Behind Closed Doors

I’m really excited to be able to tell you that the 2017 York Writers Anthology is now available to order!

Order it now from Amazon

behind closed doorsBehind Closed Doors is a wonderful collection of stories and poems from the amazingly talented York Writers. As one of the team who put it together, it’s been my great pleasure to see every entry and the standard is really high.

The cover is home grown too, based on a drawing by Vicki Bartram that has been re-engineered by Richard Cobbett, both long standing members of the group.

We’re hoping to have it available for sale at our Lit Fest Hub event next week, but if you can’t wait that long you can order from Amazon now.

Magic Oxygen Result

Saturday was my daughter’s sixth birthday. I spent the day setting up a party and doing crafts with her school friends. Her big desire this year was a Hatchimal, she asked her friends to give her birthday money which they did and when it was all added up she had enough. In the late afternoon we went to the toy shop to buy the prized toy, and by evening we were settled in front of the TV watching her choice of film; something with cute kittens in it (Nine Lives).

At 7pm I plugged in my headphones and pulled up the awards page on Magic Oxygen, looking forward to a night of poetry before the result but…it was not to be. Due to a technical fault there was no live webcast of the event.

Results were posted via email, instead. My story didn’t make it into the top 5, and whilst (obviously) that would have been wonderful I’m still very proud to have made it to the shortlist at all. Magic Oxygen is an international competition, this was its third year and over 800 people entered for the first; I don’t know the number of entries this time around but I would imagine it was as many if not more. To get into the top ten of a field like that is something to be proud of, and I’m looking forward to getting my copy of the anthology so I can read the other entries which sound amazing. (You should buy one too, they plant a tree for every copy sold!)


Tylluan Valley is not my normal type of story. It’s a gothic inspired horror story, that stands alone in my work for the genre and the narrative voice. It’s a real one-off. I wrote it for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge in 2016; it was highly commended in the first heat but I didn’t make it further than that. I’ve revisited the story since then, tweaked it a bit (particularly the ending) and, while I like it a lot, it still doesn’t really feel mine. I don’t write ghost stories (although maybe I should because I won an award for one last year!)

I’m not sure what will happen to that story, next. I might revisit it, and enter it into something else. I might just let it sit in my ‘resting’ folder. Plenty of time to decide what to do with that in due course.

Right now, I’m hopeful that my entry for this years Short Story Challenge, Redshift, will get me into the second round but if not? Well, Tylluan Valley and Magic Oxygen have told me that all is not lost.

Check your email

It’s been a hectic month, since Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter was published, in a good way of course but it has left me wondering sometimes what day of the week it is.

Part of my regular routine is to check work that I’ve submitted for publishing or contests and see how I got on; I remember doing this about the 10th of February, but there was no news. Then I got busy with school visits and marketing, and I hadn’t checked again.

Today I got a phone call; it was Simon from Magic Oxygen Publishing and he was ringing to let me know that my story, Tylluan Valley, had been shortlisted for their 2017 Literatary Prize! All the shortlisted entries will be included in the Prize Anthology, which is available to pre-order.

The good news had originally come via email, but in the bustle of the past couple of weeks I’d missed it, which is a shame as there were a few points over those weeks when I could have done with a boost.

The winner will be announced on Saturday, 11th March at a special event in Lyme Regis. That’s my daughter’s sixth birthday so I can’t attend but I will be watching via webcast – will you be joining Magic Oxygen, or me?

The moral of the story, though, is check your email.

Who knows what good news might be waiting there?

Market Research

Last year, I gave a proof copy of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter to one of the teachers at my local primary school. The teacher offered to use it as her class reader, and get the children to review the book for me. When I did some workshops at the school recently, I was given the forms back; 29 reviews from my target readership! Terrifying and exciting, all at the same time.

The class was made up of 12 girls and 17 boys, who ranged in ages from 7 to 9. These are their responses:

How much did you like this book?

Average 4.4 out of 5. There was less gender difference than I had expected; the average for boys was 4.5, for girls 4.2. (The rating on Amazon at time of writing is 4.9)

What did you like about it?

I took the answers to this question and broke it down into concepts, putting things like When Alfie went to the Monkesto together with Travelling to a parallel universe together under transported. Here’s a word cloud with the most popular choices; number one was…



What could be improved?

A few simply didn’t like Sci Fi. A couple wanted illustrations. One or two had technical suggestions about description or the use of cliff hangers. But the most popular answer, which a delightful 17 of them chose was…


Good for the ego, even if it doesn’t give me much to work on 😉

Who was your favourite character?

