Category: Voices from City (page 1 of 5)

City Writes celebrates its first non-fiction guest: Ciaran Thapar

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is such a brilliant showcase for all the fabulous writing talent coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses and this Autumn’s Event was no different. There are always fascinating submissions from the Narrative Non-Fiction course run by Peter Forbes and this term we were able to celebrate some of the fruit of his teaching labours by sharing the work of Narrative Non-Fiction alumnus Ciaran Thapar whose book Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City is an insightful, honest and eye-opening exploration of knife crime and youth violence in London.

As always we began with the competition winners. We went from an exploration of infidelity and class in ‘Salesman of the Year’ by Laurence Kershook all the way to a drunken groom in Grayson Anderson-Brown’s ‘Mum’s Yard’.

Laurence is an alumnus of The Novel Studio and his story set a sinister tone for the evening. As is often the case, a theme seemed to emerge across the winners’ pieces and this time it was an exploration of relationships from people at the end of their relationship journey, through those at the start, towards those whose more intimate relationships are with their art.

We hope Laurence will come back and share his novel, The Broygus, which is due out in mid-2022.

From a jail cell (you read correctly) to a house call, we heard from Pasca Lane next as she read her story, ‘Creature of Habit’. Her main character was desperate to get rid of a fox, to rid his home of the remnants of his ex-wife. A hilariously unself-aware character, Pasca delivered his perspective with aplomb.

Alan Gray, alumnus of the Short Story Writing course, took us on a first date, expertly navigating us through the complications of desire and that human need for connection in his story ‘Nice Meeting You’. There were some great moments of dialogue and a weighty, uncertain end on a sofa.

Another Short Story Writing alumnus, Stephen Kehoe, chilled us with the opening of his novel-in-progress, Defence Mechanism next. A speculative near-future in which the protagonist exploits public officials for some unspecified end, left us all reeling and eager to find out more.

Emily Shammar took us into the world of a blind woman at a picnic next. An alumna of An Approach to Creative Writing this extract from her longer work, ‘The Complicit’ was a thrilling and unnerving ride into uncertainty.

Novel Studio alumnus, Grayson Anderson-Brown gave us some sharply drawn characters next, in his extract ‘Mum’s Yard’ in which two brothers and a cousin try to salvage a wedding day currently not going to plan. They fail to keep the groom’s hung-over dishelvement from Mum, all summoned to her flat for a dressing down.

Mike Clarke was the last of the competition winners to read. A self-confessed City writing course junkie, he read ‘Spray Can Angel’, an extract from his novel-in-progress, Burnt Fingers, in which a female graffiti artist risked serious injury dangling from a fire escape to repair her artwork. Left dangling alongside the protagonist, the audience were hoping to see that novel in print soon.

The evening then took a turn towards non-fiction and the brilliant blend of narrative and sharp political commentary in Ciaran Thapar’s work, Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City which was published by Viking UK (Penguin) in June 2021. Told through a mixture of character journeys based on real people and considered research and argument, the book draws a reader into the lives of those living with youth violence, gaining their empathy and understanding in order to help them see a path towards change.

Ciaran gave a short reading from Chapter Five in which Carl, a young school boy, is sitting in an isolation session at school and feeling worthless and depressed. In a Q&A with host, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Ciaran then spoke further about the themes of the book and his hopes for building more supportive communities for young people. He was an inspirational guest and speaker, providing much food for thought among the audience who were also keen to ask questions. If you haven’t read it, buy it here. Ciaran will also be running a short course at City on Writing for Social Impact, which if his book is anything to go by, will instigate further fascinating and thought-provoking writing.

To experience the event for yourself, watch the full recording now. What a great way to start the festive season with fabulous fireside stories and provocation to think of others.

Novel Studio Scholarship Winner 2021

Winner of 2021 Novel Studio Scholarship Announced

The third  Novel Studio scholarship, set up to support a talented writer from a low-income household, has been awarded to Hawa Maua.

