Saboteur Awards – The End

Two posts in one day – It’s getting a bit Crowded House.

I felt so proud to be part of The End, and I’ve just seen this post about it, and wanted to share. It looks like those very kind people at Sabotage felt good things for it too, despite missing out on a prize for their Saboteur Awards. The End by Unthank Books explores responses to Nicholas Ruston’s paintings and varying notions of the end. Such thoughtful and skilled writing sits between the dark cover and spools on beyond it. What felt so unusual about working on it, was the idea that we were all collaborating in a very different way to other collections I’ve written for. And that was an experience. Read together, forward, backwards, dipped in and returned to, I’m still provoked by this collection. Easy for me to say, I suppose, but if you’re intrigued, you can buy it here. Please do. See Zoe Lambert’s piece of musical fiction on grief, which was one of my many favourites.

“The most important anthology in a calamitous year and an extraordinary collaboration between art and fiction where the stories give meaning to the paintings. The included stories by Angela Readman, Ashley Stokes and Sarah Dobbs are worth the cover price on their own. It’s also been produced wonderfully.” 


The Short Story Review: Unthology 9

I meant to put this up much earlier, but this is a lovely and detailed review of Unthology 9 which, I think :), has some excellent pieces in. It also contains my story, As Linda Was Buying Tulips.

Just a few snippets here, please see the link for the full review:

Unthology 9 demonstrates the importance of independent publishers like Unthank who provide a platform for some of the most exciting contemporary literature. Here’s to the next one.  …

‘My mother twitches with sex’ – so commences a hard-edged short story (‘As Linda Was Buying Tulips’) by Sarah Dobbs. Here we have an artist son who is uncomfortably obsessed by his twitching mother and her breasts. Throw in a successful father and we’d be screaming Oedipus Complex like every modern-day English lit. student. But there’s no father here. Instead, we’re given the infinitely interesting Linda, and as the narrator notes, ‘neither of us expected Linda.’ She’s fast and fun and frolics and fucks (the language isn’t shy either) with fair abandon. Although the plot twist seems one turn too far, this is a small quibble for a cracking read that injects a strong shot of punchy prose into the book as a whole and remains one of my favourite in the anthology…



Buy Unthology 9 from Unthank Books

We’ve come across John D. Rutter before at TSS (read his story here) and it was a pleasure to see him appear with the piece ‘My Knee’. The title is mundane, but brilliantly so, providing much in terms of tone and style; the reader is given an immediate impression of the narrator: middle class, married, a little dull, and suffering marital problems. The couple have lunch at ‘The French’. The husband drinks wine and his suspicions and aggravations surface. Everything comes to a climax, a crash – metaphorically speaking, and literally. There are some lines which really capture the bitterness of relationships gone wrong, highlighting Rutter’s ability to pinpoint emotional truths succinctly: ‘”It’s not just a fling.” That’s what Pippa said last night, as if somehow a fling would be alright.

Read full review and with thanks to Rupert Dastur, founder of The Short Story Review




Northern Short Story Festival

Northern Short Story Festival, Leeds

Look at the all the shiny things on offer here – also, am giving a workshop on image-based fiction.

A little more information:

We will beg steal and borrow for our image workshop. I work in a variety of media and think that each brightens the other. In the workshop, we’ll borrow a little from script and poetry, but ultimately produce a short piece of work for a target market, should you want to. You could even practice your piece straightaway in the Flash Fiction Slam after the workshop. All levels are welcome, and always happy to tailor my initial plan to the needs of the group.

Here’s an indicative structure – lots to get through!

1 minute silent short

The vignette

Soundscapes and musical fiction

No translations! How to convey meaning with image

Crafting: Heart/head – emotional plot, vs event-based plot

Target market: Segora vignette competition


Here’s a quick script-based example from the stage directions of a play I’m working on. What does this tell you about the characters? How might you write this in prose? One of the fascinating things about script is that it forces you to rethink (somewhat) our approach to prose. I’m forever filling in the blank spaces, and then trying to create more, to keep a reader guessing. Sharp editing in prose creates jumping points for a reader to imagine, be active, and to interpret for themselves. Who doesn’t like that? Resist translation!

