Getting into writing – an interview with Sarah J.Dobbs of Sunderland Story Award

sarah J Dobbs

Why did you start your publication?

We started the story award in order to give another platform to the short story and we particularly wanted to encourage writers in Sunderland and the surrounding area. The reach went a little wider than expected in our first year – with entrants from Iceland, France and America. We’re lucky enough to have been supported in the past with judging from Unthank Books and this year from the world’s first professor in Short Fiction, Ailsa Cox.

What is the most gratifying element of publishing the written word?

It’s lovely when you know that you’ve slightly adjusted someone’s perspective. That because they were involved in the competition, they can see how writing can be part of their future. That’s nice.

What are your happiest memories in your writing/publishing career?

There was a moment of relief when I published my first novel. Where the accumulating queries about your own writing felt answered. But these begin again – I think that’s something to acknowledge and celebrate about writing. It’s a thing you do that you will do forever, your benchmark moves and you never quite land. I don’t think anyone feels like that. I do gain a lot of joy in communicating some of my own perspectives on writing, authors and ideas that have guided, and seeing the impact of that on other writers.

How do you handle success and failure?

With Turkish Delight.

What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?

Not writing feels like you’re holding your breath. So that’s a bad thing. Also, lately, an outline helps me. Sometimes that outline is a bit of a shapeshifter, it needs rewriting as the story takes a different direction but yes, when you’re exhausted a straightforward crib-sheet for chapter 9, say, definitely keeps the gears moving.

What is your advice to young and new writers?

It’s honestly just to read. You lose that joy sometimes and if you lose the joy of reading for a while, so what, read for craft or structure and every now and then, another story/novel will come along that wakes up the things that really put that writing drive into gear.

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

My house is built of books, it would seem. Perhaps they’re good insulation? I like the possibilities with eBooks and digital fiction. People have done some really interesting and experimental work. We’re also working with Bandit Fiction to publish the winners of this year’s award.

Do you blog?

When I’ve run out of things to read.

Do you self-publish?

I’ve worked with companies who do and I’ve self-published some of my own writing tips. At the end of the day you want your writing to be available to be read. Bigger publishers generally increase that reach. Still, whatever platform helps that particular piece is fine with me, but it is a nice feeling when a publisher chooses your work. So much goes into that decision, that it feels a useful encouragement.

sunderland short story award

If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.

Our – long title! – University of Sunderland in Association with Waterstones Short Story Award closes on the 1st March. Submissions are open and free to 11-17 year old writers, £5 for adults. Multiple and international submissions are welcome!




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