Tag: writing (page 1 of 4)

City Novel Studio Agent Competition Winners

By Emily Pedder

We are  delighted to announce the winners of City’s Novel Studio Agent Competition 2020. In a rare opportunity to bypass the slush pile, all applications to the Novel Studio are automatically considered for our literary agent competition, run in conjunction with Christine Green Authors’ Agency.

Competition winner Nana Wereko-Brobby

This year’s winners are Janice Okoh, Freya Sanders and Nana Wereko-Brobby.

Novel Studio tutor Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone said ‘The standard of submissions this year was really high and these three winners are writers with some serious promise. Alongside depth of character and enticing plot, their writing shines with eloquence. This is a group of writers to watch!’

Competition winner Janice Okoh

The Novel Studio is City’s flagship year-long course for aspiring novelists. Established for over a decade, the course has a strong track record of published alumni including bestselling authors Harriet Tyce and Hannah Begbie, and debut novelist Deepa Anappara.

Competition winner Freya Sanders

An early winner of the agent competition, Hannah Begbie has gone on to publish two award-winning novels, Mother and Blurred Lines. Another winner, Louise Beere, was shortlisted for the 2019 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize.

Congratulations to Janice, Freya and Nana! We can’t wait to see your writing careers develop over the coming months and years.

Novel Studio Scholarship Winner 2020

Winner of 2020 Novel Studio Scholarship Announced

By Emily Pedder

The second  Novel Studio scholarship, set up to support a talented writer from a low-income household, has been awarded to Janice Okoh.

Janice will now join The Novel Studio 2020/21, alongside 14 other selected writers. Speaking of Janice’s application,  Novel Studio tutor Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone commented: “I was totally gripped by the story that Janice Okoh sent in with her application. Her work is filled with character, pace and a beautiful sense of place. There is an urgency to get across a British Nigerian experience that sings from the page.”

Janice Okoh, winner of Novel Studio Scholarship 2020

On winning the scholarship, Janice said she was “thrilled to be able to  further develop my novel writing skills on such a prestigious course.  I have so many ideas, I can’t wait to focus on one of them and interrogate it for an entire year. Like a lot of people, the effects of the pandemic meant that I lost a substantial part of my planned income so without the scholarship I would not have been able to attend the course. Thank you, Harriet Tyce.”

Novel Studio alumna and crime writer Harriet Tyce set up the scholarship in 2019 as a way to help talented writers who might not otherwise be able to take up a place on the course. Lola Okolosie, the inaugural recipient of the scholarship, has said the opportunity was “life changing”.

The Lies You Told, Harriet Tyce’s second novel

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

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

Congratulations, Janice! We are so looking forward to seeing your novel develop over the year.

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

All you need is love

By Emily Pedder

From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, the question of love has long fascinated writers and readers across the world.

The American editor Shawn Coyne has a theory about this: ‘Love stories are so popular because people not only go to them for the entertainment value but subconsciously they’re watching a love story and they’re trying to track ways that they can become more lovable and form bonds and relationships…People don’t want to be alone.” Love stories, Coyne argues, like all stories, are ‘metaphors that help us know how to behave.’

Our creative writing short course alumni are no slouches in this ‘story’ department and also happen to know a thing or two about love. In celebration of Valentine’s Day this year, we pay tribute to some of their novels which explore the eternal quest for love.

Rachael’s Gift by Alexandra Cameron

A skillfully plotted, continent-crossing literary thriller which explores a mother’s love for her troubled daughter and the lengths she will go to protect her.

Dona Nicanora’s Hat Shop by Kirstan Hawkins

Doña Nicanora has her heart set on turning Don Bosco’s barbers into a hat shop, but Don Bosco has his heart set on her. A wonderfully warm-hearted comedy of errors set in a backwoods South American town.

Foolish Lessons in Life and Love by Penny Rudge

Join Taras, the hapless hero stuck in a futile job and still living with his overbearing mother, as he tries to win back the enchanting Katya. Brilliantly observed and very funny.

Butterfly Ranch by Remy Salters

In a remote jungle lodge in Southern Belize, a local policeman investigates the mysterious disappearance of a world-famous reclusive author. A masterful tale of obsessive love, self-destruction and unexpected redemption.

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

A letter delivered to Dr Andre Cabal in London catapults him back to his 17 year-old self in 1980s Brazil and begins the devastating and mesmerizing story of one man’s secret infatuation for the daughter of his family’s maid.

Creative Writing short courses at City

City runs short courses on everything from novel writing to writing for children.