Q/ So – what could this say about the twins’ relationship as demonstrated in these stage directions? Who has the upper-hand? Are you trying to interpret? Is that better than saying, ‘They laugh because they’re no longer angry with each other’. Why do they laugh? Why does Joanie run off-stage? Is If we wrote this in prose, would we actually need to write the internal thoughts (as we often do)? Does a blank space always need filling in? (We’re not completing forms!) Could we even write it like this in a prose piece? (Would it be too bland? What would you add? Why?) Etc…

Dandelions (in-progress)




The Word UK, Flash Fiction Competition

Hello everyone.

You all know I’m a massive fan of flash and I’m happy to be judging this competition below for The Word. Look forward to your entries – any questions, just ask!

Flash Fiction Competition


27 March 2017 03 May 2017

Stories should be no longer than 100 words but there are no restrictions on the subject of your story. Let your imagination run wild.

All submissions will be read by a panel of judges. The top five in each category will be invited to The Word on the 25 June to read (or to have read for them) their stories and the final winner in each category will be announced.

Age groups 16 and under and 17 and over.

Entries must be sent to by May 3 2017 and it’s FREE to enter.

Flash Fiction Workshop, The Word Festival 2017, South Tyneside

I’m happy to be running a flash fiction workshop at The Word this year. There’s an excellent line up of writers and events, so do have a look. There will also be a flash fiction competition run in conjunction with the festival, so do keep your eyes peeled for that. Getting to the workshop will be good practice for the competition (just saying…)

You can book tickets and find out more information here!



Find out more about the The Word and what’s on here :

Got a bit draughty…

Next draft of the novel.

I’ve had a nice window to read after completing the last draft of Return to Me. Having a very last pass (she says) where I’m trying to really sort the voice. Reading helps. Anyone else seriously struggle to read when actually writing?!

Return to Me

Sarah Dobbs

Abduct: to carry off or lead away (a person) illegally and in secret or by force, especially to kidnap.

Let’s talk about beginnings. Let’s put on this memory as an old, adored record. Sit within this envelope of time, hear the static prickle and that bubble of sound widen. It incorporates you. You feel the breath of this memory whiskering over all your insides, a lover’s playful, trailing finger. And your skin? It will tickle, from the inside out. You hear the distant tractor, like an afterthought, the wash of further traffic that leads back to the arteries of north east road networks, that huge Sainsburys and to do lists, ‘I shoulds’ and Monday mornings.

But for now you are here, where we were, before it all began.You see a brilliant autumn sun soak and star the dark behind our closed lids. Its light feather of warmth on waiting skin.

Here is the place we will always choose to rereat to, squeeze out all our guilt, expect the memory to be as pure, as anticipatory.

We are banked within a sloping farmer’s field, dense with the scent of grass that is almost hay. We’ve taken pictures of ourselves lolling in the sun. Neither of us looks our best – we are scratchy-eyed and dehydrated, there are tightening sore throats and yet we are jubilant; there has been too much sex. Our limbs are plaited, the bones jelly within, our eyelids will struggle to raise. You could bake us like this. We’ve attempted a crossword and laughed at our competitiveness, the paper rustles, a restless flicker.

‘Newton’s God,’ one of us murmurs.

At the time, though you can spot it, it does not occur to us to imagine that we will never get time like this again.

The day is blue and gold. Let’s say this is where we begin.


Hold onto that, the thought of a child so straightforward and kind. She scared me sometimes, with that dark-eyed observation. But you’re not supposed to think that, and this wasn’t one of those days.

That cookies not gonna eat itself, Muna says. Sunflowers are heel-ee-oh-trop-ic. Cornstarch is a polly-mer. That’s cornflour in English, mummy. Not flower like the rose. Remember who toad ya. Are you eating your cookie, mummy. I want some pop. Can I have a mermaid when I’m six?