I honestly thought this would be an easy win for Alfie, but as you’ll see he had some competition not just from the ship’s computer, Mr Monk, but also the bad guy! (Also glad to see Omar getting a mention there as he features more in Frozen Prince!)


Who do you think would enjoy this story?

Some children answered this question with an age range, which I’ve converted to a bar chart below. I’d agree with them generally, though I am surprised that so many included teenagers!

9 children thought only Sci Fi lovers would enjoy it, and three specifically mentioned boys; but six commented they thought boys and girls would enjoy it.


So there we have it. The scores on the doors, courtesy of 29 of my target market. I have to take into account some personal bias from the reviewers; some of them know me, and they were excited to have been asked their opinion by a real, live, author. Even so? I’m thrilled to bits.

Asking people to read your work can be a very frightening prospect but it is also very, very, rewarding.

You can buy your copy of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter here.

School Visits

I knew, from the very first time I thought about it,  that I wanted my book launch to be at the local primary school; my kids’ school. I also wanted to make sure that if I ‘took’ from them, in terms of their time and energy to promote a book signing, that I would want to give back. I had a meeting with school in early January, and suggested that I come in to school and run workshops with the different year groups and over the course of the discussion and my planning, I realised these would need to be done on a class by class basis.

I wrote up outlines for about five different workshops/ talks that I could offer and told the school that I’d be available to them all that week; the staff discussed it and I was blown away to be given a timetable that involved visits to every single class in the school over the course of the week and finished with a book signing after school.

All the classes from Reception up to year 4 had chosen to have ‘What Makes  a Hero?’ a workshop that looks at the idea of being a hero from early myths (Hercules), the dictionary definition of the word, and some fictional and real life examples of heroes that, hopefully, bust a few preconceptions and leave the kids not only thinking they could be heroes, but realising that they already are. This was the same PowerPoint presentation for year 1-4, it was only the level of the discussion afterwards that differed; reception had their own tailor made version that was just 30 minutes long as I wasn’t sure if they would sit still for that long! I delivered 8 sessions of this workshop, and loved each and every one. The kids were interested, engaged and came up with some great knowledge to share and interesting questions.


One of the year 3/4 classes has been reading Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter for their class reader, and presented me with their reviews! More about those in another post, I promise.

Years 5 & 6 had chosen, ‘How Aliens Change the World’ – the workshop that I first gave at Howsham Mill last year. It’s a fifteen minute talk about how Sci Fi has brought about social change, followed by 30 minutes of the kids designing their own alien race to bring light to a problem, and the final 15 minutes with them presenting. Just as with Howsham, the kids at Headlands were fearless in the scale of problems they were willing to tackle and completely brilliant to work with. It was great to hear that I had made people think again about Science Fiction, which so often gets dismissed as a genre.

The librarian gave me a lovely thank you and a bunch of flowers; I had somehow got so caught up in what the school were doing for me (gaining experience, being able to sell books) that I had forgotten that I was also giving quite a lot to them! The book signing wet well at the end of the day, it was lovely to chat to the kids again and see them get to enthusiastic about reading Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter.

I expected to be tired from the experience, but was actually really energised by it (just as well, as this week is half term!) I am currently reading more about inspiring children to read and write, and planning to add more workshops to the list I am going to offer to other schools.

I hope that a good part of my work in the year ahead will be school visits. I’ve definitely been bitten by the bug!

If you’d like to arrange a school visit, please check out this page with more information.


The subtext of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter, the thing that I hope children will ‘get’ while they’re enjoying the story is that they’re capable of more than adults, usually, think they are. I feel like kids thoughts, feelings and opinions are often overlooked, because they’re young. They lack experience, right? How can they know? And yet still, sometimes, they do.

I was told, as I was working on Alfie, that I was unlikely to get published unless I made Alfie a lot older. 14. Not because there was anything wrong with the story I had written, but because publishers want to maximise the profit on a book, and they believe that kids only want to read books about characters that are older than them, and 14 is older than all the kids in the 9-12-year-old age group; therefore, maximum profit. When I asked the kids, though? They didn’t care so much how old the character was, they just wanted an exciting story.

So it made sense to me, that when I was asking for reviews of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter, that I asked kids. No, they might not be the ones who order the stock in a book shops, or decide what the local library are spending their precious resources on, but those people should be listening to them, the readers, not market forces. My first priority in marketing Shape Shifter was to compile a list of kid bloggers, and approach them for reviews.

