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.
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.