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Arts & Culture Series: Announcements

City short course alumna fulfills her dream of publishing a novel

Elizabeth Okoh wins inaugural Future Bookshelf prize.

by Emily Pedder

City short course alumna Elizabeth Okoh has been selected as one of three winners in the inaugural Future Bookshelf scheme. Chosen from over 750 submissions, her debut novel, The Returnees, was acquired by Francine Toon, commissioning editor at Hodder & Stoughton.The novel tells the story of what happens to three British Nigerians on their return to Lagos, focussing on the protagonist, Osayuki, who must confront the secret behind her child’s paternity.

The Future Bookshelf was set up by Hachette UK as a way to ‘demystify’ the publishing process and offer an open submissions scheme to widen diversity and accessibility within the industry.

Elizabeth took City’s Novel writing and Longer Works short course in 2015 when it was taught by the writer Marcelle Bernstein. Speaking of her time on the course, Elizabeth said “I learnt that there are no rules to writing a book. This gave me the confidence to not doubt myself too much about what I might be doing wrong. I also learned that it’s okay to eavesdrop in public! This can be a source of inspiration for character development or even plotting your story. I mostly thoroughly enjoyed the weekly assignments which made me dig deep creatively to write several short stories in the span of a few weeks. It was also good practice giving other students feedback and receiving some myself.”

Confidence is so important for an emerging writer and Elizabeth certainly found that on the course: “The positive feedback I received from Marcelle after I wrote a synopsis for my book gave me an added boost of self-confidence to carry on. Especially months after the course had ended when I was working alone and often had times of doubt. Remembering her excitement about my idea gave me the confidence that I had a good story that needed to be told.”

After she left City, Elizabeth continued to develop her writing, researching her characters and travelling to Lagos which provided stimulation for her book’s plot. Last September, a few weeks after she had finished writing the book, she attended a networking event in London for Black and Asian Creatives. She read from the book for the first time, to huge applause. “Everyone loved it,” she says, “asked lots of engaging questions and wanted to know when they could buy it!” Someone from the networking event, impressed by her work, later tagged her on Facebook about the Future Bookshelf scheme.

Getting published with a major traditional publisher is increasingly difficult to achieve. So how is Elizabeth feeling about being one of those to strike gold? "I'm over the moon. It feels so surreal that just after a year of writing it, I secured a book deal without an agent!"

Her advice to new writers? “Don't give up! You might doubt yourself or even stop several times along the way, but if you believe in your story, you must continue.”

Huge congratulations to Elizabeth. We can’t wait to read her novel!

For all those budding writers out there, take a look at our full range of fiction and non-fiction writing short courses and find out more about our published alumni.

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