Tag: Emma Claire Sweeney

Novel Studio to Broygus: a bumpy but worthwhile journey

By Laurence Kershook

 

Thursday 11th October 2018: the first session of City, University of London’s 2018-19 Novel Studio course. Fourteen would-be novelists seated side-by-side around a table back in those distant days when people used to sit side-by-side around tables and not think anything of it: no masks, no social distancing, no worries; just a shared eagerness to take the first tentative steps that would eventually lead to us writing our novels and fulfilling our ambition to see them published.

 

Fast forward to Thursday 24 March 2022. The date when my debut novel, The Broygus, finally went on sale on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats. Between those two dates there’d been seven re-drafts, three editorial assessments, a global pandemic and around forty submissions to agents.

 

In common with so many people, I’d long thought about writing a novel, and had mulled over various ideas in my head and occasionally on paper about what sort of story I’d like to tell. But it wasn’t until my friend Jane, herself a Novel Studio alumna, told me about her experiences on this course that I thought, maybe this is the time. So, after submitting a sample of my writing and being invited to come along for an interview, I was in.

 

The things I learned in that year were a total revelation to me: the three-act structure, the character arc, the inciting incident… plot, sub-plot, synopsis … a whole new language to learn, and most importantly a powerful set of tools to acquire. I’m happy to say that ours was a friendly, supportive group; we all felt that we could safely share our writing efforts with each other in the workshop sessions, and give and receive feedback with openness and confidence.

 

What I remember most vividly is the week when it was the moment for our newly-developed plot synopses to be evaluated in one-to-one tutorials. When it came to my turn, my tutor Emma Claire Sweeney amazed and impressed me by going straight to the heart of my plot, putting her finger decisively on its weakest point and offering me an inspired suggestion that gave me the key to making the whole thing work. True, it meant I’d have to demolish the entire structure and start all over again, but she’d given me such a good idea that I was only too happy to take that on. And looking back, if I hadn’t been on that course, if Emma hadn’t made that suggestion, The Broygus simply wouldn’t have come to life.

 

By the end of the course my novel had pretty well taken shape, and after a second re-draft prompted by a meticulous line-by-line edit from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone an optional extra and totally worthwhile I prepared my introductory letter and sent out the first of my forty submissions to agents.

 

Here’s where I have to admit that not one of my submissions was successful. There eventually came a point where I had to come to terms with the fact that, whatever its reasons, the publishing industry simply didn’t seem to want The Broygus. But after going through the stage, well-known to writers, where I thought about throwing my manuscript into the trash and taking up pottery or knitting, I regained my belief in The Broygus, together with a renewed determination to see it published.

 

In the third term of the course, the one that focused on the business aspects of the writer’s journey, I’d learned some facts about the publishing industry that had left me, frankly, uncomfortable. Top of the list: your novel must fit into an identifiable genre category. Is it a romance? A thriller? A family history? Is it YA, or speculative, or maybe post-apocalyptic? I learned that you need this clear genre identity so that an agent will consider taking you on, a publisher will know how to market your book and a bookseller will know which shelf to put it on. And then, publishers want readers to be able to identify your book with recent successful ones they may have read. Example:  “A love story for the young and free –– think Eleanor Olliphant crossed with Where the Crawdads Sing.”

 

None of this sat comfortably with me, and I found myself, whether rightly or wrongly, coming more and more to think of agents and publishers as the unassailable gatekeepers and arbiters of readers’ tastes. And I could see that my novel was doomed to failure because I was incapable of fitting it into any of those required categories. Or maybe there was another reason: maybe I should accept that it just wasn’t good enough. But that wasn’t the message I was getting back from the few carefully chosen, plain-speaking people I’d invited to read it.

 

What finally got me where I wanted to be was my introduction to self-publishing. Once considered very much the poor relation of the publishing industry and sadly it hasn’t altogether shaken off that stigma  it’s now accounting for a steadily-growing segment of the industry’s output. Acting on the advice of other writers who’d successfully gone down that path, I did some research and met with some industry people who had the necessary know-how. It’s via that route that The Broygus was eventually published, and so far it’s working out very well.

 

Of course, self-publishing isn’t entirely straightforward; in fact, there are definite drawbacks in contrast to the conventional agent-publisher route. But counter-balancing all of those is the very liberating feeling you get of being in the driver’s seat and in control of your own destiny –– and above all, knowing that it’s only on the judgement of readers that your novel will stand or fall. All I can say is, it’s working for me. And thanks, Novel Studio, for the essential part you played in enabling me to bring The Broygus to life.

