Tag: writing community

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Interview with Novel Studio alumna, Kiare Ladner

Kiare Ladner’s debut novel, Nightshift

Novel Studio alumna and tutor, Kiare Ladner, published her brilliant debut novel, Nightshift, in February 2021. Novel Studio Course Director, Emily Pedder, caught up with her to find out more about the book and her path to publication.

EP: ‘Your debut novel is set in a pre-pandemic London, in the nineties. Reading it now feels like entering a different country. How do you imagine London will recover in the years to come?’

KL: ‘London has so much kinetic urban energy. At its best, it’s a place where a person can have the freedom to be whoever they want to be (or are), and find others who are like them.  What I hope change will bring is a city with more realistic rents for its workers. With affordable space for creative endeavours. With the arts right there, accessible, at the heart of it. A city revitalised by new ways of thinking in culture, economics and politics. An urban landscape that holds the thrill of the avant-garde alongside home gardens created to give nature refuge. A place that builds on the sense of community some have felt more keenly recently. And that always welcomes the immigrants we rely on.  Even now, there’s a lot to appreciate about being here. The parks, the free art galleries, the brilliant hospitals, the possibilities for anonymity, the joys of simply wandering. . . When asked if I feel British or South African, my gut response is that I feel most like a Londoner.’

EP: ‘Meggie is a fascinating character, full of contradictions. She could so easily have been a passive character, with Sabine taking all the decisions, but it feels as if you’re showing us it’s Meggie who chooses what happens to her, and Meggie who has to deal with the consequences. Was this a deliberate choice from the beginning or did you need to consciously make her decisions more active?’

KL: ‘From the start, I was curious about the idea of wanting to escape the self, wanting to be other, and how far you can push it. During the writing process, I felt that Meggie was driven by this desire rather than acted upon. As a writer, I inhabited her in the way that an actor inhabits a character, and from there her decisions came intuitively. However there is one scene in the book in which she is less passive than I’d initially written her, thanks to an inspired suggestion from a beta reader. The changes were subtle but kept my narrative more in line with my vision for it. Beta readers are invaluable!’

Novel Studio alumna and tutor, Kiare Ladner

 

EP: ‘Sabine is one of those characters I feel everyone will recognise. That sophisticated, aloof person we all secretly aspire to be. How important was it to you to interrogate the personas people create and what lies beneath?’

KL: ‘This disparity is perhaps what first drew me to writing. Fiction allows us to investigate and express a less commonly portrayed sense of what lies beneath exteriors and dominant narratives. So I’ll probably be interrogating it forever…’

EP: ‘Where does a story usually start for you? With a character? A line of dialogue? A ‘what if’ plot question? A feeling?’

KL: ‘For me, it tends to start with a conundrum. Something that causes an itch in my brain, some question or situation I keep fiddling with. So the beginning is fairly abstract. Then if I give it time and space, scribbling and thinking, it tends to attach itself to a voice, and from there the story builds.’

EP: ‘I love how your novel taps into that complicated question of identity, particularly for those who live far from their native country. As a South African whose made London your home, is that an experience you relate to?

KL: ‘Definitely. I have gained a lot from being a stranger in a country, and the freedom to find my own tribe. But there are also aspects to leaving your country of origin that are painful, complex and irresolvable. Much to keep grappling with, in part through writing, I guess.’

EP: ‘You’ve studied creative writing at many levels, from short courses at City right up to PhD at Aberystwyth. What’s been the most important thing you’ve gained from that study?’

KL: ‘I’ve had some excellent tuition over the years. But I’ve also learned so much through other student writers. Not only from their brilliant and inspiring work – which has shown me the range and versatility of fictional prose – but also from their work ethic: their perseverance, resilience and determination.’

EP:  ‘Do you think creative writing can be taught?’

KL: ‘It certainly involves craft, and learning. And a course environment makes space for a particular quality of attention to the work. I like how George Saunders puts it when he says that even for those, “who don’t get something out there, the process is still a noble one – the process of trying to say something, of working through craft issues and the worldview issues and the ego issues – all of this is character-building and, God forbid, everything we do should have concrete career results. I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”’

EP: ‘How are you finding teaching on the Novel Studio, a programme you took yourself?’

KL: ‘Years ago this course gave me an inroads to the nuts and bolts of writing a novel. Its structure was invaluable in maintaining momentum and providing a sense of progression. And some of the other writers’ novels had me in awe! Now, what I find most exciting is to see the growth of the students’ writing over the course of a year. How hard some of them work, and how much they can do and learn and change. Also, the ways they engage with each other’s texts, their generosity in terms of time, attention and encouragement, is very heartening.’

EP: ‘What are you reading right now?’

KL: ‘I always have lots on the go in different genres (poetry, short stories, biography, comfort-for-the-middle-of-the-night etc). I’ve just excitedly added Mary Ruefle’s lectures Madness, Rack and Honey to my pile. And the novel I’m reading is This Mournable Body by the wonderful Tsitsi Dangarembga.

EP: ‘What are you working on now?’

KL: ‘A new novel called Skylight. I dare say no more!’

 

Kiare Ladner

Kiare’s short stories have been published in anthologies, journals, commissioned for radio and shortlisted in competitions, including the BBC National Short Story Award 2018. She won funding from David Higham towards an MA (Prose Writing) at the University of East Anglia, and then received further funding for a PhD (Creative Writing) at Aberystwyth University. She was given Curtis Brown’s HW Fisher Scholarship in 2018. Her debut novel, Nightshift, was published by Picador last month and is available to buy now.

For information on the Novel Studio and how to apply, visit City’s website.

For those who want to hear Kiare read from her novel, she will be the guest at our next City Writes on 1 April.

