Tag: writing (page 1 of 8)

City Writes Summer 2024: A Monumental Event

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

While half the country were on the edges of their seats watching football, us lucky few were treated to a night of storytelling, imagination and the excitement of hearing the inner world of consciousness burst out from the page.

 

City Writes is a termly event set up to showcase the best talent from City’s creative writing Short Courses. It’s a game of two halves (I couldn’t resist): readings from competition winners, students and alumni of City’s creative writing short courses who enter their best 1,000 words of fiction or creative non-fiction into the termly competition; and a visit from a published alumni or tutor and this term we managed to score the wonderful Lara Haworth, whose debut Monumenta came out with Canongate on the 4th July.

 

We began the night with the competition winners and Dee Miller, recent Novel Studio alumna, kicked things off with an extract from her Middle Grade novel, Between Wind and Water. We were enthralled as Geal, guardian of Spring, discovers all the people and animals of their local village are gone, leaving only footprints, paw marks and hoof prints behind. It was easy to imagine a young audience being gripped by this fantastical and energetic tale.

 

We heard from An Approach to Creative Writing alumna, Emily Edwards next as she read her multi-perspective story, ‘Laurie’. Who was this rather wild woman and what happened that night? A story that leaves the central character absent but all over the text, it was a thrilling and eerie listen. The audience were left wanting more in all the right ways.

 

Moving from one dark scenario to another, Flora Tonking read her story, ‘The Playing Field’ next. Another recent Novel Studio graduate, Flora’s story was inspired by events in her mystery novel, Chosen Family, and certainly proved her expert turn of phrase and her ability to leave bodies bleeding in the dark. A very haunting and moving story. Bring on the novel!

 

From fiction to creative non-fiction, we were treated to a wonderful portrait of Constance Markiewicz next as Fact-Based Storytelling alumna, Pamela Welsh, read her piece, ‘A Countess in Combat’. Constance’s life from riches to revolution was inspiring and a wonderful advertisement for Pamela’s book project on women in conflict. That’s a book I think we’ll all be eager to pick up.

 

Another Novel Studio alumna and City Writes veteran, Jill Craig read next. Her story, ‘Estrangement’, took us onto a boat ride with her main character, on her way to see her estranged mother with a new boyfriend, desperate to reach out to her sister, the one who remained her touchstone of safety. So full of emotional turmoil and laced with lyrical writing, the audience were putty in Jill’s hands.

 

Next, we heard from Margaret Rogerson, our final competition winner and another recent Novel Studio graduate. Margaret read an extract from her novel, I Was, Once. She transported us into those delicate teenage years, fourteen and eager to find excitement in life. Her character found herself on holiday in a campsite surrounded by an aunt preoccupied with ‘that stupid baby’ and a whole host of men hungry to watch her cartwheel. Let’s hope Margaret publishes soon so that we can read the rest of this story with such a compelling and funny voice at its heart.

 

After such a stellar set of competition winning readers, it was a good thing we had multi-talented artist, filmmaker and now writer, Lara Haworth as our guest speaker. A Novel Studio alumna who read an early extract from Monumenta at City Writes back in 2021, Lara is a phenomenal writer dear to our hearts. Her debut, Monumenta is a book that examines how we remember collectively and in private. The Guardian says it  ‘fizzes with ideas’ and Bookmunch say it ‘Deserves a place on awards shortlists’ and the City Writes audience couldn’t agree more. Over the next half an hour or so Lara introduced us to the book through her answers to my questions and some wonderful short readings from a small novel that really packs a punch.

Author and City alumna Lara Haworth

Set in Belgrade, the novel opens with Olga Pavić receiving a letter from the government. It tells her that her house is being requisitioned in order to turn it into a monument for a massacre. But which one? No one seems to know. It’s a novel that explores memory in all its present, personal and civic interpretations. It was such a delight to speak with Lara and you can hear her readings, our conversation and all of the competition winners by clicking on this link to the video of the night. It really was a monumental night. Buy your copy of Monumenta here.

 

Thank you, Lara, thank you competition winners, thank you audience members and Emily Pedder for supporting this event. It truly is a showcase for the talent coming from the short creative writing courses at City and what talent there is. Next term, City Writes returns with alumna Jo Cunningham as our guest. Jo’s debut, Death by Numbers comes out with Hachette this August. It’s a seaside comedy crime that will have us burning on our beach towels. Listen to the event HERE and watch this space for details of City Writes Autumn 2024.

Novel Studio Showcase 2024

 

 

Alumna Anna Mazzola introducing the evening of readings

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

There’s nothing like a Showcase reading event filled to the brim with new creative writing talent and this year’s Novel Studio 2024 Showcase was a scintillating night to remember. Who needs the excitement of the election when you can listen to fourteen authors, just graduated from the year-long Novel Studio course, reading from their novels-in-progress? What a treat.