Today, the first blogger review was published. Mika, a 12 year old who blogs as Sci-Fi Pie wrote me a great review. It’s full of the sorts of things a reviewer would love to hear; ‘a protagonist that everyone can identify with’, ‘it’s funny, exciting and full of suspense when it needs to be’ and ‘I’d recommend this book to any young readers’.

Read the review here.

I think, though, that the part that makes me happiest is when Mika says that Alfie’s choices, ‘perfectly shows the difference between how a child would think and how an adult would think in this situation’.

I didn’t write this book for adults. I didn’t write this book for a demographic. I didn’t write this book to maximise profits.

I wrote this book for kids.

We have liftoff!

Yesterday was launch day. It didn’t go as planned.
I’d emptied my calendar for the day, so I could be completely focused on Alfie. But in the end, my kids were both off school sick, and I wasn’t feeling too great myself, I spent the day in my PJ’s under a blanket. Good job the book launch event isn’t until next month!

However, it was still a wonderful day. We tipped the heights of #62 on Amazon for the paperback, and #20 for the Kindle version (Young Adult/Science Fiction and Fantasy/Science Fiction/Action Adventure). I don’t know what sales were like from Amazon, I’ll find out when I get a statement from SilverWood, but it was a record day for visits to this website and I was pleased with direct orders.

The Thunderclap went ahead, giving 95,000 plus people a link to this website (hence the record day) and I felt so supported, seeing my social media lighting up with Alfie Slider. Thank you.

And then there were the reviews. The first one came in mid-morning – 5 stars, and was soon joined by several more.

Alfie Slider, you have liftoff.

To infinity, and beyond 😉

Thank you

Tomorrow, Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter will be officially published.

It’s been an amazing journey over the last two(ish) years since I started writing, and there have been many ups and downs along the way; but this post isn’t about that. This post is about saying thank you to all the amazing people who have helped me along the way.

Thank you to my children; Aiden and Niamh. You’ve been my inspiration, my first readers. my harshest critics and my most fervent supporters.

Thank you to my beta readers, Joseph, Nicole, Monique, Ayda and Nancy Mae. You gave me great insight into what worked and what didn’t, and your enthusiasm kept me going when the rejections came in.

Thank you to my colleagues from York Writers and beyond, especially the members of the Novelist Support Group. It is no exaggeration to say that this book wouldn’t have happened without you, and your warmth, enthusiasm and expertise.

Thank you to my friends and family, especially Caroline, Sally, and Jen who have read for me, lifted me up when I was down and celebrated my successes. I’ve been blown away with the support, the desire to help and see me succeed. I’m truly humbled and grateful to have you.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on social media. Reading this blog, following me on Twitter, liking the Facebook page and joining the Thunderclap. As an Indie author, anything that helps me get my message out is invaluable. All the likes, shares, re-tweets, comments? They made me feel hopeful that others shared my enthusiasm for this story.

Thank you to Silverwood books, especially my publishing assistant Annie who was the first to read Alfie Slider and championed it. Also huge props to their design department for coming up with the perfect cover. Really, it’s amazing. Everyone I’ve shown it to has loved it.

Thank you to the schools, bookshops, libraries and events who have let me visit, or are going to let me visit in the coming months and to the media for their coverage.  I am so excited by what this year has to offer.

Finally, the most important thank you of all. For Valentine’s Day a few years back, my husband bought me a course on writing for children. Since then he has been relentlessly supportive. He made Alfie Slider possible not just in a practical sense, but by making me believe it was possible each and every single time I faltered. Thank you, David.

Tomorrow is quite literally a dream come true for me; my childhood ambition has come to fruition. I am an author, my book is in the British Library! Alfie Slider is a little bit magic, there’s an energy to it that escapes and makes people’s eyes shine with excitement. Now I’ve released him into the world, and I get to sit back and see that spread around the globe.


Thank you.


Beta Readers


Aiden, Phillipa, Joseph, Niamh, Ayda, Monique and Nancy Mae – the elite of Beta Readers

I’d like to introduce you to some very important people. Those amazing kids up there all played an important part in Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter getting into print. Three of them were the inspiration for characters in the book (Alfie, Amy and Lizzie) and all of them read the story and told me what they liked, and what they didn’t. And yes, you will notice a certain family resemblance between me, Aiden and Niamh; they’re my children. Write what you know 😉

These kids (especially Joseph, the young man nearest me wearing the black coat) kept me going through the grind of editing, through the rejection from agents, through the uncertainty about whether, having written one I could do another. They asked interesting questions, they answered my questions, and they showed me that kids really love Alfie, Amy, the Monkesto and Mr Monk.

