the writer is a lonely hunter

gailaldwin

Flaghead Chine Poetry Commission

During my writing residency at Short & Sweet in Wimborne (you can read about it here), I was contacted by landscape designer Barbara Uphoff to write a poem for  a plaque. Barbara developed the new seaside garden at Flaghead Chine in Poole and wanted to incorporate poetry into the design.

The garden is approached through the wooded and shady chine and it acts as a connection between the land and the sea. Constructed with Purbeck Stone planters, boulders and seating, the garden is positioned beside the sandy beach and gives views to Harry’s Rock across the water.

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Old Harry’s Rock from Pixabay

The garden is intended as a meeting point for family and friends where children can enjoy quiet play thanks to the three seashell structures. The sculptors Phil Bews and Diane Gorvins created small scale models of a whelk, an ammonite and a sea urgin which the stonemasons, Albion Stone, were able to use in making the large shells.

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My poem appears on a brushed metal plaque attached to one of the boulders. Barbara and I agreed the the poem should be a haiku to celebrate the natural environment. You can read it here:

It was an honour to write the poem and I am delight to see it positioned in the seaside garden as public art.

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Writing Inspiration – The South West

When Nicole Fitton and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Nicole to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter where she answers our shared questions (mine appear after).  First, let me introduce Nicole.

Nicole Fitton lives and writes in the heart of Devon. She writes both thrillers and short stories, many of which have been short and longlisted. This year her flash fiction piece ‘Yellow‘ was featured as part of  National Flash Fiction Day on the Flash Flood Journal Blog.

Nicole Fitton

  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!

Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.

I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgo whilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.

Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!

WestWard Ho!

  1. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?

Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year round.It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.

Nicole’s Blog : www.nicolefittonauthor.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/nicolefittonauthor/

Twitter:@MisoMiss

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misomiss/

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Gail Aldwin

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  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.

Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

Chapel Porth in winter

My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off.  I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.

Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset.  Along the shaded riverside walk I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!

  1. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?

Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.

Dorset Writers Network:            http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

Facebook:                                https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Twitter:                                     @gailaldwin

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Publication news

Two pieces of great news arrived this week. First I have a piece of short fiction published by the Cabinet of Heed. This is a wonderfully eclectic journal which is beautifully illustrated. Click on the photograph below for a link to my piece.

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The submission process for the Cabinet of Heed is unusual – it remains open until there are sufficient of well-crafted pieces to fill a new journal. It’s certainly worth  submitting here for writers of short fiction and poetry.

The other news is that I am the joint winner of a poetry competition run by The Student Wordsmith. This means I will work with founder, Sophie-Louise Hyde, to compile a poetry pamphlet for publication.

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Exciting times ahead!

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Writing residency in Shire Hall Café at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, Dorchester

I was delighted the Shire Hall Café agreed to join the creative café project started by my publisher Gill James. The café is situated on the mezzanine level of the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum and with the museum’s history of crime, punishment and justice, the café provides a stimulating environment for writers.

Joining me for the creative café were writers from Dorchester, Swanage and an American from Nevada. (She was a delegate at the Thomas Hardy Conference who took time out to visit me.) Two participants were interested in developing children’s fiction while others were busy with short stories aimed at the adult market. It was a pleasure and a privilege to offer feedback on their work in progress and to discuss new projects. Some of my writing prompts also proved useful in developing new writing.

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Sat on one of the long tables at the back of the café, we were able to enjoy the breeze through the open sash windows and the views across the tables. I am a frequent visitor to the café as I queued on the opening day to make sure I won the ‘free coffee for a year’ given to the first person through the door. The building is at the end of my road, so if I need a change of scene during one of my writing days at home, I pop along to claim my free drink and spend time writing in the café.

Thank you to the Shire Hall Café and the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum for hosting this event. If you would like information about joining a creative café session in the future, do contact me here.

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Good news: it’s all happening at the minute

Firstly, my interview ‘a conversation…’ is on the Greenacre Writers’ site now. Why not pop over and have a read?

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Secondly, I have a poem in the fabulous print publication Words for the Wild. You can read more about the project here.

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And lastly, I’m off to the Thomas Hardy Society‘s fiftieth conference this evening to hear Paul Henry read from his acclaimed poetry collections The Brittle Sea and Boy Running. It will be good to touch base with Paul again (we were both lecturers at the University in South Wales in 2015).

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Facing the Chudleigh Dragons

Joining this event was a bit like going to the dentist: not something to look forward to but it was worthwhile. I prepared for the five-minute pitch of my novel The String Games by thinking about presentations by successful participants on the show. Of course the Chudleigh Dragons were not a fearsome bunch like their TV counterparts but comprised novelist Sophie Duffy, publisher Dr Tarja Moles and Ian Hobbs, founder of the Devon Book Club.

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I organised my presentation by starting with my elevator pitch:

The String Games is a story about the abduction and murder of a four-year-old boy told from the viewpoint of his older sister. Rather than a crime novel, the story draws upon psychological drama to focus on the legacy of loss for the protagonist. String is the controlling metaphor for the novel which includes characters who are puppets on strings, others who are strung along and some who need to cut the apron strings.

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The following three minutes focused on:

The structure of the novel

Organised into three parts, The String Games uses a different string figure to name each of the sections.  With the visual aid of a rainbow string, I was able to talk and manipulate the string to make a cat’s-cradle and a worm but showing how to make Jacob’s Ladder was beyond me. Instead,  I illustrated how my protagonist is able to draw her life into an ordered pattern of threads by showing a picture of the string figure.