Hawa is now part of  The Novel Studio 2021/22, alongside 14 other selected writers. Speaking of Hawa’s application,  Novel Studio course director Emily Pedder said: “This was an outstanding piece of writing. Distinctive and energetic, there was an urgency to the voice which was compelling.”

 

On winning the scholarship, Hawa said: “For a long time, I dreamt of being heard, giving voice to my thoughts, my hopes, my experiences and the things that I observed. I was dreaming of being a writer and thought someone like me could never get a chance. Now I have a chance to make something more concrete.”

Harriet’s new novel out in 2022.

 

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” while last year’s winner, Janice Okoh, said that without the scholarship she would not have been able to take the course.

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. Her third, It Ends At Midnight, will be published in 2022.

 

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, Hawa! We can’t wait to see your novel develop over the year.

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

City Writes Competition Winners Autumn 2021 Announced!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

You may have already booked your tickets to hear Ciaran Thapar read from his critically acclaimed book, Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City at City Writes on the 15th December 2021, if not you can register for the zoom event here. Now you have even more reasons to come to the event as we announce our wonderful creative writing student and alumni competition winners for autumn 2021. This term’s winners are:

Grayson Anderson

Grayson Anderson-Brown is a British born Jamaican author and poet. Raised in South London, he has spent most of his life writing. His catalogue of work contains songs, poetry, a science fiction trilogy, and an opinion-based non-fiction book relating to the idiosyncrasies of gender in society. He considers himself a student of humanity, culture, and nature. An alumnus of the Novel Studio, he’ll be reading ‘Mum’s Yard’.

 

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke is a City writing course junkie, having studied on several, including the Novel Studio (when it was the Certificate in Novel Writing) and Writers’ Workshop and also graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. Mike’s short stories have been performed by the renowned Liars League. He occasionally dabbles in stand-up and BBC Radio 4 has broadcast some of his allegedly amusing material. He’s been making final edits to two novels for far longer than he’d like to remember. He’ll be reading ‘Spray Can Angel’.

Alan Gray

 

Alan Gray is a writer/psychologist born in Horden, County Durham. He holds an MSc in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford and lives in London. A Short Story Writing alumnus, he’ll be reading ‘Nice Meeting You’.

 

Stephen Kehoe

Stephen Kehoe is a recovered drug addict from Preston and splits his time between London and the Northwest. His degree in English is from Goldsmiths and he studied creative writing at City, University of London. His work has been performed live at Liars’ League. Defence Mechanism, his novel-in-progress, from which he’ll be reading, is a dystopian thriller and the opening scene is the first thing he ever wrote. He’s an alumnus of the City Short Story Writing course.

 

Laurence Kershook

Laurence Kershook is based in Hackney, East London. He’s been a teacher of languages and a jazz musician, but now he devotes most of his time to writing. While attending the Novel Studio course in 2018-19 he started working on his novel The Broygus, a mystery story set in the 1970’s that chronicles a young man’s quest to find meaning in his life by unearthing the long-buried secrets of his East End Jewish family. The Broygus will be self-published in mid-2022. He’ll be reading his story ‘Salesman of the Year’.

Pasca Lane

Pasca Lane is a professional storyteller working in the not-for-profit sector. She has won numerous awards for her work – bringing stories to life through compelling words and creative multimedia content – and currently heads up the Media team at the British Red Cross. She loves to travel, and has contributed to a number of travel publications including Lonely Planet. Pasca lives in North London and is proud of her family’s long-standing roots in the capital. She hopes one day to tell the story of previous generations on her mother’s side, who served as Thames Watermen in the East End. Pasca is an alumna of our Feature Writing course ( which no longer runs but we hope to bring it back soon!) She’ll be reading ‘Creature of Habit’.

 

Emily Shamma

Emily Shamma is a City periodical journalism graduate. She started her career as a fashion journalist, before moving into business journalism. Emma then spent time as a retail analyst in the City, before working as a Director at Tesco for 17 years. She lives in Islington with her husband and 11-year-old daughter Estella. Emma now writes creatively for pleasure, and her other interests include modern art, cookery and the theatre. An Approach to Creative Writingalumna, she’ll be reading her story ‘The Complicit’.

