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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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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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:

Leslie reading Heavens Rage The Studio

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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Tips for writing and working collaboratively

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I’m in the author spotlight on Jaffareadstoo today. Instead of focusing on Paisley Shirt, I share tips and strategies for writing and working collaboratively. Click here to pop over and have a read.

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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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