Iain Rowan, author of ‘One of Us’, Free Culture Research Seminar

New Approaches To Storytelling In The Digital Age

From poetry on Instagram to Twitter short stories, moving graphic novels on Vine and seeing who reads your guerilla stories…social media offers new opportunities to get your prose, poetry and other work in front of new readers. This workshop will explore the possibilities and get you creating.

one of us.jpg

Free event but please email to register interest.

Iain Rowan is the author of One of Us and the director of the creative writing strand of the Sunderland Literature and Creative Writing Festival.

When: February 10th, 2017, 12pm-1pm

Where: Priestman Building, 115


Return to Me –

I’ve split the novel into three (potentially four) sections that, thanks to help, follow a sonata pattern. This is the second draft of the third section, trying to use the italics as a refrain through the piece, but will see how that works. Or if when I step back it all cracks and you paint over and start again!


We can see the truck below the angled field, the route we have come and where we need to go. ‘I see it all. Before we met, us now now, how we will be. All of it. It’s all there already.’

‘What do you see? Is it good?’

‘Would you stop if it wasn’t?

‘What do you mean?’

‘Us, this? If you knew what was to come? If you knew how bad it would be.’

We look for the blue and gold and meet with angry sky.


The dark-haired girl is following me, long hair a wagging finger, a cautionary tale. We have the same-sized feet. Her mustard dress and aubergine scarf, remind me of items I’ve tumbled into charity shops, belonging to another era.

I turn. Our same-sized feet do not stop at the same time. She advances.

Her smug stare meets my question.

Panic swells and amplifies. I turn, run, her shadow clings to me like spider’s webs.


We can see a woman in a salon sipping peppermint tea. Her arms cross on her lap, the thumb tucked in, she angles her head as the stylist displays what the woman already knows to be there. Nodding. Things are taken, shaken, dusted, a polite refusal and subsequent acquiescence of a tip and the woman reveals herself to a golden morning that matches her golden hair, is welcomed to a high street populated with florists and boutique cake shops, cafes that will glitter as the day coasts to dusk with sprinkled fairy lights, a town with a shoreline possessing a rainbow of beach huts and a throng of energy, liquorice allsorts of people to be unique within, a brighter echo of a place she once knew, but which is some three hundred and thirty nine miles away. And here, in this money-honeyed beach town not far from Orchard Grove, there is all the time in the world.

The door chimes to the Treacle Cafe. ‘Lucia.’

She smiles and her red dress swishes through tables and beyond grand glass cake displays, dainty English china and assortment of every kind of tea you could think of.


‘What a beautiful picture. Is that for me?’

The child, blonde, checks with the gentleman. ‘It was for Michael, but you can share?’

‘We’ll let Michael have it.’

Michael who is standing up to give an order to the waitress who already knows, ‘large cappuccino.’ She winks.

The woman scoops the child in a hug who is already glued back to her colouring and leans in towards the man, the man who is smartly dressed, refined. The type to carry a tasteful golf umbrella. Indeed, there is such an umbrella, raven with discreet mulberry stripes and a wooden handle. Her mother would approve of such a man.

‘You’re looking beautiful,’ he says, folding a broadsheet and taking her hand. ‘But you don’t need to pay someone for that to happen.’

She rolls her eyes and catches a dark movement in the glass. The smile is smeared and an illusion, a dark girl with long hair, a mustard cardigan and aubergine scarf. Her hair flicks as she escapes the window.

‘Lucia? Are you alright? You look…’

Two French polished fingernails steeple between her eyebrows. She squints and widens her eyes. ‘A migraine, maybe. It’ll pass. Too much peppermint tea in the salon.’

The waitress hurries a tray over. ‘Here, I brought water as well.’

‘Thank you, Lindsey,’ Michael says, still holding Lucia’s hand and we can see the glitter of two wedding rings, one smooth and grey, the other bold and brightly attractive. The family talk and drink water and tea and Michael returns to the paper, reading out sections and shaking his head while the woman nods and the child draws.

