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…
JANE HEATHER, The Girl, The Wolf, and The Elephant
‘I have only recently started writing for children and discovered it is where I am most at home: in magical worlds you can let your imagination run amok, and explore deep themes.’
I was born and grew up in Birmingham. After graduating from UEA, I went travelling. I still think the best year of my life was the one that included six months as a waitress in New York’s East Village followed by six months as Assistant Housekeeper at the Abbey on the island of Iona. I then settled in Portugal for seven years, working for the British Council in Lisbon. I now live in Shropshire, where I rent a flat on an eccentric country estate that once belonged to Clive of India, and occasionally teach at the language centre in my local village.
I have only recently started writing for children and discovered it is where I am most at home: in magical worlds you can let your imagination run amok, and explore deep themes.
The book I am working on was inspired by a Banksy-style mural in my local town. It covers the whole side of a house and is of a girl handing an apple down to an elephant. An Indian elephant was abandoned in Bishop’s Castle after World War II. I watched the thirty second grainy film footage of the elephant walking around the town accompanied by a man in a cloth cap and a Shetland pony, and the book began.
Jane is working on her middle-grade novel with author Lauren Pearson.
VICTORIA JARVIS, The Bridge and the Bad’uns
‘I’ve always kept journals and notebooks, but about eight years ago I realised I had other stories inside me that I wanted to explore and started trying to write them down.’
I grew up in Bromley and Worthing before studying acting at Bretton Hall College in Yorkshire. After graduating, I taught drama to children and young people for several years before having my daughter, Ruby. I’ve always kept journals and notebooks, but about eight years ago I realised I had other stories inside me that I wanted to explore and started trying to write them down.
I now work as a librarian in a secondary school in Brighton, which is a perfect job for an aspiring children’s novelist! I get to buy lots of beautiful books and talk to young people about the kinds of stories they like. The highlight of my school year is November, when I run an afterschool writing group with students for NANOWRIMO, where we drink hot chocolate, share ideas and work on our novels.
The Bridge and the Bad’uns is a middle-grade adventure story. Set in the future after a devastating climate event has reshaped the world, Cora and Benjo live on The Bridge which spans a wider and wilder River Thames. The Bridge is home to hundreds of people eking out a living, and the children spend their days fishing for junk and dreaming of what lies beyond the horizon. But up and down The River, children are disappearing, taken by the mysterious Snatcher. When Cora’s bossy older sister goes missing, the two friends join the search, finding themselves catapulted into a malevolent new world, and on an adventure which will take them far from home, and face-to-face with unexpected truths which will change them forever.
Victoria is being mentored by author Lucy Courtenay.
MINEA MORAN, THE WILD
‘Books have always been an important part of my life and some of them have been hugely influential on me. One book in particular is John Green’s Turtles All The Way Down. Its depiction of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder made me feel seen and gave me permission to write about my own challenges with OCD.’
I am a disabled writer, originally from Helsinki, Finland. I have been lucky enough to grow up in Finland, China and the UK, but my heart was stolen by London when I was small. In my twenties, I moved back to London on my own to complete a Bachelor’s in English Literature and Creative Writing, and then went on to do a Creative Writing Master’s Degree. Since then, I have been based in the city I love, soaking up its history and folklore, and being delighted at all the wildlife it has to offer.
Books have always been an important part of my life and some of them have been hugely influential on me. One book in particular is John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. Its depiction of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder made me feel seen and gave me permission to write about my own challenges with OCD. In writing The Wild, my hope is that it will be a spark of validation for someone as John Green’s work was for me. The Wild is my first novel, but I have had four short stories published, and in 2020 I was shortlisted for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow Mentorship Scheme.
