Tag: nonfiction (page 1 of 2)

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

‘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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narrative or Therapeutic Non-fiction: does it really matter?

By Raviakash Deu

Doctors, nurses, scientists have all played their roles this past year, but for narrative non-fiction writers, what does it mean to serve on the front-line? I knew, without really knowing, the answer to that for some time. When done well, any writing grounded in the facts as much as in the imagination has a way of inspiring, energising and in some cases healing the minds of its readers. On deciding to pick up the pen, one begins to take control of those transformations not only in others but crucially within oneself.

I experienced this phenomenon in company and in spirit on City’s Narrative Non-Fiction Short Course, which might just as easily be termed ‘Therapeutic Non-Fiction’ – and not just because the group boasted a psychologist. In the wake of artistic absence in the world, City’s virtual offering brings together traditional storytellers, reporters and scholars from across the globe who, while seeking guidance on an outer narrative, inevitably end up fulfilling part of their inner one too.

Creative writing is a soul-bearing business. Setting weekly classes in the digital sphere might present students with additional complexities against the larger editorial goal of stripping them away. Yet this hasn’t stopped City, who’ve plenty of reason to trust in tutor-extraordinaires like Peter Forbes. As one of those under Peter’s stewardship over the last three months, I’ve been glad to convert a fairly demanding hobby into a more thoughtful practice, and beyond that, develop a confidence that had been desperately missing prior to week one. Starting out as a nervy penman amongst some sophisticated scribes, by week eight, I presented my changed state in the following journal entry:

A rare environment. One which appears to value personal growth, indeed community, over competition. In reading aloud our compositions, it’s a unique opportunity to bring alive the material for a bright-eyed audience, of which I too am an avid member. The talents of the group are unlike anything you’d expect. I sink into Roli’’s delicate depiction of makeshift graves on the banks of the Ganges, Monica’s rich reflections on ‘room-travel’ and Roz’s masterful musings on imitation, a lyrical style translated effortlessly into her diction. There’s Imran’s artful sketches on humans in the age of machines, and Robert’s endlessly entertaining travelogues.

The academics, meanwhile, seem to keep us honest. Both Katherine and Claire are as faithful to their subject areas as they are to the business of elegantly unfolding them for us mere mortals. Oh, and amidst all this, I’ve perhaps discovered my own capacity for spinning a good yarn.’

‘Good’ writing is, of course, subjective, and arguably, my hopes going into the programme were of unearthing something ‘real’ rather than ‘good’, a readiness – as spoken by Hesse –  to ‘gaze into the fire, into the clouds and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak… surrender to them’. It’s thanks to City’s new expression of ‘bookbinding’ or a sharp sense of literary unity, I’ve been able to take meaningful strides toward that free and fearless outlook, and all its potentialities.

 

Raviakash Deu is a freelance writer from Birmingham. He holds an undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Nottingham and a Master’s in Shakespeare Studies from King’s College London. His regular features appear at ‘The Lipstick Politico’ where he is interested in bringing light to daring South Asian narratives across culture and the arts.

Narrative Non-Fiction runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from October 2021.

 

Facing the fear of career change: from data analyst to copywriter

After years of feeling directionless in my NHS job, I’ve finally found a calling that’s reignited my passion. Here’s how I’m pivoting in mid-life thanks to a City short course.

by Christopher Hunt

For five years I’ve considered changing careers. As a Data Analyst for the NHS, the prospect of changing not only to a new career but from an employee to freelance feels daunting. I have a mortgage and two children under 12 after all. And yet, while it’s easy to make excuses, I’ve realised the only way to confront my fear is to act.

Writing has always been part of my life. I’ve self-published a supernatural novel, written guitar-related blogs and even scripts for a short-lived YouTube comedy series. I also have a fascination with psychology. Searching the internet for jobs related to these interests I discovered a career called copywriting. I could be paid to write!

Introduction To Copywriting’ by City University runs over a single weekend, fitting conveniently around my job. The course is taught by author and copywriter Maggie Richards. One of the first things she said is from novelist Ernest Hemingway: “The only writing is rewriting”.