The door chime to the Treacle Cafe sends a tingling shiver through the warmth and familiarity of the cafe, we are confronted by a tall man, lean, leaner than we might anticipate, as though his skin has somewhat shrunk. The waitress takes a beat; he is unfamiliar, and slips over, smiling. The man is beautiful. He has a Viking’s face and his eyes, swimming-pool-blue, are glassy but nevertheless mesmeric. His alien tones order cappuccino to go.

When Lucia glances over her shoulder and out from family, every minute tension in her face, the slight tautness that creates a smile, that interested look, is smudged.

The man with the Viking face and swimming-pool-blue eyes is staring at her daughter.



If you put your hand over your eyes and squint, and you imagine hard, really hard now, see how you have sprung into a future not too far from now. You will see a bridge atop a slim road that ribbons below. Below the bridge you will see a body. The body will be naked from the waist up, the muscles baring the effect of a diminished warrior. Someone who has had to, or been able, to fight. The day will explode, golden, burning. It’s already positioned that way. Those who haven’t risen, already know. It’s a feeling that talks of Spring and chance. The warm riddles of an unfolding life. A day in which most people will chance a look at the sea, its yawning beach and skipping dogs, the bent kneed swivel of fathers skimming stones for daughters, they will breathe in and think: yes.

A runner presses on, muscles flexing and flashing, fists in gloves, breath an almost completed cyclic route that will lead almost inevitably to a body beneath the bridge, though it is not yet there. She will encounter a dark quick shape on the way down, too quick to decipher what she has seen as she is seeing it. It will all happen as if in an instant. As if we are experiencing Newton’s God.

Panting, the runner unplucks her earphones to examine the shape. On investigation, the shape will reveal itself as limbs, limbs arranged in such a fashion, that her stomach will contract. You see her turn away, make the call.

Muna, I asked the glass. Muna, I asked February 21st, overcast. Muna?

I heard only the whoosh of cars, the reversing of a lorry. Somewhere, recycling bottles are emptied into the blue crates the council make you pay for – one misses, strikes concrete, smashes.


The particulars of it all will always be out of focus, but there are some things a man cannot forget. When you go to a room to show you the body of a dead child, you actually want it to be someone else’s. Another father’s. With their kaleidoscope of memories and all the ways in which they’ve changed. Confrontational-cock-sure to conservative. Careful getting up the slide, Chimp. As a guy, no, as a man, you’re supposed to defend. That is your job. Fuck that office, that suit, all those guys under your say-so, that expense account. Whatever. None of it counts when you’re a dad. Careful going down, Monkey. Don’t wanna get splinters (the familiar ripple of irritation you feel towards Clare reddens; Clare who would shrug and say, so what if she breaks a bone, it’ll mend, it’ll learn her, I’m not wrapping her in cotton wool and, the last flicked dig, so light you wonder if you imagine it, not when you’ve got that so well covered). You wrap things up that are precious. Muna was precious. You should not be waiting for a room to be readied, your hands should not be sweaty and cupping your knee caps like a chess geek in the bleachers, your every movement surreal as you force yourself to contemplate it, what will it be like if they’re right – you are that man, you are that father? How the hell do you tell Clare?

‘Mr Munroe?’

You get up. You’ve left Clare in bed. You’ve not told her where you’re going, not like she cares. She’ll get up to smoke a couple of times. Something she does in pyjamas and boots at the bottom of the garden, staring out into the fields. Peering for the shape of their daughter in the distance where they lost her.

What you see of that girl who was uncovered, as you decipher the dead white static, is only this: she is not Muna. And, somehow, her wet brown hair looks like gravy.

Grayveh? Muna is talking to me from a time long ago.

‘Gravy,’ I say. ‘Why’re you talking like that?’

‘Grayveh grayveh graaaaaayveh. Ha ha ha!’

‘Mr Munroe?’

You blink. You’re in another room, a cupboard.

‘Muna says “grayveh”.’ I challenge the looks I get.

‘Mr Munroe, why did you lie about your whereabouts the evening before Muna’s disappearance?

‘Have you looked for someone with an accent? Look, I’m – that poor kid in there, her hair was – alright yeah. Okay yeah, sounds insane. But it looked like gravy, that thing you guys like spilled all over, anyway and it reminded me – well Muna said it just like that. “Grayveh.” Why would she do that?’

