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02 December 2021

Meet our latest group of talented Breakthrough mentees

From left: Lorraine Blencoe, Grace Quantock, Nichola Ibe & Hattie Clarke
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, the 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…

Lorraine Blencoe, The Day Before the Day

The Day Before the Day is about secrets. I’m fascinated by the idea that people whose lives are interconnected may not know everything about each other’


When I was a child, my favourite book was Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, and I desperately wanted to spend my life doing what Dahl did. I wanted to captivate with words and live forever in the pages of a book, but that was never a career option in the part of working-class Staffordshire where I grew up. I read law at university but started experiencing symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis in my early twenties. By the time I was diagnosed I had given up struggling with work as a Law Lecturer. I’ve always concentrated on the positive thing that MS gave me and that was the chance to be a writer. I’ve since done an MA in Writing.

The Day Before the Day is about secrets. I’m fascinated by the idea that people whose lives are interconnected may not know everything about each other. Which is fine and probably healthy, we’re all allowed to maintain some mystery and don’t need to overshare every moment of our lives with those around us. But there are some secrets that can be destructive. There may also be a cumulative effect of holding too many secrets. Holding onto things may lead to living with a guilt that’s just as harmful. A widow has to unravel a web of secrets after the death of her husband, an event each member of the family thinks they contributed to. It was important to me that the novel is set in the Midlands and centres on a seemingly ordinary family but there are relationships within this family that prove that there can be a mixture of love and hate within every close bond.

There aren’t enough published authors with disabilities. The nature of the publishing industry can be daunting to everyone but perhaps even more so to those who are less socially and geographically mobile because of a disability. There are lots of writers with disabilities however, and the fact that CBC is giving a way into the industry throughout its breakthrough mentoring programme is an amazing thing. I have done writing courses but it’s the close contact that mentoring provides that is going to make the difference to me now. To have a mentor whose work I have read and who I respect is something I’ve only dreamed of in the past and never imagined that it would actually happen. To have been chosen for the programme not only provides some external validation, but there’s also the wider issue of recognising the value of writers with disabilities. I can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunity that CBC has given me and I’m going to give everything I have to ensure that I get the most from it.

Lorraine is currently working on her novel with Women’s Prize shortlisted author Claire Fuller.

Hattie Clarke, A Case of Half Truths

‘Writing can feel isolating at times and living with chronic illness certainly doesn’t help! So, it was amazing to be chosen for a programme that is all about aiding connection and meeting people who know how to tell stories in the very best way.’


I grew up in a lovely, damp corner of Wales and left home to study creative writing at the University of Warwick. After graduating, I took a brief hiatus from writing where I tried to convince myself I had other (more sensible) ambitions. During this time, I worked in marketing for the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, but the combination of dusty underground vaults and portraits of forgotten people soon fed my desire to write about historical characters and I haven’t looked back.

In order to focus on writing and my health, I gave up full-time work four years ago and now work part-time for a digital marketing agency. I live in Walthamstow (almost as damp as Wales) with my partner, two devious cats and a dog called Shelley. As part of the 2019 Emerging Writer’s Programme at the London Library, I worked on my first novel Tentra – a twisting-tale about nineteenth century Egypt, the lure of archaeological digs and the interlocking lives of three underestimated women. My second novel and work-in-progress, A Case of Half Truths, was longlisted for the Stylist Prize for Feminist Fiction 2021.

A Case of Half Truths is a historical novel set in 1911 against the backdrop of a rising call for gender equality. Grace, a rookie working-class journalist, is given the chance of a lifetime to cover a controversial divorce case and becomes embroiled in the marital scandal of Britain’s most popular novelist.

This book is not only about ambition and the search for a good story but explores what happens when women have a voice, whether that’s in the newspapers, at a Suffragette rally or through the courts. What is the use of having a voice if your words are not believed? 

I am thrilled to be part of Curtis Brown’s Breakthrough Programme and have the opportunity to work with Suzannah on my novel. Writing can feel isolating at times and living with chronic illness certainly doesn’t help! So, it was amazing to be chosen for a programme that is all about aiding connection and meeting people who know how to tell stories in the very best way. I’m excited to collaborate with my mentor and hope it will lead to a finished, lively, page-turning novel.

Hattie is working on her historical novel with acclaimed author Suzannah Dunn.

Nichola Ibe, The Choices We Make

The Choices We Make is a novel about doing what’s right and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love. It explores themes of motherhood, ethics and immigration against the backdrop of the world of organ donation, egg harvesting and modern-day slavery.’