I love this quote because it can be interpreted in different ways. While on the surface it’s telling us to rewrite our work until concise, it also encourages action – to start writing and overcome the ‘fear of the blank page.’ We can refine our work later.

This encouragement to move toward the unknown resonates with my aspirations: the initial steps toward a new career are similar to the first tentative words a writer must put on the page. Many of my doubts and insecurities are really just fears of the unknown.

As author Seth Godin says in ‘The Practice’: “The career of every successful creative is… a  pattern of small bridges, each just scary enough to dissuade most people.” Much like the act of writing allows a writer to clarify their thoughts, it’s by taking action that we can find our next step and the step after that, slowly lifting the fog that obscures the path ahead.

City’s online workshop offered many opportunities to take action with practical copywriting exercises, working individually and in small groups. One of my favourite was writing home page copy for an imaginary app.

My team came up with ‘Fitness Friends’, where users meet new people sharing similar fitness goals:

 

Headline:          Meet, Motivate, Get Fit.

 

Introduction:     Walk, Run, Gym. Meet your goals with new local friends.

 

Call to Action:   Find Fitness Friends Now.

 

Maggie pointed out that the headline and introduction used the same three-part staccato punctuation. I realised the importance of varying the rhythm of the words, blending punch with flow. Creativity should not cloud clarity.

I’m now taking steps to start my copywriting career alongside my NHS job, hoping to eventually become a full-time copywriter. I’ve signed up to a freelancing website and contacted small business owners in my network, offering my writing assistance.

Writers spend so much time living in their heads that it can feel uncomfortable taking physical action.  But the pages of my life so far don’t have to dictate where my story goes next. Realising that no first draft is perfect, I now know I can shape my path until I reach the outcome I desired all along.

 

Christopher Hunt took City’s ‘Introduction To Copywriting’ course. You can find him on LinkedIn.

City offers short writing courses in everything from short story writing to writing for the web and digital media. To find out more about all our writing courses, view our full range here.

City Writes Returns on Zoom!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

We’re delighted to announce that last term’s postponed City Writes event with the fabulous Shahrukh Husain will now be running virtually on Wednesday 8th July 6.45-8pm through Zoom.

With a brilliant set of competition winners raring to share their work, we will not only be hearing from Shahrukh Husain whose stellar career includes screenplays, plays, fiction and non-fiction, we will also be listening to stories from Novel Studio alumnus Mike Clarke, current Novel Studio students Linda Fripps and Alexandra McDermott, and short course alumni Marina Nenadic and A S Renard.

 

 

Come on a journey with us as we breakdown in Kansas, horse ride across Mexico, reminisce about our Swedish grandmother, try out stand up in Hackney and contemplate the mindset of a woman who smacks her child. Different places, different emotions, in our current climate this is where you need to be on the 8th July.

After we hear the competition winners’ stories, we’ll be talking to Shahrukh Husain about the ongoing relevance of witches, myth and the fairytale in general as we celebrate the reissue of Virago’s The Book of Witches, edited by Shahrukh.

This event will be free to attend. But you do need to register for the event in advance. 

Please use this link to register.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Fabulous Fantasia of Flash Fiction at City Writes

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

Celebrating the flash fiction anthology, Story Cities: A City Guide for the Imagination (Arachne Press 2019), this term’s City Writes was a flash fiction extravaganza held on Wednesday 11th December. The City Writes competition accepted submissions of 500 words or under, just like the anthology which was the brainchild of Novel Studio alumna Rosamund Davies, who edited the collection alongside Kam Rehal and our very own Cherry Potts of Arachne Press who is a tutor for the Approach to Creative Writing course.

The shorter word count allowed for a greater host of competition winners whose stories were diverse in content, style and genre, but equally excellent. We really were flooded with talent this term and competition was tough.

First up was Shibani Lal’s story ‘What She Knows’ about a girl whose knowledge is of the hardest and darkest kind. What she knows gives us a sense of everything she doesn’t know, of everything we are lucky enough to know, giving the event a difficult but breathtaking beginning. Sadly, Shibani, an alumna of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course, couldn’t be with us but I was delighted to be able to read this heart-breaking story for her.

