Tag: Writers’ Workshop

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.

 

Mixing it Up: How short course alumna Melissa Bailey blended genres in her debut novel

By Emily Pedder

New writers are often told they need to define their novel’s genre to attract an agent. But what happens when your novel crosses genres? How does a writer handle this? And does it help or hinder the marketing of the book?

Last month, City hosted an event with short course alumna Melissa Bailey to discuss her novel and her use of genre. Melissa’s debut novel, The Medici Mirror, (Random House, 2013) blends at least three genres – mystery, romance and history – to great effect. At the event she spoke about how the book evolved. The story was inspired by Haruki Murukami’s, A Wild Sheep’s Chase, which mixes mystery and magic realism. It also features a blackened mirror, something which resonated with Melissa and her interest in the supernatural. A fan of ghost stories, Melissa wanted to introduce a ghostly element into the novel as well as a murder mystery. The historical element came much later, she told the group, when her editor suggested she make more of the mirror’s history, prompting research into Catherine of Medici and her fateful mirror.

None of these elements were planned, Melissa explained. The process was organic and unfolded in the writing of the novel. Although her editor loved the way the novel crossed genres, for sales and marketing it was more problematic. But Melissa advised wannabe novelists not to worry about how their book is marketed. Instead she placed an emphasis on honing your craft and singled out praise for the short courses she took at City, in particular Writers’ Workshop. The courses gave her stimulus, drive, tips and deadlines, as well as an understanding of the importance of editing and redrafting. For more on Melissa’s book take a look here.

For more on our writing short courses visit our home page or follow our updates on twitter @cityshortcourses

The story behind MD Villiers’ novel City of Blood

by Jennifer Mills

“I had to write my story, this was the story I wanted to tell,” MD Villiers.

Martie de Villiers’ debut novel City of Blood – published in May 2013 – has taken seven years to write.

Brought up in South Africa, Martie studied psychology and sociology at university and then worked as a tennis coach, in HR and finally Commodities, but she always wanted to write. By the time she attended her first writing course at City, University of London, Writers’ Workshop in 2006, Martie was already writing in her spare time.

“City gave me invaluable insight into the industry,” says Martie. “You can’t always read up on how to be a writer,” she adds, “There are things you actually need to learn from those with experience in the publishing industry.” Thanks to the course, her writing developed.

“Before the writing courses at City, I wrote very detailed stories and said the obvious, but feedback on your writing helps and I realised that I didn’t have to show every action in my writing.”

Martie soon discovered how isolating writing can be. With fellow course members she formed a writing group.

“We met up and read each other’s work and gave feedback, because by sharing you see yourself becoming better…You need feedback to keep up your motivation. Comforting words from family and friends will not develop your writing and story in the same way as feedback from fellow writers.”

She began to attend as many talks by writers as possible: “You need to study the craft and keep going.”

In 2003 she read a news story in the local Johannesburg paper about a murder where the culprits escaped. It inspired her to write the story about Siphiwe, a young orphan whose life dramatically changes when he meets two dangerous men in Johannesburg; this developed into City of Blood. Growing up in South Africa, Johannesburg is a city Martie says she would never want to get lost in: her mother was a social worker and used to come home with horror stories from what she had witnessed. Martie wanted to understand the violence of the city and its consequences and dedicated herself to write these stories.

After a few years working on her novel, Martie sent three chapters to just one agent, Euan Thorneycroft. He signed her straightaway. After further redrafts her book went out to publishers. She didn’t expect an answer for months, but just six weeks later Martie got an offer: a two book-deal with the prestigious Harvill Secker.

Writers’ Workshop takes place on Friday evenings and is run by Katy Darby. For more on our writing short courses visit our home page here.

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