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10 June 2021

Meet Sakura Matsushima & Kwan Ann Tan, our Elizabeth Zott novel-writing scholars

From left: Sakura Matsushima and Kwan Ann Tan
by Katie Smart Course News, From Our Students

We’re pleased to introduce the two talented writers that have been awarded the Elizabeth Zott Novel-Writing Scholarships for writers of colour.

Sakura Matsushima has won a free place on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course for her brilliantly compelling novel-in-progress Makuno-uchi Bento.

Kwan Ann Tan has won a free place on our six-month online Writing Your Novel course for her beautifully written novel-in-progress Artificial Orchids.

These scholarship places are generously funded by CBC alumna and debut author Bonnie Garmus. Bonnie was a student on our three-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2018. Her novel Lessons in Chemistry will be a major global publication in Spring 2022, in over 30 languages, and a TV drama serial is also now in development with Apple TV.

Bonnie Garmus says: ‘A lot of people talk about elevating under-represented voices, but Curtis Brown does it via their Breakthrough Writers’ Programme as well as scholarship opportunities like this one that actually take real steps to ensure these voices get heard. I’m excited to be part of this!’

The CBC team are hugely grateful to Bonnie Garmus for her support of our courses an the Breakthrough Writers’ Programme through these scholarships. We are excited to welcome the very talented Sakura and Kwan Ann to our courses this month. Read on to find out more about their page-turning novels-in-progress…

Sakura Matsushima

Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and your novel-in-progress Makuno-uchi Bento?

I was born, educated and worked very long hours in Tokyo before moving to the UK to realise my childhood dream – to become a writer, and in English.  After completing an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and winning several awards for short stories, I worked as a full-time in-house translator before going freelance, working mainly in subtitles. 

My creative writing was sidelined for ten years after I became a mother and juggled work and childcare, until I attended WriteNow2020 at Penguin and began writing a novel. ‘Makuno-uchi Bento’ refers to a lunch box with rice and various side dishes, and derives from meals eaten during the interval of a play. It also means ‘behind the curtains’, and I would like to write about the feelings often hidden behind the smiling faces of Japanese women in London, their stories interlinked through food.

Writing this novel made me realise that I have a particular viewpoint – about the feeling of being ‘in-between’ having worked in both Tokyo and in London, translating between two languages, and raising a bilingual child. I’ve developed a lot of insights into diversity and what it means. And I’ve been cooking more than ever during lockdown!

What does winning this scholarship place mean to you?

This meant to me that it’s never too late to realise a dream.  And that it’s my responsibility to make the effort to realise it now, not ‘one day’ or ‘when I have time’. 

I really appreciate this support because at this stage of my life I cannot afford to invest for myself.  My income as a translator in the arts field (opera, museums, theatres) was hit significantly by Covid. Yet I have a family to support.

So I consider this scholarship as a ‘job’ that I am fully committed to.

It has been tough to keep writing in such an isolated year.  So it is great to be able to attend a course with support from CBC and I look forward to meeting my fellow writers, too, as we go through this marathon effort of writing a novel together.

Kwan Ann Tan

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

I am a writer from Malaysia and am in the process of completing a Master’s degree on medieval literature. Writing about Malaysia is very important to me, especially as I would have loved to see more stories set in Malaysia while growing up! 

Artificial Orchids is a novel set in present day, against the backdrop of an abandoned colonial house in Malaysia. Seen through the eyes of a young woman navigating a betrayal and her grandmother’s stories of the past, it aims to examine Malaysia’s relationship and obsession with our colonial past, as well as modern intergenerational and cross-cultural relationships.

What does winning this scholarship place mean to you?

It is really a huge honour to be selected for this scholarship place. To me, it not only justifies the work that I am doing, but also the narratives that I seek to share through my writing. 

Having grown up without much structural or mentorship support with regards to creative writing, I’m excited to explore and grow my craft with the amazing mentors on the course. In keeping with the spirit of these Breakthrough scholarships, I cannot wait to make a breakthrough in my own work!

Many of our scholarship students have gone on the gain representation and become published authors, read about their successes here.

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

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