The writer is a lonely hunter

gailaldwin

Worst Wedding Ever in Salisbury

Rather than attending a wedding, we booked seats to see the show at The Playhouse. The play is written by Chris Chibnall, also known for Broadchurch (the third and final ITV series starts on 27 February). The Worst Wedding Ever was a great entertainment, combining slapstick and humour with moments of poignant sadness leaving me with the hope of a happy future for the couple at the centre of the story. I also enjoyed the wedding band who played in the foyer prior to the performance and cropped up in unusual circumstances during the play.  You can read a review of Worst Wedding Ever here.

While in Salisbury, we had a delicious lunch at Charter 1227 Restaurant. Unfortunately the dessert arrived with two spoons and I ended up sharing mine with David. (The mini crème brûlée was particularly delicious.)

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What did you do this weekend?

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Walking and writing

We spent the weekend in Fowey and took an amazing walk around the coastal path where this photo was taken – hard to believe it’s January from looking at this.

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The journey back took us inland along the Saint’s Way. This path was rediscovered in 1984 when local ramblers found a series of forgotten granite stiles. The circular route was labelled ‘strenuous’ and ‘muddy’ and with adjectives like that, I would normally have avoided it. But, with my new fitness routine established, everything was fine.

At my desk on Monday, I received feedback on a writing submission I made earlier in the month. The lovely Suzie at Writers in the Alley forwarded a request from an agency interested in using local writing for a South West Trains advertising campaign. I rang the company and with a ten-minute deadline submitted some work. Two pieces of flash fiction were shortlisted for presentation to the client. When I learnt more about the proposal I was scared silly that my stories would end up on one of those huge ‘out of home’ posters opposite the platform at London underground stations. I needn’t have worried. South West Trains didn’t go for the idea and I’m left feeling disappointed and relieved.

On the upside, I have received some good news. My application for a writing residency at Brisons Veor has been accepted and I’ll be spending a couple of weeks at Cape Cornwall later in the year.

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A good start

img_0963The first snow drops appeared in our garden at the weekend and it’s always something to celebrate. More are pushing their way through the earth and soon there will be a shock of white on the bank. Other good news this morning came in an email from Nina Killham. She offered to provide feedback on a synopsis and the first fifty pages of a novel  as part of the Authors for Refugees fundraising scheme. I was lucky enough to place the winning bid and now have some positive ways forward to hone the opening pages of my latest manuscript The String Games. (It’s worth looking out for the Authors for Refugees scheme next autumn as there are some fabulous writers, agents and publishers who offer their services to raise money to support refugees.) Nina has three published novels and another one in draft. Due to my interest in children’s voices in adult fiction, I read Nina’s novel Believe Me which is narrated by thirteen-year-old Nic, who is brought up in an atheist household but turns to Christianity. It’s an assured study of the relationship between a boy and his mother and is well worth reading.

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The man who saved Christmas

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David has had a cold for well over two weeks. I thought he’d long since stopped being infectious but just before the holidays, the first signs of my cold appeared. Drowning myself with Echinacea didn’t help nor using oregano oil purchased to kill off germs. By Christmas Eve it was clear I’d end up in a ditch if I attempted driving my mum over to Bude to visit my sister. In spite of collecting his mum the previous day from Taunton, my wonderful husband stepped in. While we had a pub lunch, David found a pasty shop, had a look at the sea and then completed the five-hour round trip. Plans for my 8km run on Christmas Day were abandoned in favour of a trudge through some muddy fields. My only contribution to Christmas lunch was some red cabbage that I’d prepared earlier in the slow cooker so David laid on the full spread. While I joined the Christmas toast with a slurp of hot lemon, he popped champagne corks and organised the family, even managing to win three games of Scrabble. He’s off again at the minute, driving Grandma home (only a 3-4 hour drive today, depending on whether the M5 has reopened after an icy start). I stay at home, steaming my head over a bowl of Olbas oil. In spite of all this, he stills says it’s been a lovely Christmas!

