning online with us? We’d love to hear, write your comments in the section below.

Novel Studio alumna Ali Thurm publishes debut novel

Novel Studio alumna Ali Thurm on the enduring group of friends she made while on the course, and her path to publication.

“In 2012 I’d been working on One Scheme of Happiness for about a year; I could tell a story with a beginning, middle and end but what I had wasn’t a novel. I’ve always read a lot and studied literature at university so I knew what a novel could be like. I knew I could write but I didn’t know how to structure a novel, how to write effective dialogue and many things I didn’t even know I didn’t know (voice, point of view, first person or third person…)

Then I saw an open evening for the Novel Studio (arts council website). By the end of the course I not only had a structure I was happy with, I also knew how to write a letter to an agent and how to submit my work. I also had a group of friends who would give valuable, objective feedback on my work. Seven years later we still meet regularly to write, share work and celebrate successes. Even in this time of self-isolation we’re Zooming together. It’s been amazing to be friends with other writers who are also balancing writing with work and childcare.

After the course I kept going until I had a draft of my novel that I was happy with, then started:

  1. Choosing agents and sending the first few chapters out.
  2. Enrolling on short courses.
  3. Entering novel competitions.
  4. Building up an author profile on Twitter.

It’s a lot of work and a lot of rejection and costs money (some courses and competitions have subsidised places).

But it all helps, and in 2015 I was taken on by Emily Sweet Associates; it was wonderful for a professional to ‘get’ my novel and to validate my writing. Emily suggested editing and redrafting – more work – but the new draft led to some long and short-listing in national competitions. To minimise the angst of waiting for more rejection from publishers (easier if your agent can soften the blow!) I drafted a new novel and set up a WordPress blog to review new books. I also signed up to NetGalley – a brilliant way of reading new books as digital ‘galley proofs’ before they’re published. For free. All you have to do is write a review after you’ve read them. I’ve read books by Kamila Shamsie, Linda Grant, Kit de Waal and many more. Reading is vital for any writer.

Finally in 2018 an indie publisher, Retreat West Books, wanted to publish my novel. Again I had more work to do on the novel itself as well as promoting it on social media, but Amanda Saint has been a great editor. On 27 Feb 2020 my debut, One Scheme of Happiness was published. Just before lock down, I had a launch and signed copies of my book like a proper author!

I’m now working on my next novel: The River Brings the Sea (third in the First Novel Award, 2019).

Congratulations, Ali!

You can follow her on Twitter @alithurm

Or her blog on WordPress https://alithurm.com

For anyone interested in The Novel Studio, applications are now open for entry in October 2020. Further details here.

 

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.

 

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