Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli and worked as a primary school teacher. ‘Not Thomas’, her debut novel for adults, was shortlisted for the 2017 Guardian’s Not the Booker prize, the 2018 Waverton Good Read Award, and was optioned for television. Her second novel, ‘Emmet and Me’, was published by Honno Press in May, 2021.
Her writing has been shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award and she is a member of Hay Festival’s Writers at Work. She has written four children’s books under the name Wendy White, and the first of these won the Tir na-nOg Award in 2014.
While west Wales remains her home, Sara is a frequent visitor to Ireland where she loves spending time browsing the many bookstores of Dublin. She is an avid reader and theatre-goer.
She is represented by Lucy Irvine of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop.
You may be wondering why my website is called ‘Not Me’. Well…
There are two very different sides to my writing. The novels I’ve written – so far – have been about children. ‘Emmet and Me’ is the tale of two ten-year-olds – Claire, a child displaced from her parents, and Emmet, who’s an inmate at an industrial school, a cruel place to grow up; while ‘Not Thomas’ tells the story of five-year-old Tomos who longs to return to somewhere he calls home, but is living instead with his neglectful mother. Both novels have dark themes, despite their young narrators. They are novels for adults, but my writing isn’t only for grown-ups.
In a parallel life, I write for children too
My non-writing work has revolved around children. Every job I’ve ever had has involved working with them, from selling pocket-money toys as a teenager on a Saturday market stall, to working as an assistant in the children’s library, then becoming a primary school teacher. I’d always loved writing, and writing for children felt like a natural progression of the jobs I’d worked at previously. And so I began my writing journey as a children’s author.
In 2014, my debut children’s book, written under my real name, Wendy White, won the Tir nan-Og Award. When I later had a novel for adults accepted for publication – an unsettling story in the voice of a five-year-old – the idea of a pen name surfaced. By then I had written three more books for children, and so a change of name made a distinction between my children’s fiction and my writing for adults. With the publication of ‘Not Thomas’, Sara Gethin was created.
There are two sides to my writing, and so I use two names
Sara Gethin is the one that’s ‘Not Me’
Read on for more info about Wendy and Sara…
I grew up in a council house – the very one I was born in – in Llanelli, an industrial town on the coast of west Wales. My dad worked in the local tinplate works and my mum looked after us children full-time. When I was seven, my parents achieved their hard-saved-for ambition and bought their own place, and my older brother, sister and I moved down the road to a smaller house with no central heating and an outdoor toilet.
Night-time trips to the loo were an adventure
By the early 1970s, I was heading for secondary school and we’d had a toilet installed inside. Heating, though, was still on the wish-list. I adored books, and up until the moment I got distracted by boys, I visited the library every week, encouraged by my parents, borrowing as many books as I could and reading them as fast as possible. All that reading helped me get a place at the local grammar school, and after my A’levels I took a degree in Philosophy & Theology at Lampeter, a tiny Welsh university.
I don’t remember why I chose that course – English was my real love
After graduating, I worked as a library assistant, a childminder and a primary school teacher. My first teaching posts, back in the early 90s, were in disadvantaged areas, and the poverty and neglect I witnessed left a lasting impression on me.
In my twenties I was diagnosed with a heart condition which, by the time I was forty, forced me to give up my career in teaching. I write full time now. Having lived in Brussels and Berkshire, home is west Wales again – although I’ve swapped urban living for somewhere a little more rural.
If I could live anywhere else, I’d choose Ireland
I have family in Dublin and my husband and I love spending time there – drifting between the wonderful cafés, theatres and bookshops. It’s a vibrant city and a complete contrast to our estuary hometown in Wales.
Thank you for reading!
One of my favourite bookstores in Dublin: The Winding Stair, near the Ha’penny Bridge