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A Writing Chance: 16 writers selected for Michael Sheen-backed programme

5th June 2024

Sixteen writers have been selected for A Writing Chance 2024–25, the pioneering programme for change co-founded in 2021 by Michael Sheen, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, New Writing North and Northumbria University.

A Writing Chance supports writers from working-class and under-represented backgrounds and recognises that entry to the highly competitive writing industries continues to favour those from more privileged backgrounds.

By uniting partners across sectors, the programme is building a movement to challenge the status quo and allow all writers to fairly benefit from opportunities to progress that reflect their talent.

A Writing Chance 2024–25 is produced by New Writing North in partnership with Faber & Faber, the Daily Mirror and Substack, with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Mab Gwalia – Michael Sheen’s charitable fund – and Arts Council England, and with support from audio sponsor Audible. The programme is supported by research from Northumbria University and Bath Spa University, funded by AHRC.

The 16 chosen participant writers will each receive a £2,000 bursary supported by a grant from the Charlotte Aitken Trust.

The 16 writers began their year-long programme last week with a five-day residential writing retreat at Arvon’s writing house, The Hurst in Shropshire. Each writer has been paired with an industry mentor and one of four pastoral mentors – experienced writers Clare Shaw, Richard Benson, Lynsey Rogers and Katy Massey – whom they will meet regularly over the next 12 months.

They will also become part of a writers’ network; learn how the industry works at industry-insight sessions with Audible, Faber & Faber, the Daily Mirror and Substack; make contacts; and progress their work towards publication.

The writers are:

A Writing Chance: Daily Mirror programme

  • Zainab Amer, from Manchester (mentored by Brian Reade, Daily Mirror columnist and author)
  • Emma Astra, from Leicester (mentored by Siobhan McNally, Daily Mirror columnist, writer and journalist)
  • Shivani Daxini, from Leicester (mentored by Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor)
  • Sunita Thind, from Derby (mentored by Ros Wynne-Jones, Daily Mirror columnist)

 

A Writing Chance: Faber & Faber programme

  • Jade Cuttle, from Womersley, North Yorkshire (mentored by Laura Hassan, associate publisher at Faber & Faber)
  • Karrish Devan, from London (mentored by Jane Feaver, editor at large, poetry at Faber & Faber)
  • Debora Maité, from Glasgow (mentored by Hannah Knowles, publishing director at Faber & Faber)
  • Mie Murasa, from Sheffield (mentored by Fiona Crosby, senior commissioning editor at Faber & Faber)
  • Nosa Novia, from Torquay (mentored by Mo Hafeez, Commissioning Editor at Faber & Faber)
  • Janice Okoh, from London (mentored by Sara Helen Binney, crime editor at Faber & Faber)
  • Micaela Ralph, from London (mentored by Angus Cargill, publishing director at Faber & Faber)
  • Bonita Wileman, from Cardiff (mentored by Aisling Brennan, fiction editor at Faber & Faber)

 

A Writing Chance: Substack programme

  • Damian Kerlin, from Cardiff (mentored by Farrah Storr, head of writer partnerships UK and Europe at Substack)
  • Hattie Morrison, from West Wales (mentored by Emma Rowley, UK partnerships associate at Substack)
  • Matt Taylor, from Buxton (mentored by Jonn Elledge, author, New Statesman columnist and Substack writer)
  • Sophie Wren, from the North East (mentored by Claire Venus, Substack writer and creative engagement consultant).

 

Michael Sheen said: “A Writing Chance exists not only to enable talented writers to access opportunities that have for too long relied on connections, networks and a financial cushion, but also to find the voices and stories that have been missing from our national conversation. When we share those stories, we all benefit. The 16 writers selected for the programme all have something to say that we, as a society, need to hear. I can’t wait to read the work they produce.”

Claire Malcolm, chief executive of New Writing North, said: “I’m proud that this programme has brought together a wide range of partners and supporters to make all of this possible. We received more than 1,000 applications to be part of A Writing Chance 2024–25 and are thrilled to be working with the 16 selected writers, whose work is truly exciting and has much to add to our wider discourse. Later this year, we will launch new elements to the programme that will see us working in new ways across the industries to further champion new work and to open out a broader dialogue about class and writing.”

A Writing Chance 2024–25 follows the success of the 2021–22 programme, which supported 11 new writers, including Tom Newlands, whose novel Only Here, Only Now was published by Phoenix in April 2024; Mayo Agard-Olubo, who went on to win the Mo Siewcharran Prize 2023 for his unpublished children’s book, Kid Rex vs the Dastardly Dust Bunnies; and Maya Jordan, whose book The Emergency Chicken & Other Stories will be published by September Publishing in 2026.

The 2021–22 programme was underpinned by academic research led by Professor Katy Shaw at Northumbria University, which became the subject of discussion at writing conferences, TED Talks, the London Book Fair and the House of Commons.

The research found that London-centric industries, low-paid internships and starting salaries, the casualisation of work and a reliance on informal networks and personal contacts all made launching and sustaining a writing career disproportionately difficult for people from working-class and lower-income backgrounds.

In addition, people from these backgrounds often face intersecting challenges due to historic under-representation in publishing and the media, including but not limited to ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender identity, age and religious beliefs.

High barriers to access and poor representation across these industries not only affect individual writers’ careers and opportunities, but have a more insidious effect in shutting out these voices and experiences from wider mainstream attention and public discourse.

Professor Katy Shaw, co-founder and researcher in residence on A Writing Chance and director of university cultural partnerships at Northumbria University, said: “This programme has changed the industry for writers and publishers and brought barriers relating to social class into the popular spotlight. The solution suggestions and policy proposals generated by our research on the programme to date prove the potential of cross-sectoral collaboration and the power of cocreation to tackle the biggest opportunity and challenge of our times – how to achieve inclusive innovation. Thanks to funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) we have now been able to extend the range and reach of the research undertaken on this vital new intervention. We look forward to working with a new cohort of creatives and industry partners to gear A Writing Chance up to the next level.”

Professor Shaw’s research continues in 2024–25 and will be complemented by new research led by StoryArcs, an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) programme run by The Story Society at Bath Spa University under the directorship of Professor Bambo Soyinka.

Read more about the programme at awritingchance.co.uk

Sign up for updates on the A Writing Chance network here.

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