Book Review: Masterful Short Fiction – Sarah Schofield’s Safely Gathered In

As the year draws to a close and the nights draw in, candlelit reading becomes an absolute essential. November marks the launch of the perfect accompaniment: Sarah Schofield’s Safely Gathered In. Published by the incredible Manchester-based Comma Press, this electric short story collection is definitely one to add to your winter reading list.

A woman grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails, offering advice and reminders even months after his death… A taxidermist dreams of preserving one of his clients after she takes him out for a coffee… A grieving nurse is troubled by her daughter’s fascination with The Iron Lady…”

With style comparable to Sarah Moss and the ability to evoke unease like Naomi Booth, Schofield’s storytelling certainly leaves a mark on her readers. One of the potent threads running through the collection is an obsession with objects. Schofield interrogates how they define us, our relationship to them and what they can eventually come to represent. This is the feeling delivered by the title story – Safely Gathered In – crafted in list formation to depict the contents of a series of storage units. While the idea seems simple, I loved how these inventories brought people and personalities to life without making their presence known. Powerful and unsettling, this story really sets the tone for the whole collection.

My favourite story opens the collection, cleverly entitled Dead Man’s Switch. Emmy, the plot’s protagonist, grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails offering advice and reminders even months after his death. Whether it’s home insurance or her upcoming MOT, David’s words of wisdom continue to arrive in her inbox. Sharing the annoyance with her sister Kath as she tries to move on with new partner Gary, the speight of emails allow Emmy to reflect on her old relationship as well as the new. I loved how this story sparked thoughts about technology and how the modern age we’re living in allows us to extend our lives beyond expiration. Schofield also played with objects in this story to experiment with ideas of memory, loss and grief. Fisherman’s Friends, knitting needles, old books. All of these objects define something, and the author allows the reader enough space to decide what that is.

“It’s their last day on the beach and Emmy slips out her phone while Gary goes to get ice creams. There is another email from David. It is a reminder to cancel or renew their wine subscription. She scrunches her toes into the sand, heat flashing behind her eyes. She presses reply.”

Another critical theme reflected in Schofield’s stories is motherhood. Keenly observed and told with captivating honesty, she captures the trials and tribulations of family life. In Termination Happy Meal, a mother takes her teenage daughter to a McDonalds, presumably after visiting the abortion clinic. Told over less than two pages, the story casts a searing light on the wrought

nature of mother-daughter relationships. Again explored through objects in the story, Schofield brings to life the conflicts of growing up and the decisions that define our lives. For a story of so few words, it really is a triumph.

I was lucky enough to hear Sarah read from her collection at a pre-launch event: a short story salon hosted by Blackwell’s Manchester. Reading alongside the incredible Lucie McKnight Hardy and Vanessa Onwuemezi, it was a fantastic opportunity to hear more about the collection in real life after such a long time without in-person book events. Schofield read eloquently and gave some key insights about her craft, particularly how she likes to write and how her stories come together. If you’re looking for a true example of how to create haunting, bold and brilliant short fiction, Sarah Schofield is the beacon to look to.

Safely Gathered In was published in early November 2021 by Comma Press. Support your local bookshop or buy your copy here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.


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Launching The Book of Newcastle with Comma Press

Launched on the 6 February 2020 at Newcastle City Library, The Book of Newcastle continues to showcase new writing from the North of England by visiting the North East. A new addition to the Comma Press award-winning ‘Reading the City’ series, the book is a carefully collated collection of stories originating from the original Northern Powerhouse; The Book of Newcastle explores the city’s industrial heyday, when Tyneside engineering and innovation led the world, through decades of post-industrial decline, and lack of investment, to its more recent reinvention as a cultural destination for the North. 

Featuring stories from renowned literary talent, Julia Darling, to exciting contemporary author Jessica Andrews, the book draws on new and emerging writers to feature alongside established wordsmiths.

NRTH LASS spoke with the book’s editors, Angela Readman (poet and short story writer) and Zoe Turner (Publicity and Outreach Officer of Comma Press) to learn more.

How and why did you both come together to produce The Book of Newcastle?

ZT: The Book of Newcastle is a project that was started over ten years ago by Comma’s commissioning editor, Ra Page and originally edited by Angela as a smaller pamphlet publication called Newcastle Stories. Having lived in Newcastle for over twenty years, and being an award-winning author herself, Angela was a natural choice to co-edit this project with myself at Comma.

AR: The wonderful thing about us working together on the project, was getting a fresh perspective about the city, as the well as the perspective of someone more familiar with the area. Sometimes Zoe had questions about things I may have taken for granted, and it made me look at the city in a different light. It was like coming here for the first time all over again.

Why was it important for you to explore both the city’s fallen industrial past and continual lack of investment alongside its dreams for a prosperous future?

ZT: Newcastle, like any other city in this series, needed to be put into its historical and political context – when asking authors to work to the brief that their stories should be set in or against Newcastle’s geography, or its recent history, it was assumed that the stories would reflect through their characters and narratives, some more subtly than others, the past of the place and why the lives led there might be different from those led elsewhere.

AR: There’s something about knowing the past of a place that makes its dreams for the future feel even more fragile and precious. Though we didn’t specify that any of the writers had to write about fallen industry overtly, that sense of lingering worry appears in the stories and brings the characters to life.

Could you give us a brief summary of what we can expect from the ten stories?

ZT: Whisperings and longings – the personal that lies behind the strong identity of Newcastle, and the minute details which make up the city’s presence. 

AR: Loneliness, longing, and the loveliness of living in the city.

It’s great to see emerging writers alongside renowned literary talent. What were the main components you were looking for within each story?

ZT: What we were looking for from all of these stories, as with each collection in our ‘Reading the City’ series, was for them to touch on things that citizens of Newcastle would be familiar with, and which general readers outside of the city might not be. We wanted this collection to encapsulate an inside understanding of Newcastle but one that, at the same time, could be applied on a universal level. 

AR: For me, I always like to read short stories that make me forget where I am. I want stories to take me to a whole other place. With this book, that place was Newcastle, I wanted every story to take the reader there and invite them to look around.

Finally, after compiling so many stories of Newcastle, could you tell us what you love the most about the city and the north?

ZT: I only visited the city for the first time last week for the book’s launch event! But what struck me was the understated beauty of the place, and the protective power that the River Tyne seems to hold, which seems emblematic of the ferocious respect with which Newcastle’s people lift the city up.

AR: I love Newcastle for its resilience. I love the architecture built under grey skies, and our sense of just cracking on with it. Most of all, I love the humour of the north, it’s a gallows humour sometimes, and sometimes a wild celebration of living it up while you can. It feels like home.