We began by celebrating the fabulous talent of the Novel Studio’s alumni. From long-term course supporter and founder of the Novel Studio Scholarship, Harriet Tyce, through Novel Studio tutor, Karia Ladner, Deepa Anappara, Elizabeth Chakrabarty, Hannah Begbie, Attiya Khan, Katharine Light, Greg Keen, all the way to Lara Haworth whose debut, Monumenta, came out the same night as the Showcase and Jo Cunningham whose debut, Death By Numbers, comes out next month. This wonderful list keeps growing and we were lucky enough to hear from another alumna, Anna Mazzola next. Having published her fifth historical thriller, The Book of Secrets, earlier this year, Anna has her first legal thriller, Notes on a Drowning, out next year with Orion. She gave a wonderful endorsement for the course, not only for the craft skills it nurtures but for the importance of creating links with other writers who can share your journey and for the connections to the industry that events like the Showcase and the Anthology can bring. Anna always lights up a room, virtual or in-person, with her vibrant energy. It was a great message of realistic but enthusiastic well-wishing to the students in the early days of their writing careers.

Before we heard from the students, we wanted to thank City academic George Politis for taking on the Novel Studio Scholarship scheme for the next five years. Now known as The Captain Tasos Politis Scholarship after George’s late father who was a passionate supporter of education, the scholarship provides a fully funded place for one successful applicant to the course from a low-income household. Thank you, George!

With all this good will behind them, we began the readings with Darinka Aleksic who read from the opening of her novel, Afterglow, as her protagonist Kay, a forty-something mother of three, takes her first exploratory trip with psychedelic drugs in an effort to cure her depression. The wry voice of Kay with its compelling dark humour left us all eager to find out what would happen next.

NOVEL STUDIO CLASS OF 2024

We went from Islington to Notting Hill next, dabbling our toes into the romance of MJ Hershaw’s novel, Terms of Agreement. Sitting with Charlotte in her flat, we were stunned to hear her grouchy neighbour Aiden ring her bell and ask a very unexpected favour. Would she be his girlfriend? It was hard to pick up our jaws and move on but we went from one surprise request to a futuristic hook up next with Darren Wimhurst, reading to us from his novel, Business as Usual.

Darren took us into the not-so-distant future of a sexercise class with haptic suits and sex bots. The awkwardness of the encounter for his character, Kurt, wasn’t virtual at all. What a sharply affecting and darkly funny extract from a spell-binding and politically sharp speculative novel.

From the near future to an alternative present, we delved into Ani Bazil’s Young Adult novel, Unravelling Reality, next where humans are not quite what they seem. Ani tantalised us with a prologue in which a body is left for dead – though we see their finger twitch – and an opening chapter in which some kind of trick is about to take place, putting a group of letchy, rowdy men in their place.

Left wondering what was about to happen, we went from a London pub to a charity piano recital next as Amanda Bolt read from her novel, A Life in the Past Tense. We listened as Caroline’s dreams of restarting her pianist career were interrupted by the news of the death of her parents in a car crash.

From the hush of loss, to the excitement of a teenage girl released into the world after lockdown, we were taken to Harrogate next as Margaret Rogerson read from her novel, I Came of Age, Twice. Margaret took us into the heat and confusion of those early days when lockdown was lifted. Her protagonist Charlotte made it halfway down the road with her dad, waylaid by a neighbour cleaning his car, his family visible behind him lounging in a large paddling pool and passing round a spliff. Eventually, Charlotte manages to march on to the park, her dad stumbling back to the house, defeated by it all.

We took a turn back to Surrey in 1995 next with Lesley-Jane Easles-Reynolds who read from her novel, It Could Happen to You. We listened in on a conversation between Sam and her brother as they discussed the strangeness of their small inheritance from recently deceased cousins who had promised to leave them all their wealth. Burdened by debt, Sam is both desperate for the money and desperately upset at the deaths of her cousins. What has gone on?

From fishy, underhand, financial dealings to a ship on the Nile, we jetted off to Egypt next with S Ross and a moment of shipbound contemplation as she read from her novel, Emmy. Such a lyrical piece, her character Emmy sits listening to the call to prayer and contemplating her late marriage, suddenly ended when Emmy discovered John had been cheating on her for years. Could she still pray after all that had happened?

Taking a moment to soak up the emotional complexity, we went from the Nile to Reading with Joe Gallard as he read from his comic novel, Alan and the AI. Alan is late for work and despite being disarmed by the charm of his new neighbour Nat, who had inspired him to write poetry it was probably best he never shared, he struggles to say anything meaningful and heads out into the rain.