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Getting ready

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Come the first of October 2017, the legs in the background of this shot may be mine. Yes, I’m training to enter the Salisbury half marathon. I have done the 5km Race for Life a couple of times but that involved a month’s practise and then feet up until the next time. It’s quite different having a long term goal… and of course the distance is considerably further. Thus far, I’ve been able to run 7km in about 40 minutes and I swim three times a week usually completing 1.1km in forty minutes. This afternoon, I had a huge success as I managed to swim front crawl for 7 x 25m lengths. Sadly, this wasn’t all in one go, but that’s my next target. (I knew the purchase of a pair of goggles would pay off.) I’ve also joined the gym so I’m hoping to get some proper instruction on improving my swimming technique. All the exercise has made me realise how hopelessly target driven I am. Welcome to my new obsession!

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A day in Oxford

Travelling home from the NAWE conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, Dave and I stopped for a night in Oxford. We had a wonderful day visiting one of my favourite places, the Pitt Rivers Museum. The entrance is situated inside this fabulous building: the Oxford University Museum Natural History (OUMNH) on Parks Road.

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The door leading to the Pitt Rivers Museum is on the far side of the building and there are plenty of exhibits to distract along the way. I love the way visitors are encouraged to touch some of the items on display.

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(If you’re interested, the American Black Bear has quite a coarse coat.)

I love the Pitt Rivers Museum – it must be one of the few to offer the loan of a torch to assist in reading the many tiny, handwritten labels. I like to head of the displays of artefacts from Papua New Guinea. (I lived in the Highlands for two years from 1982-84 and have written about some of the things I brought home here and there’s a fictional story here.)

This is a photo of a display of lime spatulas from Papua New Guinea. (Lime powder is used in the process of chewing betel nut which stains the teeth red and gives a mild euphoric high.)

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If you’re ever in Oxford, do go along to the museum – you’ll find some very surprising items on display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Standing room only

In a new bid to lead a less sedentary life, I’ve started visiting the local swimming baths three times a week. Currently, I can swim 1km in forty minutes but I’m fast improving on that time. Also, as I spend far too much time sitting at my desk, I decided to clear a workspace on a filing cabinet to create a new standing desk. Here I am at my new work station.

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It took me a whole day to clear a relatively small space (I didn’t realise quite how much stuff I had stashed in boxes and bags). Most of it relates to previous employment working in schools and as many of the resources are now available online, I was able to ditch quite a few folders. However, I want to be able to apply for a post in educational management with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) one day, so I’m not ready to relinquish everything. After a serious tidy up, my shelves now look like this:

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There remain one or two boxes I haven’t looked in and the top shelf is still a dumping ground but what an improvement. I’m so pleased with the result I just had to blog about it!

What does your working space look like?

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Writers’ Day in Bournemouth

This time last week I was busy preparing a presentation titled Tips and Techniques: the voices of children in adult fiction to deliver as part of the Dorset Writers’ Network Day at Bournemouth Library. I got up early on Saturday to have breakfast and there was time to read over my presentation but when I opened the front door to set off, I found the car was not on the drive. I have been sharing a car with my daughter for a few weeks now. The deal is, I let her know when I want to use it. The arrangements had been communicated but somehow she forgot. I guessed where the car was, about a mile away outside her boyfriend’s house. I began sprinting up the road, only to realise I hadn’t checked in the garage to see if by some miracle, it had been parked in there. Back again, only to find the garage empty. Realising I was in no fit state for an early morning jog, I called a taxi. Meanwhile, with my daughter still not answering her mobile, I tried to make contact with other members of the network to let them know of my predicament. Finally a call came from my daughter who was on her way home. I cancelled the taxi, waited at the top of the road to ensure a swift handover, then sped over to Bournemouth. I arrived with a few minutes to spare for the start of the day. When I recounted my morning’s misadventure, a fellow network member commented that it would make a good start to a story. I’ll keep that in mind for when I’m next short of an idea.