One of them fiddles with the button on their shirt; its thread is unravelling. ‘Friend from school. Could be anything. Can you answer the question, Mr Munroe?’

You’re nodding. ‘Could be the guy who was creeping into our house at night.’

‘Because you didn’t fix the window?’

I hear the white clock on the white wall add the time. ‘Mr Munroe – ‘

‘Fine. Because I fucked that girl who sold that story about me and I didn’t want Clare to have to go through that too. You all know that, can we -‘

‘Nice guy.’ The officers nod to each other.

I settle back into the chair, sieving through all the faces in our street, replaying their voices, our meetings. Neighbours, their visitors, grandkids. Who was I missing?


Muna?’ I asked the cotton of the duvet that reflected my breath in the static, navy nights in Orchard Grove, the house so chill I felt as though someone had ran ice over me in the night, that I glistened with it like slug trails.

Yes, mummy?’

Are you alright? Muna?’


‘I think that would be lovely with your complexion,’ I say. ‘The orange-red over the russet works better with your skin tone. It looks quite rocky.’

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ David says. His figure, even thin as he is now, always a confrontation.

The young woman looks as though she’s about to leave.

‘Will you take this one?’

‘I – ‘

‘This isn’t you.’ Hands on hips. He shrugs.

‘What do you want?’ I hiss.

‘What do you think?’

‘Where have you been?’

‘You know that, Clare.’

Do I? I had not wanted to look into what I know, I had not wanted to hear everything I missed. I was her mother. That man – that –

‘Lucia?’ The manager is bright and red-lipped herself. It’s our best seller.

I know, of course I do and I am already pulling at the threads of my life. Unravelling my new, perfect family. It is thrilling to walk out of the store, to coast down the street to the same truck.

We drive in silence. I think of my manager’s gaze, watching me to the door. I think of the gaze of whoever took Muna, how they must have watched and measured. Of Niamh’s observation of us, in obsessive and then discreet ways, how she must have felt some bizarre gratification that life had been so cruel to us as we had been so cruel to her. I think of the dark-haired girl in the rear view mirror, the one behind my eyelids, whose expression I cannot read.

‘Where are we going?’ I say and David glances at me and then back to the road. Because of course I know.

What do you want?

The dark-haired girl’s stare meets mine, smug.


They stop along a services at a country road. It has a black cat winking in the slanted afternoon light. They part to pump gas, to dab their faces with hospital-blue paper towels. To check with themselves: what are they doing? They call people who might be concerned, pacing orbits enough distance from the other for these conversations to just be inaudible.

She . .. will you?

I’m sorry…

not too long.

I just . . .

love you too.

Their doors a tap-danced flourish percussive, the truck shut up, the two of them inside, which grits up, spits dust, smooths up towards a living myth, their old lives. Muna, still lost, still waiting. And the clinging dark-haired girl, invisibly watches.

Finding Muna / Return to Me

Still undecided on the title, but have cleaved one off at least.


Locked in the house tonight writing, though many interruptions of people looking for 3A. Pizza and clothes delivery, of which I’ve ordered neither, though it’s becoming tempting to a) stick sign on door: Not 3A b) just accept the inevitable (and the pizza)

This sort of thing has been happening:




Anyway, trying to cultivate more shape, more of the police bits and pieces.

Return to Me

‘A reward raises the profile, Ms Williamson. But it could jeopardise Muna’s safety. It’s a good idea to gather some advice before we get back to those who’ve pledged donations. But it’s a bit of a turnaround and a big ask, given the decision you’re making.’

‘Wait – just – how?’ My fingers span out. How does a £2 million reward make things any more dangerous?’

The officer looks to David and David presses his chin onto the dining table. I remember thinking it was a curiously boyish thing to do.


We thank the benefactors and kindly turn them down. And a day later, we are squinting at microphones and into lights and questions.

They’ll call me poker-faced.


The car stops at a crossing on the way home. A woman in grey with blonde hair. I lean forward. ‘Isn’t -? ’ Niamh holds the weight of her belly, or maybe, as I used to, is just reminding herself of the future. She looks into our windows and I shrink, ashamed.