Giggling away, we were transported to fantasy land of magic and mayhem next with Deliliah Miller’s middle grade fantasy novel, Between Wind and Water. We listened as Atha’s magic was somehow released and enhanced to devastating effect by a book that falls from the shelf of a wonderful library in the land of Draoidheil. What evil has Atha unwittingly released?

Caught in the drama, we had to tear ourselves away from the magic of fantasy to a child’s fantastic interpretation of a nighttime car journey next as W H Marie read from his novel, My Shadow, My Brother. The motorway drive turns lamplight into starlight and the car into a rocket hurtling through space. Will’s reading was tender and heartfelt, the mother of the story a figure whose eyes flash different colours to reflect her mood.

We went up to Scotland next for some timely comedic relief with Emma Warrick’s novel, The Husband Freezer. Emma showed us a typical morning at the charity as her protagonist, Margaret went about cleaning the loos and contemplating the sorry state of her sex life. She couldn’t even find the time or place for a fiddle with her rampant rabbit.

Next up, Jill Craig took us to Northern Ireland with a reading from her novel, The Weight of the World. We were gripped by a painfully raw and intimate scene in which Jill’s characters, Rory and Camille argue over implications of bringing children into a flooding, burning world. Desire and anger, exhaustion and bitterness left both the characters and the audience in a state of longing.

Our emotions heightened we were off to France next with our last reader, Flora Tonking, reading from her mystery novel, Chosen Family. Set in a beautiful countryside chateau, Alex is woken on Christmas morning by a shriek coming from the bathroom. What has happened? Who is on the bathroom floor? As with all the wonderful novels of the evening, you’ll have to wait for the novel to be published to find out!

Ending on a hook was the perfect conclusion to an evening of fantastic readings. With some further words of thanks to the Novel Studio team, Emily Pedder and Kiare Ladner; to the wider City University staff, particularly Robert Lastman and Laura Bushell; to George Politis again for his support of the Captain Tasos Politis Scholarship; to brilliant Novel Studio students; and to the audience, we ended on a note of congratulation. Go Novel Studio 2024, we can’t wait to hear of your future success.

These students are writers to watch, but don’t just take my word for it, you can watch a recording of the night, here, and read the wonderful extracts in the Novel Studio Anthology 2024. Congratulations Novel Studio 2024 cohort on a wonderful evening!

Winners of 2024 City Writes Summer Event Announced

By Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone

We’re delighted to announce the six winning authors of our City Writes Summer 2024 competition who are now due to join Novel Studio alumna and published author, Lara Haworth on the 10th July at 7pm over Zoom. Read on to find out more about these wonderful winners.

Jill Craig for her story ‘Estrangement’.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Jill now lives and works as a secondary school teacher in the North-West. Before that, she lived and worked in London, Paris and a tiny town in Greece. She has had stories published on LiterallyStoriesEgg + FrogFreckle Ltd. and this is her second reading at CityWrites. Fresh from the Novel Studio, she is currently working on a novel about how climate change affects a couple’s plans to have a family.

Emily Edwards, An Approach to Creative Writing alumna, for her story, ‘Laurie’.

Emily Edwards is from North Wales but now resides in London after spending seven years living in Paris. She currently works in finance but also has a background in voluntary work in Asia. She has been an avid reader from an early age, when she started many stories that all remained unfinished. She had to drop out of her course in 2015 due to emergency surgery but picked up her pen again this year. This is the first short story that she has ever completed.

Dee Miller for an extract from her novel, Between Wind and Water.

Dee Miller is a recent graduate of the Novel Studio. Originally from the enchanting Highlands of Scotland, she now calls Hertfordshire her home, where she works as a consultant. A keen storyteller and a reader of maps, Dee’s heart beats for children’s literature. Her imaginative world will win the hearts of young readers, and she is now engrossed in the creation of her second novel.

Margaret Rogerson, Novel Studio alumna, for her extract from her novel, I Was, Once.

Margaret is originally from Leeds and now lives with three time thieves in South East London. A feature film she co wrote and directed is currently playing on Amazon Prime (Soundproof – shameless plug) and she intends to turn her first book ‘I Was, Once’ into a screenplay. She is interested in fiction that is unafraid to tackle thorny subjects.

Flora Tonking, Novel Studio alumna, for her story, ‘The Playing Field’.

Originally from the U.K., Flora now lives in Paris, where she manages the English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. A bookseller by trade, she is passionate about introducing readers to powerful stories that have the possibility to transport, delight and remind us of our shared human experience. Mystery and crime novels are her lifelong love, and she is currently working on her own first book (a mystery, of course) having just completed the Novel Studio.

Pamela Welsh, Fact-Based Storytelling alumna, for her non-fiction piece, ‘A Countess in Combat’.

