In Conversation with Sarah Davy, founder of Northern Writers Studio

Since its launch in October 2020, Northern Writers Studio — a resource bringing writers together through workshops, groups, networking and events — has reached hundreds of established and emerging writers based in the North of England.

The writing platform and support network was created by Sarah Davy, a writer, maker and facilitator living in rural Northumberland, who was driven by a desire to help those who felt left out or disconnected from the writing and publishing world due to physical location or background.

We recently spoke with Sarah about how she came to establish Northern Writers Studio, her goal to grow a community of writers who can offer workshops, advice and mentoring to others and why its important to provide supportive spaces for people at all stages of their career.


How did you first get into writing and publishing?

Writing is something I’ve always done, but never taken seriously. I got my Literature degree with the Open University while working full-time and took a creative writing block. Everything fell into place and I started slowly sending work out. I won my first writing competition in 2018 and have been working towards being a writer since then.

What support did you have when carving out your own career path?

It worked like stepping stones, one thing leading to another then another. So after I won the writing competition, Susie from Hexham Book Festival asked me to lead a workshop at the festival. This boosted my belief in myself which then led to me building links with Helen at Forum Books. When she asked me to be writer in residence it was like I’d been given permission to take myself and my writing seriously. Building an online community alongside this, mainly on Twitter, has been so valuable is finding like-minded people and opportunities.

Why did you create Northern Writers Studio?

When the pandemic hit, I had a busy year of workshops and writing gigs planned, but they were all cancelled. I wanted to find a way to keep working and to bring people together. Writing can be a solitary task, but I don’t think you have to do it alone. People still needed to feed their creativity and be able to bounce off other writers. It just felt like the right thing to do especially with the future being so uncertain. And as well as helping everyone who has joined in, it’s given me a purpose and a new focus.

What does Northern Writers Studio provide in terms of support and events for those working in publishing in the North?

The Studio works with writers of all abilities and the main focus is getting people together to create a sense of support and community. I run Zoom writing sessions, regular writing groups and spoken word evenings where people can share their work. I also wanted to create paid work for writers, so I engage Northern writers to lead workshops on all aspects of creative writing. There are also regular discussions where I learn what people need so I can develop new events and resources to help people find the right support and place for their work.

What has the response been like so far?

It’s been really lovely, participants are a mix of brand new, emerging and published writers. There have been some lovely events; a poetry collection launch for Caroline Hardaker where Chris Riddell live illustrated; a spoken word fundraiser for East End Women; inspiring and often emotional workshops; and an overall growing sense of community and mutual support. Since launching in October 2020 over 200 writers have taken part in the events programme. And not just from the North. Although everything is led by Northern writers, people take part from across the country and the world, which is the joy of being online!

Do you think there is a discord between publishing in the South and the North?

Yes! Publishing is very London-centric, and this is a barrier to people who want to work in the industry and to Northern writers who feel like opportunities and connections are not open to them. It’s also about class as well as geography, and there are some deeply entrenched behaviours and expectations that need to change. The gatekeepers of the publishing industry don’t represent the voices who need to be heard. 

In your opinion, what can be done to make the publishing industry more equal and inclusive?

There’s already brilliant work being done by New Writing North, the Northern Fiction Alliance and a host of indie publishers. Some big publishers are opening regional offices, but this just isn’t enough. A huge shift in the way we work and who we work with is needed. There’s a great report here by Professor Katy Shaw, which talks about the need to decentralise publishing and to include diverse voices from across the North and the entire country. I do think we’re leading the way in the North and hope that we can keep up the momentum and make meaningful, long-term change. 

Who are some of your favourite authors from the North? 

There have been some brilliant debuts in the last couple of years, my favourite is Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, which included locations I know from childhood. It’s the first time I’ve recognised a place so deeply in a book and it was really transformative. I loved My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale and have Boy Parts by Eliza Clark and Exit Management by Naomi Booth on my reading pile. I’m also hugely looking forward to Test Signal from Dead Ink books, a new anthology of Northern writing which has a brilliant line-up. 

Photo by Ann Nekr on Pexels.com

Why is it important for you to support your fellow Northern writers?

In my own writing journey, I often felt left out or left behind or just not good enough when looking at opportunities, primarily because of the London and often middle class focus of publishing. I want to make sure others don’t feel like this. We have so many rich voices, and unique stories to tell and I hope that by helping people work together, we can enable and amplify Northern writers.

What is next for Northern Writers Studio?

Even as the world starts to open up, my plan is to keep going as an online platform. There is a programme of workshops and a summer school as well as our regular Zoom writing sessions. I’m hoping to offer mentoring from September and just want to continue to reach people who might otherwise feel left out or alone. Getting this off the ground and seeing how much it’s meant to people has been a silver lining to lockdown, and one I’m holding onto. 

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This New North: A Celebration of Diversity, Short Fiction and Northern Writing Talent

Early March marked the exciting release of a new anthology, packed to the brim with writing from an exceptional lineup of new northern voices. The collection is edited by S.J Bradley, author of Brick Mother and Guest, both published by Dead Ink, and Anna Chilvers, author of East Coast Road, Tainted Love and Falling Through Clouds, novels published by Bluemoose Books

Featuring 15 stories in total, the anthology celebrates work from 12 new Northern voices who have graduated from the Northern Short Story Festival Academy programme. It also includes 3 exclusive stories from editor Anna Chilvers, Litro Fiction editor Barney Walsh and Richard Smyth, author and literary critic. 

Initiatives such as this one are so important to increasing regional diversity in publishing, shining a spotlight on new potential for the industry. We’re seeing more and more of a focus on Northern writing and regional voices breaking through the London-centric noise, particularly with incredibly insightful work from women. 

In her foreword to the anthology, Chilvers reflects on the programme: 

‘The discussions revolved around how far the form could be bent, stretched and subverted. The writing was exciting and brave… There was an atmosphere of playfulness, a freedom to try out new and innovative ideas.’ 

These traits can be read as distinctly northern; the seeking of innovation and subversion of the ways we see and write about the world are strongly present throughout the series of stories in the anthology. 

In Haleemah Alaydi’s A Very Private Confession, she intelligently explores human desire and intimacy, both up close and at a distance. Alaydi’s narrator is obsessed with the couple next door and becomes entangled in their lives from the other side of the wall. She finds comfort in their intimate moments but the more she has to hide it, the more her own relationship with her partner Gabriel begins to suffer. This story was excellently written, structured with intention and features a twist to rival any bestselling crime novel. 

The potential for honesty and vulnerability to be explored through short fiction is certainly a defining feature of the stories in This New North. Another piece that stands out is Jennifer Isherwood’s Artefacts. Capturing the intense feelings we experience in the most mundane of moments, Isherwood crafts a story that is both tender and thought-provoking. 

Brian is faced with a letter that brings his security into question — his house has been built on a mineshaft and could collapse at any moment. Through this hook, the reader is encouraged to

think about home and heritage; at one point the author invokes historical locations on the northern landscape that cleverly connect the protagonist with his past. Through outstanding writing and sharp reflections, Isherwood’s story is certainly a memorable one. 

Having explored the whole collection, it can be concluded that This New North is an impressive anthology of stories which carefully curates a wide selection of themes and experiences. It’s fresh, artistic and brilliantly captures the diversity of stories and talent in the North. Looking ahead, it will be exciting to see how these voices progress and how projects such as this one will inspire even more northern writers to emerge into the world. This New North is published by Valley Press, based in Yorkshire. You can purchase a 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.