Tag: Peter Forbes (page 1 of 2)

City Writes Summer 2022 Competition Winners Announced

We’re delighted to announce the competition winners for 2022 summer term’s City Writes event showcasing the fabulous talent coming from City’s Short Courses. These wonderful winners will be joining debut writers and alumni of the Novel StudioAttiya Khan and Simon Culleton. You can register for the Zoom event on Thursday 7th July at 7pm here.

Our winners this term are:

Richard Bowyer

Richard Bowyer for his extract, ‘The Manton Ultimatum’.

Richard Bowyer is just completing City University’s Novel Studio course. The characters and setting in ‘The Manton Ultimatum’ are drawn from The White House, his novel in development. He likes to write about the nature of community and belonging, friendship and obligation, everyday heroes, inclusion and exclusion, and how decisions get made. Richard was born and brought up in Essex and now lives in West London with his demanding cat and understanding wife.

Jonathan Gallard

Jonathan Gallard for his story, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

Alumnus of the Short Story Writing course, Jonathan Gallard is a writer whose style and approach defies categorisation.  Mostly because he hasn’t written much, yet.

 

Orsolya Kiss-Toth for her extract from Nadi Leaves

Originally from Hungary, Orsolya moved to Leeds about 15 years ago where she lives with her partner. She is an HR professional and whilst she loves the challenges of her role, writing is something she’s passionate about.

Orsolya Kiss-Toth

She first joined a writing group in November 2020, is an alumna of the Writers’ Workshop, and her first novel, 24 Windows, was long listed in the Stylist Prize for Feminist Fiction 2021. She’s currently working on her second novel, Nadi Leaves.

Jordan McGarry for her creative piece, ‘The First Spring’.

Jordan McGarry

Jordan McGarry has worked in the screen industries for 20 years, initially as a journalist covering the industry, and then as a programmer, a producer and now as an executive. Jordan is endlessly interested in story, but more used to helping other people write theirs than telling her own. She is trying to be braver in 2022 (though will never be comfortable with writing about herself in the third person). She is just completing the Narrative Non-Fiction course.

Lia Martin for her story, ‘Church Bells’.

Lia Martin

Lia Martin is a Londoner completing her Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University and was enrolled on City’s Short Story Writing course back in 2014. She started her career in the media but became a secondary teacher in 2015, working in both London and Norfolk-based schools. She now leads on English for a national network of schools and is currently working on a short story collection.

 

Su Yin Yap for her creative piece, ‘Notes on a Pregnancy’.

Su Yin Yap

​​Su Yin Yap is a psychologist and writer. Her work has been published in literary magazines and websites such as Popshot Quarterly and Litro Online, as well as various anthologies of flash fiction and creative non-fiction. She has written for the psychology section of the award winning Arts and Culture website Headstuff.org. She is currently working on a collection of essays. She is an alumna of the Short Story Writing course.

These fantastic authors will be reading online at City Writes alongside Attiya Khan and Simon Culleton on Thursday 7th July at 7pm. From village referendums through lost loves and historical feuds to the anticipation of life to come, City Writes Summer 2022 will be a night of readings to remember. You can register here. We look forward to seeing you there.

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.

City Writes Spring 2022 Competition Winners Announced

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

We’re delighted to announce the winners of this term’s competition who will be reading their winning entries alongside debut author, Michael Mann at this term’s virtual event on Wednesday, March 30th at 7pm. Register now to join them

Spring 2022 winners

This term’s winners (in alphabetical order) are:

James Baxter

James Baxter is a long-term resident of Hackney and has been London-based since graduating from the LSE in the early 90s’. His career has been spent in the media and film sectors, including a 15-year stint as a journalist and magazine editor. James founded the PR consultancy JBM in 2010 and the film production company Mean Time Films in 2012. He is currently writing his debut short story collection. He is an alumnus of the Short Story Writing course. He will be reading an extract from ‘The Drop’.

 

Emma Bielecki

Emma Bielecki, a Narrative Non-Fiction student, is a cultural historian who splits her time between London and nineteenth-century France. She has written about things that interest her (Bob Dylan, French Belle Epoque crimes serials, pet cemeteries) for outlets such as The Junket and The Conversation, as well as in fanzine form (at www.misfitsisters.com). Emma will be reading her nonfiction short, ‘Eh-ALL-ing’.

 

Stephanie Donowho

A student of Novel Writing and Longer Works, Stephanie Donowho is from Austin, Texas, where she worked as a video editor before moving to London in 2017 to pursue a Masters in Shakespeare Studies at the Globe theatre. She has acted in over a dozen plays, co-founded a theatre company, and currently works in financial services in London. Her work was published in Mslexia‘s 2021 anthology Best Women’s Short Fiction as a runner-up in the Flash Fiction competition. She will be reading ‘Once a daughter of Eve’.

 

Sini Downing

Sini Downing (Short Story Writing and Writers’ Workshop alumna) often finds her international experiences worming their way into her creative writing. The novel, from which her excerpt, ‘The Stink of Money’ is taken, and from which she will read at City Writes, was inspired by an intense 19 months living in downtown Baltimore. Now based in London, she is Head of Studio at a production company specialising in character performances for video games. She is currently seeking representation.

 

Alison Halsey

Alison Halsey is a fiction writer and a former financial services professional, with a career lasting over 40 years. She has also served in many roles supporting charities with a focus on young people with learning disabilities. A student of An Approach to Creative Writing, Alison is currently editing her first novel Minta Gets Everything Wrong, for which she feels she has far too much personal research material, resulting in an elongated editing process. She will be reading an extract from this novel.

 

Adam Zunker

Adam Zunker has taken several short courses in creative writing at City University and is working on his first novel, a fantasy story about death, faith and hallucinogenic frogs from which he will be reading an extract for City Writes. He has spent far too many years working in politics and journalism, though both have probably provided some grounding in creative writing. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

 

These fantastic authors will take you on a journey of frog-licking, London exploring, drug dealing, funeral attending (with chicken), feminist Bible reading, healing wonder. Reading alongside debut author, Michael Mann whose middle grade novel, Ghostcloud, set in the smoky underworld beneath Battersea Power Station, is causing quite a stir, this will be an unmissable event. Sign up here now! We’ll look forward to seeing you there!

 

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

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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