As you can tell, City Writes Autumn 2021 is going to be a fantastic showcase of the creative writing talent coming from City’s creative writing short courses, with readings and a Q&A with Ciaran Thapar. Don’t miss out and register now for your link to the zoom event on the 15th December at 7pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

4 Must-Read Debut Novels by Black Authors

By Sila Kabongo

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve picked four brilliant books that celebrate  – and reveal – black culture. Read, learn and enjoy.

Love in Colour by Bolu Babolola

A Sunday Times bestselling collection of mythical tales from round the world ‘remixed’ into joyful modern love stories. I loved that the author made all the female characters the narrators, giving them a voice, contrary to the original tales. Like competitive swimmer, Osun – inspired by the story of Yoruba river goddess Oshun – who is courageous enough to leave her polygamous husband for another man who sees more than just the surface.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

After seeing that this novel is based on a young Black British woman in London, I had to read her story. Queenie Jenkins, 25, is a Black Jamaican journalist living in Clapham with her grandparents after splitting from long-term partner, Tom. Soon she takes a downward spiral, getting involved with the wrong men, and self-sabotaging at  work. Despite the constant drama, her friends and family are always there to help her. Queenie is being developed into a TV series, coming to Channel 4  in 2023.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This isn’t a mystery; we know the killer is Ayoola – a beautiful and popular Nigerian woman who attracts dead-end relationships. Literally. Her older sister and nurse, Korede, assists Ayoola with disposing of the bodies of her male victims. Korede is in love with a doctor at her hospital – but he is in love with her serial killer sister – and her loyalty is tested. I spent more time thinking about why Ayoola is psychotic than her crimes, analysing flashbacks to the siblings abusive upbringing. Winner of the British Book Award for Crime & Thriller Book of the Year 2020.

 Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

A poetic and emotional easy-read whose unnamed main character is a Black British male and photographer who falls in love with a dancer he met at a bar. Open Water is written in the second person, giving it an immediacy in which we, the readers, face racial profiling, loss, grief, and the strain that all the trauma puts on his relationship. Caleb gives no character a name, perhaps as a metaphor for us being in the shoes of the main character. A rare and rhythmic read for understanding the culture and perspectives of black men growing up in London today.

Read more of Silas book reviews at RealReadsOnline – Fall In Love With Reading.

Sila completed Introduction to Copywriting with Maggie Richards.

London Culture Shocks from an Irish Perspective

by Megan O’ Reilly

I’d always had a feeling that I’d love London. From the bustling tourists to the stuffy Tube, every element contrasted with the small Irish town Id called home for 23 years. Despite feeling ready for my move across the Irish Sea, I didn’t anticipate the culture shocks Ive come to know so well.

 

Adjusting to life in a new environment can be difficult for the best of us, and perhaps I was a bit naive when I gathered my belongings and headed to a city of ten million, coming from an island with a population of half the amount. I’d lived abroad two years before – in Bologna for my Erasmus year – and thought myself well versed in new experiences. 

 

Stepping off the plane at Stansted was something I’d envisioned since I’d left school, and after settling into my new house in Twickenham and getting to grips with the trains (who knew tapping in and out could cause such grief!), I started to see the small differences between my Galway and London lives. This was in 2019.

 

London

Galway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started working at Fortnum and Mason as a Retail Host. The considerable gap between social classes soon made itself apparent in the 300-year-old luxury establishment, something that isn’t as obvious in Ireland. I found it difficult to understand how such wealthy people could live and shop only a few roads away from a growing homeless population finding shelter in Green Park Tube station.

 

I noticed how much more diverse London was – a very positive aspect which I admire a lot. My colleagues and customers came from a range of backgrounds and cultures. They made working there not only refreshing but extremely interesting. While Ireland is slowly becoming more culturally diverse, theres still a long way to go.

