Michael Hogben

Q&A with City Lit's Malorie Blackman Scholarship Recipient Michael Hogben

2 August 2021
Posted in: Stories

Michael Hogben is one of the recipients of the 2021-22 Malorie Blackman scholarship for ‘Unheard Voices’. We recently caught up with Michael to find out more about his City Lit experiences, winning the scholarship, and future ambitions…

City Lit launched the Malorie Blackman ‘Unheard Voices’ Scholarships in 2019. The programme provides three annual awards worth up to £1000. 

The awards seek to support and encourage the creative and professional development of ‘unheard voices’, and can be used to fund courses within the City Lit Creative Writing department. Due to the exceptional year we have had in light of Covid-19 and other world events, City Lit took the decision to offer one additional scholarship for 2021-22. 

Last week we announced the four winners of the scholarship programme and we’ll be following their writing adventures this year.

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your writing background? 

I moved to London, as a young man, in search of love and a sense of belonging. London felt exciting to me. The dilapidated Victorian house I shared, with its leaking roof and bath in the kitchen, seemed romantic.

I still live in London. I live with my partner, Wei, and an enormous tabby cat called Badger. I enjoy gardening and have created a bit of a mini woodland in my back garden. I also like to cycle and explore lesser known parts of the city, particularly along the rivers and canals.

I’m new to creative writing. Previously, I’d not considered that I was capable of writing or that anyone would want to read my work. However, last year I decided to try an autobiographical writing course at City Lit. I loved the course and so I repeated it online last spring. It helped me, not only to feel connected to the outside world during lockdown but also, to remain sane. I found the tutor, Julie Garton, inspirational.

What role does writing play in your life, and why is it important to you? 

I find that recounting and recording past life events can be cathartic, especially when some of the memories are difficult. I’ve also been told that I have a vivid imagination, which can lead to anxiety if it’s not channelled into some form of creative activity. Writing, painting, gardening etc. can help process these powerful emotions.

I also have some interesting stories to tell that I fear may be lost if they’re not recorded. Although these are often personal, I hope that others may be able to relate to some of them. Sometimes my mind goes blank but, once I put pen to paper, thoughts begin to flow and I tend to remember things I’d long forgotten.

Who are your favourite writers and what stories have inspired you? 

It wasn’t until I left school that I began to discover writers who really inspired me and whose work I could relate to. I was fascinated by Ursula Le Guin’s science fiction novels. They helped me to dream of different ways of being. I remember feeling enormous empathy for the characters in Carson McCuller’s stories, another writer whose books I enjoyed at the time. James Baldwin’s Giovanni's Room also captivated me. Later, I discovered Gabriel Garcia Marquez and particularly remember One Hundred Years of Solitude as being a magical story. I’m gradually trying to reread many of these books from my past.

Most recently I’ve been enjoying the novels of Denton Welch. I became interested in Welch’s life and learnt quite a bit about him through reading his stories. I also love listening to the sublime poetry of Rainer Rilke and the witty anecdotes of David Sedaris.

What made you decide to study at City Lit? 

I’ve been studying at City Lit since the 1980s. Back then I loved the lively energy within the Victorian building. There was a warm atmosphere and I remember with affection some very eccentric staff and students. The heated debates and arguments would often spill out of the classrooms, into the corridors and down into the smokey local pubs. City Lit’s central London location meant that I could visit a gallery or museum on the day of my class. It was also convenient for meeting up with a friend for a cup of tea before or after a class.

Inevitably, City Lit has changed, but I still find many fascinating courses and the teaching is usually excellent. Although I missed being at City Lit physically during lockdown, it was great to interact with other students, on online courses, from different parts of the country and from around the world.

What courses have you studied at City Lit?

I’ve studied a huge range of courses at City Lit over the years including, most recently, Portraiture.  I love trying to convey an impression of someone, without using words, by simply drawing or painting them.  I’ve also studied existential and Asian philosophies.  I find these ideas reassuring and that they help me to make a bit more sense of the world.  I’ve also taken many shorter courses including, Fakes and Forgeries.  This was a fascinating exploration of an aspect of the art world which linked in with my interest in the philosophy of art and the nature of “beauty”.

I really enjoy the spontaneous and lively group discussions and interactions in a class that I don’t get from reading a book or watching a TV programme.

What made you decide to apply for the Malorie Blackman scholarship?

I was not aware of the scholarship until shortly before the submission deadline.  I discovered it by chance whilst browsing through the City Lit website.  Friends had complimented me on a couple of pieces of my writing and so I decided, at the last minute, to submit one of them.  I didn’t believe for one moment that I’d be shortlisted, let alone awarded a scholarship. 

It feels a great compliment that the City Lit tutors, and such a renowned writer as Malorie Blackman, have acknowledged my writing as having potential.  It’s only now dawning on me what a wonderful opportunity this is.

What do you hope to achieve through the scholarship scheme?

I hope the support and guidance of the tutors at City Lit will help me to develop and progress my writing over the next year.  I’d like to continue studying autobiographical writing and take a poetry and a grammar course.  I hope a poetry course will help me to make my writing more focussed and pertinent.   A grammar course should help me with the more technical aspects of the English language that I feel I missed out on at school.

I’ve no idea where this scholarship will lead and the surprise is still only just sinking in.  However, I want to keep my options open. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I remember feeling incredibly free and liberated when I first moved to London all those years ago.  I felt I could finally be myself.  Along with the language of painting and drawing, I now feel I’m finding a voice through my writing.  This scholarship feels like a significant milestone in this personal quest.