Tag: short courses (page 1 of 4)

Novel Studio Scholarship Winner 2021

Winner of 2021 Novel Studio Scholarship Announced

The third  Novel Studio scholarship, set up to support a talented writer from a low-income household, has been awarded to Hawa Maua.

Hawa is now part of  The Novel Studio 2021/22, alongside 14 other selected writers. Speaking of Hawa’s application,  Novel Studio course director Emily Pedder said: “This was an outstanding piece of writing. Distinctive and energetic, there was an urgency to the voice which was compelling.”

 

On winning the scholarship, Hawa said: “For a long time, I dreamt of being heard, giving voice to my thoughts, my hopes, my experiences and the things that I observed. I was dreaming of being a writer and thought someone like me could never get a chance. Now I have a chance to make something more concrete.”

Harriet’s new novel out in 2022.

 

Novel Studio alumna and crime writer Harriet Tyce set up the scholarship in 2019 as a way to help talented writers who might not otherwise be able to take up a place on the course. Lola Okolosie, the inaugural recipient of the scholarship, has said the opportunity was “life changing” while last year’s winner, Janice Okoh, said that without the scholarship she would not have been able to take the course.

Harriet was a student on the Novel Studio in 2009/10 and went on to gain a place on the MA Crime Fiction at UEA, where she received a distinction. In 2017 Wildfire pre-empted her debut psychological thriller, Blood Orange. It was subsequently sold in 19 territories worldwide and became a Sunday Time bestseller. Her second novel, The Lies You Told, described by Sophie Hannah as ‘totally addictive’, was published in August 2020 to rave reviews. Her third, It Ends At Midnight, will be published in 2022.

 

The Novel Studio has been running as part of City’s short courses programme since 2004 and has been instrumental in providing a foundation for emerging writers to go on to successful publishing careers. Taught by professional writers and editors, 15 selected students develop their novels over a year. The course has a  strong publication record, with many alumni publishing novels with major publishing houses, including, most recently, Deepa Anappara, Hannah Begbie and Harriet.

 

Congratulations, Hawa! We can’t wait to see your novel develop over the year.

For more on all our writing short courses, including The Novel Studio, visit.

City Writes Competition Winners Autumn 2021 Announced!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

You may have already booked your tickets to hear Ciaran Thapar read from his critically acclaimed book, Cut Short: Youth Violence, Loss and Hope in the City at City Writes on the 15th December 2021, if not you can register for the zoom event here. Now you have even more reasons to come to the event as we announce our wonderful creative writing student and alumni competition winners for autumn 2021. This term’s winners are:

Grayson Anderson

Grayson Anderson-Brown is a British born Jamaican author and poet. Raised in South London, he has spent most of his life writing. His catalogue of work contains songs, poetry, a science fiction trilogy, and an opinion-based non-fiction book relating to the idiosyncrasies of gender in society. He considers himself a student of humanity, culture, and nature. An alumnus of the Novel Studio, he’ll be reading ‘Mum’s Yard’.

 

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke is a City writing course junkie, having studied on several, including the Novel Studio (when it was the Certificate in Novel Writing) and Writers’ Workshop and also graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. Mike’s short stories have been performed by the renowned Liars League. He occasionally dabbles in stand-up and BBC Radio 4 has broadcast some of his allegedly amusing material. He’s been making final edits to two novels for far longer than he’d like to remember. He’ll be reading ‘Spray Can Angel’.

Alan Gray

 

Alan Gray is a writer/psychologist born in Horden, County Durham. He holds an MSc in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford and lives in London. A Short Story Writing alumnus, he’ll be reading ‘Nice Meeting You’.

 

Stephen Kehoe

Stephen Kehoe is a recovered drug addict from Preston and splits his time between London and the Northwest. His degree in English is from Goldsmiths and he studied creative writing at City, University of London. His work has been performed live at Liars’ League. Defence Mechanism, his novel-in-progress, from which he’ll be reading, is a dystopian thriller and the opening scene is the first thing he ever wrote. He’s an alumnus of the City Short Story Writing course.