 

As Irish twangs go, the Galway accent is on the softer side, and when I first started working in the capital, I was asked what part of Canada I was from! I wouldn’t consider my accent particularly strong, but of course, I received affectionate comments from my London friends on how I pronounce certain words.

 

Two years on, I’ve adjusted some of my slang. I now say “trainers” rather than “runners”, and when asking hypothetical questions I’m conscious of using “Shall we?” not Will we?”. You’d be surprised how quickly people pick up on the smallest of differences.

 

As much as I miss Ireland, I’m glad I left. London has so much to offer, and Im ready for even more new friends and new excitement! I’ve started making a list of at least 20 new restaurants to try out, and have given Soho’s bustling bars great business since the end of lockdown. And yet there’s a reassurance in knowing that I’m never far from another Irish person.

 

I often think of a time when I was on holiday in Spain with an English friend, and we bumped into a lovely lady from Dublin. It was St. Patrick’s Day and any and every Irish person was celebrating. My friend couldn’t believe I’d stopped to talk for five minutes with a stranger. Apparently, she’d never do this if she met someone British abroad. This sense of community across the globe is in our Irish blood.

 

For anyone thinking about taking the leap to pastures new, I cant recommend it enough. Diving into a new place in which to discover yourself and flourish is a fantastic experience, and something I believe everyone should strive for. As scary as it may seem, you might just find yourself in your new home. By being in a new environment you allow yourself to escape your comfort zone. Just expect a few surprises along the way!

 

Megan completed our Introduction to Copywriting masterclass with Maggie Richards. For more information on our writing short courses visit our home page here.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The Road Less Travelled: City short course alumnus Simon Culleton’s long journey to publication

By Simon Culleton

‘I know a literary agent,’ said my opponent as we passed at the net. I tried to act casual to disguise my eagerness so waited until we had played two more games and passed again. I feigned breathlessness.

‘Perhaps,’ I said still catching my breath, ‘Perhaps you might want to put in a word for me.’ He sucked the air through his teeth and looked as though I had just asked for one of his kidneys. He waited until we were stood in front of a crowd of people on the clubhouse veranda before counting off three fingers.

‘One, I’ll need a letter of introduction, he said. ‘Two, a brief outline of what the book is about and three…’ he now had the complete attention of a gathering crowd, ‘And Three, I’ll need the full manuscript with no spelling mistakes.’

‘What, no spelling mistakes?’  I didn’t say that of course, I just accepted his request with a subservient bow of my head. I’m a writer, and like all writers am desperate to get published.

I’d love to tell you that I let him win the tennis match, but he far outranked me and was always going to win. I had only agreed to play with him because I heard he had a friend who was a literary agent.

It had been three years since I’d first walked into the classroom at City University of London’s ‘Novel writing’ evening class. One of the first tasks that our tutor, Martin Ouvry, had set for the class was to document why we wanted to write our chosen novel. It was a telling exercise.

My answer was honest; I didn’t want to write this novel, I wrote. It was too personal and raw. More accurately, I continued, ‘the last thing I wanted to do was remember. Yet inevitably, almost fatally, whenever I attempted to write a different storyline, all my characters were either divorced or battling in some way for their children. So eventually I submitted. It was always going to be ‘Shadows of Fathers’ first.

I remained with City and progressed to their year-long Novel Studio course. I enjoyed the twice-weekly structure and the twelve-thousand word, deep critique was a particular landmark in my novel progress.

The Novel studio course paid particular attention to obtaining an agent worthy to champion our book. Emphasis was put on presentation, catchy letters to attract an agent:

“Dear Madam, I respectfully submit… Dear Sir would you please consider…  or   Dear Michael I read in your bio that you enjoy stories that surprise you…  Hey Sarah, like you I play tennis (badly) …

I sent over fifty, all of which got nowhere, most didn’t bother replying. I even tried some of the foreign literary agents. A reply email from Hamburg went something like this:

Thank you for your story, Simon. Everyone in the office really enjoyed it although the literary agency no longer owns these premises, we are boat engineers.