Pamela Welsh is a recovering journalist who used to work for the Manchester Evening News. She now works in marketing and communications for a national education charity. Originally from Northern Ireland, Pamela’s now made Manchester her home, and was heavily involved in the response to the 2017 Manchester Arena terrorist attack. Pamela has long been fascinated by women’s history, and is working on a book project on women in conflict.

With a diverse range of stories from activists to accounts of accidental murder all the way through to the complexities of intimate family reconnections, the prize-winners alone promise a wonderful night on Wednesday 10th July. To top off their fantastic pieces, we will hear from debut novelist, Lara Haworth, barely a week after the publication of her novel, Monumenta, already bringing in fantastic reviews. The Observer called it ‘a deeply political work’ that ‘fizzes with ideas’. Sign up to hear from Lara and our competition winners here. We’ll see you there on Wednesday 10th July at 7pm on Zoom. We can’t wait!

Interview with City short course alumna and debut novelist Tania Tay

Tania Tay is the debut author of The Other Woman, published in May 2024 with Headline Accent.

Tania first wrote stories and plays on her mum’s old typewriter in the school holidays. She worked as an advertising copywriter in agencies from Singapore to London – which was great training in writing commercial fiction. One day at a job interview, she was asked if she was a “brave writer”. It triggered her join a short story class at the City Lit, with Leone Ross where she wrote a few weird, dark tales. Her writing explores female friendship, and the relationship between mothers and daughters. Occasionally there’s a supernatural twist. Tania is the author of the Spellcasters middle grade series, in collaboration with Storymix Studio. She has written a screenplay, developed with BBC Writersroom London Voices. Tania is second generation British Malaysian Chinese. She studied History of Art at the University of Edinburgh and lives with her family in East London.

  1. What inspired you to write your novel and how did the idea for the story come about?

 

The idea came from a writing exercise where I had to imagine if I lost everything in my life. At the time, my children were younger and I was a stay-at-home mum. I imagined what would have to happen for me to lose my husband and children.

 

  1. Why did you choose to write in the thriller genre? What is it about this genre that interests you most?

 

I’ve always enjoyed reading psychological thrillers where the suspense is more in the mind than in spilling blood and guts. The threat of danger to ordinary people going about their everyday lives is terrifying, as what if…. these things happened to me?

 

  1. When did you first think you wanted to be a writer?

 

I’m first and foremost a reader. I’ve always been a book worm and started writing plays as a child, inspired by fairy tales and stories I loved. I worked as a copywriter in advertising, but I never thought I could be a proper writer of fiction until I did a short story writing class at the City Lit.

 

  1. You took our Crime Writing short course at City, how helpful was it in the development of your debut thriller?

 

The course was invaluable. At the time I’d mainly been writing for children. Caroline Green was so inspiring with her personal journey about how she’d made the change from writing YA to writing adult crime. She introduced us to some brilliant crime fiction excerpts, many of which I’d never read. She set short writing exercises, and we teamed up with people in the class to discuss ideas. The course really got my imagination going. Soon after taking the course, I started writing the novel that’s now my debut.

 

  1. How important do you think feedback from writing groups and creative writing courses is?

 

Trusted feedback has been really important for me. I’ve been a member of various critique groups over the years. But I’m very careful about who I choose to trust to give me feedback. I only work with creative writing tutors and peers who enjoy reading and writing similar genres to my own. I don’t see my work as literary, but commercial so I surround myself by other writers who enjoy reading and writing commercial fiction. Before I signed up for Caroline Green’s course, I’d read her books and knew that I enjoyed her work and that she would be a great teacher for me.

 

  1. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while writing your novel?

 

To keep going, even when I got stuck. I knew I needed some big twists but I didn’t know what they could be. I had to draft and redraft until I found them.

 

  1. What has the route to publication been like for you?

 

It’s taken me a LONG time… years! I had short stories published in 2002 but could never finish a whole novel. I kept trying different genres including children’s and YA. I queried my first YA novel in 2018 and had some nice rejections. My debut adult suspense novel was started in 2018. I worked on it for over a year with the help of a tutor. Then I re-drafted it again. In April 2022 I was shortlisted for an open submissions competition with Headline and had to finish another draft by August. In September, I won a publishing contract, and it was finally published May 2024.

 

  1. Which writers inspired you as a younger author, and who inspires you now?

 

I’ve always loved mysteries – As a child and teenager, I read Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Georgette Heyer. I’ve always enjoyed psychological thrillers, like Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Damage by Josephine Hart, Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood. Currently, my favourite authors are Lisa Jewell, Louise Candlish, Lucy Foley, Ellery Lloyd, Sabine Durrant, Lucie Whitehouse, Araminta Hall, Lauren North, BP Walter.