David looks at his knees. ‘She can’t see,’ he mumbles. The lights change.


Monday. Christmas hits and the world went out of sync with its own time again. In those first days that Muna was missing, I was reminded oddly of the sense of holiday, where time doesn’t follow regulation.

And our days had been given new habits and structures. The police had gradually drifted. David placed a plate before me. The bread was a little rigid. I could see it was a turkey sandwich.

‘Got it in the Tesco Extra when I went for the milk.’

‘They still out there?’

He peered at the closed curtains, as if that would help him see through the front room window. I suppose the question was rhetorical anyway. We kept forgetting to switch lights on and the dark had jellied around us.

His palm smoothed my hair at the crown. ‘Light?’

‘Uh-huh.’ I push up my glasses. I’d printed out all my mobile records, I’m searching blindly for a break in the patterns of all these circles and lines. The police had been digitally logging all the house phone calls. I almost don’t want to ask. ‘But could you do yours when you get chance?’

The smallest stutter in his movements. ‘Agh – damn. Damn bulb must be broken.’ He tries the far lamp, nothing, clicks the switch at the wall, but the stereo banks. It’s maybe just curiosity, why he does it. I hear the little wink as David presses play, a mechanical swish as the disc swirls, the parenthesis before. And then – the cool pooling of the piano solo, that small, murmuring query which would reach for and crash into the charging violin that destroyed all my doubts and where I finally let myself fell in love with a man I wasn’t supposed to have. All that muscled, supple beauty streaks into our house, congeals like fat around our current, interminable terror.

I clip the disc from the player and leave David to wonder, if he has the energy to. Upstairs, I secret the CD into one of Muna’s favourite books, Bear and Rabbit, smooth my skirt and fit myself at Muna’s tiny desk as David clinks about downstairs. In the light, I notice a footprint on her floor. Not ours, Muna’s, just the heel of her wellingtons. Her sneaky disregard for our rules. I remember the time David woke sobbing, or was it me, and I held him so tight to show how much I loved him. So tight I could have broken his neck. I rested my chin on the desk.

There will never be music in this house again.



Life Support (how to fight oppression with stories)

I’m developing a new project called Life Support, which has a very Waltonsesque pay-it-forward notion of empowering us all to impact change, feel useful, understand our own power to invest in our own and others’ lives, in a myriad of ways. It’s always struck me that narratives can create conrete actions, but in quite a dislocated and disenchanted world, this can feel impossible.

But I’ve noticed lots of people wanting to do good, such as writers like AJ Ashworth, Vanessa Gebbie, Paul McVeigh. And yesterday I watched A Streetcat Named Bob and again was struck by people’s fundamental generosity and kindness and desire to better themselves in the face of extremely difficult situations. I suppose this is where Blake’s Auguries of Innocence and Experience actually start to make sense. We can see the best of people and ourselves in the darkest of situations. Last time I checked, 2016 is a pretty dark situation.

So how can we make actually just make stuff a bit better with words?



My suggestion is we share a link to a story / pic / poem, or record your words as I’ve done, about something or someone that’s dear to you, use the hashtag #LifeSupport, tag a charity / interest of your choice & what you’ve done e.g. I donated. I retweeted. I favourited. All of it matters.

Here’s mine: Steven  @mariecurieuk I donated #LifeSupport

Yours could simply be: #LifeSupport – I retweeted

Or: My friend’s art site @evwellsart #LifeSupport – I shared


It’s not particularly about the money, but a gathering sense of force. You can do something incredible with a simple retweet – you never know who’s paying attention. Buy someone a hot drink, or just simply be a bit nicer to people. Give your time. Collectively, who knows…


I sort of hope in the long run the project will enable people to share stories about loved ones or the things in life we’d like to change. It would be nice if we could all feel, even fleetingly, more connected to people and the idea that we can make life better for each other (whatever your skill might be) as well as raising awareness of the inspirational people who already do this everyday. So why not be one of those people?


A Housecat Named Beau