We moved to a reinterpreted bonfire night next with Natasha Mirzoian’s story, ‘The Ritual’. Seeing the bonfire and fireworks from a new perspective gave an interesting insight into this part of the English calendar that we take part in without question. An alumna of Novel Studio, Natasha is embracing the flash fiction form at the moment and we look forward to hearing more from her in future.

Shabnam Grewal, an Approach to Creative Writing alumna, took us into the world of work next, with her story, ‘The Ghost’. Her protagonist finds himself lost between departments, employed without a role, going into the office simply to keep himself from the couch and the call of the chocolate biscuit. The ideal job for a writer, but watch out, at the end someone was watching…

Revati Kumar

Revati Kumar, another Approach to Creative Writing alumna, read next, transporting us into a new world and the beginnings of love in her story ‘The First’. Her main character describes arriving in a new country and staying in alone all day as the light fades until her love buys her a coat and shares the snow with her for the first time.

Next up, Bren Gosling, who has read three times at City Writes now and who has taken many courses at City, including the Short Story Writing Course and the Novel Studio, took us into the countryside in his story, ‘Where we were happiest’. A story of nostalgia for the lost days of youth, Bren is building up a huge collection of prize-winning stories we hope he’ll find a publisher for soon.

Current Novel Studio student, Helen Ferguson, read her story ‘Mother’s Kefir’ next, describing her protagonist’s struggle to keep her mother’s kefir alive, different jars of fermenting milk moving around the kitchen and fridge amid the jossle of family life, and the potential date with a vegan who might not be so excited by the kefir that soon turns rotten.

Andrea Holk

Short Story Writing alumna, Andrea Holck read her emotive story ‘Birth Story’ next. A devastating and funny story about birth, death, grief and unexpected discoveries, we all needed a breath before we were ready for the next flash. Luckily Angus Whitty was able to lighten the mood with his hilarious and satirical story, ‘Mattress’ about all the mattresses his character has loved.Another current student on the Novel Studio, Kathrine Bancroft, read next, taking us back to WWI with her story, ‘A Fish Called Fred’. A young boy shows us the blossoming love between his Uncle Fred and his mum through the story of his fish, named Fred after his Uncle.

The last of our competition winners, Harriet Atkinson, an alumna of Peter Forbes’ Narrative Non-Fiction course, took us into memoir next with her flash, ‘Marginalia’. How do you learn about a father who died when you were a baby? You find him in the margins of his library, in the words he underlined, in the pages he marked, in the curve of his handwriting. Thoughtful and tender, the audience were left with a whole host of thoughts and impressions from this stellar bunch of alumni and students.

Rosamund Davies and Cherry Potts

Moving into the next part of the City Writes remit, we turned to our published professionals whose work appears in the Story Cities anthology. Novel Studio alumna, Rosamund Davies and Publisher and City Visiting Lecturer, Cherry Potts, introduced the anthology, explaining how it came about, how they were hoping to create a city guide with a difference, one in which story could connect and interweave city experience across the world.

We were then lucky enough to hear four of the pieces in the anthology, from City Short Courses alumni and tutor, Cherry Potts. Evleen Mann, another Novel Studio alumna, took us from the village to the city where her character grew into a woman amidst the buzz and culture. She then read Maire Malone’s piece that explored the darker histories of cities scarred by bullet holes. Sadly, Maire couldn’t be with us as she was promoting her novel, The Dream Circle on Irish Radio. Jayne Buxton showed us the softer side of the city next, those relationships built upon proximity and neighbourhood kindness as her character watched an old lady being served in a restaurant. Finally, Cherry Potts read her story that took us back to the very beginnings of all cities, that first person who looked upon the lay of that piece of land and decided to stay, to take my place to our place, to a place that should open it arms any traveller who decides, just as they did, to stay.

