the writer is a lonely hunter

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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.

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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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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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Meeting Joanne Nicholson

I first learnt about Joanne through the book blogger Jessie Cahalin (we both appear on her site Books in My Handbag). Intrigued by her writing life, I contacted Joanne through Twitter. It occurred to me that due to our different locations, it might be interesting to write a shared blog post where we both answer the same questions from the context of Joanne being a writer in Australia and me being a writer in England. But first, let me introduce you to Joanne.

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Joanne Nicholson is an Australian author who juggles parenting four kids with trying to exercise, socialise, manage sporting teams, complete mundane chores and write. She loves boating, reading, pilates, listening and playing music, playing basketball and spending quality time with family and friends. She has published two women’s fiction novels, Intuition and In Another Life; a YA novel Music Score and short stories, Horrorscopes and Spirits.

 

 

 

I wonder how much we’ll have in common. Here are the questions and answers.

What is your writing community like in your hometown?

Joanne: I live about an hour north of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Locally I belong to a supportive writers’ group where we critique a member’s work each month, as well as pass along writing tips and tidbits we have picked up. It is great to have this group camaraderie as writing can be such a solitary pursuit. I also belong to the Australian Society of Authors and get involved with their functions. I regularly attend other author events to hear about their writing journey. This weekend I am attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival to see Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz,  talk about penning this great book.

Gail: There is a thriving writing community in Dorset. As Chair of the Dorset Writers Network I work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. Our aim is to support writers at all stages of their writing journey. We hold workshops for writers to improve their skills and confidence. We also promote writing events across the county. In my hometown of Dorchester, the are two regular writing groups and splendid venues in which to hold workshops such as the newly opened Shire Hall. We are also lucky to have the annual Dorchester Literary Festival  which brings a range of professional writers to the town.  The Thomas Hardy Society celebrates the literary heritage Dorchester (also known as Casterbridge in Hardy’s writing).

Do you use your local environment or other places you have lived as a setting in your writing?

Joanne: When I began writing, I wanted to be vague about the setting of my story so as it was more global, but I felt people couldn’t really place it. Since then I have always used locations with which I am familiar. Most of my stories are set in the suburbs of Sydney and ‘In Another Life’ also features Bathurst, a large country town west of Sydney. Being an Aussie, the beach also seems to crop up as a location too as it is so intrinsic to my life.

Gail: I would love to write a novel about the years I lived in Papua New Guinea during my twenties but when I’ve mentioned this to agents and editors, they never seem positive. My friend has encouraged me to write a memoire but I’m worried about using the voice of a white narrator while talking about post-colonial issues. I have set a few stories in Dorset but I grew up in London and lived in urban areas for many years, so something of that environment is embedded in my writing.

Where do you like to write?

Joanne: I would love to say I’m one of those arty authors who writes and sips coffees in a cafe, mostly so I could post cool coffee pics to Instagram, but realistically I can’t concentrate to write with a lot of surrounding noise. I don’t even listen to music when I write, although for all my other waking hours I have music playing in the background. Sadly, I have to admit I sit alone in my office to write. Well, to be truthful I’m not completely on my own – I have my cavoodle dog Tilly who is my constant companion.

Gail: I have a tiny space at the end of a desk I share with my husband. The room is upstairs and overlooks the water meadows so it’s easy to get distracted by the view. Last week, I queued up to be the first through the door at the newly opened Shire Hall in Dorchester and was awarded free coffee for a year. As the building is at the end of my street, I anticipate going there to write for a change of scene.

Who or what inspires you to keep writing (even when there are setbacks and rejections)?

Joanne: I am very self motivated, but like most (or maybe all) authors, I sometimes get feelings of inadequacy. Writing, like so many creative outlets, is extremely subjective. I belong to a book club and hearing all the differing opinions on the book of the month makes me realise that you can’t please all the people all of the time. I write because I have so many stories buzzing around in my head. It is my creative outlet and if other people also enjoy my stories then I’m satisfied. I self-publish but whenever I have had a rejection for a competition or the like, I always think of all the rejections JK Rowling received for Harry Potter and regard myself as being in highly esteemed company.

Gail: I used to keep a spreadsheet of all the competitions I entered and submissions to anthologies and journals I made. Although I got to know where to send stories with a possibility of success, my ongoing studies have meant I don’t have the admin time to submit consistently these days. Focus on acquiring a creative writing qualification has concentrated my mind and kept me writing. I am looking for a home for my novel at the moment and without a spreadsheet I’ve sent to the same publisher more than once. Not knowing what is out there at any given time means any response is a nice surprise.

What is your writing process?

Joanne: I always start with a good grasp of the plot and main characters when I write the first draft, or ‘vomit of words’ as I call it. Sometimes as I’m writing sub-plots will start to develop that send things in a slightly different direction and I’m flexible enough to let my characters guide me. After I finish the first draft I let it sit for at least a month to get some distance from it. I then do a first edit with fresh eyes. After that stage I usually send it to a group of beta readers for their reactions and feedback. I take on board their comments and edit the areas of concern that I believe have merit. I then get the book edited and finally go through the cover design and production process. The hardest part of the whole equation is the marketing at the end. It is difficult as an indie author to have cut through in such a saturated market.

Gail: I tend to get and idea and muse on it for some time. Then I decide which genre of writing best suits the idea and make a start. I’ve always got several projects on the go. At the moment I’m writing a novel with a six-year-old narrator, I have poems I want to compile into a pamphlet and I am part of two collaborative writing projects – one’s a screenplay and the other is material for a comedy sketch night which will be performed at the Bridport Arts Centre in the autumn.

How do you keep motivated?

Joanne: My motivation has several layers. Firstly, I often find stories literally keep me awake and until I at least jot them down I can’t find peace. They are pesky little critters! Secondly, I have a great group of supportive people around me who believe in me. Thirdly, in the past I have read some books where I think I could have done better job. I figure if those books were worthy of publishing then so are mine! Finally, when I see other authors talk about their writing journeys I come to the conclusion they are merely mortal and if they were able to become a successful author then it isn’t outside the realm of reality that I can too. I’m definitely a glass half full type of a person.

Gail: There are stories that only I can tell. I’m passionate about the messages that come through my writing and am keen to share them with others. One of the recurring threads in my work relates to the capacity of human resilience. I set obstacles for my characters to overcome so that readers can vicariously enjoy their successes.

Thank you for sharing your experiences as a writer in Australia, Joanne. It seems there is much we have in common although you’re based in a city in the southern hemisphere and I’m in a county town on the other side of the world.

Joanne’s books can be purchased in the UK through Amazon: Intuition,  In Another Life, Music Score, Horrorscopes and Spirits .   Paisley Shirt is available from the Book Depository with no delivery charge and dispatch within 3 days in the UK. In Australia it is also listed on Amazon.com.au

 

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5* review of Paisley Shirt

Find out what prolific book blogger Jo makes of Paisley Shirt by popping over to Jaffareadstoo.

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I am delighted with Jo’s review!

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#TenThings

Are you interested in finding out #TenThings about me that you might not otherwise know?

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If so, pop over to the Portobello Book Blog where I reveal some best kept secrets.

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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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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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