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.



I miss Sylvie, so have brought her out. I’m just finishing a draft of a new book, a sweaty little mystery set in Sunderland, but keep wanting to go back. I suppose some characters are like that, like burrs.

Two: Sylvie

The strike-flare-suck of the first menthol of the morning. She shakes out the light. Returns the tin to her bedside table. The half-awake morning winks on the gold tin. There is nothing else on the table, but a glass of beading water. She has never needed a clock to know the time. Sylvie hauls velvet-grey smoke into her belly. It fills her with something at least. The tickle in her throat, the tautness of the cigarette as she inhales, shivering within her grasping mouth. The fizzing paper as it burns.

That day, Sylvie had woken with difficulty, as with every other in the last twenty years. Her new city, her new hair, her new Sylvie. There was that slow-domino of Monday to Sunday. That drugged leaking of time. Habit kept distinctness to her days. Habit was her religion. Kept awake that which she had come here to do, as she gathered knowledge, courage.

She taps her legs. There’s the sound of her patting, a reminder to her body. Wake up, wake up.

She has to do this, before the leadenness overwhelms her. Before she is pinned like a butterfly in a whispering museum and the past opens over her like a map. Until she can hear the machine’s warning, its flashing amber lights at her closed eyelids, that neat ripple of cinnamon hair, tauntingly in reach.

Another lungful. Move.

She sat up, drew back the cover.

No body in her bed to manouevre politely around and out of her door at least. She should do less of that, she would do less of that. Is this not the time for resolution? At home, that origin of who she is, her starter self, it was Fete des Rois. Epiphany.

No epiphany about what she is here to do. The thought became a question became a plan became reality; this 30-flat block in the historic centre of this docile city. Where he lived.

If you go through the motions, Sylvie has found, if you create and perpetuate a habit, if you just get up, you evade it for some time.


She likes the sunlight on her breasts, her collarbones. The cruelty of its jubilance is sometimes too much. She likes the light best before it’s too loud. She likes to keep the bedroom warm so she can stand and whip up the blinds. Decisively. The sunlight playing over her, she feels cinematic, that life reaches its face into her small world and looks around. She is grateful for the momentary inclusion.

Sylvie picks up the camera from the puddle of clothes where she left them last night. Strides towards the kitchen and lets the pronunciation, from English to French, of the world surveillance play in her mouth. It’s exact same spelling.

The rest of the apartment is arctic. She keeps it this way. Always with windows leaning out. The freedom of circulating air. When it’s hot, her hands flutter to her throat. She looks for exits, she twists with memory. Though can it be memory if it did not happen to you? Might you absorb such a thing? Wishes.

Outside, the clearing of a throat.

Outside, a woman says Ohhhh in such a way to create a tunnel of vowels and says, ‘I’m concerned about the crocuses’.

When Sylvie listens to the world in mornings, there seems always the sound of a car engine idling somewhere, as if waiting eternally for to someone to arrive. She pulls on a hat that she would have knitted with Babette, long ago in her other life, in one of those huddled cafes as far away from Gare du Nord as possible, so Babette could mutter freely, with her downturned mouth and seemingly dark heart. Mittens, fingerless.


Memories fray decision, like small fire frays cigarette papers. Not to remember the other things she had knitted. Not to remember the way she had studied patterns, the wool she had travelled on the metro into Paris to select, how the rhythm got into her brain, the callus on her finger that she rubbed absently in the thin cross-hatchings of sleep around her studies of haemoglobin and bloodwork and terms that sang through her body with a triumphant drumbeat; you are something, you are intelligent, you are more than a body. Not that cursed Nicoleau girl with the misleading face who would not wear the Madonna.

The shame coated her, the loathing licked the backs of her thighs. And what now to all that promise?

Stop,’ she whispers to time.