Many of our students have gone on to publish books after completing one of our creative writing short courses. Deepa Anappara published her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, last month after completing our one-year course, The Novel Studio.

 

Novel Studio alumna and bestselling crime writer Harriet Tyce supports second year of Novel Studio Scholarship

By Emily Pedder

We are delighted to announce a second year of sponsorship for the Novel Studio scholarship, generously supported by Novel Studio alumna and bestselling crime author Harriet Tyce.

Lola Okolosie

The scholarship provides a fully-funded place for one successful applicant to the course from a low-income household and aims to support a student of talent and potential who might not otherwise be able to accept an offer of a place on The Novel Studio.

Last year’s winner, Lola Okolosie, said she was ‘deeply honoured… to receive The Novel Studio Scholarship from City.  It is a huge help; without the financial assistance, I would be unable to embark on a course that I know will develop my skills as a fiction writer.’

Applicants to the scholarship go through the same process as all other applicants but will need to also include a personal statement and provide evidence of financial need. The top three applications will be shortlisted and a final winner chosen by a panel, including the course director, course tutors and Harriet Tyce. For more information on our critieria, please visit the Novel Studio scholarship page.

General applications to the Novel Studio will also open on 1st February 2020. For anyone interested in applying, please see our submissions process here.

It’s been a phenomenal start to the year for graduates of the Novel Studio. Scholarship sponsor Harriet Tyce published her debut crime novel Blood Orange in 2019 to critical acclaim, with The Observer calling it ‘Complex and menacing…a very impressive debut.’

Blood Orange was shortlisted for the Dead Good Reader’s Award and selected for Richard and Judy’s bookclub choice in December 2019. Her second novel, Lies You Told – think Motherland meets noir – is due out in July 2020.

Kiare Ladner

Kiare Ladner, also a Novel Studio alumna, will publish her debut novel, Nightshift, in July 2020 with Picador. Associate publisher Ravi Mirchandani described the novel as “an immensely exciting debut.”

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.

Kiare recently joined The Novel Studio teaching team, bringing a unique blend of experience as a student of the course and as a published writer of serious talent.

Deepa Anappara

Another Novel Studio alumna, Deepa Anappara, will also publish this year. Her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, has won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel.  It is now being translated into 17 languages.

Deepa’s short fiction has won the Dastaan Award, the Asian Writer Short Story Prize, the second prize in the Bristol Short Story awards, the third prize in the Asham awards, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she is currently studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD on a CHASE doctoral fellowship.

Last but not least, Novel Studio alumna Hannah Begbie will publish her second novel, Blurred Lines, in June 2020. Hannah developed her debut novel, Mother, on the Novel Studio and won that year’s prize for new writing.

Hannah Begbie

Published by HarperCollins in 2018, Mother went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writing and was made Book of the Month on Mumsnet and a pick for Fern Britton’s inaugural Book Club for Tesco. Mother has since been optioned by the BAFTA-winning Clerkenwell Films for adaptation into a television drama.

Ready to join them? Find out more about our The Novel Studio Submissions process. Applications open on 1st February 2020.

An interview with Deepa Anappara

Ahead of the publication of her much-anticipated debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Novel Studio alumna Deepa Anappara took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the inspiration behind the book.

Emily Pedder: Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line? When did you know this was a story you wanted to tell? And how long did it take for you to feel you had the voice of the characters, particularly nine-year-old Jai?

Deepa Anappara

Deepa Anappara: The spark for the novel came from a spate of real-life disappearances of children in India, where I worked as a journalist for over eleven years. I used to write on education and human rights, as part of which I interviewed people who lived in impoverished neighbourhoods like the one in my novel. During that time, I used to hear stories of areas where as many as twenty or thirty children had disappeared over a span of two or three years; no effort had been made to find them because they were from poor families that had no voice or political power. I used to wonder what it was like for children to live in such neighbourhoods, knowing that they themselves could be snatched at any moment. How did they deal with that fear and uncertainty? How did they understand the unfairness and injustice they encountered in the world around them every day? Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is an attempt to answer those questions through fiction.

The children in my novel were very much inspired by the children I had interviewed as a reporter. Many of them were working, or weren’t able to study, because of their difficult financial or domestic circumstances. Despite this, they were often cheeky and witty, if not downright sarcastic. I drew from the memories of those interviews, and from the children I know in my life, to create the voices of my characters.

I first tried writing this novel in 2009, but set it aside, unsure whether I had the authority to write about a marginalised, neglected community. I returned to it in 2016. I had written several short stories by then with child narrators; I had also read a number of books and watched films with child narrators. Added to this were my own personal experiences of loss and uncertainty, and the greater understanding of mortality that perhaps comes with age – all these factors in some way gave me the permission to write Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, and shaped its narrative.