I stayed with City University and enrolled in a further three workshops with Katy Darby as well as travelling to Greece for the Athens international School Of Creative Writing. One particular highlight was attending a flash fiction class taught by the excellent writer Heidi James.

I quite literally immersed myself in the writing world. Although I had yet to find representation; a nagging doubt that was always with me. One of the hardest things I found about writing a novel is that you have to finish it before knowing whether it will be a success.

During the first lockdown, I became despondent until a chance text conversation from an old friend I had not seen since my school days. (When we were young teenagers she had let me hold her hand at the bus stop). ‘I know someone who is a publisher’ she texted. A sudden vision of the man standing on the tennis club veranda came into mind. But this was Bernadette, I thought. I had missed a bus for her when I was fourteen.

As it turned out, my tennis friend didn’t

Author Simon Culleton

know an agent, after all, he only knew the father of the agent and had subsequently fallen out with him, (possibly over a spelling mistake).

So once again I sent off my synopsis and the first fifty pages. After a few weeks, I received a request to send the rest of my novel. I was on top of a wobbly tower scaffold laying heavy blocks when I received an online zoom invitation. Rose Drew of Stairwell books, an American woman from Florida whose exuberant hand gestures took up the whole of the computer screen, was enthusiastic. She had read my book and could relate to all my characters and recite any passage from my novel. I had found my champion.

It has been a long and arduous road with weekends and evenings spent writing in libraries and coffee shops, London university corridors and crowded Greek restaurants. At work I was forever scrawling notes for my novel on pieces of timber and newly plastered walls; conversations were cut short while I retained a thought later to be added.

It takes dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness to complete a novel and in my case a lot of help and guidance too. City was a wonderful place that helped harness my book idea to the finished debut novel that is Shadows of Fathers.

About the author: Simon Culleton was born and bred in Essex England, where he lives with his two children. His love for writing began when he wrote a short story at age 17, while sat in a derelict car, which went on to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He loves to travel and has worked his way around the world, undertaking jobs from snow clearing in Sweden, to construction work in California. Simon has a passion for chronicling everyday people which extends even to himself: he has maintained a personal daily diary for over 40 years.

About the book: When Richard realizes his German wife is not returning to England with their children, the subsequent journey he must take encompasses new geographical and emotional realms. With the help of comic but effective German lawyer Otto Lehmann, Richard’s fight for his family is both heart-wrenching and humorous, in a story that crosses countries and cultures. Shadows of Fathers offers an alternative view of separation: a dedicated father fighting for the right to parent in a new and relevant take on contemporary fatherhood: not only in the mid-1990s setting but also in today’s society.

Simon’s debut novel, Shadows of Fathers

Shadows of Fathers is available for pre-order on Amazon, Google books and many more. Published by Stairwell Books in October 2021, the first chapter can be viewed on the ‘Coming Soon’ page at Stairwell Books.

City Writes Autumn 2021 Competition Opens 

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

This term’s showcase for the creative writing talent coming from City’s short courses may not be until the 15th December 2021 but we’re delighted to announce that Narrative Non-Fiction alumnus Ciaran Thapar will be our professional writer this term.

Ciaran Thapar is the author of Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City, which was published by Viking UK (Penguin) in June 2021. As a youth worker in schools, youth clubs and prisons, Ciaran completed the Narrative Non-Fiction Short Course at City in 2016 in an attempt to tell stories about his work on the ground. Alongside completing mentoring and workshop facilitation with young people, he writes regularly for publications such as British GQ and The Guardian, usually about youth culture, race politics and rap music in the UK.

Cut Short has had a fabulous reception from people as wide-ranging as the writer Nikesh Shukla to David Lammy MP. Exploring the lives of different characters involved in Britain’s youth violence epidemic, Ciaran includes interviews and research that reveal a society fracturing along lines of race, class and postcode. Author Candice Carty-Williams calls it ‘A devastating and beautifully-drawn tribute to the young boys that the media turns into statistics of knife crime’.

