‘Body Song’

Trails of the Unexpected – 2/8

As part of Hartlepool Little Waterfront festival, 8 films were commissioned to give people ways to be creative. The idea that anyone can dance, any making is art, that we’re most alive when we’re doing and connecting and creating.

Every Tuesday and Thursday in June you can see another video and another way to be creative.

Here’s mine:

Thanks to Bloomin Arts, Maxy Neil Bianco and Julia Kent for the music.

You can keep up to date and have a go of the other videos here!

Letters of Hope

Our aerial company, Uncaged, are aiming to bring a little hope back to the community. I’ve definitely felt the impact of not seeing art and theatre. We’ll be performing at Penshaw Monument in July and will be delivering community workshops at Shiney Row Community Library to generate the letters and performance workshops for anyone who might like to read the letters during our performance. There will also be a livestream for those who can’t make it – the event will be very small (- and safe).

Please help us make it a reality by following or sharing the campaign below!


If you’re interested in volunteering or supporting the project in any way, please let me know – Sarah @ uncagedaerial@gmail.com



And They Filled The Skies With Letters of Hope…

In solidarity with everyone who is currently fed up at the moment, in need of a creative outlet or just wants to help, here is how to get involved with a new project that is designed to offer hope. Please share – and write… We are all writers.

Letters of Hope is a voluntary project for anyone here or abroad. It will culminate in an outdoor performance with letters from the community (wherever you might be) addressed to the community. The letters  will be delivered and or displayed in the community after they are part of the performance.

Theme: hope

(Image Kyle Roxas)

Deadline: 1st March

More details here: tinyurl.com/lettersofhope21

Please get in touch if you would like to link up with any similar projects or have spaces to share the letters, particularly in the north east and surrounding areas.

Aerial and narrative

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Sharing some work that I’ve been making recently in what has been everyone’s weirdest year. I feel lucky to be working and creating as these are the things, that engagement in life’s narrative, that keep me feeling alive.

I’ve enjoyed finding the rhythm of how I want to explored narrative alongside aerial and vice versa, and this year has opened up many more new ideas.

As a writer I think you’re always looking for what and how you can best change minds or encourage the simmering of thoughts. I’ve loved working on these last two projects:

Oracles in Sepia, commissioned by Compass Presents and No More One in Three, this is part of a larger online protest and I’m so happy to have been involved in a small way.

My stories, your stories

I write stories for a living and lately the ways of telling these is evolving. I think each area I work in feeds back into the other, but here is some book-related news.

How to Write A Novel with my publisher’s education arm, Unthank School

Runs from 5th January. You can find out more info / book here: https://www.unthankschool.com/course/how-to-write-a-novel/

sea inside me

Reviews of my latest novel:

Stephen Theaker at Interzone “A grown-up, fiercely feminist sf novel”

Alex Lockwood, The Chernobyl Priviledges – “A book well worth reading and lingering over”

Emily Harrison at Storgy – ‘The Sea Inside Me’ is a novel that touches those edges deftly, but clearly. In a society where images of violence, specifically terrorism and acts of brutality, are so easily accessible, and in a climate that is ever reaching for the brink of unrest, Dobbs takes the current moment and gives an insight into where we could end up.

How to Write A Novel

We write to articulate the stories in our minds and bodies that we can’t say out loud.

We write to share an experience so that it exists and lives and changes state when conferred to another.

We write to share the unique beauty of our own individual experience and take on language.

We write to change.

We write just simply – to share the story…

Why do you write?

Whatever your reason, have a think about why you write, what you want to say and how you want to say it. I’m looking forward to teaching on the Unthank School’s course How to Write A Novel next year. These are some of the questions we’ll consider, as well as how to best construct your narrative and engage your readership. We’ll think about character-driven stories versus plot-driven stories. Above all, one of the nicest things I found on my own courses, is that booking one gives you permission to say, I am a writer, this is not a hobby, this is what I want to say.

Listen …


Stories are good for you

Well it’s an exciting (read: no sleep ever) time at the moment. I went away to do an aerial course last year and on return co-founded Uncaged: Aerial Theatre with my now business partner, Emma Bloomfield.

We tell stories. We try to do that in a bold and engaging way. Soon we have a Creative Summer residency at Dance City and are running an immersive for emerging aerialists in July, to help them tell a story and find their voice. In October we’ll be sharing some of that work at a scratch showing at the Sunderland Literature Festival in October. The debut of our piece, I Am No Bird, will be at the Sunderland Creative Writing Festival. The drive of the piece is female cooperation.


Image Simon Richardson

I have quite an untidy mind (no??) and shaping thought into narrative has always been a way to have a conversation about those things that tap away at me. So many of the aerialists at Emma’s club have talked about how aerial improves their wellbeing. I’m no different and get quite anxious if I haven’t somehow satisfied that movement, intention and /or sense of expression. So it’s nice that I’ve been invited to talk about aerial and narrative as part of a wellbeing panel. I’ll post dates as and when.