EP: Jai watches lots of reality TV cop shows and adopts the role of a detective in trying to find his missing classmate. This feels like a brilliant way in to telling this story. How did the cop show/detective strand come about?

Deepa: Jai’s interest in catching the criminal stems primarily from his own fears. He understands at some level, correctly, that as a child, he is in great danger. By constructing a story about being a detective, he is attempting to reclaim the agency he lacks in real life. It is also his way of dealing with a difficult situation.

Reality shows on TV are popular in India as it is elsewhere across the world, and the one about cops that Jai watches called Police Patrol is based on a similar, long-running TV show in India. It seemed natural that Jai would be inspired by what he watches on TV; popular culture in the form of TV and Hindi films do exert an influence on daily lives.

EP: You were previously an award-winning journalist in India. How difficult was it to make the leap from writing as a journalist to writing fiction?

Deepa: I didn’t have any formal grounding in either literature of writing, so I found it quite difficult to make that transition. I had to essentially learn how to write fiction, and I also had to learn how to read fiction much more closely. As a journalist, I had to be impartial and objective and relay opposing points of view to offer a balanced perspective. To write fiction, I had to teach myself how to write from a subjective point of view, to see the world only as a character sees it. But my experiences as a journalist were integral to writing Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. I often visited neighbourhoods like the one I have written about, and I am indebted to the people who lived there, who invited me to their homes and offered me tea and chatted with me. If not for the generosity they had shown me, there is no way I could have written this book.

EP: You’ve written lots of award-winning short fiction. What do you think are the main differences, apart from length, in writing novels as opposed to short stories? And which do you prefer?

Deepa: I love both forms; I love short stories for how they can distil an entire life into a few pages, for their focus, and I love novels for their expansiveness. There are writers who have experimented with both forms, who challenge what each form can do, and make it much more difficult to describe the differences. In writing a short story, I can often see its shape in its entirety, but this is much more difficult with a novel.

EP: What’s been the most useful thing about studying creative writing?

Deepa: I learnt everything about the craft through these courses. It also gave me a community; I met fellow students whose critiques I trusted, and whose writing I admired. I found critiquing their work, and listening to their feedback, incredibly useful. It also gave me the permission to write.

EP: Do you have an imagined reader in mind when you write?

Deepa: When I am writing, the attempt is to fully inhabit the character and their perspective. The question of readership is something to be considered during the editing stage, but the reader in my head even at that point is amorphous, or perhaps a version of myself.

EP: What are you working on now?

Deepa: I am studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD at the moment, as part of which I am working on a historical novel.

EP: Thank you so much, Deepa! We wish you every success with your novel.

Deepa’s novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, will be published by Chatto & Windus on January 30, 2020.

A partial of her novel won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award, and the Bridport/Peggy Chapman-Andrews Award for a First Novel.  It is now being translated into 17 languages. Deepa’s short fiction has won the Dastaan Award, the Asian Writer Short Story Prize, the second prize in the Bristol Short Story awards, the third prize in the Asham awards, and has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where she is currently studying for a Creative-Critical Writing PhD on a CHASE doctoral fellowship.

Deepa is also a graduate of City’s Novel Studio programme, of which Emily Pedder is Course Director.

Applications for 2020 Novel Studio students will open on February 1st with a deadline of 24th April 2020.

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.

 

Children’s author Jennifer Gray’s top five books for kids this Christmas

By Jennifer Gray

As Christmas approaches, let short course alumna and children’s author Jennifer Gray guide you through her top 5 ‘must have’ cosy winter warmers for the festive season.

5. William at Christmas – William takes on Christmas with his usual blend of enthusiasm and outraged indignation. Hilarious fun which will make you eternally grateful for your own children at a time when you might otherwise not be.

4. Pippi Longstocking – Very happy in her own skin with a unique look and a keen sense of justice (not to mention enough strength to lift Santa and throw him twice round the moon), she’s very much a 21st century girl. Pippi’s stockings would look great on the mantelpiece and I can’t imagine her worrying too much about cooking! Good to have around at Christmas.

3. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – I don’t care what anyone else says. In my view stepping into a magical, snowy world through a wardrobe of fur coats has to be the best beginning to any children’s book, EVER. And you’ve got to admit it’s a very Christmassy story at whichever level you choose to read it.

2. Charlotte’s Webb – Christmas is a time for friends and family. Charlotte reminds us they can come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from places you wouldn’t look. A lesson not just in Christmas spirit but also how to write a really original, touching, animal tale. And thank goodness Wilbur doesn’t end up on the dinner table.