With book buying, book signing, wine and mince pies to end the evening, the City Writes Autumn Event really was a flash fiction extravaganza showing not only the talent coming from our wonderful students, but the diversity and power of the flash fiction form itself. Hooray for the short story!

Next term’s City Writes will host the fabulous Shahrukh Husain whose stella career includes screenplays, plays, fiction and non-fiction. Editor of The Book of Witches, reissued by Virago in October of this year, Shahrukh Husain with be exploring the ongoing relevance of the witch and myth and fairytale in general. Watch this space for details of next term’s competition deadlines (we’ll be moving back to 1,000 words) and booking details. You can read Emily Pedder’s interview with Shahrukh Husain here.

Thanks to everyone who helps to keep City Writes going. We’re building a community for our fabulous students, tutors and alumni to share work and grow together.

 

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced
Congratulations to this term’s winners of the termly City Writes Competition, showcasing the best creative writing talent from alumni and students of City’s Short Creative Writing Courses. The winners are: Harriet Atkinson, Kathrine Bancroft, Helen Ferguson, Bren Gosling, Shabnam Grewal, Andrea Holck, Revati Kumar, Shibani Lal, Natasha Mirzoian and Angus Whitty.
This term we are running a flash fiction extravaganza event to celebrate the Story Cities anthology edited by alumna, Rosamund Davies and tutor, Cherry Potts, as well as Kam Rehal.
The City Writes Autumn Event is on Wednesday 11th December at 6.30pm in the City 125 Suite, City, University of London. Tickets are £10 and include wine/juice. Buy them here now. City Writes Autumn Event 2019 is going to be storytelling gold. There are lots of authors and lots of readings, but they are all short flashes of brilliance guaranteed to scintillate and mesmerise.
We’ll be journeying all over the globe and into childhood memory, falling in love with mattresses, finding a deceased father in the scribbled margins of their old library, seeing snow for the first time, rethinking bonfire night, trying to look after milk and so much more. Don’t miss out, book now.
In the meantime, meet this term’s wonderful, festively large list of competition winners below.
Harriet Atkinson is a historian of design and culture, based at University of Brighton. Currently, she is writing a book about the design of British propaganda in the 1930s and 40s. Her book The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People was published by I.B. Tauris in 2012. She has written for a range of academic and non-academic publications. Harriet studied Narrative Non Fiction with Peter Forbes. Find her on twitter at @HRAtkinson1

For more than 20 years, Kathrine Bancroft’s career has been at the forefront of broadcast journalism, political and not for profit communications. She is currently a Public Engagement Manager for UKRI. An alumnus of City’s workshop and creative writing courses, Kathrine is currently a 2019/20 Novel Studio student and a creative writing volunteer mentor with ‘The Ministry of Stories’.

Helen Ferguson is a translator of Russian and German and writer based in Ely. Her work has appeared in Lighthouse Literary Journal and she is currently working on a novel with City’s Novel Studio.

Bren Gosling’s writing has been performed at The Pleasance, Arcola, OSO Barnes, Rose and Crown E17, Bloomsbury Festival and Brighton Fringe. He is an award-winning short story writer – Exeter, London Short Story Prizes; Highly Commended 2017 Brighton Prize. His play Moment of Grace – inspired by Princess Diana’s handshake on Britain’s first AIDS Unit – sold out at 2018 Bloomsbury Festival. Bren is a Novel Studio alumnus @BrenGosling

Shabnam Grewal is a Londoner who makes Radio and TV programmes. She is also a parent, a partner, a friend and a reader. A big reader. Shabnam studied on Cherry Potts’ Approach to Creative Writing course.

Andrea Holck is an American-born writer and former English teacher. She is currently on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing course at City. Her writing has been featured in Popshot, Kairos Literary Journal and Run Like the Wind, a literary magazine about running.

Revati Kumar is based in North London, and took the Approach to Creative Writing course in 2017. She currently works full time as a doctor in the NHS and continues to write (non-medical) fiction in her spare time. 

