We are pleased to announce that Seema Clear has been awarded the Breakthrough Novel-Writing Scholarship for Writers of Colour for her novel-in-progress The Refugees. Seema has won a place on our six-month online Writing Your Novel course led by author-tutors Lisa O'Donnell and Simon Ings. We are extremely grateful to the Curtis Brown Literary and Talent Agency for providing this scholarship, and for their support of our Breakthrough Writers' Programme.
The CBC team were instantly captivated by Seema's writing and her skilful exploration of family and cultural tensions set during an often untold historical event. We are delighted to that she is currently studying with us, and can't wait to see how her work develops.
Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novel-in-progress The Refugees?
After twenty years in primary education, I retired to become a full-time carer for my parents a few years ago. As a teacher I had often worked with young pupils whose families had been forced to leave their homeland because of war and aggression or other extreme circumstances. People seemed almost faceless when portrayed in the media, clutching on to limited possessions, looking for some solace, understanding and refuge. For a number of years, I felt I needed to breathe life into these untold stories: what happens to these displaced people when the news agenda moves on?
The inspiration for my writing also came from conversations with my parents who were forced to flee from the country of their birth, Uganda, in 1972 with nothing but the clothes on their backs to start life again in a grey Britain of the 1970s. The accounts of their struggle and this little known historical event were the kernel of a novel which I have been nurturing for the last couple of years since lockdown kicked in. As George Saunders says, ‘A good story occurs in waves’.
The Refugees is my first novel. Told from two perspectives, that of a father and a daughter, it explores migration, loss, and grief as it examines a family’s desire for acceptance in a foreign land. A multi-generational story, it addresses issues of cultural identity and beliefs that cross national boundaries.
London 2018: Sixty-year-old Vidya’s father, Ramesh dies after a long illness. As a middle-aged business-man Ramesh had lost everything and was broken by the family’s forced expulsion from Uganda. Fraught with cultural and religious conflict, he becomes depressed and controlling. Deeply shattered by his eventual death, Vidya is catapulted into her family’s past revealing secrets and exploring conflicts that affected their personal relationships as they tried to rebuild their lives. Vidya re-examines her history, torn between her culture and her heart, in order to come to terms with the tensions of the present.
What does winning this scholarship place mean to you?
I am delighted to receive the Breakthrough Scholarship. I feel empowered to achieve my writing goals by being given this opportunity. I have found novel-writing incredibly exciting but also daunting. There are several areas where I have experienced difficulties and I believe the expert guidance offered will help me overcome these and to become published. Winning a place on this course gives me that extra self-belief I need to stop procrastinating and to get on with it. It's an opportunity to improve my craft within a supportive community of writers where I know I shall be inspired and have a chance to share invaluable insights during an otherwise solitary activity.
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.