1. Paddington – everyone’s favourite bear. I love him. (So do my children and the youngest is 18.) I can’t better Wendy Ide’s review of his film persona in The Guardian as ‘a slightly sticky beacon of hope for these dark and unsettled times’. Indeed. You can reassure the kids he’s just as good in the books. Guaranteed to make you feel Christmassy.

About the author

Jennifer Gray

Since studying at City on our Writing for Children and The Novel Studio, Jennifer has carved out a successful and prolific career as a children’s author. Her latest book in the Atticus Claw series (book 6) finds Atticus solving crimes in a Scottish castle where ‘danger lurks everywhere on the misty moor…’.

Her new series came out in January 2018 with Usborne and is called The Travels of Ermine. The latest Ermine adventure, The Big London Treasure Hunt, was published in June 2019.

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced

City Writes Autumn 2019 Competition Winners Announced
Congratulations to this term’s winners of the termly City Writes Competition, showcasing the best creative writing talent from alumni and students of City’s Short Creative Writing Courses. The winners are: Harriet Atkinson, Kathrine Bancroft, Helen Ferguson, Bren Gosling, Shabnam Grewal, Andrea Holck, Revati Kumar, Shibani Lal, Natasha Mirzoian and Angus Whitty.
This term we are running a flash fiction extravaganza event to celebrate the Story Cities anthology edited by alumna, Rosamund Davies and tutor, Cherry Potts, as well as Kam Rehal.
The City Writes Autumn Event is on Wednesday 11th December at 6.30pm in the City 125 Suite, City, University of London. Tickets are £10 and include wine/juice. Buy them here now. City Writes Autumn Event 2019 is going to be storytelling gold. There are lots of authors and lots of readings, but they are all short flashes of brilliance guaranteed to scintillate and mesmerise.
We’ll be journeying all over the globe and into childhood memory, falling in love with mattresses, finding a deceased father in the scribbled margins of their old library, seeing snow for the first time, rethinking bonfire night, trying to look after milk and so much more. Don’t miss out, book now.
In the meantime, meet this term’s wonderful, festively large list of competition winners below.
Harriet Atkinson is a historian of design and culture, based at University of Brighton. Currently, she is writing a book about the design of British propaganda in the 1930s and 40s. Her book The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People was published by I.B. Tauris in 2012. She has written for a range of academic and non-academic publications. Harriet studied Narrative Non Fiction with Peter Forbes. Find her on twitter at @HRAtkinson1

For more than 20 years, Kathrine Bancroft’s career has been at the forefront of broadcast journalism, political and not for profit communications. She is currently a Public Engagement Manager for UKRI. An alumnus of City’s workshop and creative writing courses, Kathrine is currently a 2019/20 Novel Studio student and a creative writing volunteer mentor with ‘The Ministry of Stories’.

Helen Ferguson is a translator of Russian and German and writer based in Ely. Her work has appeared in Lighthouse Literary Journal and she is currently working on a novel with City’s Novel Studio.

Bren Gosling’s writing has been performed at The Pleasance, Arcola, OSO Barnes, Rose and Crown E17, Bloomsbury Festival and Brighton Fringe. He is an award-winning short story writer – Exeter, London Short Story Prizes; Highly Commended 2017 Brighton Prize. His play Moment of Grace – inspired by Princess Diana’s handshake on Britain’s first AIDS Unit – sold out at 2018 Bloomsbury Festival. Bren is a Novel Studio alumnus @BrenGosling

Shabnam Grewal is a Londoner who makes Radio and TV programmes. She is also a parent, a partner, a friend and a reader. A big reader. Shabnam studied on Cherry Potts’ Approach to Creative Writing course.

Andrea Holck is an American-born writer and former English teacher. She is currently on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing course at City. Her writing has been featured in Popshot, Kairos Literary Journal and Run Like the Wind, a literary magazine about running.

Revati Kumar is based in North London, and took the Approach to Creative Writing course in 2017. She currently works full time as a doctor in the NHS and continues to write (non-medical) fiction in her spare time. 

Shibani Lal is an alumna of Katy Darby’s Short Story Writing course. Shibani’s short stories have been longlisted for the Bristol Prize, Cambridge Short Story Prize and the Fish Short Story Prize. She was also runner-up in the Asian writer prize, and her work has been published in anthologies in the UK (Dahlia Press, Linen Press). Shibani holds an MPhil in Economics from Cambridge University, and is currently working on a short story collection.