 

  1. What advice would you give to other aspiring writers who are thinking about publishing a novel?

 

Read a lot in the genre you enjoy, and analyse your favourites. Take a short course or do some writing workshops to inspire you. Surround yourself with writers and get involved in the writing community, whether on social media – Instagram and twitter – or by going to festivals. Be nice to people and tell other authors when you enjoy their work. Write them nice reviews! It’s a long and can be lonely path to publication, so you need to find your writing tribe to share the ups and downs with. When you’re finally agented and have a publishing deal, these will be the people who will happily give you endorsements, reviews and shout about your books to everyone.

 

  1. What are you working on now?

 

A destination thriller set on a luxury resort on a Malaysian island. A group of colleagues from an advertising agency re-unite for a party, but there are secrets from the past casting a toxic shade over the festivities. And then a dead body is found.

Thank you so much, Tania! We wish you every success with your debut novel and all the many novels to come. We can’t wait to read the book!

To order Tania’s novel, visit HERE.

For more information about Tania and her writing, visit HERE.

To sign up to an intensive week-long summer school version of the course Tania took at City, visit HERE.

For all information on our writing short courses, visit HERE. Or for all our other short courses, please visit HERE.

Interview with Lara Haworth, author of debut novel Monumenta

Author and artist, Lara Haworth

Lara Haworth is a writer, visual artist and filmmaker. In 2018 she was accepted onto City’s flagship year-long novel writing programme, The Novel Studio. She was also the winner that year of our Literary Agent Competition. Always tipped for success, last year Lara sold her debut novel, Monumenta, to Canongate. The novel will be published this summer. We caught up with Lara to find out more about her writing life and her journey to publication.

 

  1. Have you always written?

Yes. As soon as I was able. I wrote my first story aged four in a small notebook on my mother’s desk. Its protagonist was a knight who comes across three forking paths, and cannot decide which one to take. Goodness gracious, I wanted to him to say, as he realises the choice lying ahead. I spelt it goodness gracars.

2. Which book was the first to have a real impact on you as a reader, and which as a writer?

The first book I read that made me realise there was something other than just a story going on was The Great Gatsby. I was eleven. Much of it went over my head, the unrequited love, the critique of wealth, the disillusion. But I remember Fitzgerald describing the ‘silver pepper of the stars’ and looking up at the sky and actually gasping. So that’s what you can do, I realised. And maybe this, too, and this…

Fast forward twenty-three years, and my life is in some disarray. (This is an understatement.) I was visiting friends in Spain and started reading Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know. About three chapters in I felt an overwhelming pressure, as if a dam was breaking somewhere in my heart, or my throat, or my knees. I started to pace up and down and up and down this beach, gripping the book like it was a hand, pulling me up from a deep well. It gave me a kind of ferocious, blistering instruction to write, properly, seriously, now. It said, There is nothing else for you. When I got back from Spain, I applied to the Novel Studio. I still have the book. It has these white-knuckled dents in the cover.

3. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t expect anyone to find you, and your writing, without telling them where you are or what you’re doing. Don’t imagine that this is something you can do on your own. Don’t be frightened. (You will also be frightened.)

4. Why do you write and what makes it so vital for you?

When I’m in the excavating, mining stage, it rolls on a scale between because I have to and because I want to. Sometimes, when the I want to is struggling, because I am tired, or frightened, or stuck, or distracted, the I have to engages more fiercely, as more of a grim-faced imperative, shaking its head and pulling me back to my desk, to my thoughts, my subconscious, until the I want to returns in equal measure, to provide a lift. At its best, they both work together, and that is when you’re flying.

When I’m redrafting and editing, things get bigger, wider. I picture the reader: their joy, their woe, their precious time. If I can illuminate something – a feeling, a place, the way a potato slices open in a ‘90s deli – that impresses on a reader a sense of recognition, and a slightly different way of seeing and thinking about the world, then that is also why I write. There’s politics there too. I write to smuggle in difficult histories, strange emotional realities, and I try to centre queer lives, so long obscured in the literary canon.

5. Do you think writing can be taught? And relatedly, can you tell us a bit about your experience of being on writing courses?

When I was a teenager, I was at a friend’s house, whose father worked in publishing. Over dinner, he went on an extended rant about how you couldn’t teach creative writing, how all his authors had always written, and that was the only thing that could possibly matter. Perhaps because I didn’t know anyone else that worked in publishing and I wanted to be a writer, I really took his words to heart. It was a bad decision. From that moment on I avoided creative writing classes, and chose instead to write alone, in secret, thinking: I’m writing, and this is what I’ve always done! Someone will find me and recognise my labour. They didn’t. And the longer I wrote in secret, the more my fear grew about sharing my work. Every now and then I would submit something to a ridiculously prestigious magazine or journal and then be crushed when I was (inevitably) rejected. A pretty sad cycle, that I thankfully managed, eventually, to break. I wish I had done it sooner.