Register for free attendance here.

City Writes Autumn 2020 Transports the Zoom-bound!

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone
The sun is shining less hours in the day, we’re all straining under the impact of the pandemic, but City Writes Autumn 2020 was a perfect tonic for the blues. Held on Zoom, five fantastic competition winners joined prize-winning author and alumna, Deepa Anappara who read from her debut, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line and discussed her work with City Writes host and Novel Studio Visiting Lecturer, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone.
We began in France with the opening of Nola d’Enis’s novel, Uhtcaere, a work-in-progress currently being written whilst Nola studies on the Novel Studio. Treated to the lingerie draw of a femme fatale, Nola enthralled us with her eloquent delivery and her sensory and sensual detail.
Emma Dooley, a recent alumna of Cherry Pott’s Approach to Creative Writing class, read next, giving us a terse, poignant account of two ex-lovers meeting outside Lidl during the lockdown with her story ‘Fine.’. The economy of her writing really plumbed the emotional depths and awkwardness of a chance encounter.
Novel Studio alumna, Marta Michalowska read her story ‘Grey Curtain’ next, immersing us in the muted tones of loss and longing, a sea landscape where water and sky blend and walking provides the only cure for despair. Such delicate and specific descriptions transported us into the world of her character.
Back to the pandemic, Richard Bowyer, an Approach to Creative Writing alumnus, was the next to read his story. ‘Return of Service’ is his first ever short story and what promise it shows. A hilarious account of a golf sale sign holder needing a new job, this gem of a story gets better with reacquaintance, and got the audience giggling.
We returned to France next with Novel Studio student, Lucy Blincoe, who read an extract from her first novel, We Are Young, called ‘Lessons in Aioli’. In France to improve her French, the main character visits an acquaintance to cheer her up after a break-up, and ends up being forced into an uncomfortable situation with her father. Filled with tension and sexual menace, this minutely observed story was painfully familiar for many.
Suzanne Farg, another alumna of Approach to Creative Writing, read her tense and complex story ‘Ruby’ next. Beginning in a courtroom, we follow Ruby’s perspective as she reveals what really happened to that boy her husband was accused of killing. That should be enough to whet your appetite!
With these wonderful readings from competition winners over, it was time to hear from our professional Deepa Anappara. Her novel Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, set in a Basti – an overcrowded area on the outskirts of a big Indian city – explores child disappearances through the children’s perspectives, with a brilliantly buoyant and upbeat main narrator, Jai, whose positive exploration of difficult subjects lifts the dark subject matter and gives us an account of a marginalised community who lives are rich with hope and ambition despite their circumstances. It’s an overwhelming generous and thoughtful novel and if you haven’t read it yet, get a copy now.
After a reading from the novel, discussing the significance and power of the djinn, Deepa answered questions from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone and audience, contemplating the power and difficulties of the novel to speak from diverse voices and offering wonderful advice to budding writers. She suggested writers’ practice persistence, meticulous research and listen carefully to feedback.
The full interview can be viewed in the recording of the event with all the fabulous readings too. If you missed it, you don’t need to miss out!

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.

 

A novel approach: how short course alumna self-published her debut novel

By Rachel Mann

Since the publication of my first novel, On Blackberry Hill, many people have asked me: How long did it take to write? I find this seemingly simple question hard to answer. Maybe what they mean is: How did you do it? This is what people really want to know, isn’t it? How does one write a novel?

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists. Here’s how I did it. In the winter of 2008, I was working as an editor in educational publishing in New York, when my husband accepted a job relocation to London. With two children under five, I decided to focus on helping them adjust, while also taking the opportunity to do something I had long wished to pursue: creative writing. Enrolling on City’s Novel Studio course (then called the Certificate in Novel Writing) felt like signing up to climb Everest. I had never written a story longer than ten pages.

Rachel Mann, author of On Blackberry Hill

The course began with a focus on reading novels of all genres, and on the fundamentals of strong stories. I felt excited and ready to undertake the task of writing my own novel, as I began to evaluate writing from a writer’s perspective, not just from a reader’s. The tutors broke up the monumental process into manageable chunks, guiding us through small goals. As Anne Lamott explains in her influential book, writing is accomplished “bird by bird.” In other words: one image, one scene, one sentence at a time. The camaraderie and the ritual of meeting with other writers for hours each week really drove my commitment to spend the time necessary to complete the novel.

I decided to set my novel in an American summer camp, a setting deeply familiar to me, but foreign to every one of my classmates. Having a thoughtful audience for my earliest drafts helped to push me to make the story accessible to a wide range of readers. I finished the course with an outline and 50 pages. We had a reading for friends, family, agents and publishers, which pushed us to think of our novels as real products, not just class exercises. By the following spring, I had a complete first draft.

So what happened next? Life. My family moved back to New York, and we had a third child. I networked, went to conferences, wrote new pieces, and revised and revised my novel. There were long stretches of time when I didn’t look at the manuscript at all, as other pressing concerns took hold. In the end, it was my Novel Studio classmate and friend Justine Solomons, founder of Byte the Book, who helped me to publish the novel at long last.

As you see, writing a novel, at least for me, was a meandering process that took almost 8 years from first scribbles to printed book. It’s been so rewarding to hear reader feedback, from old friends to other writers, to young readers who relate to the teenage characters. Writing and completing a work is its own reward, but having readers respond to one’s writing is a greater thrill yet.

I remain grateful to the community of my City Novel Studio course, many of whom gathered together to share and critique writing even after the course ended. We continue to share and celebrate one another’s successes to this day.

On Blackberry Hill is published by Create Space and is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for Young Adult Literature. For more about Rachel’s writing visit her website; for more about The Novel Studio, please visit our programme page.

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