Get to know… Bev Mukherji

I have always written but never had the nerve to call myself a writer. Proper writers were rarefied individuals who were never short of inspiration, wrote beautifully constructed sentences with ease and never needed to redraft. It couldn’t possibly be a struggle, surely? I have always been surrounded by
narrative, from the store of anecdotes my father would tell me, to novels, film and plays. My husband and I are keen travellers and I found myself in Antarctica, the Amazon, Alaska – writing about landscapes, people, experiences. I am fascinated by my family history and spent a long time gathering material about Jewish migration from Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. I began to write short stories based on the life and times of my maternal grandmother. I still wasn’t a writer.

I taught Creative Writing as part of A Level Language courses and discovered I had a flair for critiquing students’ work. I always found an excuse not to write, though; I was busy, I needed more life experience, I was reading a novel I had to finish. And anyway, I didn’t have the talent to be a proper writer. After retirement I realised that splashing about in the shallows of writing was a cop-out. I also realised that embarking on a course might provide me with the discipline to write on a regular basis.

Serendipity is one of my favourite words and it was this that led me to Writing Room. I was idly googling courses that might be local to where I live in Enfield and there it was. I had found a safe space to share my work, as well as learning from other writers. I signed up for Giovanna’s Life Writing & Memoir course and it really gave me the impetus to start writing seriously. Gio’s encouragement and the positive feedback of the group made me realise that the disparate short stories about my family history could become a coherent project that I took to two Prioritise Your Writing courses. Alison, like Gio, is an excellent tutor. Groups are quite small so I have not only enjoyed the receiving feedback on my work, but it has been so interesting to read and comment on the work produced by other writers. I have also got a lot out of the buddy system which enables smaller groups to communicate regularly outside sessions for mutual encouragement, advice and to share ideas.

The following extract is a fictional reconstruction describing the arrival in London’s East End of my maternal grandmother, who, as a young woman, is forced to travel as a Jewish refugee from Kyiv at the turn of the nineteenth Century.


Esther felt herself sway, as if intoxicated, on the wharf. She was unaccustomed to dry land after so long at sea. The sky was grey and overcast, as if the sun had decided to hide, sulking behind heavy clouds. Esther squinted in the sullen halflight, temporarily blinded after being used to the darkness of her quarters on the ship.

She was paralysed by indecision, as other passengers swirled round her to the end of the wharf. She breathed deeply and through the acrid smell of smoke and soot from the steamships behind her, she was suddenly transported to Kyiv, overwhelmed by the familiar aromas of pickled cucumbers, herrings, smoked salmon and potato latkes emanating from small stalls lining the entrance to the wharf.

What had her parents been thinking? They had sent her away to an uncertain future. She could barely speak English or Yiddish and she hadn’t heard a word of Russian since her arrival. She retrieved a grubby, creased piece of paper bearing the address of the chevra* where she hoped she would find shelter. She looked in vain for a street sign resembling her destination.

Her thoughts were focused on hot baths, perfumed soap and thick towels. Her desire to rid herself of her grimy clothes warred with her need to assuage her hunger and thirst. And oh, to sleep in soft sheets which she did not have to share with bedbugs.

She was jerked out of her daydream when she glimpsed two men sauntering casually in her direction. They were speaking a mixture of English and Yiddish. She understood a little of what they were saying and she wrapped her arms around her carpetbag, aware of the threat beneath the chatter.

“Ah, Shlomo. What have we here? A Greener*, I declare. Looks in need of protection, I’d say.”
He looked at Esther, as if, she felt, he was negotiating the purchase of livestock.
“You’re right, Mendel. Young lady, the docks are dangerous. All sorts of good-for-nothings will want to take advantage. Come, we’ll see you right!”

They each grabbed an arm, and Esther found herself lifted off her feet. She struggled and screamed. But of course, she knew she could expect no help. If she disappeared, who would miss her? At that moment, a shout from behind her made her captors stop abruptly and she was free to turn and thank her benefactor.

Find out more about our courses here.