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.

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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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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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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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Visiting Kim Martins, NZ

I am getting about this week! Today I’m being interviewed by Kim Martins who lives in New Zealand. Do pop over to her blog Up North for a read.

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While you’re there, take a look around Kim’s blog. There are some fascinating posts about Kim’s taste in books and you can learn about  El Hubs and the house building project. Great photos, too.

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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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