 

Laurence Kershook

Laurence Kershook is based in Hackney, East London. He’s been a teacher of languages and a jazz musician, but now he devotes most of his time to writing. While attending the Novel Studio course in 2018-19 he started working on his novel The Broygus, a mystery story set in the 1970’s that chronicles a young man’s quest to find meaning in his life by unearthing the long-buried secrets of his East End Jewish family. The Broygus will be self-published in mid-2022. He’ll be reading his story ‘Salesman of the Year’.

Pasca Lane

Pasca Lane is a professional storyteller working in the not-for-profit sector. She has won numerous awards for her work – bringing stories to life through compelling words and creative multimedia content – and currently heads up the Media team at the British Red Cross. She loves to travel, and has contributed to a number of travel publications including Lonely Planet. Pasca lives in North London and is proud of her family’s long-standing roots in the capital. She hopes one day to tell the story of previous generations on her mother’s side, who served as Thames Watermen in the East End. Pasca is an alumna of our Feature Writing course ( which no longer runs but we hope to bring it back soon!) She’ll be reading ‘Creature of Habit’.

 

Emily Shamma

Emily Shamma is a City periodical journalism graduate. She started her career as a fashion journalist, before moving into business journalism. Emma then spent time as a retail analyst in the City, before working as a Director at Tesco for 17 years. She lives in Islington with her husband and 11-year-old daughter Estella. Emma now writes creatively for pleasure, and her other interests include modern art, cookery and the theatre. An Approach to Creative Writingalumna, she’ll be reading her story ‘The Complicit’.

As you can tell, City Writes Autumn 2021 is going to be a fantastic showcase of the creative writing talent coming from City’s creative writing short courses, with readings and a Q&A with Ciaran Thapar. Don’t miss out and register now for your link to the zoom event on the 15th December at 7pm. We look forward to seeing you there!

London Culture Shocks from an Irish Perspective

by Megan O’ Reilly

I’d always had a feeling that I’d love London. From the bustling tourists to the stuffy Tube, every element contrasted with the small Irish town Id called home for 23 years. Despite feeling ready for my move across the Irish Sea, I didn’t anticipate the culture shocks Ive come to know so well.

 

Adjusting to life in a new environment can be difficult for the best of us, and perhaps I was a bit naive when I gathered my belongings and headed to a city of ten million, coming from an island with a population of half the amount. I’d lived abroad two years before – in Bologna for my Erasmus year – and thought myself well versed in new experiences. 

 

Stepping off the plane at Stansted was something I’d envisioned since I’d left school, and after settling into my new house in Twickenham and getting to grips with the trains (who knew tapping in and out could cause such grief!), I started to see the small differences between my Galway and London lives. This was in 2019.

 

London

Galway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started working at Fortnum and Mason as a Retail Host. The considerable gap between social classes soon made itself apparent in the 300-year-old luxury establishment, something that isn’t as obvious in Ireland. I found it difficult to understand how such wealthy people could live and shop only a few roads away from a growing homeless population finding shelter in Green Park Tube station.

 

I noticed how much more diverse London was – a very positive aspect which I admire a lot. My colleagues and customers came from a range of backgrounds and cultures. They made working there not only refreshing but extremely interesting. While Ireland is slowly becoming more culturally diverse, theres still a long way to go.

 

As Irish twangs go, the Galway accent is on the softer side, and when I first started working in the capital, I was asked what part of Canada I was from! I wouldn’t consider my accent particularly strong, but of course, I received affectionate comments from my London friends on how I pronounce certain words.

 

Two years on, I’ve adjusted some of my slang. I now say “trainers” rather than “runners”, and when asking hypothetical questions I’m conscious of using “Shall we?” not Will we?”. You’d be surprised how quickly people pick up on the smallest of differences.