While I do think that there needs to be some ineffable something to your writing to get the best out of a writing course, there are a whole host of things you simply cannot get on your own. Like, learning how to build a novel, which is architecture. Learning how to edit, how to build pace, when to cut, when to trust your reader, when to give them more. This you learn by submitting your work to be read by your peers. And you’re not ready. But then you become ready. And the readiness grows. And that expectation, that deadline, is generative. It makes you a better writer.

My time on the Novel Studio was completely transformative in this respect. Being read. It was such a relief. Even if the feedback was hard, I would still sometimes feel very emotional on the tube home, seeing all those different handwritings in the margins of my manuscripts. And it was a privilege to read my peers’ writing too – to lose myself in their worlds, and bring my sensibilities as a writer to their work. The course also taught me that books don’t live in a blank space. They’re deeply connected to the world, most pressingly, the publishing world. All of the things that I had so studiously avoided for so long: talking about my work, emailing agents, trying my luck, writing pitches – all had to be done. And it was so very helpful to be given the tools to do this, to knock on all those guarded doors.

6. Can you tell us a bit about your experience of getting a publishing deal? Has anything been surprising, in a good or bad way?!

During the Novel Studio, one of my tutors revealed that her first novel did not get picked up for publication. I remember so vividly the shock I felt, as if she’d reported her own death. I glimpsed how painful that must have been for her. Perhaps because it had been such hard work to even get to that point, it was something I hadn’t considered –– even though the evidence, should I need it, was all around me, told again and again by many of my favourite writers (Hilary Mantel!).

A year and a half later, I was telling the same story. I wasn’t so naive that I thought I would definitely get a publishing deal for my first novel, but it did seem like finishing the final draft and working through more rounds of rolling rejections to get an agent might mean I was finally there. I was, of course, wrong. My first novel was not picked up. It was an extremely painful experience. Loss. A kind of grief. By that point I had gone from extreme secrecy about my writing to extreme exposure – and, in the way of all worst nightmares, my failure was also happening on a very public scale. Everyone knew.

Full credit to my partner, who after watching me mooch around in my depression for a while, said, The only thing that’s going to help now is getting back to work. She was right. I had started writing Monumenta in the summer of 2020. I went back to it in autumn 2021, and within two months it was finished. The rejection had actually sharpened my writing, made me care less about failure. I was able to take more risks. I carved a chunk out of it and submitted it as a short story to the Bridport Prize, and actually won. Very unexpected. This was the catalyst for my agent to submit it to publishers.

I’m still surprised Monumenta got picked up. It doesn’t really conform to any of the silent rules of the industry. It’s short. It’s about monuments, and difficult European history. I couldn’t think of any other books to compare it to. In the end, we had two offers and went with Canongate, who have always been my dream publisher. Securing the deal took two extremely nerve-wracking weeks. Sometimes I still can’t believe it’s real. I think what I’m trying to say with this very long-winded answer is that risk and failure are not just part of the process, they are the process, they influence and change the work in rich and strange ways.

7. Which fiction writers inspire you currently?

Mariana Enriquez. Wendy Erskine. Olga Tokarczuk. Jenny Erpenbeck. Colson Whitehead. Deborah Levy. Kevin Barry. Christina Sharpe. Lan Samantha Chang. Anne Enright. Sebastian Barry.

8. Do you have a particular writing process? Favourite place or time of day to write? Any rituals?

I work best when I have dedicated chunks of time. I’m not, sadly, one of those writers that can write for fifteen minutes in the morning and then get on with their day. It’s a whole day / night thing. It’s all or nothing. I have chosen a more unsettling, unstable line of freelance money earning, so that I can work manically for periods and save up, and take time off to write. This functions in some senses, but during dark nights of the soul it can feel fundamentally unsensible and wrong. When I am writing, I have a target word count every day, and that can take anywhere between two hours and a whole day to achieve. I’m lucky to have my own little writing space in our house, which overlooks the street. So I still see a little bit of life, going by.

9. Are you someone who plans and plots before you write or do you write to discover the story? Or both?!

I start with at least one person (who’s already been talking to me in my head for a while), a place, a primary situation, and a sense of its undertows. But I write to discover. I feel quite strongly that that’s my job – to go to that weird place of half dream and subconscious. A dark, dark forest. It’s a constant tussle between being in control of my material and also letting my material have some control. To let it go. I think that plotting it all out at the start would essentially mean executing a plan, and that’s not really the point, for me. It’s not a report. It’s got to be deeper than that. About a third of the way through I start to see what’s happening, where the loops and patterns and connections are, what the characters are wanting to do, and not do, say, and not say.

