Tag: writing (page 1 of 6)

City Writes Summer 2022 Competition Winners Announced

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

Our winners this term are:

Richard Bowyer

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

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

Jonathan Gallard

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

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

 

Orsolya Kiss-Toth for her extract from Nadi Leaves

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

Orsolya Kiss-Toth

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

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

Jordan McGarry

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

Lia Martin for her story, ‘Church Bells’.

Lia Martin

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

 

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

Su Yin Yap

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

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

Novel Studio to Broygus: a bumpy but worthwhile journey

By Laurence Kershook

 

Thursday 11th October 2018: the first session of City, University of London’s 2018-19 Novel Studio course. Fourteen would-be novelists seated side-by-side around a table back in those distant days when people used to sit side-by-side around tables and not think anything of it: no masks, no social distancing, no worries; just a shared eagerness to take the first tentative steps that would eventually lead to us writing our novels and fulfilling our ambition to see them published.

 

Fast forward to Thursday 24 March 2022. The date when my debut novel, The Broygus, finally went on sale on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats. Between those two dates there’d been seven re-drafts, three editorial assessments, a global pandemic and around forty submissions to agents.

 

In common with so many people, I’d long thought about writing a novel, and had mulled over various ideas in my head and occasionally on paper about what sort of story I’d like to tell. But it wasn’t until my friend Jane, herself a Novel Studio alumna, told me about her experiences on this course that I thought, maybe this is the time. So, after submitting a sample of my writing and being invited to come along for an interview, I was in.

 

The things I learned in that year were a total revelation to me: the three-act structure, the character arc, the inciting incident… plot, sub-plot, synopsis … a whole new language to learn, and most importantly a powerful set of tools to acquire. I’m happy to say that ours was a friendly, supportive group; we all felt that we could safely share our writing efforts with each other in the workshop sessions, and give and receive feedback with openness and confidence.

 

What I remember most vividly is the week when it was the moment for our newly-developed plot synopses to be evaluated in one-to-one tutorials. When it came to my turn, my tutor Emma Claire Sweeney amazed and impressed me by going straight to the heart of my plot, putting her finger decisively on its weakest point and offering me an inspired suggestion that gave me the key to making the whole thing work. True, it meant I’d have to demolish the entire structure and start all over again, but she’d given me such a good idea that I was only too happy to take that on. And looking back, if I hadn’t been on that course, if Emma hadn’t made that suggestion, The Broygus simply wouldn’t have come to life.

 

By the end of the course my novel had pretty well taken shape, and after a second re-draft prompted by a meticulous line-by-line edit from Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone an optional extra and totally worthwhile I prepared my introductory letter and sent out the first of my forty submissions to agents.

 

Here’s where I have to admit that not one of my submissions was successful. There eventually came a point where I had to come to terms with the fact that, whatever its reasons, the publishing industry simply didn’t seem to want The Broygus. But after going through the stage, well-known to writers, where I thought about throwing my manuscript into the trash and taking up pottery or knitting, I regained my belief in The Broygus, together with a renewed determination to see it published.

 

In the third term of the course, the one that focused on the business aspects of the writer’s journey, I’d learned some facts about the publishing industry that had left me, frankly, uncomfortable. Top of the list: your novel must fit into an identifiable genre category. Is it a romance? A thriller? A family history? Is it YA, or speculative, or maybe post-apocalyptic? I learned that you need this clear genre identity so that an agent will consider taking you on, a publisher will know how to market your book and a bookseller will know which shelf to put it on. And then, publishers want readers to be able to identify your book with recent successful ones they may have read. Example:  “A love story for the young and free –– think Eleanor Olliphant crossed with Where the Crawdads Sing.”

 

None of this sat comfortably with me, and I found myself, whether rightly or wrongly, coming more and more to think of agents and publishers as the unassailable gatekeepers and arbiters of readers’ tastes. And I could see that my novel was doomed to failure because I was incapable of fitting it into any of those required categories. Or maybe there was another reason: maybe I should accept that it just wasn’t good enough. But that wasn’t the message I was getting back from the few carefully chosen, plain-speaking people I’d invited to read it.

 

What finally got me where I wanted to be was my introduction to self-publishing. Once considered very much the poor relation of the publishing industry and sadly it hasn’t altogether shaken off that stigma  it’s now accounting for a steadily-growing segment of the industry’s output. Acting on the advice of other writers who’d successfully gone down that path, I did some research and met with some industry people who had the necessary know-how. It’s via that route that The Broygus was eventually published, and so far it’s working out very well.

 

Of course, self-publishing isn’t entirely straightforward; in fact, there are definite drawbacks in contrast to the conventional agent-publisher route. But counter-balancing all of those is the very liberating feeling you get of being in the driver’s seat and in control of your own destiny –– and above all, knowing that it’s only on the judgement of readers that your novel will stand or fall. All I can say is, it’s working for me. And thanks, Novel Studio, for the essential part you played in enabling me to bring The Broygus to life.