The Writers’ Day was well received by participants and we’re looking forward to another occasion to deliver further input in support of writers in Dorset.

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L-R me, Tracy Baines (DWN), Vickie Goldie (Bournemouth Library) and Helen Baggott (DWN)

 

 

 

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In the Highlands

Here is the short fiction story that came highly commended in the National Poetry Day Bournemouth flash fiction competition. It’s titled In the Highlands.

Scan 8Droplets fall in parallel lines and the rain plinks against the earth. Banana leaves fan the mist, and beneath the covered balcony of the lodge, there’s activity in the kitchen. I’m startled by shouts in Tok Pisin then I concentrate, trying to make sense of the words. Elias appears barefoot in the doorway and watches the downpour; his springy hair shows a scattering of flour. He lights a cigarette rolled in newsprint and takes a long drag. ‘Im bagarap.’

‘Bugger up, indeed.’ I assume he’s referring to the weather, but it could be a disaster in the kitchen, judging from the smell of burning that wafts. He disappears inside before I have a chance to practice my conversational skills, not that he really wants to talk to me. It’s easier being with the women in Papua New Guinea. They chatter and stroke my hair with fingers thin as vanilla pods.

When the sun splits the clouds, I walk to the edge of the gully. The land is covered in a lemon light and the river is a piece of twisted foil. In a clearing, little children emerge from kunai houses, squat wooden buildings with smoke seeping through the thatch. One boy is naked but for a belt of twine strung around his middle and his head’s been shaved. The hair is used to make ceremonial wigs which the tribesmen decorate with bird of paradise feathers. I have at least learnt something during my study tour.

‘An-i-ta’ The three syllables of my name bounce over the distance from the lodge. I return to find Elias with his hands cupped. Whatever he’s holding, I hope it isn’t alive. Last night a moth the size of a dinner plate had me cowering under the covers.

‘Lukim yu.’ He hands me a clump of moss and the roots of an orchid show. The flower hangs delicate between the leaves. I lean close to breathe the scent of honey.

Elias’s smile is broad and his brown eyes dance. ‘Nais.’

‘Very nice.’ The flower nods as I examine the structure and the dotted markings on the waxy petals. I find words of thanks in Tok Pisin, ‘Tenkyu.’

Elias shows me how to strap the orchid to a tree and each day I walk the garden to admire the plant. The gift is an entry into his world.

 

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Celebrate National Poetry Day 2016

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Myriam San Marco and me

National Poetry Day was founded by the Forward Arts Foundation to promote a love of reading and sharing poetry. Each year there is a different theme and in 2016 the focus is ‘messages’. A poetry and flash fiction competition was organised by Bournemouth Poet Laureate, Myriam San Marco, to celebrate this national event. I am delighted that my poem Starlings was awarded first prize in the poetry competition and my short fiction In the Highlands came runner-up in the flash fiction section.

Myriam is doing a great job in promoting the work of local poets and I’m indebted to her for providing this opportunity. I’d also like to thank poetry judge Louisa Adjoa Parker for selecting my poem and the feedback she provided. Thank you also to James Cole who acted as a judge for the flash fiction competition. Congratulations to Sally Lewis for taking first prize for her flash fiction piece about texting. At a celebration on 5 October in The Winchester, there was a chance to hear the winning and highly commended entries. I especially liked the superb performance by Kech Wo.

This success has given a huge boost to my confidence and I’m keen to develop further poetry. My aim is to create a series of connected poems and I’m looking forward to making progress towards this goal.

Here is the winning poem:

Starlings

Side-by-side we sit, watching the wipers swipe

pollution-stained raindrops.

You gnaw tags of skin beside your nails,

I grip the steering wheel like a life buoy.

Staring ahead, I pose the questions

you don’t want to answer.

Talking from the side of your mouth,

you dismiss the concerns that fill my head

like murmurating starlings.

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