the writer is a lonely hunter

gailaldwin

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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On feeling a little teary…

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An absolutely stunning review for Paisley Shirt appears on Being Anne an award-winning  book blogging site by Anne Williams. Quite overwhelmed by her praise:

Every single story is perfectly crafted, not of uniform length, but each one marked by the perfection of its writing and its insights into people’s lives, exquisitely captured.

She also offers an interview where her insightful questions led me to reflect upon my writing journey. Do pop over and have a read by clicking here.

 

 

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Helen Pizzey: gathering your thoughts

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I am delighted to welcome Helen Pizzey to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. She lives on heathland close to the sea near Corfe Castle where she has worked as Assistant Editor of a regional arts and features journal and been on the steering committee of the Dorset Writers’ Network.  Her poetry has appeared in anthologies, literary magazines and has also been set to music. Her debut short collection, Invisibility for Beginners, is published by Cinnamon Press.

Helen has kindly agreed to provide background information and advice on putting together a poetry collection.

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So.  You’ve begun to realise that you’ve a body of work that’s sufficiently polished and ‘finished’ to consider putting a collection together, ready for publication. Maybe it’s 50 or 60 poems that have been developed over a substantial period of time; maybe it’s a short series or a sequence on a specific topic or theme which you’ve moved fast on.

Don’t feel that numbers are necessarily restrictive if you feel each piece passes muster.  Templar Poetry, for example, have submission windows for collections of 10 page ‘portfolios’, 10-14 page ‘shots’, 18-24 page ‘pamphlets’ and, of course, for longer full collections. And Valley Press has published a book as short as 16 pages (although not necessarily a collection!) The quality of your work and some kind of overall cohesion are what count.  I’m talking, here, about poetry but the same general principles probably apply to other types of short form writing.  And to whether you’re submitting to small presses / larger publishers or going down the self-publishing route.

Publishers tend to look for some kind of track record. Keep a note of all the various writing successes and publications you’ve had along the way.  You can include as many as up to, perhaps, a third of previously published work in a single-author collection (depending on the publisher), but make sure you make it clear just how many and where individual pieces have been published before.  This is also vital as a selling point if you’re aiming to self-publish.

I’ve just had my debut short collection of 37 poems published by Cinnamon Press, presented in their house-style pamphlet form. I started the selection process from an initial 52 poems which I considered my best, then whittled these down by taking out those I thought weakest, or that seemed a bit off-kilter from the overall themes that were otherwise emerging.

Then the exciting part: printing off and laying each poem around me on the floor, colour-coded in sections according to themes. This very physical act of visualising really helped in terms of ‘seeing’ the collection take shape.  It turned out I had four distinct elements and a few ‘randoms’.  Within this broken-down framework of themes, I re-arranged individual poems as to how best they chimed off or led into each other according to ideas, subject, character, images.  I also took into account the visual aspect of each poem – so important with poetry, the form and the look of the white space on the page – and tried to ensure variance of poems abutting.

If I had been going for a collection arranged thematically, I guess that might have remained the overall shape of the book with just the order of themes to decide.  But I took it one step further and started to integrate the poems until the thematic ‘colours’ were fairly evenly merged – still retaining them in sections of manageable numbers so I could shuffle them about as previously.  That way, the job didn’t seem too unwieldy.  Once I was happy with the order of each section, it was just a question of fitting these together in as neat a way as possible.

Considering the collection’s narrative arc was made easier by having one short series of prose poems in the middle which was both a visual and thematic ‘plank’ to move towards and away from.  Then, of course, slotting in the ‘randoms’ in the best possible places – or, in fact, perhaps deciding ‘no, these just don’t fit’. Hard choices but good ones.

This may all sound a bit long-winded and taxing but, quite honestly, it was a fun and thoroughly satisfying couple of hours, seeing something come together and take on a life of its own (I must get out more!). What I think I was aiming for is a collection that would stand like a poetic ‘edifice’ with each ‘brick’ in its right place – and without any discernible evidence of the process’s ‘scaffolding’!

This has been my first experience and I’d love to hear if others have similar or very different ways of compiling their work. Poetry is, perhaps, quite complicated to assemble as each poem is usually a short, stand-alone piece in the first instance.  And you need quite a few of them to gel in order to form even a short collection. I’m learning, though, not to wait for perfection; yes, work has to be of a publishable quality and something you feel is ‘necessary’ writing (after all, if you’re not that bothered about it, who else will be?), but even after achieving publication there may still be elements of the same poems that you later think could be improved on.  Writers are continually growing and changing as they practice their art.

I hope this encourages you to consider assembling your own work, ready to launch into a waiting world in its own bound format. I recommend the Mslexia Indie Press Guide, now into its second edition, which lists nearly 600 publication opportunities for all genres of writing. It’s well-worth the £14.99 investment to become armed with all its tips and useful, necessary information. Some publishers are becoming increasingly comfortable with putting out mixed-genre publications – encouraging for those of us who write in more than one short form.

