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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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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Waterloo Festival Launch

I was delighted to spend an evening last week at St John’s church in Waterloo where a splendid range of stories and poetry were shared. The Southwark Stanza provided a wonderful performance of poetry (for details of the group contact Helen Adie Hellieadie@yahoo.co.uk.) With other writers, I took to the podium to read my story “For Want of Connie” which is included in the Waterloo Festival ebook anthology titled To be…to Become.

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It was a pleasure to meet other Bridge House Publishing authors at the event and my publisher, Gill James, was also there. I got chatting with another Dorset writer, too. My Mum, who lives in south London, accompanied me and it was great to have her support.

The Waterloo Festival continues until 24 June with an impressive programme around the 2018 theme of transforming minds. You can find out more here.

If you are willing to offer a review on Amazon of To Be…to Become, please let get in touch though the contact me page and I will be happy to forward a pdf or mobi copy.

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Writing Residency at Short & Sweet

What could be better than spending a whole day talking about writing, sharing stories and getting on with some writing? On Wednesday 13 June, I was delighted to hold a creative café writing residency at Short & Sweet in Wimborne where I did just that. The idea originates with my publisher, Gill James, who provides information about the project here.

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I was joined by writers from Wimborne, Blandford and Poole who brought with them a range of fascinating writing. It is a privilege to read stories in development and be able to raise questions to help navigate a writer’s journey. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and came away with a few new story ideas myself. As an added bonus, I was asked to write a poem as part of a seaside garden project.

The next creative café writing residency takes place on Wednesday 20 June in the café at the Bridport Arts Centre. Several writers have already signed up to meet me there. Following that, I’ll be at the café in the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum on Wednesday 18 July from 11am — 3pm. Do get in touch by emailing gailaldwin@btinternet.com  if you’d like to:

  • get feedback on up to 1,000 words of writing
  • discuss a writing project
  • kick start a new piece of writing
  • purchase a copy of Paisley Shirt

Thank you to Jen and Dan for hosting the very first creative café writing residency in Dorset at Short & Sweet.

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When Two Authors Meet

Meeting online can be a learning opportunity. In the case of two British authors, Gail Aldwin and Leslie Tate, it led to the following joint blog about writing fiction – how they both started and what has helped them grow and develop as authors…

Leslie Tate writes:

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I can see myself at fifteen crouched over a tape recorder in the front room of my parents’ house reciting ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Shelley in a singsong elevated voice, gesturing grandly with my arms. I’d closed the door and half drawn the curtains so I could abandon myself to my grand passion without thinking too much about my parents’ reaction. It was a cri de coeur, an adolescent protest against having to account for myself as ‘sensible’ while answering questions about timings and where I was going every time I went out. The house was a controlled space with a laid down routine where everything had to be justified, itemised and explained, and this was my big breakout, pushing myself to be wild and flighty and poetic. At a deeper level I wanted to transcend what I saw as a dull, literalist upbringing that only valued hard graft, material possessions and promotion at work.

I was grandstanding, of course. When I wrote my own poems in secret I worked myself up, pretending to be inspired. In fact they didn’t come easily and lacked coherence. They were static, over-elaborate and repetitious, straining for the words, announcing their feelings, overstaying their welcome.

When I went to university I gave up writing in favour of experience. I was collecting impressions, living adventurously and reading writers who weren’t on the syllabus as a preparation for the magic moment when it would all come together and I’d begin writing my inspired, straight-to-the-page on-the-road novel.

Afterwards, as a teacher, I was too exhausted to write except on Sundays when I’d jot down a few Hopkinsesque lines. I didn’t edit very much and I knew my efforts weren’t original so I only shared them with a few uncritical friends. I felt that if the words didn’t come naturally then that proved I was a doodler rather than a writer. In any case the classics were way beyond my reach. I loved and envied novels like ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘Ulysses’ and because I’d never equal their brilliance I didn’t try at all.

It took me many years to understand the editing process. I went through alcoholism and came out as a cross-dressing man, but a feeling of blocked creativity remained. I completed an MA in Creative Writing with Goldsmiths College, went part-time in order to write, developed my third novel on a Guardian/University of East Anglia course, but it took close forensic work to dig up an individual voice from my pages and pages of schooled and competent writing. Although my difficulties in life were germane to my writing, putting them down on paper wasn’t at all therapeutic; what mattered more was the process itself where words were the guide rather than some pre-ordered plot or confessional intention. I learned to shape, and be shaped, by the language and character, not as an exercise but through hours of repeated line changes, switching phrases, consulting the Thesaurus and sometimes cancelling a whole day’s work to start again. What I discovered was that writing in the literary mode depended on listening, always listening, hearing the line, the feel, the flow.

But to make any claim to literary writing always feels chancy, so I developed a bilateral approach telling myself that I really could do it while remaining dissatisfied with what I’d achieved and always straining for improvements. It’s aspirational, always in doubt, and I’m just the messenger. So I’m left with the effort to fashion perfect phrases and bind them together, to go deep, avoid cliché and follow the dictates of character and language. The aim is to give pleasure, passion and insight to the reader and my job is to use that head-down work ethic my parents believed in to take the reader there.

 

Gail Aldwin writes:

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I’m a late starter when it comes to writing and, to some extent reading. Unlike writers who had childhoods immersed in books, I didn’t like reading. Technically, I could decode a text, but I never saw books as a source of interest and pleasure. As for writing, I was a terrible speller and this seemed to be the only important thing. A legacy from this poor start in literacy meant I carried a pocket dictionary in my handbag for years to prevent me from making ghastly errors.

