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18 March 2021

Meet some of our talented Breakthrough mentees

by Katie Smart Events, From Our Students

The Breakthrough Writers’ Programme is an initiative offering free courses, mentoring and scholarships for under-represented writers, it is fully funded by CBC, Curtis Brown Literary Agency and partners.

We caught up with some of the talented writers currently taking part in our nine-month Breakthrough Mentoring Programme to find out more about what they’re working on with their expert author-mentors…

AMIRA UMAR, KANO TOWN

‘My book Kano Town is the collection of short stories of the children in Kano who bring vibrant colour, life and drama to a mostly dessert landscape… Kano Town is an ode to exploring fears, philosophies and the joys of life of growing up Kano.’

I was born in Kaduna, Nigeria, before moving to the UK when I was 5. Growing up with a Nigerian and Libyan family, I am interested in afro-arab folklore, migrant stories and women’s relationships. I love to paint and I am a very proud cat mum. I studied English literature at the university Exeter and then went on to work in the TV industry: currently I am a logger for the show Drive to Survive on Netflix. On the side I am an editor for the art collective Cherry Galz where you can find a few more of my short stories.

I love looking at the way women interact with each other and the hidden stories of the most meaningful relationships outside of romance (Nanny and child, friendship, familial). I hope to give a fresh breath of life to my culture and a more vibrant life to stories I don’t think people often get to hear about.

My book Kano Town is the collection of short stories of the children in Kano who bring vibrant colour, life and drama to a mostly dessert landscape. My first story opens with an older expat teacher who develops an unhealthy obsession with one of his very young student. The next is seeing the world through the eyes of a teen girl whose kept indoors for years, and the rumours that swirl around her disappearance. The rest of the book will feature a series of characters, interconnected with one another, proceeding through their happiest moments to their most defining moments to their most traumatic times. Kano Town is an ode to exploring fears, philosophies and the joys of life of growing up Kano.

Amira is currently working on Kano Town with acclaimed writer Leila Aboulela.

JORDAN COLLINS, YA FANTASY

‘I am passionate about using my writing to improve upon BIPOC representation in fiction, particularly in the fantasy genre. More than anything, I want to make it possible for young people to see themselves in the stories they are reading.’

I’m originally from the United States, but I have been in the UK for the past seven years, after first arriving to earn a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter. I enjoy writing YA fantasy and historical fiction, and I am passionate about using my writing to improve upon BIPOC representation in fiction, particularly in the fantasy genre. More than anything, I want to make it possible for young people to see themselves in the stories they are reading. In addition to my love for the written word, I am also a lifelong animal advocate and, when I’m not writing, I’m working in communications for a farm animal welfare charity. 

I’m currently working on a YA fantasy book about a teenage girl whose family’s dragon farm is destroyed in an attack by an invading neighbouring country. The main character travels across a war-torn countryside with the last surviving dragon from their herd to track down her mother, who has been missing since the start of the conflict. Striking out on her own for the first time, she begins to understand who she is as an individual, outside of the context of her family home and the confines of her relationship with her mother. Even as she struggles to stay alive, she is wrestling with the ethics of her family’s livelihood and experiencing the highs and lows of friendship and first love.

Jordan is currently working on this YA fantasy with children’s author Craig Barr-Green.

NANA AFUA PIERRE, A BOY CALLED SILENCE

‘I am passionate about bringing marginal African histories into the mainstream.’

Nana Afua Pierre is a British-Ghanaian writer and artist. She lived in Ghana between the ages of 6 and 19. While living in Ghana, she attended a Pan-African secondary school in Tema. She studied Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, Canterbury. In 2017, She illustrated the children’s book A is for Accra by Ekow Pierre. A Boy Called Silence, Nana Afua’s first novel, was longlisted for the MsLexia Novel Competition in 2019 and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2020.  

A Boy Called Silence is a historical fiction. Set against the sahelian hinterlands of Bono Manso, it follows two children from very different backgrounds who are forced together in a journey of perilous self-discovery.

A boy found in the market with no family, no memory and no voice falls into the hands of a wealthy man looking for a companion for his granddaughter.

Meanwhile rumours are spreading and Yaa will not survive another accusation of witchcraft. She attempts to suppress her visions of the ancestors to find belonging in the queen mother’s court.

An unlikely friendship between the two may save them from looming chaos. The question that haunts them – Who is this boy with no name?

Nana Afua is currently working on A Boy Called Silence with acclaimed writer Sara Collins.

SOPHIE DIXON-DASH, WHY I’M LEAVING NANNYING

‘My book is about nannying, but also about transformation, growth, and self-belief.’

I grew up in London and now live in Birmingham. I have worked as a professional nanny for the past nine years and recently as a part-time trainee editor. I am writing my memoir, Why I’m Leaving Nannying, to shed light on my journey through the nanny field and the lessons I have learned over nine years. I also started a nanny blog, ‘This Nanny Writes’, which seeks to spread the same message and help other nannies. I intend to write other books in time, which I hope will resonate with many people, normalise individual differences and entertain the world. I have a psychology degree and previously worked as a special needs assistant in a primary and nursery school. I have always enjoyed writing short stories and poetry and am passionate about all things to do with understanding individual differences and personal development.

Why I’m Leaving Nannying is a true story about my unsuspecting journey into nanny life; the obstacles and lessons needed to thrive and knowing when to move on. After changing my mind about my educational psychology career, I started nannying in South London, assuming it would be easy (and temporary) while I decided on my next move. I was wrong; before I could move on to something new, I had to work through nanny dilemmas. I embark on a series of adventures, learning lessons along the way like how to write fool-proof contracts, tackle child-rearing differences and behaviour issues, deal with racial discrepancies, excessive attachments, bonding issues and more. I find myself transforming from someone who struggles to get nanny positions to someone in high demand. When my later attempts to change my career proved disastrous, I find ways to utilise the skills I have developed as a nanny and see nannying in a new light. What started as a past-time becomes a phenomenal character-building experience. My book is about nannying, but also about transformation, growth, and self-belief.

Sophie is currently working on Why I’m Leaving Nannying with memoirist Genevieve Fox.

WATCH OUR MEET THE MENTEES VIDEO…

We’re so excited to be working with and supporting these talented writers, alongside the other brilliant writers currently taking part in the Breakthrough Writers’ Programme. If you’re interested in receiving nine months of mentoring from an expert author applications are currently open for the next round of mentoring for writers with low income.

Find out more about the free courses, mentoring and scholarships currently open for applications from under-represented writers…

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