For your chance to join Ciaran on the online stage, you need only send 1,000 words of your best creative writing, fiction or nonfiction (though no poetry or children’s fiction) to rebekah.lattin-rawstrone.2@city.ac.uk with details of which short course you took or are taking. Full submission details can be found here. The competition is open until 19th November 2021 and entrants will be informed of the outcome of their submission by the 26th November 2021. We look forward to receiving your work.

In the meantime, those of you keen to hear Ciaran read from Cut Short, can register for the City Writes Autumn event on the 15th December 2021 here. There will also be a short Q&A with Ciaran so get a head start and buy his book in advance here. City Writes Autumn 2021 will be a fabulous way to start your festive season, thinking of others and sharing some wonderful stories. We can’t wait to see you there!

Ciaran Thapar

Ten questions about Ten Steps to Us

Ahead of the publication of her debut YA novel, Ten Steps to Us, author and Novel Studio alumna, Attiya Khan, kindly found time to answer some questions from Novel Studio Course Director, Emily Pedder.

  1. How did the idea for Ten Steps to Us first come about?

The opening scene started as a simple writing exercise in a creative writing workshop that I was part of. It got really good feedback in the class and the story just blossomed in my mind. The characters of Aisha and Darren and their forbidden love developed over time into a full novel.

  1. Did you always know you wanted to write a Young Adult novel?

    Attiya Khan, author of Ten Steps to Us

I have three teenage kids and I remember my daughter saying there were so few books that she could relate to because there were so few BAME characters. This really spurred me on to write such characters. I also think the angst and the pain you feel as a teenager, when you are learning who you are as a person, are so interesting to write about as there is so much conflict.

  1. Which writers or books have inspired you?

I love all kinds of books: thrillers, crime, romance and literary fiction. At the moment I am a little bit obsessed with Elif Shafak and am working through all her books. I recently finished The Forty Rules of Love which is about Sufiism, and I thought it was a masterpiece.

  1. Your novel deals with complicated issues of religion, race and class in an accessible and entertaining way. Was that important to you when thinking about writing this novel?

It was very important to me. The book is not an autobiography but there are elements of myself in Aisha. As a Muslim girl growing up in Kent I often felt very isolated and that I didn’t quite fit in. I am very interested in the angst that people feel when they are caught between two cultures. I wanted to play with the idea of being stuck in the middle and the confusion and pain that brings, when you don’t quite know which way to turn. I wanted to convey that it’s okay to be confused about who you are and to feel torn. You don’t have to be perfect to be a Muslim. Religion is a very personal thing, and it really is between you and God. Everyone finds their own way.

  1. What’s your writing process? Do you plan first, or do you write to find out what you want to say and how you want to say it?

A bit of both to be honest. With this book, I wrote the beginning and then the end. I got stuck in the middle so did a chapter plan and worked out what was going to happen and then wrote it.

  1. You’re a graduate of City’s Novel Studio. Can you tell us a little about your experience on the course and how it fed into your novel?

The plan that I just talked about was suggested by the Novel studio in one of the tutorials and it really helped. I probably wouldn’t have completed the first draft of the novel if it wasn’t for the Novel Studio. We did a showcase and following this an agent contacted me saying she wanted to read the rest of the novel. This motivated me to complete the novel.

  1. What was your path to publication? And how has the experience been so far?

The agent who contacted me following the showcase didn’t actually sign me, but her interest led me to believe in myself a little more. I completed the first draft of my manuscript after she showed interest and shortly after this was selected for David Higham’s Open Day for Underrepresented Writers and then longlisted for Undiscovered Voices 2020. I really started to believe in my novel after this. I got picked up by Hashtag Blak, a publishing house for underrepresented writers at the start of the pandemic. It has been a great experience so far. We have been through several rounds of edits and the book is out for publication 9th September. Exciting times!