 

As much as I miss Ireland, I’m glad I left. London has so much to offer, and Im ready for even more new friends and new excitement! I’ve started making a list of at least 20 new restaurants to try out, and have given Soho’s bustling bars great business since the end of lockdown. And yet there’s a reassurance in knowing that I’m never far from another Irish person.

 

I often think of a time when I was on holiday in Spain with an English friend, and we bumped into a lovely lady from Dublin. It was St. Patrick’s Day and any and every Irish person was celebrating. My friend couldn’t believe I’d stopped to talk for five minutes with a stranger. Apparently, she’d never do this if she met someone British abroad. This sense of community across the globe is in our Irish blood.

 

For anyone thinking about taking the leap to pastures new, I cant recommend it enough. Diving into a new place in which to discover yourself and flourish is a fantastic experience, and something I believe everyone should strive for. As scary as it may seem, you might just find yourself in your new home. By being in a new environment you allow yourself to escape your comfort zone. Just expect a few surprises along the way!

 

Megan completed our Introduction to Copywriting masterclass with Maggie Richards. For more information on our writing short courses visit our home page here.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

The Road Less Travelled: City short course alumnus Simon Culleton’s long journey to publication

By Simon Culleton

‘I know a literary agent,’ said my opponent as we passed at the net. I tried to act casual to disguise my eagerness so waited until we had played two more games and passed again. I feigned breathlessness.

‘Perhaps,’ I said still catching my breath, ‘Perhaps you might want to put in a word for me.’ He sucked the air through his teeth and looked as though I had just asked for one of his kidneys. He waited until we were stood in front of a crowd of people on the clubhouse veranda before counting off three fingers.

‘One, I’ll need a letter of introduction, he said. ‘Two, a brief outline of what the book is about and three…’ he now had the complete attention of a gathering crowd, ‘And Three, I’ll need the full manuscript with no spelling mistakes.’

‘What, no spelling mistakes?’  I didn’t say that of course, I just accepted his request with a subservient bow of my head. I’m a writer, and like all writers am desperate to get published.

I’d love to tell you that I let him win the tennis match, but he far outranked me and was always going to win. I had only agreed to play with him because I heard he had a friend who was a literary agent.

It had been three years since I’d first walked into the classroom at City University of London’s ‘Novel writing’ evening class. One of the first tasks that our tutor, Martin Ouvry, had set for the class was to document why we wanted to write our chosen novel. It was a telling exercise.

My answer was honest; I didn’t want to write this novel, I wrote. It was too personal and raw. More accurately, I continued, ‘the last thing I wanted to do was remember. Yet inevitably, almost fatally, whenever I attempted to write a different storyline, all my characters were either divorced or battling in some way for their children. So eventually I submitted. It was always going to be ‘Shadows of Fathers’ first.

I remained with City and progressed to their year-long Novel Studio course. I enjoyed the twice-weekly structure and the twelve-thousand word, deep critique was a particular landmark in my novel progress.

The Novel studio course paid particular attention to obtaining an agent worthy to champion our book. Emphasis was put on presentation, catchy letters to attract an agent:

“Dear Madam, I respectfully submit… Dear Sir would you please consider…  or   Dear Michael I read in your bio that you enjoy stories that surprise you…  Hey Sarah, like you I play tennis (badly) …

I sent over fifty, all of which got nowhere, most didn’t bother replying. I even tried some of the foreign literary agents. A reply email from Hamburg went something like this:

Thank you for your story, Simon. Everyone in the office really enjoyed it although the literary agency no longer owns these premises, we are boat engineers.

I stayed with City University and enrolled in a further three workshops with Katy Darby as well as travelling to Greece for the Athens international School Of Creative Writing. One particular highlight was attending a flash fiction class taught by the excellent writer Heidi James.

I quite literally immersed myself in the writing world. Although I had yet to find representation; a nagging doubt that was always with me. One of the hardest things I found about writing a novel is that you have to finish it before knowing whether it will be a success.