10. And to finish, what are you working on now?

Lara’s debut novel, Monumenta

I’m halfway through my third novel, which is called Julie Needs Things. All my novels are different, but this one feels harder than the others. It takes place over a long period of time, it’s told in the first person, it’s set in the UK, it contains some autobiographical elements. Yet it is a work of fiction. I wrestle with telling stories from my own life. I feel, instinctively, that it might not be interesting.

Thank you so much, Lara! To pre-order Lara’s novel, visit HERE. And for more about Lara and her work, visit HERE.

For anyone inspired to join The Novel Studio, applications are now open with a 30 June deadline. Please email any questions to Emily.Pedder.1@city.ac.uk

For all our other short writing courses, please visit HERE.

Deadline for Novel Studio Applications Fast Approaching!

Calling all budding novelists…

  • Have you always wanted to write a novel?
  • Are you looking for support and guidance to help you develop your novel?
  • Would you like to understand more about the publishing industry and connect with literary agents?

City’s Novel Studio offers an intensive novel writing programme that supports 15 selected students to work on their novels for a year.

From researching your ideas and planning to writing, editing and understanding the publishing industry, the programme provides comprehensive guidance through the complexities of novel writing.

The course has been the starting point for many successful novelists. From bestselling crime writer Harriet Tyce, whose fourth novel, A Lesson in Cruelty, was published with Wildfire earlier this month—and who generously initiated and funded our Novel Studio scholarship for four years—to debut novelist Lara Haworth, whose first novel, Monumenta, will be published with Canongate this summer, the Novel Studio has become recognised as a place to develop and grow as a writer.

The course is taught by established writers and editors, and it includes opportunities to meet with literary agents and publishing professionals.

In addition, we offer a Literary Agent Competition for all successful applicants to the course, run in association with leading agent Lucy Luck at C&W Agency.

And for one talented writer from a low-income household, we have The Captain Tasos Politis Scholarship, providing full funding for the course.

Full details on all these opportunities and information on the course are available here.

Or you can apply directly with 2000 words of your fiction and a CV to Emily.Pedder.1@city.ac.uk

The deadline to apply is approaching quickly. If you’re ready to take your novel writing to the next level, consider applying to The Novel Studio.

Deadline 30th June 5pm.

We look forward to reading your applications!

Here’s a Novel Idea

Apply to the Novel Studio and join our growing list of published alumni.

The Novel Studio is City’s flagship novel writing programme which supports 15 selected students to work on their novels for a year.

The course has been the starting point for many successful novelists. From bestselling crime writer Harriet Tyce, whose fourth novel, A Lesson in Cruelty, was published with Wildfire earlier this month—and who generously initiated and funded our Novel Studio scholarship for four years—to debut novelist Lara Haworth, whose first novel, Monumenta, will be published with Canongate this summer, the Novel Studio has become recognised as a place to develop and grow as a writer.

From researching your ideas, plotting and planning to writing, editing and familiarising yourself with the publishing industry, the programme will guide you through the tricky terrain of novel writing.

Taught by established writers and editors, with opportunities to meet literary agents and publishing professionals, if you’re ready to take your novel writing to the next level, this course is for you.

As if that wasn’t enough, we offer a Literary Agent Competition for all successful applicants to the course, run in association with leading agent Lucy Luck at C&W Agency.

And for one talented writer from a low-income household, we have a fully-funded scholarship – The Captain Tasos Politis Scholarship.

Full details on all these opportunities and information on the course are available here.

Or you can apply directly with 2000 words of your fiction and a CV to Emily.Pedder.1@city.ac.uk

Deadline 30th June 5pm.

We look forward to reading your applications!

Essential Writing Tips for Accountants

By Maria Sigacheva

Wizards’ of numbers and bookkeeping, accountants also spend time corresponding with clients and tax officials. Here are some tips on how to write well for non-accountants.

“Your reputation rides out with every letter you send,” states co-founder of the Plain English Commission, Martin Cutts. So how can you ensure that your readers understand your communications clearly and easily? Read on for three tips to improve your copy.

1)  Stick to a Simple Structure

An accountant’s letter to the tax office or to your client should be clear and well structured. Clarity can be improved by using a tried and tested three-part structure: an introduction, the main body copy, and a conclusion.

 

The introduction should summarise the purpose of the letter. Whether it’s about missing documents or querying financial statements, make it clear upfront.

The main body copy (two or three paragraphs) should detail your main points in a logical order. Avoid repeating the same information twice. Make sure you order events chronologically.

In your concluding paragraph, let the recipient know if you require a response and by which date. Add your contact details too, so that they can easily reach you for any queries.

