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City Writes Catches a Mermaid

City Writes: readings from the writers of City’s Short Courses

by Rebekah Latin-Rawstrone

City Writes of Spring 2018 was a riotous success. Not only did we have four exciting competition winners proudly sharing their latest work with the crowd, we also managed to snare Imogen Hermes Gowar whose novel, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, is a Sunday Times bestseller and has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018.

Rushiv Nayee was the first of our competition winners to read. His story, ‘Literally Having An Existential Crisis’ made the audience laugh at the thought of the working life of words whose changing status leads them from elite literary circles to ‘literally’ teaming up with ‘amazeballs’. Rushiv’s was a funny and self-reflexive piece.

He was followed by Kate Vine who read us an extract from her novel Fireflies in which an unexpected visitor turns up at the house of a young mother who has only just returned to her work as a painter. There was a hush as the audience realised they would have to wait for the novel to be published for them to find out the significance of this visitor. Keep writing, Kate!

Sue Lovett followed Kate’s extract with a short story about two boys called ‘Fiery Mortals’. A sparkling gem of a story, the narrative followed one boy’s friendship with another as they each bore the burdens of their home lives. At one point the boys share licks from a stolen gobstopper taken from under the shelves of the local convenience shop. The idea of this caused an audible groan from Sue’s listeners.

Our final competition reader was Aliyah Kim Keshani reading from her novel, Who Will Uphold the House? Staring at her father’s unconscious form, trussed in hospital sheets, Sara replays her father’s favourite anecdote from his school days in Pakistan, told to teach her perseverance. He managed not to lose or damage his glasses for a whole year in order to win the prize of an engraved pencil. When Sara cleans his current, cracked glasses, discarded on the bedside hospital table, one of the lenses breaks.

Taking us from hospital bed to a counting-house in Victorian London, Imogen Hermes Gowar gave us a glimpse into the three voice characters of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. We heard from Johan Hancock perching on his stool at the counting-house and musing on the family he never had while waiting for his ship to come in; Angelica Neal, a courtesan at her dressing table, whose protector has just died and who is therefore looking for a new man to keep her in the state to which she has become accustomed; and the many-voiced dance of the mermaid.

Having teased us with her reading, Imogen signed copies of her book and offered some very helpful tips to City students in the audience. She offered her experience of research and gave ideas on how to build historical knowledge of the time and language into a novel. We were very lucky to have her.

Glasses of wine in hand, the audience and readers chatted and networked - yes, there was at least one agent in the house - until the university closed. How wonderful to see so many students and alumni sharing their journeys and successes. City Writes goes from strength to strength.

We’re delighted to announce that City Writes Summer 2018 event will host Catherine Menon whose short story collection, Subjunctive Moods, will be published by Dahlia Publishing in June of this year.

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