During the first lockdown, I became despondent until a chance text conversation from an old friend I had not seen since my school days. (When we were young teenagers she had let me hold her hand at the bus stop). ‘I know someone who is a publisher’ she texted. A sudden vision of the man standing on the tennis club veranda came into mind. But this was Bernadette, I thought. I had missed a bus for her when I was fourteen.

As it turned out, my tennis friend didn’t

Author Simon Culleton

know an agent, after all, he only knew the father of the agent and had subsequently fallen out with him, (possibly over a spelling mistake).

So once again I sent off my synopsis and the first fifty pages. After a few weeks, I received a request to send the rest of my novel. I was on top of a wobbly tower scaffold laying heavy blocks when I received an online zoom invitation. Rose Drew of Stairwell books, an American woman from Florida whose exuberant hand gestures took up the whole of the computer screen, was enthusiastic. She had read my book and could relate to all my characters and recite any passage from my novel. I had found my champion.

It has been a long and arduous road with weekends and evenings spent writing in libraries and coffee shops, London university corridors and crowded Greek restaurants. At work I was forever scrawling notes for my novel on pieces of timber and newly plastered walls; conversations were cut short while I retained a thought later to be added.

It takes dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness to complete a novel and in my case a lot of help and guidance too. City was a wonderful place that helped harness my book idea to the finished debut novel that is Shadows of Fathers.

About the author: Simon Culleton was born and bred in Essex England, where he lives with his two children. His love for writing began when he wrote a short story at age 17, while sat in a derelict car, which went on to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He loves to travel and has worked his way around the world, undertaking jobs from snow clearing in Sweden, to construction work in California. Simon has a passion for chronicling everyday people which extends even to himself: he has maintained a personal daily diary for over 40 years.

About the book: When Richard realizes his German wife is not returning to England with their children, the subsequent journey he must take encompasses new geographical and emotional realms. With the help of comic but effective German lawyer Otto Lehmann, Richard’s fight for his family is both heart-wrenching and humorous, in a story that crosses countries and cultures. Shadows of Fathers offers an alternative view of separation: a dedicated father fighting for the right to parent in a new and relevant take on contemporary fatherhood: not only in the mid-1990s setting but also in today’s society.

Simon’s debut novel, Shadows of Fathers

Shadows of Fathers is available for pre-order on Amazon, Google books and many more. Published by Stairwell Books in October 2021, the first chapter can be viewed on the ‘Coming Soon’ page at Stairwell Books.

‘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.

 

City Writes Summer 2021 Writing Competition

City Writes Summer 2021 Competition Opens

City Writes, the showcase for Short Courses creative writing talent, is back on Zoom this Summer with alumna, Alex Morrall as our professional. Alex’s debut, Helen and the Grandbeeswas published by Legend in 2020 to great acclaim.
Described as ‘Uplifting’ by the Daily Mail and ‘Breath taking’ by Awais Khan, Helen and the Grandbees is a mother and daughter reunion exploring identity, race and mental illness. We’re delighted Alex will be sharing the novel with us on Wednesday 7th July.

Alex is a Brummy artist and writer living in southeast London who took a Freelance Writing short course at City. She has had poetry published in several journals and writes food reviews for her local newspaper. You can find out more about her work on her website.

Alex Morall, author of Helen and the Grandbees

For your chance to join Alex on the online stage, all you need to do is send us 1,000 words of your best creative writing (fiction or non-fiction, YA but sadly no poetry or children’s fiction) by Friday 11th June 2021. Full submission details are here.
If you want to register for the event on Wednesday 7th July, you can do so here and if you are keen to catch up on the online events you’ve missed, check out the blog for links to videos and articles.
Don’t forget to send your best 1,000 words by midnight Friday 11th June 2021. Competition winners will be announced in week 9. We can’t wait to read your submissions.