Born in Russia and of Armenian origin, Natasha Mirzoian moved to London when she was a child. While working in book publishing, she completed the Novel Studio at City in 2005. She then went on to gain an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University. She lives in Kent with her family and is working on a collection of short stories.

Angus Whitty was brought up in South Africa towards the end of Apartheid, schooled in England, and spent his life moving between the two. He started writing at sixteen, and worked as a cub reporter for a newspaper at 19. He has studied journalism and film making and done a Masters in Anthropology. He works as a freelance journalist and invented a product for reading books called “Thumbthing”. Over the past 10 years he has used ocean plastic as a resource in design. Now living in Valencia, Spain, he is part of a weekly writing group who are trying to produce a booklet of language-exchange short stories. Angus studied at City ten years ago on a course called Towards Publication, now Writers’ Workshop. Find him on instagram/anguswhitty

With stories from the competition winners and from the Story Cities anthology, you’ll be getting more than £10 ticket worth. Sign up here while there’s still room.

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.

How I wrote Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie

by Malcolm McLean

This October saw the release of a book I have been buried away writing and editing for the last three years: a memoir about my teenage years spent obsessing over pop stars, titled Freak Like Me: Confessions of a 90s pop groupie. It feels like an amazing achievement to have got to this point and have people reading the book that I put so much into during the last few years, and I am so proud of myself, but it wasn’t as simple as I naively thought it might be, back at the start of the project.

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

Freak Like Me, the debut memoir by Malcolm McLean

I’d thought about writing a book for a few years, but lacked the confidence. After tentatively starting the project, my sister suggested I look for a writing course to help give me more of the skills I needed to actually get the thing written and turn a series of anecdotes into a cohesive book. After looking around, I settled on the Narrative Non Fiction short course at City, University of London. The course outline was so detailed and seemed perfect for what I needed to write a memoir.

I assumed there would be an entire class of people writing memoirs like me, but there wasn’t: there were people working in media, wanting help with writing longer articles; company directors hoping to gain more confidence in business communications; and even someone writing a biography of her grandmother’s life in the 1930s. A huge mix. Peter Forbes, the course leader, was an incredible teacher. He gave us writing tools and tricks we so desperately wanted, seeing the strengths and weaknesses in our writing, and always giving such encouraging feedback. He also dispelled a lot of myths about the publishing industry and made it clear how different it is today compared to even ten years ago.

We worked on a variety of types of writing, each of which gave me a new perspective on how language can explain, explore and entertain. This allowed me to develop my book from being very fact and nostalgia-based, to having a more personal story that explored why I ended up doing ridiculous things like breaking into the BRIT Awards, or hanging out at Posh Spice’s mum’s house!

By the end of the course I was ready to submit my first three chapters and a detailed synopsis to try and secure a literary agent, and hopefully sign a book deal with one of the big publishers. I knew that my chances of getting one were slim and, despite some positive feedback, my emails to agents amounted to nothing.

For me, there was always a Plan B, as I knew that I wanted to release my book whatever happened. I researched a great deal into independent publishers, self-publishing, and ‘hybrid publishing’ – a model supposedly falling somewhere between doing it yourself and getting a deal with a big publisher. In the end, I settled on signing with RedDoor, who take on selective book projects that the author has to fund the production costs for. The team there are book lovers with lots of contacts, and I felt that they ‘got’ my idea for Freak Like Me more than anyone else. In hindsight, I feel that self-publishing may have been a better deal for me, financially, but it’s a gamble in finding the right person who can help you edit your book, and I can’t deny that the option I went with meant I was given huge amounts of freedom in producing the book that I wanted to.

The process of actually writing a book is time consuming, and so often it is hard to keep the motivation up, or to see what does or doesn’t work with your writing. After the course, a group of us decided to continue meeting up more informally, to talk about or share some of our writing. These guys became both my most honest critics, and a really useful support network!

Freak Like Me, being such a nostalgic, fun book was always going to be a Christmas release, and so, although it was signed off in early 2019, there was a long wait until October for it to finally get released. I’m immensely happy with the finished book and still flick through it or just gaze at the cover in wonderment. Just reaching this point and receiving such positive feedback from friends, family, or random lovers of pop nostalgia has made the whole experience so worth it, and I’ve ended up with skills and confidence that I couldn’t have imagined three years ago.

Malcolm McLean is a part-time writer and full-time pop music obsessive. His debut memoir Freak Like Me was published by RedDoor in October 2019. To find out more about Malcolm, visit the Freak Like Me website Or to learn about the Narrative Non-Fiction course he took at City visit the City web page.

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