October is a good good month as it also sees the launch of a new novella, The Sea Inside Me from Unthank Books. I love the complexity of the novella’s form, so this was a really interesting project. The plan is to share words with lots of lovely local authors because book launches are so painfully embarrassing. Oh here, here’s all my words: listen. I am really looking forward to the book getting out there though.

sea inside me




When my brother was ill he showed me a video of Karo Swen being amazing and said, you should do that. It’s like, gymnastic. I’m not the most coordinated of people and at the time, really not strong at all. But she was beautiful to watch because of the freedom and ease of movement.

Somewhere down the line I got the courage to go to a class at Tempest in Durham – and was terrible – but hooked. I loved the puzzles and the feeling of achieving something you never thought you could do. Eventually, I started to wonder whether the other love in my life, of telling stories, could combine. I entered a little competition and did okay. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t. I travelled everywhere to learn and I think it provided me with strength and forward movement in a very static and dark time. But it was also the place where I felt most like myself. No judgements, no wrong answer, no stress.

Those months my brother was ill were painful and poignant. My heart opened up to so many people, and to life, the kindness of strangers, the importance of community and friendship, I felt the desire to learn and explore burn in me. And I needed to do it now because we know how crucial life is. Because what if there is no tomorrow? My brother was always the explorer and I very much a little sister nodding. So maybe I felt like I was now in charge of the finding out of things. My appetite for that is big.

I suppose there was then a tipping point. I was frustrated with not having the time and space to explore ideas and I started looking at longer courses. I loved the look of the one at My Aerial Home because of the teachers – I like dynamic things – and started to talk to my Head of School about whether I could take a break. I’m really grateful he made that happen. At the time, I was just blindly following a passion, without thinking it could be something else.


Photo Pluck Photography

The course was really challenging but in many ways I feel like such a different person and more technically aware. All the things I want to reach for feel within reach because of the skills I’ve learned and can draw from. I struggled – as usual – with terrible coordination and shyness. I might have spent most of my life trying to be beige and unnoticed. Plus, I don’t have fantastic awareness of my body. One arm could be on Mars and I wouldn’t know. During the act creation part of the course we could take videos, so I took a million, and edited and edited until the visual matched what was in my head. In much the same way as I write, really… I also have a tendency to blank when I’m nervous. Again when Steven was ill I felt like in order to juggle the new job and to try and give my family hope at a hopeless time (his diagnosis was terminal), I had to do everything right. And I did. We all did. So now I still really back away from stressful situations and my brain, which was always really quick, always the thing I depended on, was suddenly not so elastic. I could blink and 2 hours had gone by (my brother would say this was to do with aliens). It’s not quite like this anymore but I do still struggle.

Anyway. In that little window of time before our end of course show, I thought of him and how he started this for me. How it wouldn’t matter if things went wrong because I intended to keep doing this – the love for it had grown not waned – and because he wouldn’t care any way. I wanted to tell that story – I suppose about finding a voice and a joy after what we’d experienced, not something I ever imagined  – and he’d be daftly proud. I felt him with me when I was waiting for the music to start. When it did, I felt calm and free.

When I got home I talked to Emma, my old aerial teacher from Dynamix, and we found we had so many similar hopes and thoughts about aerial. We set up our company, Uncaged, and are working towards some future performances, as well as some workshops. I got a job teaching at my old studio (Tempest’s new studio in Washington) and it makes me so happy to see people’s faces when they achieve a move / a trick that they’ve found frustrating. Because I know how that feels 🙂

Like with writing, there’s so much to work on and do, it will, happily, never end. Is it really cliché to ask what the moral of this story is? For me it’s to never underestimate yourself. We all get put into roles when we’re very young and as my brother would say, Rules are made to be broken. But then he was always getting fired so I might not follow that one too closely.

What’s the moral of my witterings for you? I might leave that as an open ending…

Here’s a very little clip from our show should anyone like to see.


Photo Pluck Photography




The Sea Inside Me: New Novel with Unthank Books, 2019

Some lovely news about the next novel. Here’s a snippet of the press release. You can read more about it here:


Ashley Stokes says, The Sea Inside Me, our first SF novel, is set in an England ravaged by civil strife and terrorism. An experimental zone, Newark-by-the-Sea has trialled the Process, the removal of traumatic memories to eliminate crime and fear from the minds of its citizens. Processing Officer Audrey is instructed to tail Candy, a girl resistant to the Process, whose memories are returning, As the Process is about to be rolled out countrywide, a darker, deep-rooted conspiracy coils smoke-like into view. Sarah’s prose is, as ever, vivid and emotive, crammed with stark, sharp images and disturbing insights into the way we are and where we are heading.