The Wild is a gothic coming-of-age story about Kat, a young girl struggling with the way her life has changed following the death of her mother. Her father has uprooted her to the isolated village of Rexington, where Kat has to confront her mother’s past, and the traumatic stories Kat has been told about The Wild Man and his curse. Kat hates Rexington for the locals treat her with suspicion, as if she’s keeping secrets from them. And she is. Her hands have been infected by the curse her mother warned her about, and she’s the reason her mother is dead. When Kat becomes friends with Abbey, Kat starts to believe that she can live a normal life. Then she accidentally touches Abbey and when she goes missing, Kat knows that it’s her fault and her responsibility to rescue her. But Kat isn’t the only person with secrets in Rexington. Stories of The Wild Man have been told for a thousand years and the woodlands around Rexington are no place for a young girl. But with Abbey missing, Kat has no choice, but to find The Wild Man and save Abbey.
Minea is currently working on The Wild with Paula Rawsthorne.
EMILE PALTON, Dark of the Night: The Atlanta Ripper Murders, A Darcus Powell Story
‘Exploring questions of identity and belonging, this work aims to bring to the public’s attention the horrors that have and continue to be enacted on the female Black body.’
emile palton* is East London-born, to Afro-Caribbean parents, and a long-time writer in many forms, including essays, journalism, poetry and fiction. However, it is only since his early thirties, when first attending university, that aptitude and confidence came together. Since then, he has gone on to earn a Master’s from the University of East Anglia and a Media and Communications PhD from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He’s been an educator since the early 2010s, and has worked exclusively in universities. He loves to read, both fiction and non-fiction, and is a keen movie buff of 1930s–1980s Hollywood and foreign-language cinema.
He was due to leave Australia in March 2020, instead emile is living in a kind of limbo as the world comes to terms with living in a pandemic.
*(And yes, there is no capitalisation in his names!)
Dark of the Night: The Atlanta Ripper Murders, A Darcus Powell Story, is the first of two books set in the 1910s in Atlanta, USA, against a backdrop of a series of real-life brutal murders committed by a killer labelled by the newspapers as ‘The Black Jack the Ripper’. Into this world enters Darcus Powell, a man caught between two worlds: one of his birth in East London, the only child of Afro-Caribbean servant parents, and one of private education and a wealth bequeathed to him by his parents’ employer.
The victims of these crimes represent a unique class of the ‘less dead’ – a tag usually assigned to prostitutes or society’s underclass, often falling prey to serial killers, as their disappearance typically warrants scant interest from authorities. Those murdered were African-American women. This combination of being Black and poor has and continues to be a powerful definer of life (and death) in that country.
The plan is for Darcus Powell to continue in a series of books set across the USA, investigating real-life crimes of the era.
emile is currently working on his novel with author Jacob Ross.
YICHEN (LILY) SHI, COCOON
‘It’s my goal to bridge people around the world by telling stories from different cultures.’
Yichen (Lily) Shi earned her master’s in mathematics from Cambridge University and her PhD in black-hole physics from Harvard University. She has lived in eight countries and travelled to 70+, and she speaks seven languages fluently. It is her goal to bridge people around the world by telling stories from different cultures. She currently lives in Uppsala, Sweden, and is working on two novels, both literary fiction with thriller elements. Her first novel portrays the effects of the one-child policy across rural and urban China, exploring themes of vengeance and atonement. Her second novel, mostly set in Pakistan, examines how women are expected to live in different parts of today’s world.
Cocoon is set in China in 2002. Chen Da left her village for Shanghai, trained in aikido, and bought a knife. Now twenty, she’s out to kill the official who forced her mother to undergo the abortion that took her life. The only person standing in her way is fourteen-year-old Lin Feng, a boy who reminds her of her dead brother. Drawn together by yuanfen – destiny that entwines their lives – Chen Da and Lin Feng find something they can live for. Or die for. Under the grey Shanghainese sky, their schemes converge and their secrets unravel, as do – horrifically – their lives.
Lily is currently being mentored by author Nikita Lalwani.
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, which will provide five free places for disabled writers.
Find out more about the free courses, mentoring and scholarships currently open for applications from under-represented writers…
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