  1. Amazingly, you’re not just a novelist but you’re also a GP and a mother of three. How do you find time to write?

It has been very challenging, especially with the pandemic when work became very, very busy. However, for me, writing is an escape from the stress of day to day life. I also got a lot of support from the critique groups that I was part of. It is hard but I love it and I guess that’s what kept me motivated.

  1. What advice would you give your younger writing self?

Believe in yourself! Listen to constructive feedback and take it on board but also develop a thick skin. Other people’s opinion is very subjective, what one person hates another person may love. Tell the story that you want to tell.

  1. What are you working on next?

I am in the middle of writing a GP thriller. (Again, I must stress this is not an autobiography!) It’s about a doctor with mental health problems who is working with another doctor who she suspects is a murderer. Is she losing her mind or are her suspicions correct – and if they are correct how will she get anyone to believe her?

Thank you so much, Attiya! And huge congratulations on your brilliant debut. We wish you all the success in the world with it.

Ten Steps To Us will be published by Hashtag Blak on 9th September 2021. Pre-order the book here.

‘To Write is Human, to Edit Divine’: Why it’s Essential to Edit Your Copy

By Hannah Boursnell 

Stephen King’s tribute to his ‘divine’ editor – from his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – is a creed all writers should live by. Yet when I recently turned my red pen on my own writing on a City short course, I was reminded that even professional editors need to keep their words in check.

Words are seductive.  You select one ‘perfect’ adjective, add it to your carefully constructed sentence and put down your pen, satisfied. But then another flutters its eyelashes at you from over by the thesaurus.

You know you shouldn’t, but the temptation is too strong. So you add another. And another… Before you know it, you’re drowning in description and your word count is out of control.

Over the course of my 15-year career as a book editor, I’ve seen this problem rear its loquacious head time and time again. And on City’s excellent Introduction to Copywriting course, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that even I’m not immune to the come-hither allure of an extra adjective.

My name is Hannah and I’m addicted to words.

The novelist Ernest Hemingway – renowned for his spare, efficient prose – offered this typically pithy advice to writers: ‘Use short sentences.’ He understood that every word must earn its place. Dense, over-elaborate text risks becoming tedious and impenetrable, but when writing is precise and simple, each word shines with a clarity of meaning.

If you suspect your writing might be overcrowded, the answer – always – is to edit. In her memoir Stet: An Editor’s Life, Diana Athill described editing as ‘removing layers of crumpled brown paper from an awkwardly shaped parcel and revealing the attractive present it contained’.

When editing, I do so with Athill on my shoulder. My pen is used to gently clear away anything that might obscure the author’s intended meaning.

But when I’m writing? Sometimes the joy of being creative on my own terms is so intoxicating that I’m prone to forget the editorial truths I hold sacred. One such truth is that a writer should always thoroughly edit their own work. This requires bravery, but you’ll become a better writer if you persevere.

Five steps to self-editing success

  • Take a break before you begin. Even an hour will provide a fresh perspective.
  • Edit on paper – you’ll notice things you overlooked on screen.
  • Change the font to trick your eyes into thinking they’re reading something new.
  • Read the text aloud – especially dialogue. It encourages weaknesses to reveal themselves.
  • Cut as rigorously as you dare, but save previous versions. Just in case.

‘Kill your darlings’… with kindness

I’ve found that the practice of self-editing is both sharpening my writing and making me a more compassionate editor.

When a draft has been loved and laboured over, every cut can sting – whether the edits are made by a professional or with your own red pen. Deleting my own precious words, I’m constantly reminded of the courage and vulnerability that’s required any time a writer puts pen to paper. It is a privilege to be entrusted with another writer’s work.

I’m not sure if I’ll overcome my addiction to words, but they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step. In the meantime, I’ll continue to pack my first drafts full of delightful, dazzling, delicious words – and seek divine inspiration as I edit them.

 

Hannah Boursnell took City’s Introduction to Copywriting course which is taught by the brilliant Maggie Richards. For more information on all of our short writing courses, visit our website.