City Writes Spring 2021: an evening of spellbinding stories and creative writing tips

City Writes Spring 2021: another fabulous evening of readings from the writing short courses alumni

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes Spring 2021, although held on April 1st, was no joke. With the fabulous Kiare Ladner as our professional writer, reading from her debut Nightshift (Picador, Feb 2021), the event was an evening filled with spellbinding stories and creative writing tips.

 

The event marked the fifth year of City Writes, an event that showcases the best of City’s creative writing short courses. The event is fuelled by a termly creative writing competition open to all current students and alumni of creative writing short courses at City. Five to six pieces of writing, either fiction, nonfiction, complete story or extract, are chosen each term to share their work in front of an audience and alongside a publishing professional from amongst the short courses staff or alumni. Having started with the Visiting Lecturer Emma Claire Sweeney in 2016, it was great to have another Visiting Lecturer, Kiare Ladner, share her work. 

 

Though we’ve moved from in-person events to Zoom, there is something about the intimacy of online readings that mirrors the magic of holding a book in your hands.

 

The night began with the first of our competition winners, K Lockwood Jefford. Alumna of the Novel Writing Summer School, Kate read her haunting and harrowing story, ‘Driver’, about a woman driving to the address of the man who killed her nephew in a car accident. Kate’s reading set our pulses on fire with the pain of grief and the anxiety of what the narrator might do about it.

 

Another car accident was at the heart of the next piece, ‘The Opposite of Grace’, written and read by Sini Downing, alumna of Short Story Writing. If you can capture motion with a machine, can you recreate a better version of them on screen? Sini’s narrator fought to reconcile the elegance of the dancer with her graceless personality and the energy of her performance was breathtaking.

 

Lara Hayworth, Novel Studio alumna, took us across Europe with an extract from her story ‘Monumenta’ next. Which massacre would be remembered in a monument that would take a character’s house? How many histories are buried beneath our pavements and homes? Poignant and political, the extract asked us to imagine many characters and the borders crossed through their connections.

 

Alumnus of City’s former Theatre Writing course, Stephen Jones, read an extract of his story, ‘Pearl’, next. Here windows were reimagined as screens and watching took on a new, unnerving, eerie direction. What story would our windows tell of us?

 

From characters to memoir, Avril Joy, alumna of the Memoir Writing Course, read an extract from ‘Clothes my mother made me – A Memoir’ next. Using the motifs of creative writing suggestions to begin with what you know, to start with something other than death, Avril took us to the deathbed of her narcissistic mother and explored the idea of living on ‘a diet of stones’. A moving reading filled with poetic imagery, it was a taste of the joys the finished memoir will bring.

 

The last of our competition winners to read was Vasundhara Singh, a current Novel Studio student. She read her story ‘Feel, Feeling’ about a pregnant woman at a garden party in India. When confronted with the question, ‘How are you feeling?’ the character longed to answer such a direct and complex question in Hindi rather than English. Exploring the complexities of social interaction, Vasundhara’s performance of the story, her careful rhythms and attention to etymological nuance, was brilliant.

 

With these wonderful stories to follow on from, Kiare Ladner spoke next. She read from the beginning of her debut, Nightshift, an exploration of obsession amidst London’s night workers. Kiare’s character Meggie introduced us to Sabine, the woman with whom Meggie becomes fascinated to such a degree that their friendship ripples through into Meggie’s more mature adult life. Who is Sabine? Where does she come from? Could Meggie ever emulate such insouciant charm?

 

Following her fantastic reading, Kiare answered questions from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, Visiting Lecturer for the Novel Studio, and also took questions from the audience. The discussion explored the complexities of female friendship, the subtleties of translating in relationships and Kiare’s writing inspirations, methods and tips. She was a fascinating and candid City Writes guest with helpful ideas for all the budding and established authors in the audience.

 

If this sounds too tempting to miss, you can see a video of the whole event here. Click to be transported and do watch out for the City Writes event next term when our professional will be Alex Morrall who’ll be reading from her debut, Helen and the Grandbees (Legend, 2020).

Watch the full event here

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.
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