Shibani Lal is an alumna of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course. Shibani’s short stories have been longlisted for the Bristol Prize, Cambridge Short Story Prize and the Fish Short Story Prize. She was also runner-up in the Asian writer prize, and her work has been published in anthologies in the UK (Dahlia Press, Linen Press). Shibani holds an MPhil in Economics from Cambridge University, and is currently working on a short story collection.

Born in Russia and of Armenian origin, Natasha Mirzoian moved to London when she was a child. While working in book publishing, she completed the Novel Studio at City in 2005. She then went on to gain an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University. She lives in Kent with her family and is working on a collection of short stories.

Angus Whitty was brought up in South Africa towards the end of Apartheid, schooled in England, and spent his life moving between the two. He started writing at sixteen, and worked as a cub reporter for a newspaper at 19. He has studied journalism and film making and done a Masters in Anthropology. He works as a freelance journalist and invented a product for reading books called “Thumbthing”. Over the past 10 years he has used ocean plastic as a resource in design. Now living in Valencia, Spain, he is part of a weekly writing group who are trying to produce a booklet of language-exchange short stories. Angus studied at City ten years ago on a course called Towards Publication, now Writers’ Workshop. Find him on instagram/anguswhitty

With stories from the competition winners and from the Story Cities anthology, you’ll be getting more than £10 ticket worth. Sign up here while there’s still room.

How I wrote Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie

by Malcolm McLean

This October saw the release of a book I have been buried away writing and editing for the last three years: a memoir about my teenage years spent obsessing over pop stars, titled Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie. It feels like an amazing achievement to have got to this point and have people reading the book that I put so much into during the last few years, and I am so proud of myself, but it wasn’t as simple as I naively thought it might be, back at the start of the project.

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

I’d thought about writing a book for a few years, but lacked the confidence. After tentatively starting the project, my sister suggested I look for a writing course to help give me more of the skills I needed to actually get the thing written and turn a series of anecdotes into a cohesive book. After looking around, I settled on the Narrative Non Fiction short course at City, University of London. The course outline was so detailed and seemed perfect for what I needed to write a memoir.

I assumed there would be an entire class of people writing memoirs like me, but there wasn’t: there were people working in media, wanting help with writing longer articles; company directors hoping to gain more confidence in business communications; and even someone writing a biography of her grandmother’s life in the 1930s. A huge mix. Peter Forbes, the course leader, was an incredible teacher. He gave us writing tools and tricks we so desperately wanted, seeing the strengths and weaknesses in our writing, and always giving such encouraging feedback. He also dispelled a lot of myths about the publishing industry and made it clear how different it is today compared to even ten years ago.

We worked on a variety of types of writing, each of which gave me a new perspective on how language can explain, explore and entertain. This allowed me to develop my book from being very fact and nostalgia-based, to having a more personal story that explored why I ended up doing ridiculous things like breaking into the BRIT Awards, or hanging out at Posh Spice’s mum’s house!

By the end of the course I was ready to submit my first three chapters and a detailed synopsis to try and secure a literary agent, and hopefully sign a book deal with one of the big publishers. I knew that my chances of getting one were slim and, despite some positive feedback, my emails to agents amounted to nothing.

For me, there was always a Plan B, as I knew that I wanted to release my book whatever happened. I researched a great deal into independent publishers, self-publishing, and ‘hybrid publishing’ – a model supposedly falling somewhere between doing it yourself and getting a deal with a big publisher. In the end, I settled on signing with RedDoor, who take on selective book projects that the author has to fund the production costs for. The team there are book lovers with lots of contacts, and I felt that they ‘got’ my idea for Freak Like Me more than anyone else. In hindsight, I feel that self-publishing may have been a better deal for me, financially, but it’s a gamble in finding the right person who can help you edit your book, and I can’t deny that the option I went with meant I was given huge amounts of freedom in producing the book that I wanted to.

The process of actually writing a book is time consuming, and so often it is hard to keep the motivation up, or to see what does or doesn’t work with your writing. After the course, a group of us decided to continue meeting up more informally, to talk about or share some of our writing. These guys became both my most honest critics, and a really useful support network!

