Tag: Katy Darby

Spring 2022 City Writes Journeys Into The Clouds with Author, Michael Mann

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is the showcase event for all the wonderful creative writing coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses. Combining the new voices of students and alumni with the work of published alumni, the event always brings excitement and intrigue and this term’s event had everything from healers through dealers, to feminist and Polish heroes, fabulous chickens, hallucinogenic frogs and of course a twelve-year-old boy working to escape a Victorian style workhouse in an alternative smog-filled London, the protagonist of published guest, Michael Mann’s middle grade debut, Ghostcloud.

We began the night with James Baxter reading an extract from his story, ‘The Drop’. James is an alumnus of the Short Story Writing course at City and he took us into the busy, chaotic streets of a foreign city alongside his English protagonist whose bag was filled with cocaine, wrapped in coffee paste to hide the smell. Leaving us tense and anxious, we were eager to find out what would happen next. It didn’t feel like it would be anything good.

Emma Bielecki, alumna of the fantastic Narrative Non-Fiction course, read next, remaking the familiar Ealing, into her father’s Polish ‘Eh-ALL-ing’. She tantalised our taste buds with Polish cuisine, giving us a picture of her father most at ease peeling a sausage, before expertly navigating us away from food towards the histories of her father and his Polish friends who had fled to London years before. The most topical piece of the night, Emma’s creative non-fiction was a brilliant example of how to take listeners and readers on a sensory and emotional journey to highlight different perspectives of the past that go on to alter our understanding in the present.

We took a fictional turn next, diving into the world of a young girl making money with her friend, in Sini Downing’s extract, ‘The Stink of Money’, taken from her novel. A Short Story Writing and Towards Publication alumna, Sini’s reading was an engrossing immersion into her character. We began by wondering how young girls could make so much money, and feared something darker than the unusual turn Sini introduced. Her protagonist is exhausted from healing people, her sister included. We were all hooked by the end of Sini’s reading.

Following on from Sini was Adam Zunker, another reader who, like Sini, was making his second appearance at City Writes. Adam has taken several short courses in creative writing at City University and he read another extract from his wonderful novel – just completed this week! – in which a young boy attempts to step into the Afterworld using the pus from the back of a sacred frog, a special stone, a fire and two circles. Revolting and transporting, Adam’s reading left us wanting to find out if his young character would be successful.

From frogs to chickens, we joined Alison Halsey next as she read from her novel, Minta Gets Everything Wrong.  Alison has just completed An approach to Creative Writing and she took us to the funeral of her character’s sister, to which the bereaved daughter with disabilities insisted upon bringing her chicken and slapping her half-brother round the head. A black comedy with a warm and informal narrative voice, Alison’s story had us all giggling and looking forward to hearing more.

Our final competition winner, Stephanie Donowho, alumna of Novel Writing and Longer Works, read us her story ‘Once a daughter of Eve’ next. Stephanie’s story took us into the mind of a child growing up in a Christian household, surrounded by Bible geeks, whose self-motivated exploration into less well read parts of the Bible led to finding two stories of women called Tamar, one of whom had to cheat a man into bed. A fascinating story of growing feminist awakening, Stephanie’s piece was a fabulous segue from competition winner to published author.

Our headline act, Michael Mann, read next. Michael is an alumnus of the Writers’ Workshop at City and began his debut, Ghostcloud, in that very class. A winner of Undiscovered Voices 2020 and the 2019 London Writers Award, Michael’s middle grade novel is set in the smoky, dark underworld of Battersea Power Station in an alternative smog-filled London. Michael read the opening of the book in which we met twelve-year-old Luke, struggling to shovel coal, trying to work hard enough to earn his escape back into the light of London and his family from which he was kidnapped. We met his kidnapper, Tabitha, and two of the other children suffering under her regime. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next. Click here to get your copy.

Michael then took part in a Q&A with Novel Studio tutor and City Writes host, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, followed by questions from the audience. Michael helped us understand his inspirations, the development of the novel and how publication and the expectations of publishers has changed his writing practice. Generous in his sharing of tips and ideas for budding children’s authors, you can follow the whole discussion and catch up with our competition winners’ readings, by watching the recording of the event here. Michael was keen to remind the audience that he loves visiting schools. If you do have connections to a Primary School near you, you can contact Michael on mbmann@gmail.com

City Writes is a great space for sharing the creative writing talent that abounds from City’s short creative writing courses. Look out for the Summer event and if you are an alumni or current student, don’t forget to enter next term’s competition. We have two published alumni reading for us next term: Simon Culleton and Attiya Khan, both Novel Studio alumni, whose novels respectively are, Shadows of Fathers about a father’s battle for child custody across national borders and Ten Steps to Us that follows a young Muslim girl’s struggle to maintain her faith in her quest for love. Watch this space for further details of the event and the competition.

Watch the full event 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.

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.

City Writes summer showcase

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

Set up to showcase the wonderful creative writing talent coming from City’s Short Creative Writing courses, City Writes held its second event on the balmy evening of the 12th July to an intimate and attentive audience in City’s Convocation Suite.

Katy Darby, our first competition winner, City Short Courses VL and one of the founders of Liars’ League, began the evening with her story ‘Knock Knock’. A dark and disturbing voice-piece, ‘Knock Knock’ presented the audience with the terrible notion of a baby speaking to its mother in the womb through a series of intense and painful kicks.

Next, we had Bren Gosling reading ‘Meatballs’. An alumnus of The Novel Studio, Bren’s story took us onto a bed in A&E where the protagonist pondered his relationship with his boyfriend while getting his anal cyst lanced. It was as funny and uncomfortable as it sounds.

Our final competition winner was Becky Danks who had just completed the Children’s Fiction course with Caroline Green. Her story, ‘The Anniversary’ was inspired by the painting of the same name and dealt with a couple trying to heal after the stillbirth of their first child. Beautifully poised between the two viewpoints, ‘The Anniversary’ was thought-provoking and quiet in its contemplation of grief and the possibility of recovery.

Our headline act was the wonderful Luiza Sauma, a short courses alumna who was reading from her debut novel, Flesh and Bone and Water, published earlier this year to great acclaim. The novel is set in London and Brazil and explores, through memory, that intense period of early adulthood, lived with such abandon and without the knowledge of the lifelong effects it may have. Heady with Brazilian humidity and the lure of memory, Flesh and Bone and Water unravels the mysteries of Andre’s early youth to great effect, bringing the beauty and heat of Brazil to life.Luiza treated us to a wonderful reading before selling and signing some of her books.

Please do get involved in the next City Writes. If you are an alumni with a novel to promote, get in touch via rebekahlattinr@gmail.com or if you would like to enter the City Writes competition and stand alongside our next professional reader (to be announced in September), the deadline for the Autumn City Writes competition is 17th November. The next event will be held on Wednesday 13th December.

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