She moves through the images she has taken yesterday. A flicker-book of the man’s Saturday. A salt and pepper-haired man with a face liked balled-up paper. Smoothed out, but never rid of its experience. Near the castle, near the narrow streets and bookshops, a flimsy mint shopping bag holding bread and pies. The pram an awkward appendage. In the last, almost he is about to meet her gaze directly, but for a blonde blur of woman’s hair between the lens and his face.


She inhales. Coffee before the next cigarette.

She sets the camera down on the kitchen counter. Traces lover’s fingers over the backs of her hands. There you are. It feels like such a long time since she was loved – and then what was that really, when you think about it? The nails are short, dented horizontally. Which can be a sign of trauma or Beau’s ridges, age. She knows the term from one of her other lives. Isn’t she only 40 though? Is she 40? There has been so much adjustment, and a disinterest in the dissolution of the years anyway, she cannot any longer be sure.

She picks up the camera again and takes it to the light, the window beyond the sink with the leaky tap that half-fills the bowl every night. She notices a splinter of frost. The next still, and there is Robert, in the corner of a frame. His legs scissoring into shot, like the arms of a compass. His torso is not present, but the round of his shoulders is there, the oval of his face. She zooms in, decides there is the evidence of teenaged acne, pitting the tender skin at his temples. She presses a button. Black.

What else? The slippers with the pompons, the house-coat that she bought in Japan when she was robust and back-packing, in that gap where she left Peter. Twenty years. The thought of him, how openly she’d believed in them, it could still make her feel stupid.

All these years later, it was still hard to believe he hadn’t made her pay for what happened. Sometimes, she would be walking along the corridors of another life and she would think of him. And there would be the sensation of falling.

The anger inside his face. Its pointed corners. Its brick-power. It had knocked something down inside her when she’d seen it, something final. The incontinence of it. Because he had assumed she would just come back, even after everything. ‘You think you won’t be punished?’ The wasp of spit buzzing on her cheeks.

Without Peter, no Letya. Her little mouse, le souree petit. And so those quads she’d had, and so those boots and so that stance and so that knowledge, of her own ability to adapt, just a photograph that presumably no longer existed.

Where was Peter now?

The thought of him even, at large, a million miles too far. No reinvention enough to quite seal him off, to keep him in the past. The way he burned. And she’d remember their lovemaking then, too, feel her neck sting with it. It had been like swimming in the ocean.

Better things. She wishes she lived somewhere warm enough to wake to silk, to a caramel and duck-egg chemise, to fully accommodate the age. Let her hair grow out and change to grey, let the waves take hold, to not have to be a woman. Not yet.

There is the kitchen, quiet in the morning light. There is Mr Fraser in his allotment already, coughing over his potatoes, there is the cafetiere to fill, the water to boil, the coffee to inhale as it steeps. The kitchen will hum. The frying pan will spit and sear, it will seal failed life within the egg. She will dab its yellow with the rye bread from the deli last night. The lids and spoons, the breath of flakes going to the gold fish that she felt this version of herself would have, the percussion of the morning. Sounds that made her real.

If this doesn’t happen, this sequence of events, tastes, physicalities (because after breakfast there are of course the ablutions) the realities, the silence will daub its sadness over her. Gloopy, like wallpaper paste over parted mouth and ears and eyes and nostrils, between her legs. Which is sometimes tender from the night before. And then her body will cling to the bedsheets, sticky and cold. She might not move for days.

But that day. She had somewhere to go and somewhere to be this version of herself. Le Cafe de Mort. It was a chore to translate to French and she realised she had started to think in English. Just as she had once started to think in Peter. They had these in France, all over the world. Where you may talk about death freely. Of course she had never been, would never trade her stories. (My daughter. Mine). But she could invent another death for these purposes.

The coffee grains are expanding, releasing their scent, washing white heat up the glass of the cafetiere. While that is cooking, she unpeels herself from the past and begins to properly dress. Ensures that she covers the white scar, the curlicued L that she had scribed into her own skin, that none of the men had ever noticed.

That day – today – she would be Sylvie.