top of page


Sallie Durham


I live in rural East Sussex with my husband Mark, daughter Zhenya, our cats and a chocolate-brown Newfoundland called Florence.


My love of writing began when I was nine years old with an adventure story about a shipwrecked Victorian family. The story earned me three gold stars from my teacher. One day at lunch I watched it being passed around the teachers’ table and thought I was in trouble because I’d written cockney dialogue: but this was the reason I’d achieved those three gold stars. The school secretary typed out my story and it was read to subsequent generations. My mum squirrelled it away along with school photographs and name tags; I hadn’t known this until after she died. Unfortunately, the original work was lost during a house move.


My writing life has not been straightforward as I changed direction a few times before going to university at the age of twenty-nine. I graduated from Sussex University with an Honours degree in English literature and afterwards (somewhat predictably) qualified as an English teacher, starting out in post-compulsory/adult education, then teaching English to speakers of other languages. I’ve worked in advertising agencies in London and was a community reporter in Nottingham during the miners’ strike. I’ve also been a waitress, belly dancer, auxiliary nurse, cook and, until the pandemic hit, a learning support assistant for a neurodiverse child in a local primary school where I sometimes doubled as an art teacher, and ran a lunchtime art club.


My big escapes are art and movies. I’m equally at home walking around London or the countryside. I have acquired a writing den. This is a dream I nurtured for many years that was finally realised when Mark sourced a delapidated Victorian shepherd’s hut in a field in the Cotswolds and spent months restoring it. He transformed it from something that looked like a bombed-out Anderson shelter to a tranquil space surrounded by flowers, the only interruption being the feet of birds tap-dancing on the roof, and occasional visitors for tea and cake. A friend insisted we name her – all shepherd’s hut have a name – and so she became Iris.


Iris and me and a cup of tea

I write in whichever genre I feel is calling me, but these days it is nearly always poetry. Like many poets I also write fiction – though I prefer the immediacy of crafting a poem. It can start with a mood, a word, an image, an emotion. Once I tap into its energy the poem will begin to reveal itself. I’m an active person and often compose when I’m walking the dog or riding my bike. Gone are the sedentary days of sitting for hours at a desk. Having a laptop is liberating as it means I can work anywhere – cafés, libraries, sometimes in my car or (desperate for head space) inside my local church. I will now contradict myself by saying that I sometimes get ideas when I’m in the bath, letting my mind drift and wander – my poem The Cranefly was composed in the bath.

I sometimes write flash fiction and found unexpected success with The Elephant which won the Lightship International Flash Fiction Prize in 2012. Flash fiction is something that usually happens by accident. I woke up one morning with the first line of The Elephant running through my head: ‘One day my husband brought home a baby elephant’. This may have been a response to the surprise appearance of the Newfoundland puppy I had no idea we were getting, who quickly became a treasured member of our family. Once I’d chosen her name, Florence, I knew

she was here to stay. Look under Flash Fiction and you can read this story along with The Saga of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria which appeared in the online magazine What The Dickens.


Many of my stories and poems have been highly placed in competitions and/or published in magazines and anthologies (please see below). I stopped submitting work for a few years as life got in the way as it does with a school-aged child and that ‘toad’ called work (as Philip Larkin would say). During the pandemic of 2020 I was unable to do my job because schools were closed. No European students were coming to UK to learn English. It freed me to think, reassess, re-set.


During that long summer lockdown I made a decision to reconnect with poetry. Once I’d committed it was easy. The poems seemed to flow of their own volition. The countryside got under my skin and I felt a kinship in a way I’d never experienced before. I feel deeply grateful for this gift of time: I truly appreciate that time is not a limitless commodity; that it can run out for any one of us, on any day.


I wrote a bunch of poems inspired by my daily walks. I became obsessed with a field of sunflowers. I noticed how birds were bolder and more vociferous. I looked up at the endlessly blue sky, devoid of aircraft noise and vapour trails. Few cars were on the roads and more people were cycling, walking. The world seemed purified.


Indoors, older poems languished on my laptop. I offered them to the light. I started submitting to competitions again and broke the stagnant spell with a shortlisted poem The Anonymity of Hotels (Hedgehog Press anthology Looking Out, Peering In).


Then – at last – the most exciting prize of my life came in the early summer of 2021 when I returned from a post-lockdown, belated birthday camping trip for my daughter to discover I was joint winner of The Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize. My debut collection I Left My Hair in San Francisco was published by Indigo Dreams in May 2022. This was more than a prize: it was the validation I needed; the joy and freedom of being heard.


Another poem On the Importance of Being a Tree was highly commended in the Indigo Dreams Wild Nature Poetry Competition 2021 and appears in the anthology Voices For the Silent. I’m in excellent company, with new and established poets giving voice to the defenceless.


I am now a subscriber and regular contributor to Indigo Dreams’ well loved and enduring magazines: Reach edited by Ronnie Goodyer and The Dawntreader edited by Dawn Bauling. I love being part of this community; receiving the magazines is a great way of staying in touch with other poets. I was voted Reach Poet of the Year (2023) and offered a guest spot in The Dawntreader, Spring issue 2024.


What’s next? Having poems in circulation has galvanized me to keep writing. In fact this keeps me going during current health woes. Again, I practice gratitude – to my husband for building me a shepherd’s hut and understanding my need to write; to my daughter for hanging out with me and offering the clearsighted wisdom of youth; to my dear friends for their kindness and encouragement. Special thanks to my friend Jane Tyrrell for designing this website with her usual artistry and flair, and, not least of all, to Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams, multiple award-winning publishers who have faced challenges of their own but continue to give so much to their poetry family.

Competitions and publications >

bottom of page