With this history, it may come as a surprise that I am now a writer. My interest in novels started when I was seventeen and during the long commute to work, I tuned into reading. The first book I read from choice was Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Suzann which is now a Virago Modern Classic. It’s been a challenge to make up lost ground in reading but I am closing the gaps in my knowledge of literature. I recently came across the terms ‘deep readers’ and ‘shallow readers’. Deep readers find an author they like and read everything that writer has ever produced. Shallow readers dip into books by a range of authors. I am very definitely a shallow reader and I tend to read single works by a range of authors. My taste is eclectic although I especially enjoy books set in remote and wild locations.

My writing experience began with letters. I lived overseas in my twenties and have box files containing aerogrammes I wrote to my parents during a journey from London to Kathmandu on a double decker bus and later when I lived in Australia and Papua New Guinea. Anecdotes I shared through these letters were turned into short stories as part of undergraduate studies to become a teacher.

Following the birth of my children, all creative energy was invested in them. I abandoned writing projects and developed a career in education. Years later when I was working in a challenging environment, writing again became important. I was investing too much energy into my paid work and needed to find an outlet to channel my creative drive. This is when I began writing my first novel.

After the first novel came a second and a third. I see these unpublishable manuscripts as my writing apprenticeship. Beside these long projects, I began to enjoy writing short fiction. There’s something very satisfying about finishing a piece of writing and after a couple of competition wins I began to split my writing time evenly between short fiction and novel writing.

In 2013, I was made redundant and this provided the opportunity to fulfil a long held dream. I love learning and the as a teacher it’s great to watch pupils progress but it sometimes felt like I wasn’t moving forward at all. I decided to study for an MPhil in creative writing. When I had completed my creative product and the thesis was ready for submission, I realised I didn’t want to stop and transferred onto a PhD.

I passed my viva in November and have nearly completed the corrections. My desk is clearing and I’m already engaged with new projects: from writing a novel using the voice of a six-year-old narrator to co-writing a comedy script to be staged in Bridport, autumn 2018. Wherever will this writing journey take me next?

ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:

  1. Heaven’s Rageis a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
  2. Purpleis a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. Signed copies of Purple can be bought here.
  3. Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. You can read more about/buy Blue here.
  4. Violet is about late-life love. It begins in 2003 with Beth Jarvis and James Lavender on a blind date in a London restaurant. Attracted by James’s openness, Beth feels an immediate, deep connection between his honesty and her own romantic faith. From then on they bond, exchanging love-texts, exploring sea walks and gardens and sharing their past lives with flashbacks to Beth’s rural childhood and her marriage to a dark, charismatic minister… Signed copies of Violet can be bought here.

Leslie’s website is https://www.leslietate.com/, where he publishes weekly interview with people about their creativity, and his Twitter handle is @LSTateAuthor

On Facebook Leslie has two author pages: https://www.facebook.com/leslietateauthor/and https://www.facebook.com/Violetnovel/

ABOUT GAIL ALDWIN

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GAIL ALDWIN is a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. Her work can be found online at Ink, Sweat & Tears, Slamchop and Words for the Wild and in a range of print anthologies including Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2017), Gli-ter-ary (Bridge House Publishing, 2017) and Dorset Voices(Roving Press, 2012). As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, Gail works with the steering group to support the skills and confidence of writers across the county by connecting creative communities. She is also a visiting tutor to undergraduates of creative writing at Arts University Bournemouth. In 2017, Gail co-wrote Killer Ladybugs,a short play that was staged by Cast Iron Productions (Brighton). Paisley Shirt,Gail’s collection of short fiction is published by Chapeltown Books and was longlisted in the Best Short Story category of the Saboteur Awards 2018.

Paisley Shirt is available to purchase through the Book Depository (no postal charges and dispatch within three days).

The same piece, in a slightly different order, can be read on Leslie Tate’s blog here.

 

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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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Weaving in art

Weaving is shown in works of art over the centuries. From a variety of countries, we see  both men and women producing fabric by interlacing warp and weft threads through the use of a frame or handloom. Due to my interest in the producton of paisley pattern, I’ve had fun identifying paintings to appear on this post. I hope you enjoy them.

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Weaver near an open window by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

 

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Der Leinenweber by Johann August Ernest Niegelssohn (1757-1833)

 

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American Indians: first families of the Southwest by John Frederick Huckel (1836-1936)

 

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Weavers, Tomb of Khnumhotep, Egyptian Art

 

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De Mulieribus Claris weaver (fifteenth century)

 

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The Weaver by Walter Gay (1856-1937)

 

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Muslim shawl makers in Kashmir by William Simpson (1867)

This final image is the one that interests me most, given my collection of short fiction is titled Paisley Shirt, which draws inspiration from the pattern that became popular with Europeans in Victorian times. Shawls were hand-made from the fine wool of  Himalayan mountain goats which were brought into India from Tibet and Ladak.

If you would like to read Paisley Shirt, the collection is now available from the Book Depository or you can purchase it from the following shops: Gullivers in Wimborne, The Book Shop in Bridport, Serendip in Lyme Regis,  The Swanage Bookshop, and Waterstones Dorchester. It is also available for loan through Dorset Libraries/Libraries West.

 

 

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