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Meet Sarah Cotton, winner of the CHEERIO Novel-Writing Scholarship

BY Katie Smart
15th Mar 2022

We are pleased to announce that Sarah Cotton has been awarded the CHEERIO Novel-Writing Scholarship for Writers with Low Income for her novel-in-progress Our Potions. Sarah has won a place on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course led by author-tutor Chris Wakling. We are extremely grateful to CHEERIO Publishing for providing this scholarship, and for their support of our Breakthrough Writers' Programme.

The CBC team were impressed by Sarah's mesmerising writing and her exploration of class and sisterhood. We are delighted that she is currently studying with us, and can't wait to see how her novel progresses.

Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novel-in-progress Our Potions?

My novel was partly inspired by my childhood experiences of growing up working-class in a middle-class area of London. I wanted to recreate the isolation of being invisibly poor, being educated in Catholic schools in the 1980s during section 28 and not quite fitting in.

Our Potions is a coming-of-age novel following Emma and her sisters, who, frequently ill and increasingly isolated, withdraw into fantasy, dishing out retribution to those who wrong them. It explores female relationships, shame, class and the patriarchal systems that drive damaged individuals to inflict harm. I wanted to write about strong women policing other women and girls and about sisters who gain strength from each other and quietly but spectacularly rebel. The characters in this novel all carry things they keep hidden, from others and often from themselves. It delves into destructive mother-daughter relationships and the intense and secretive world of sisters in a claustrophobic setting through the vivid and at times grotesque imagination of childhood.

What does winning this scholarship place mean to you?

Winning this scholarship took a while to sink in. I was hoping to be shortlisted and I swept the email for that key word, initially overlooking the ‘congratulations’ in the first line. I’ve been itching to do one of your courses, something that is beyond my financial means, and I’m grateful to CBC and CHEERIO for providing this opportunity. I’m looking forward to improving my writing under the expertise of industry professionals and I’m excited to begin exchanging feedback with so many talented writers.

This scholarship place is fully funded by CHEERIO– an independent publishing and film production company. The company is the brainchild of leading literary agent Clare Conville and celebrated author and curator Harriet Vyner. Partnered by The Estate of Francis Bacon, CHEERIO commissions unexpected and provocative essay collections, books and film from contributors across a broad range of artistic disciplines. Much of its content is inspired by or linked to Francis Bacon’s life and work, although that is not a prerequisite. Its eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction, drama and factual, will appeal to enquiring minds with an artistic bent. The first two books to be published are Bacon in Moscow by James Birch (out now) and Big Snake, Little Snake by DBC Pierre (April 2022).

If you're a writer from an under-represented background and want to study with us, check out the Breakthrough Writers’ Programme. This is our exciting programme of free courses, mentoring and scholarships for under-represented writers, funded by Curtis Brown Literary Agency and partners.

Current opportunities include the Breakthrough Scholarship For TV Screenwriters with Low Income. This screenwriting scholarship will enable a talented writer with limited financial means to join our Writing an Original TV Drama Serial course. Apply by 20 March.