 

 

About the author

Previously a teacher, education consultant and gigging jazz musician, Laurence  Kershook grew up and went to school in Hackney, East London. He completed his first novel, The Broygus, after graduating from City’s  Novel Studio.

Charting the history of a Jewish East End family torn apart by events spanning three-quarters of the twentieth century, his novel follows one family member’s determination to see the hurts healed and the conflicts laid to rest.

You can buy The Broygus in paperback or e-book.

If you are interested in applying to the Novel Studio, applications are now open for 2022/23 with a deadline of 29th April 2022.

 

Spring 2022 City Writes Journeys Into The Clouds with Author, Michael Mann

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

City Writes is the showcase event for all the wonderful creative writing coming from City’s Creative Writing Short Courses. Combining the new voices of students and alumni with the work of published alumni, the event always brings excitement and intrigue and this term’s event had everything from healers through dealers, to feminist and Polish heroes, fabulous chickens, hallucinogenic frogs and of course a twelve-year-old boy working to escape a Victorian style workhouse in an alternative smog-filled London, the protagonist of published guest, Michael Mann’s middle grade debut, Ghostcloud.

We began the night with James Baxter reading an extract from his story, ‘The Drop’. James is an alumnus of the Short Story Writing course at City and he took us into the busy, chaotic streets of a foreign city alongside his English protagonist whose bag was filled with cocaine, wrapped in coffee paste to hide the smell. Leaving us tense and anxious, we were eager to find out what would happen next. It didn’t feel like it would be anything good.

Emma Bielecki, alumna of the fantastic Narrative Non-Fiction course, read next, remaking the familiar Ealing, into her father’s Polish ‘Eh-ALL-ing’. She tantalised our taste buds with Polish cuisine, giving us a picture of her father most at ease peeling a sausage, before expertly navigating us away from food towards the histories of her father and his Polish friends who had fled to London years before. The most topical piece of the night, Emma’s creative non-fiction was a brilliant example of how to take listeners and readers on a sensory and emotional journey to highlight different perspectives of the past that go on to alter our understanding in the present.

We took a fictional turn next, diving into the world of a young girl making money with her friend, in Sini Downing’s extract, ‘The Stink of Money’, taken from her novel. A Short Story Writing and Towards Publication alumna, Sini’s reading was an engrossing immersion into her character. We began by wondering how young girls could make so much money, and feared something darker than the unusual turn Sini introduced. Her protagonist is exhausted from healing people, her sister included. We were all hooked by the end of Sini’s reading.

Following on from Sini was Adam Zunker, another reader who, like Sini, was making his second appearance at City Writes. Adam has taken several short courses in creative writing at City University and he read another extract from his wonderful novel – just completed this week! – in which a young boy attempts to step into the Afterworld using the pus from the back of a sacred frog, a special stone, a fire and two circles. Revolting and transporting, Adam’s reading left us wanting to find out if his young character would be successful.

From frogs to chickens, we joined Alison Halsey next as she read from her novel, Minta Gets Everything Wrong.  Alison has just completed An approach to Creative Writing and she took us to the funeral of her character’s sister, to which the bereaved daughter with disabilities insisted upon bringing her chicken and slapping her half-brother round the head. A black comedy with a warm and informal narrative voice, Alison’s story had us all giggling and looking forward to hearing more.

Our final competition winner, Stephanie Donowho, alumna of Novel Writing and Longer Works, read us her story ‘Once a daughter of Eve’ next. Stephanie’s story took us into the mind of a child growing up in a Christian household, surrounded by Bible geeks, whose self-motivated exploration into less well read parts of the Bible led to finding two stories of women called Tamar, one of whom had to cheat a man into bed. A fascinating story of growing feminist awakening, Stephanie’s piece was a fabulous segue from competition winner to published author.

Our headline act, Michael Mann, read next. Michael is an alumnus of the Writers’ Workshop at City and began his debut, Ghostcloud, in that very class. A winner of Undiscovered Voices 2020 and the 2019 London Writers Award, Michael’s middle grade novel is set in the smoky, dark underworld of Battersea Power Station in an alternative smog-filled London. Michael read the opening of the book in which we met twelve-year-old Luke, struggling to shovel coal, trying to work hard enough to earn his escape back into the light of London and his family from which he was kidnapped. We met his kidnapper, Tabitha, and two of the other children suffering under her regime. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next. Click here to get your copy.