And once you’ve gathered all your glittering pieces into one coherent order, sit back and enjoy!  Be proud.  Celebrate. Award yourself a high-five, a box of chocolates, a new hair style.

So.  Time to get going… And good luck.

Thank you for this really helpful advice, Helen.

If you’d like to find out more about Helen and her poetry, click  here.

 

 

 

 

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A round-up for this week

While I’ve been away in Cornwall on512px-Port_Isaac_2 a retreat in Port Isaac with three writing friends, plenty has been happening on the promotional front for Paisley Shirt. 

 

 

First there was a lovely review on Frost Magazine for Paisley Shirt. Click on the image to read this.fullsizeoutput_19a5

 

 

 

Then there was an interview on Tracy Baines’ blog. Here I talk about the distinctive nature of flash fiction.

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On Wednesday there was an article in the Dorset Echo about Paisley Shirt reaching the long list in the Best Short Story Collection category of the Saboteur Awards 2018. I was very pleased to find my collection alongside work by Tom Vowler, Tania Hershman and other notable writers. There’s still time to vote for the short listed titles here.

 

 

 

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I also discovered that Paisley Shirt has been purchased by Dorset Libraries as part of their lending stock and is now available for loan in Poole, Bathnes, Bristol, North Somerset, Somerset and South Gloucestershire libraries through Libraries West.

Quite a week and I’m now exhausted by all the activity. Hope you have a good weekend.

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Story behind the cover image

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The cover image for the collection Paisley Shirt was taken by Robert Sheie who allows images to be shared under creative commons licence.  Robert’s company is called Menswear Market which  is a personalised online consignment service with clients across the U.S. and customers around the world. He helps clients to sell their merchandise online by using websites such as eBay and Amazon.

To thank Robert for allowing me to use image, I sent him a copy of Paisley Shirt. I was delighted to receive an email from him giving a little more background information to the image. The paisley shirt I chose is a silk dress shirt from the House of Bijan in Beverly Hills (“the most expensive store in the world”), so I am pleased to have selected an exclusive product for the collection.

Note to self: remember to put a reply address on packages otherwise they may be regarded as unsafe. Thankfully, Robert took the risk in opening the envelope, so now I can share this information with you.

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

 

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What’s in a name?

My maiden name is Chappell. My Dad thought we were descended from those who fled France during the revolution but it is more likely we have Huguenot ancestry. I hated my family name from the first time a classmate shouted, ‘What’s the time, Chappell? Or has your clock gone wrong?’

I was delighted to shed my family name upon marriage. I met my first husband in Tenant Creek, a town in Outback Australia. He persuaded me to travel with him to Cairns where we applied for a twenty-four hour marriage licence. My horrified parents couldn’t understand the urgency but a whirlwind romance is terribly exciting.

Four years later and back in the UK we fell out of love. But, I liked the sound of my name, Gail Marshall, so much I continued to use it for another five years. Upon marrying David, he obviously didn’t want me to carry on using that name, but I was mortified by the prospect of adopting his. I was a primary school teacher by then and anticipating being called Mrs Aldwinckle all day long filled me with dread. So, I chopped off my husband’s ‘winckle’ or rather his ‘ckle’ to become Gail Aldwin.

It is an irony to now find myself back in the Chapel fold. The publisher of Paisley Shirt (my collection of short fiction) is called Chapeltown Books. To reconnect with my family name under these circumstances is a surprise and delight.

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Are you ready for part 2?

I’m on Chandler’s Ford Today with Allisons Symes chatting about characters, writing goals and the Dorset Writers’ Network.

Allison is a fellow Chapeltown Books author.

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Don’t the collections look splendid displayed together?

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Staying in with…Linda Hill

I’m in good company today, staying in with Linda Hill. Here I share the inspiration behind the title story of Paisley Shirt and find out what Linda, a prolific book blogger, thinks about the collection. Why not pop over and take a look?

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Paisley Shirt is now in stock at the Book Depository with free delivery.

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Visiting Troutie McFish

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I’m pleased to join fellow Chapeltown author, Mandy Huggins, on Troutie McFish Tales today. You can read about my experience of writing about place and how I create characters. Do pop over and have a read.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Paisley Shirt and you live in Dorset, Serendip in Lyme Regis and The Swanage Bookshop hold copies and I’m in negotiations with Gullivers in Wimborne, The Book Shop in Bridport and Waterstones in Dorchester to stock Paisley Shirt, too. You can also find Paisley Shirt in October Books,  Southampton.

 

For those who prefer ordering online, Amazon continues to show an ‘out of stock’ message so try ordering through the Book Depository  or another online retailer such as Waterstones. Any good bookshop will be able to order a copy if you quote the  ISBN  9781910542293.

 

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Woman on the Edge of Reality

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I’m over on Linda Parkinson-Hardman’s blog today answering a range of questions including:

  • Are there occupational hazards to being a writer?

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  • How do you remain sane while working?

Why not pop over and take a look at my answers? Click here.

 

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