 

 

About the author

Previously a teacher, education consultant and gigging jazz musician, Laurence  Kershook grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London. He completed his first novel, The Broygus, after graduating from City’s  Novel Studio.

Charting the history of a Jewish East End family torn apart by events spanning three-quarters of the twentieth century, his novel follows one family member’s determination to see the hurts healed and the conflicts laid to rest.

You can buy The Broygus in paperback or e-book.

If you are interested in applying to the Novel Studio, applications are now open for 2022/23 with a deadline of 29th April 2022.

 

Working with writing: the art of collaboration

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

It’s often a challenge to move writing out of the silent room and into the shared space of publication and readership. The Novel Studio’s Working with Writing event was all about helping writers to think about how and who to collaborate with in order to enhance their creative practice and reach more readers.

Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, both tutors on the City’s Novel Studio course, started the evening off by introducing us to the little-known literary friendships of two sets of famous female authors.

We learned that George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe critiqued and supported each other despite their geographical and spiritual distance; and that Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield had a passionate friendship that far surpassed the vitriol commonly used to summarise their relationship.

Through the continued development of their website Something Rhymed, Emily and Emma have learned of many more female literary friendships, inspiring writers to look to their peers for creative development.

Having heard of how to work with other writers, the author Heidi James and her editor at Bluemoose Books Hetha Duffy took to the stage to give us a masterclass in how to develop a creative and productive editorial relationship.

Hetha and Heidi worked closely together to edit Heidi’s novel, Wounding, which follows one woman’s search for identity, redemption and truth. This was a rare opportunity to see how an unpublished manuscript is developed and polished.

Heidi read compelling extracts from the manuscript and the published novel opening the floor to Hetha for explanations behind her reasons for, and ways of, requesting change. We learned that trusting in a shared vision for the end product, being receptive to criticism, ready to ask questions and try things out were all essential tools in a successful editorial relationship.

The evening ended in an exciting and in-depth panel discussion in which professionals and audience members explored the how, why and wherefore of collaborative writing practice. An inspiring and lively evening was enjoyed by all.

City Writes launch

by Novel Studio alumnus, Arun Das

The inaugural City Writes event was held on 29th March 2016. Along with author of Owl Song at Dawn, Emma Claire Sweeney, four writers, alumni and students from City’s creative writing short courses read out their work. Each writer was chosen through a competition run by creative writing tutor Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone.

First to read her story was Evleen Mann, with a piece developed as part of the Novel Studio course. Titled Elvis and the Bear, Evleen fictionalised a humorous but poignant conversation between Rock ‘n’ Roll star Elvis Presley and a bear. Evleen is working on a novel as part of the Novel Studio programme.

Eileen Church Riley, a 2010 graduate of the Novel Studio read an extract from her novel The Tumbledown. Set in Western Nevada, United States, The Tumbledown follows Screeching Eagle and Delicate Bird, members of the Paiute-Shoshone Native American Indian tribe.

Lesley Jones, presented an extract The Worst Day, from a supernatural YA novel. Lesley is also working on a fantasy adventure novel for 9 to 12 year-olds and is a current student of the Novel Studio.

C. G. Menon, who’s pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at City, University of London read the short story I see you in Triplicate. Menon has been published in two short story anthologies, Fugue Press’ Siren II and Dahlia Publishing’s Love Across A Broken Map. Menon has also won the Bare Fiction short story prize, the Asian Writer prize, The Short Story award and the Winchester Writers Festival short story prize. She’s been shortlisted for a number of others, including the Fish short story award, the Short Fiction Journal prize, the Willesden Herald prize and two Words and Women awards.

Emma Claire Sweeney read extracts from her novel Owl Song at Dawn. Published by Legend Press in 2016, Owl Song at Dawn, her debut novel, was inspired by her sister who has cerebral palsy and autism.

Emma is a Novel Studio tutor. Her forthcoming book, A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, is a non-fiction book, which she has co-written with her friend and Novel Studio colleague, Emily Midorikawa. With a foreword by Margaret Atwood, the book will come out in June 2017 with Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA.

City Writes will run every term and will return in the summer on Wednesday 12th July to showcase more of City’s short courses creative writing talent. The deadline for submissions for the summer term is Friday 16th June and readers will be joined by Novel Studio alumna Luiza Sauma who will be reading from her novel Flesh and Bone and Water published by Viking in February 2017.

Arun Das spent ten years working as a journalist and television producer. He moved to England to join his wife and is currently working on a novel as part of the Novel Studio programme.

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