Michael then took part in a Q&A with Novel Studio tutor and City Writes host, Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, followed by questions from the audience. Michael helped us understand his inspirations, the development of the novel and how publication and the expectations of publishers has changed his writing practice. Generous in his sharing of tips and ideas for budding children’s authors, you can follow the whole discussion and catch up with our competition winners’ readings, by watching the recording of the event here. Michael was keen to remind the audience that he loves visiting schools. If you do have connections to a Primary School near you, you can contact Michael on mbmann@gmail.com

City Writes is a great space for sharing the creative writing talent that abounds from City’s short creative writing courses. Look out for the Summer event and if you are an alumni or current student, don’t forget to enter next term’s competition. We have two published alumni reading for us next term: Simon Culleton and Attiya Khan, both Novel Studio alumni, whose novels respectively are, Shadows of Fathers about a father’s battle for child custody across national borders and Ten Steps to Us that follows a young Muslim girl’s struggle to maintain her faith in her quest for love. Watch this space for further details of the event and the competition.

Watch the full event here.

Sumo: A world of dedication and focus that epitomises Japanese business

The centuries-old world of traditional Japanese wrestling provides many insights for our rough-and-tumble world of business.

By Raju Thakrar

You might be surprised to learn that Japanese executives have always been huge fans of sumo. Not only is this because the sport is quintessentially Japanese, but it’s also due to the similarities between the sumo ring and the office. From the perspective of these high-level “salarymen”, the world of sumo and any single bout has the potential to teach them things that they can implement in their everyday work lives. These include dedication, the rewards for loyalty, thorough preparation, knowing your opponent, and treating others with respect. But Japanese executives are not the only people who can learn how sumo can improve their work lives – anyone working in a company can as well.

Keeping it in the family

Most recruits to a “sumo stable” – the name for the group where wrestlers live and train together – are on average 15 years old. Each stable is headed by a stable master and his wife, both of whom act as parental guides for the young sumo trainee.

Wrestlers belong to one stable their whole career. The stable repays their loyalty by investing a huge amount of time and money into ensuring they succeed as far as they can in the sport. Not only are the wrestlers given a roof over their heads and fed, but they are also provided with one-on-one instruction and welcomed into a system that looks after them throughout their career. Each wrestler, for example, is provided with a mentor who cares for them like a “big brother”.

It’s not an easy life being a sumo wrestler. But those young men who decide to dedicate their lives to it know that with hard work and determination, they could be rewarded with fame and glory – just like with business. This is the reason why young Japanese boys from poor, rural areas join: they want to better themselves. More recently, teenagers from Mongolia, a much poorer country than Japan with its own form of wrestling, have chosen to try their luck in the sumo world. Some of them have made it to the upper echelons of the sport.

Sharing the fruits of your success

No matter how successful a wrestler becomes, he never forgets that he belongs to a stable. Top-ranking wrestlers who are paid a monthly stipend have to share part of that with their stable. What’s more, whenever a wrestler wins prize money offered at a bout by sponsors – on occasion this can amount to thousands of pounds – the wrestler has to share the money with the rest of his stable.

When wrestlers reach the top ranks, it’s great PR for the stable, as it attracts wannabe wrestlers who believe that by joining the stable they too can one day become rich and famous. Talent is organically attracted to a successful stable. For example, Kokonoe stable, whose stable master was Chiyonofuji – one of the most famous wrestlers in recent years – now boasts more highly ranked wrestlers than any other stable in the sumo association.

A mindset of focus and mutual respect

Many sumo bouts only last for a few seconds. That means wrestlers prepare all day to be in the ring for a match that could be over in a blink of an eye. Preparation is thus key. In fact, wrestlers spend most mornings training all out so that they can win in tournaments and rise through the ranks. Chiyonofuji had these words of wisdom for wannabe sumo stars: “You must train to get stronger now but also to be stronger in three years from now”.

Even when they enter the ring, the bout does not immediately start. As part of a centuries-old ritual, the wrestlers normally face off four times before they actually charge full throttle at each other. This run-up period is where mind games are usually played, so much so that it’s often said that a bout’s outcome is decided at this stage. That’s why, as with business, keeping your cool is key in sumo. After the bout is over, win or lose, you are not allowed to show your feelings, out of respect for your opponent.

Sumo may have been around for hundreds of years, but some of the things that it can teach people are very much relevant to today’s corporate world: how companies can care for and reward their employees; how working hard on a daily basis can bring about long-lasting results; how business negotiations can change in an instant; and how, win or lose, respecting others is so important.

Which sport do you think best represents what an office environment is like?

Raju Thakrar is a consultant working at GR Japan, Japan’s leading government relations consultancy. He can be contacted via  his LinkedIn page.

Raju is a current student on City’s short Writing for Business course taught by Jenny Stallard. For more on our short writing courses, from novel writing to copywriting, please visit.

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

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City Writes 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!

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.

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

by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

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.

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

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

by Christopher Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Headline:          Meet, Motivate, Get Fit.

 

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

 

Call to Action:   Find Fitness Friends Now.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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