Freak Like Me, being such a nostalgic, fun book was always going to be a Christmas release, and so, although it was signed off in early 2019, there was a long wait until October for it to finally get released. I’m immensely happy with the finished book and still flick through it or just gaze at the cover in wonderment. Just reaching this point and receiving such positive feedback from friends, family, or random lovers of pop nostalgia has made the whole experience so worth it, and I’ve ended up with skills and confidence that I couldn’t have imagined three years ago.

Malcolm McLean is a part-time writer and full-time pop music obsessive. His debut memoir Freak Like Me was published by RedDoor in October 2019. To find out more about Malcolm, visit the Freak Like Me website Or to learn about the Narrative Non-Fiction course he took at City visit the City web page.

City Writes summer sizzler

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

The City Writes Summer event of 2019 was a glorious July evening with a number of exciting firsts: our first reading from a Novel Studio Scholarship winner; two readers who had already shared work at previous City Writes events; and a visit from the wonderful Novel Studio alumna Anna Mazzola whose energy and storytelling charm are a delight to share.

We started the evening with a very funny short story about a dreadful first date, ‘Bird’s Nest’, written and read by Su Yin Yap. If you can picture a presumptuous, entitled man biting into the wicker basket his Chinese meal was delivered in, you’ve got an idea of the kind of laughter the story invoked in the audience. This was Su Yin Yap’s second story to be chosen for City Writes and it was great to have her back.

Lola Okolosie

Next Ruth Thorlby, who is currently completing an MA focussing on short stories, but whose journey began on a short course at City, read her poignant and rather haunting story, ‘Passing’, about a young person returning home to try and see her Grandmother before she dies and being unable to make it over the threshold. To say more would spoil it. With beautiful descriptions and a contemplative air, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this story that left the audience with much to think about.

Lola OkolosieOur Novel Studio Scholarship winner, Lola Okolosie, was next. The inaugural winner of the schola rship sponsored by Novel Studio alumna Harriet Tyce, who read from her novel Blood Orange at our Spring City Writes, Lola’s extract ‘Seun’, from a novel-in-progress, took us into the heart of a traffic jam in Lagos where Seun struggles to make sense of his itinerant identity. The audience were entranced. What a start to Lola’s Novel Studio career.

Bren Gosling

Bren Gosling read his story ‘Let Me Pay’ next. Another author returning to grace the City Writes stage, Bren’s tale brought an ex-soldier and a refugee together around a cafe table, their mutual romantic interest fraught with old, unspoken tensions. A taut story exploring the fall out of war on the individual even in peacetime.

Finally, we were delighted to hear from author and Novel Studio alumna, Anna Mazzola who shared some of her latest work-in-progress set in Paris in the 1700s. Not only were we transported to 18th Century France, we were also swept up in Anna’s enthusiasm for storytelling.

Her question and answer session gave us plenty of tips and food for thought – Anna’s productivity is very impressive – about how to write and work and look after children, as well as how to think about writing historical fiction as well as crime fiction. A truly enlightening reading and talk that inspired much interest in Anna’s published and prize-winning novels, The Unseeing and The Story Keeper.

City Writes ended with a little more wine, some networking, some book signing and a general sense of writing camaraderie.

For those of you who don’t know about City Writes, it is an exciting event that showcases the best of City’s Short Courses Creative Writing talent. Held once a term at the University, City Writes hosts readings from alumni, students and tutors. One reader offers a professional perspective, reading from a new or award-winning publication, and the other readers are selected on the basis of a 1,000 word submission to a termly fiction writing competition open to all current and previous students of a City Creative Writing Short Course.

We are doing something a little different with our 2019 Winter City Writes event: our guest readers are all in the wonderful Story Cities anthology edited by Rosamund Davies (Novel Studio alumna), Cherry Potts (City Visiting Lecturer) and Kam Rehal, published by Arachne Press. We will have several shorts read by alumni who have been published in the anthology and will be seeking flash fiction submissions of 500 words or less, meaning we will have a bumper number of readers in December. It’s going to be a flash fiction extravaganza! Do check the website for further details.

 

 

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