2) Ramp up Readability

  • Use plain English, and remove any jargon, if possible.
  • Use active verbs, for example “we thought” instead of “after a careful thought.”
  • Avoid outdated words, like thereof, herein, hereof.

Being concise is a skill. Let’s look at an example of a recent letter about tax affairs. “Your current amount due according to the records held by the tax office is £10,000.” This could be rewritten for clarity as “The total due to the tax office is £10,000.”

In The Journal of Accountancy, business writing trainer Elizabeth Danziger writes: “Strive for an average sentence length of 10 to 18 words.” How? Remove all “as well as,” “but,” “that,” and “which” – and split overly-lengthy sentences. Get straight to the point and clients will praise you for saving them time!

 

3) Perfect your Punctuation

Grammarly is a useful proofreading tool. Just copy and paste your text and the software will instantly highlight any errors. It’s also a good idea to read your copy out loud to check punctuation and flow.

By adhering to these simple tips, you can start to improve your business writing – and relationships – today.

 

Maria Sigacheva is an Indirect Tax Manager at Glencore, and an Association of Chartered Certified Accountants ambassador for early careers.

Maria took our Introduction to Copywriting short course with Maggie Richards. As part of the course, students have the opportunity to pitch a blog idea for our site. If successful, the post will be edited and published on the site.

 

The next Copywriting course, which runs monthly, is in May. Maggie also runs our Writing for Business course which starts next week.

For all our courses, visit our homepage HERE.

Lost and Found: How to deal with Life’s Big Changes

Author Alessandra Lewis with her family

 

By Alessandra Lewis

Feeling lost? Youre definitely not the only one. Alessandra Lewis reveals how overwhelming change led her to finding happiness.

 

In August 2023, I moved from a coastal town in England to Trentino in northern Italy with my parents and my brother. It was the start of one of the most transformative seasons of my life. I just didn’t know it at the time.

The conversations, the planning, the preparation: it all started over five years before. I’m half English and half Italian; growing up I spent many summers in Italy, visiting family and exploring this beautiful country.

After 20 years living in Dorset, we decided to switch the sea for Italian meadows and mountains. A change of lifestyle. A change of pace. Of course, I was excited. But most of all I was in denial. I was holding on so tightly to the last few months of my life

in England – in between working and packing boxes – that I didn’t want to miss anything by thinking too much about the future. By overthinking. By worrying.

I knew the move would bring an incredible amount of change, and I preferred to assume I was ready enough, rather than actually consider how prepared I was. My state of denial was a coping mechanism. And for me, it worked. Am I suggesting this is a good way of coping with life’s changes, big or small? Absolutely not. But, did it enable me to fully enjoy the last few months, before the move, with the people I love most? Yes. Yes, it did. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

You may be wondering why I’m divulging all of this. It’s simple really. At the time, to say I was a bit lost and confused would have been a huge understatement. Is it the right thing to do? What if I’m not happy there? Am I going to regret it? The truth is, even a month after moving, I still didn’t have answers to any of these questions. Everything felt overwhelming.

I was so happy to be in Italy; who wouldn’t? But being away from loved ones and adjusting to a new life here wasn’t easy. So, I took things one day at a time.That’s the thing about life, isn’t it? We’ll always be wondering whether we’re doing the right thing. And the answer will probably always be changing, just as life changes. But that’s okay.

New friends, new places, new ways of thinking. Just a few of the things I wouldn’t have discovered had we not moved. I also wouldn’t have settled on my ideal study path – writing – ultimately leading me to take Maggie Richards’ wonderful copywriting course. August 2023 may have been a month of big changes and doubts, but her masterclass provided certainty. And inspiration.

It’s in these moments – the ‘glimmers’ – when life feels good and things are looking up that we are reminded how important the tough moments are. After all, it’s often only because of them that we find where we’re truly meant to be.

Alessandra Lewis is an aspiring multilingual copywriter with a love for books and exploring new places. Alessandra took Maggie Richards’ Introduction to Copywriting course, which runs monthly. The next one is in May and you can book here. Maggie also teaches City’s Writing for Business course which starts next week. As part of both courses, we offer students the chance to pitch a blog idea which, if successful, will be edited and published on our site. For more information about all our short courses, visit our home page HERE.

Short Course Taster Evening 26 March 2024

 

Join us this March 26 for our free taster event, where you’ll have the chance to speak to the team, find out more about our courses and ask any questions.

You can even take part in a free 45-minute taster session to get a flavour of what it’s like to learn with us.

We will have a choice of tasters available, including:

There will also be a Novel Studio enquiry desk for anyone who wants to find out more about how to apply for our flagship year-long novel writing course.

And as a bonus, we are also offering a 10% discount on all our short courses for anyone who attends the open evening and enrols with us on the night.

Attendance at City events is subject to our terms and conditions.

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