Category: Success stories (page 1 of 2)

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.

All you need is love

By Emily Pedder

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

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

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

Rachael’s Gift by Alexandra Cameron

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

Dona Nicanora’s Hat Shop by Kirstan Hawkins

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

Foolish Lessons in Life and Love by Penny Rudge

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

Butterfly Ranch by Remy Salters

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

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

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

Creative Writing short courses at City

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

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

 

Short Story Alumna Wins Costa Short Story Award 2019

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

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

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

Course tutor Katy Darby said

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

Short Story Writing Tutor Katy Darby

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

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

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

Congratulations, Anna!

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

Read Anna’s winning story here.

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

By Emily Pedder

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

Lola Okolosie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kiare Ladner

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

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

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

Deepa Anappara

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

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

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

Hannah Begbie

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

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

An interview with Deepa Anappara

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

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

Deepa Anappara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EP: What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bewitched: An interview with Shahrukh Husain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Book of Witches is published by Virago.

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

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

 

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