 

 

 

City Writes Summer 2021 Event Gives it 110%

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

On the warm summer evening of the 7th July, when most of the nation was preparing to watch the game that doesn’t need a mention, the fabulous students and alumni of City, University of London’s creative writing short courses were providing entertainment of a literary kind. With a fantastic group of competition winners, many alumni of Peter Forbes’ excellent Narrative Non-Fiction course, the audience were in for a treat that culminated in Alex Morrall reading from, and discussing, her debut, Helen and the Grandbees published by Legend Press in 2020.

Anne Manson began the evening with a haunting and gripping post-apocalyptic tale, ‘Bones’, about a father and child subsisting against all the odds on a small patch of land surrounded by toxic floodwater. An alumna of the Crime and Thriller Writing course with Caroline Green and the Short Story course with Katy Darby, Anne’s superb delivery was spell-binding and thought-provoking.

Susanna Morton – the first of our Narrative Non-Fiction alumni – read her minutely observed domestic drama next, ‘Regrowth’, where a couple struggle to communicate about lost money and time is marked by the slow progress of a dent in a nail growing from the cuticle to the fingertip. Quiet and precise, this unique glimpse into a couple’s life sent a visible hush through the zoom audience.

We heard from another Narrative Non-Fiction alumna next as Jen Metcalf read her fascinating account of a lost place and time in her personal Berlin, ‘Tentstation’. Reminding us of the wonderful ways in which writing can capture places and moments, and of the magical way in which each of us creates a unique understanding of the places in which we live – your city not ever quite being the same as mine – Jen transported us into a swirl of transient lindy hopping.

Alumnus Adam Zunker read next. Having taken both the Introduction to Creative Writing and the Writers’ Workshop courses, Adam shared an extract, ‘Mosquitto Gods’, from his fantasy novel-in-progress, taking us into the afterlife with his character. We tasted the goat droppings and felt the swirling winds of spirits passed on, making us eager to find out what would happen next.

Alex Morrall

Returning to the complex world of dating and relationships next, Helen Ferguson, Novel Studio alumna, read an extract from her novel, End Cuts. Poignant and carefully observed, the extract explored the main character’s relationship with Matthew, a man whose love was more potent and exciting when contained by brief time spans and a boring town rather than the glory of a child-free holiday in the Adriatic.

Glenda Cooper, our final Narrative Non-Fiction alumna, was the last of the competition winners to read and she took us back into the annals of English history with an extract from her novel-in-progress, The Heaven Born, an account of the scandalous life of her great-grandmother. We were skillfully placed right into the heart of a trial in which the woman in question, the ‘slut’ behind the crime, was sitting in the courtroom listening to all the gossip she’d generated. It was a striking end to an outstanding set of readings from the competition winners.

Having heard from the soon-to-be published, we were then treated to a reading from our professional alumna, Alex Morrall. Alex, who took a Freelance Writing short course with Susan Grossman, shared a passage of her debut, Helen and the Grandbees, published by Legend Press in 2020. We were introduced to Helen and learned a little of her history, exploring her need to escape difficult truths from her past and being given the origin of the term grandbees. It was an excellent way in to a discussion about the novel, a mother and daughter reunion that explores identity, race and mental illness.

Alex gave interesting and thoughtful answers to my questions, allowing the audience a chance to investigate some of the novel’s central concerns and the particulars of Alex’s writing practice. Inspired by her voluntary work, we were amazed that Alex is able to write in front of the television and that she has already written another novel and is halfway through her third. Go, Alex! We can’t wait to read the next one!

For those who haven’t read Helen and the Grandbees, you can get access to a 20% discount from Legend Press by going to their bookshop and entering this code at the check out: HELEN20. The offer lasts until the 12th July, so hurry!

If you weren’t able to attend on the night, don’t worry, we recorded the session and you can see it here. Don’t forget to watch out for future City Writes events and competition dates. If the City Writes Summer 2021 event was anything to go by, you can’t afford to miss the amazing talent coming from the creative writing short courses, so do look out for our Autumn event next term.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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