Nichola Ibe is North London-born, South London based writer. She always enjoyed writing, but as the child of Nigerian immigrants was discouraged from pursuing writing for a ‘sensible’ career that paid the bills. This led her to earn a first degree in geology and economics and a Master’s in Petroleum Geology from Imperial College. She started her career as a petroleum geologist in the early 1990s, and has worked 20 countries and travelled to many more. Her career was cut short 7 years ago due to disability. Nichola sits on the committee of Guys & St Thomas’ Kidney Patients Association, and is a Trustee for Unlimited, an arts commissioning programme that enables work by disabled artists to reach UK and international audiences. She is currently working on two contemporary novels and is interested in social commentary, challenging stereotypes, and feminist literature. In 2017, her work, The New Adventurers was selected as a Womentoring project. Early chapters of The Choices We Make made it  to the Finalist List at the Greenedoor Pitch Event 2019(Greene & Heaton) and New Writers Open Week 2021(David Higham Associates). It was also long-listed for Novel Fair 2021 and Retreat West’s 2021 First Chapter competition. Nichola has been awarded a 2021 Developing your Creative Practice grant by Arts Council England.

The Choices We Make is set in London and follows Valerie, a business executive and single parent to three-year-old Olivia, is placed on the transplant waiting list, and needs a donor. Her life unravels, and with Olivia’s future at stake, Valerie marries immigrant Tomasz. He will receive leave to remain in the UK and she his kidney.

The plan for a UK operation stalls, and Valerie starts haemodialysis. After a series of incidents, she realises time is running out and decides to travel to a clinic in Pristina, but disaster strikes and Tomasz can no longer donate. Faced with a grave ethical dilemma, Valerie asks the clinic to find a donor.

In Pristina, Valerie meets Johan, the charismatic owner of the clinic and is certain she made the right choice until she encounters a woman with a tale of terrible exploitation. After a confrontation with Johan, Valerie leaves Pristina without a new kidney but a clear conscience.

The Choices We Make is a novel about doing what’s right and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love. It explores themes of motherhood, ethics and immigration against the backdrop of the world of organ donation, egg harvesting and modern-day slavery.

It is a huge honour to be selected for this mentorship place and offered an amazing opportunity to work with a fabulous mentor, who has been there and done it. As a writer facing substantial physical challenges, it is important to have a strong mentor behind me to make sure I don’t quit and get to the end. With their guidance, I will be able to ensure my novel it is the best it can be, and develop a solid foundation to continue work on my next book, and hopefully forge a long-lasting career.

The support offered by Curtis Brown Creative will also enable me to build a network of writers and industry professionals who can inspire and challenge me to be bold and creative with my practice.

The mentorship has given me a massive boost, and also validates the work that I am doing. It shows that no matter what challenges you face, it is never too late to realise your dream.

Nichola is working with Man Booker nominated author Yvvette Edwards.

Grace Quantock, Madwomen Are My Ancestors

‘I want to contribute to an inclusive literary community, mentor emerging and young queer and disabled writers to create a space where our stories and craft are celebrated. Where readers can see their struggles and triumphs in the art they enjoy. This programme gives me the resources to grow and develop, not just for my own story, but as a literary citizen too.’


I’m a writer and psychotherapeutic counsellor. I write narrative non-fiction at the intersection of creative arts, social justice and marginalised bodies. I’ve been awarded the The London Library Emerging Writers Award and was shortlisted for the Writers’ & Artists’ Working-Class Writers’ Prize 2021 I’ve been published or have essays forthcoming in The Guardian, The Metro and The New Statesman. I live in Wales and is passionate about journalling and calligraphy. I am currently writing an essay collected titled Madwomen Are My Ancestors.

In Madwomen Are My Ancestors I unpack negotiating boundaries and identities as a disabled trauma survivor and counsellor. A memoir in essays that grapples with trauma, illness and coming of age as a visibly disabled woman, it follows my therapeutic training and explores the conflict of living in a world that’s unsafe for many marginalised bodies.

I chart my experiences moving from being housebound in the mining valleys of South Wales to studying counselling internationally. In the process, I investigate the experience of human contact after trauma. I become aware of how much I have in common with my clients. Although I can trace my therapeutic lineage to Freud due to the prestige of the institutions attended, I reject the conventional divisions of broken and healed. Instead, I acknowledge the marginalisation in myself and in the people I work with. Beginning with my personal experience, the essays widen in scope to consider our collective narratives around trauma, self-care, disabled joy and which stories get told. Through essays that ask the uncomfortable questions of myself and my readers, I create space for processing and the capacity to find answers.

Winning a place on the Breakthrough Mentoring Programme means the world to me. It’s an opportunity to develop my craft and hone my book to offer the best possible experience to those (I hope) will be my future readers. As stories of disability and trauma are so often rendered invisible in our media and literary landscapes, getting a place on this scheme is incredibly supportive and encouraging. It helps me know that our stories matter. Through this scheme, I get an opportunity to tell the stories we don’t hear, but that impact millions people in the UK and beyond. As a freelancer and carer, I wouldn’t be able to have access to such an opportunity without this programme and it gives me support to develop, learn and deepen my craft. I want to contribute to an inclusive literary community, mentor emerging and young queer and disabled writers to create a space where our stories and craft are celebrated. Where readers can see their struggles and triumphs in the art they enjoy. This programme gives me the resources to grow and develop, not just for my own story, but as a literary citizen too.

Grace is currently being mentored by bestselling memoirist and author Cathy Rentzenbrink.

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 to writers with low incomes.

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

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