With just two days until the book launches, I’m feeling incredibly grateful to lots of people for helping me along the way but I will always have a special place in my heart for these guys. They’re amazing, they really are.

Young Writers

So, pre-order copies of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter are going out now, and I’m asking people if they’d like them signed. One friend of my husband’s asked if I could write a message encouraging her daughter, known as Piggle, to keep writing. Piggle, she said, was losing her joy in writing because of the technical way that stories are taught in school these days.

Well, that just happens to be a bit of a bugbear of mine, and try as I might I couldn’t come up with a pithy comment to scribble in the front of a book to address it. So I wrote Piggle a letter, and I’m sharing it here in case it’s helpful to anyone else.


Piggle with her copy of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter

Dear Piggle
I heard a rumour that you sometimes get discouraged from writing your amazing stories and poems because of all the rules that they teach you in school. I can understand that. I am still learning about writing, so I can do it better: At the grand old age of 46 I have started working towards my Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I’m learning a lot, but when I sit down to write stories, I hear all the voices of my teachers, the authors of books about writing that I’ve read, and the other students on my course whispering to me and telling me that I’m doing it wrong.

But here’s the thing : There didn’t used to be any ‘wrong’ when it came to stories. Stories are wild things. Stories are thoughts, that swirl around in people’s brains and until very recently the only way that stories (and I mean poems too) were told was orally. When the light faded, people would sit near the fire and those who were good at weaving them would entertain everyone else with stories. Those stories would be a bit different every time, they were never really finished and certainly never perfect. They relied on the memory of the person telling them, and I expect that they changed a bit depending on who was listening. The storytellers told the story in the way that people would enjoy them the most.

You know how books are sometimes called novels? And that novel means ‘new and different from what has gone before’? That’s because when books started to be printed, that was something new. That was the first time that stories had to be finished. The only way something can be finished is if we know what ‘finished’ looks like for that thing. That’s when all these rules about how you should use punctuation and things came about; they weren’t designed to help with storytelling, they were designed to hold stories into a set pattern.

And just like I did above, sometimes it’s good to break those rules. There’s a writer called Cormac McCarthy who hardly uses any punctuation and would definitely fail his SATs. When asked why he didn’t punctuate, he said he didn’t want to, ‘blot the page up with weird little marks’. His most famous book, The Road, won a Pulitzer Prize – if you haven’t heard of that, it’s one of the biggest writing prizes in America. Sometimes, breaking the rules is exactly the right thing to do.

Like I said, stories are wild things. They live in our brains, feeding off our imaginations and they don’t like being put in cages. They’re also a part of us, and that’s why it can feel like we’re the ones being constrained when we have to use all those rules to hold the story on the page – especially if we’re writing to show our teachers that we have learned all the rules they wanted to teach us. Writing like that can make it feel like you’re doing it wrong, it can suck the fun out of it. Do you know why? Because the most important thing about writing stories is leaving enough wildness in them, so it can leap off the page and start whizzing around in someone else’s imagination.

Still, learning about writing is important; it’s the only way that we are going to get any better at it. Do you know what has taught me the most about writing? Writing. For all the courses I’ve done, the books I’ve read, the Literacy lessons I’ve helped with at my children’s school, the thing that has taught me the most is writing more stories. Each and every story that I write teaches me something different: What worked well? What didn’t? Which parts of the story were exciting? How did other people feel about them? So, even when I feel like I’m doing it all wrong, or that I can’t tell the story the way I really want to because of the rules, I keep writing.

I hope you will too, because there is only one Piggle. You are the only person who has seen everything you’ve seen, done everything you’ve done and felt everything you’ve felt. Your stories are unique, and wonderful and important. You are the only person that can set your stories free, so they can inspire other people.

You’re about to read Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter. It’s my first book and even though I’ve read it about a zillion times, and it’s been proof read by a professional, when I look at it now there are still some sentences that make me unhappy, things I would like to change. I don’t think most readers notice them though, they’re too busy enjoying the story.

Very soon, I’m going to have the second Alfie Slider book ready to send to agents and publishers but before I send it to them (who will judge it by the rules) I need to know if the people I wrote it for (smart kids, like you) will enjoy it. Would you read it for me? Not to tell me about my SPaG, but to tell me whether you like the story, how it made you feel, whether there was still enough wild imagination left in it to spark ideas in your brain too. And, if you like, you can send me something you’ve written and I will do the same for you.

Best Wishes

Sarah Dixon