USP

There are many novels that alternate the experiences of the protagonist as a child and an adult or as a teenager and an adult but there are few which include the three stages of development. This is the USP for my novel. The structure works like a triptych with panels showing the experiences of the child, the teenager and the adult in the three parts of the novel. In this way, it’s possible for the adult to look back on the child she used to be and hardly recognise herself. But, it is by reconnecting with the experiences of the child that my protagonist is able to integrate feelings of unresolved grief for her brother and move forward as an adult.

Theme

The thread that runs through The String Games relates to the resilience of my protagonist. Readers vicariously enjoy her ability to overcome the obstacles I set. She became my protagonist-daughter and as an author-mother I was able to champion her so that by the end of the novel, my protagonist is equipped with the skills and confidence to live her life beyond the pages of my book. I let her go to continue her own story so that I am free to produce new fiction.

At the end of my pitch, the Chudleigh Dragons posed a couple of questions relating to the readership of my novel. Although I’d like The String Games to reach a wide audience, its appeal lies with those who enjoy literary fiction. As a reminder of my pitch, I gave each of the Dragons a mini book of The String Games. 

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Thank you to Elizabeth Ducie and the Chudleigh Writers’ Circle for organising this event. Well done to the winner Jean Burnett.

If you can’t wait until my novel finds a publisher, try reading my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt instead. It is available with free delivery from The Book Depository or online from Amazon UK  and Amazon USA.  It is stocked in Gullivers Wimborne, The Bookshop Bridport, Serendip Lyme Regis, The Swanage Bookshop and branches of Watersones.

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Sandford Y Festival Book Event

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I was invited by Carol McGrath (you can find out about Carol and her first novel The Handfasted Wife here), to do a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival. This took place on Saturday 7 July at The Lamb Inn in the pretty Devon village of Sandford. This award-winning gastro pub has a delightful function room where I shared my stories. Other activities included a meet the writers event where Carol McGrath, Jenny Barden and Jennifer Ash offered input on life as historical novelists. The day was rounded off with a balloon debate where the three novelists dressed up as their characters in a thoroughly entertaining finale.

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Very many thanks to Susie Williams for organising this event.

Sandford Y Festival

 

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Author talk at Sturminster Newton Library

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I was delighted to be invited by the Friends of Sturminster Newton Library to  talk about my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt. This north Dorset library is run by exceptional volunteers who do a wonderful job in supporitng local authors. I was made to feel like a guest of honour and I’m delighted that the collection is now in stock at this branch. Rather than wallowing in the heat, fifteen people turned out to hear me talk and many purchased copies of the collection.

As this was my first talk I prepared for it thoroughly by:

  • promoting the talk on Facebook and Twitter to attract an audience
  • arriving early to check out the venue
  • practising my delivery by talking to my reflection in the mirror
  • having props to hand including Victorian novels which mention paisley pattern
  • dressing in a paisley patterned top, and
  • creating a display of Chapeltown Books on a paisley patterned tablecloth

Feedback from the talk was very positive. One participant said I answered her question about sources of inspiration better than any other author. Another said my talk was engaging and inspiring. I now feel fully equipped to offer further talks. If any of you are interested in hosting a talk, please let me know.

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Paisley Shirt is available with free delivery from The Book Depository and is stocked in Gullivers Wimborne, The Bookshop Bridport, Serendip Lyme Regis, The Swanage Bookshop and branches of Watersones.

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Dublin and the Mercy Institute

I’m just back from a few days in Dublin. My Australian friend arranged for us to stay at Mercy International. This is a house on the corner of Baggott Street not far from St Stephen’s Green. The accommodation is generous and comfortable and the history of the house fascinating. The founder of the Sisters of Mercy, Catherine McAuley, committed to support the poor when she inherited the estate of a distant relative. She bought the land and built a house in a prominent position in Dublin so that the wealthy were able to see the plight of orphans and the destitute women with whom she worked. While her intention was to operate as Catholic social workers, pressure to become a religious community saw McAuley and two other women formally prepare for life as women religious taking vows one year later. As a result, the Sisters of Mercy was founded on 12 December 1831 and formally confirmed by Pope Gregory XVI on 6 June 1841.

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We enjoyed bed and breakfast accommodation at Mercy International and joined a tour of the house one morning. This included visiting the room where up to two hundred children were taught and the bedroom where Catherine McAuley died. The determination of the Sisters of Mercy to work for the benefit of the poor and to promote the education of girls and women is quite remarkable. Many of the schools established  continue to promote the values of Catherine McAuley.

Other pleasures of Dublin included seeing a raucous production of Ulysses one evening and then another watching Roddy Doyles’ The Snapper. We made a visit to the Dublin Writers’ Centre and went to the beach where there was a sliver of sea at Sandymount. Walks beside the Liffey were very pleasurable where the breezes cooled off the summer heat.

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And the good weather continues now I’m back in Dorset. What a summer!

 

 

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Writing Residency in the café at the Bridport Arts Centre

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Thank you to everyone who visited me during the creative writing residency at BAC on Wednesday 20 June 2018. It is an absolute privilege to have other writers share their work with me. There was a range of genres presented: women’s fiction, YA, autobiography, non fiction, flash fiction and poetry. I am delighted that the writers  found my feedback useful and I hope they will stay in touch. Many kindly bought copies of Paisley Shirt. I suggested they made the purchase through The Bookshop as it’s always good to support an independent book sellers. At the end of the session, I popped into The Bookshop to see Antonia Squire (owner of the shop since 2015) to find that Paisley Shirt was the best-selling title of the day!

Paisley Shirt is available with free delivery from The Book Depository and is stocked in Gullivers Wimborne, The Bookshop Bridport, Serendip Lyme Regis, The Swanage Bookshop and branches of Watersones.

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