The writer is a lonely hunter

gailaldwin

In Vienna

We spent five days in Vienna in early September. It is a great city to walk around and when we got tired it was easy to catch a tram or tube back to our hotel. (I can recommend the Kugel Hotel in a good location with outstandingly helpful staff and an excellent breakfast). We were based in the museum quarter and went to loads of galleries with exhibitions of Klimt and Schiele (the Upper Belvedere was particularly stunning with displays that showed connections between the two artists). Hotel staff recommended a visit to the opera and after an hour long wait (those wearing shorts were turned away) we got standing tickets to Il Trovatore for three euros each.

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with my very tall family members

The food was another highlight:

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melon cocktail with a rasher of streaky bacon as a garnish

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cake and tea for me

 

 

 

 

 

But the highlight was eating beside the Danube canal at Meierei at Stadtpark  (hotel staff made the reservation) where we enjoyed a delicious meal and I ordered venison goulash.

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venison goulash with curd cheese toast, broccoli and black walnut

 

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Retreats for You with Debbie Flint

I met Debbie Flint in 2011 when we both attended a retreat at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.  (I returned there last year – you can read about my second visit here.) Debbie works as a presenter on QVC shopping channel, has a number of books published, and she’s recently taken over a writing retreat in Devon. It was great to touch base with Debbie again and draw upon her experience as a TV presenter to produce a couple of YouTube clips where I talk about my writing journey. Debbie’s help was invaluable in introducing me to interview techniques, accessing handy tips and supporting me through the process. I’d never done anything like this before so her coaching allowed me to feel confident throughout filming and I’m delighted with the results. You can watch the interviews here.

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Debbie has made Retreats for You into a homely and relaxing place to write and reflect. My window overlooks the square with views onto the fields beyond. There’s no excuse for not getting on with your work as a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided. It’s  also good to be in the company of other writers and tap into the positive energy this creates. A few days away makes all the difference to my word count, I find!

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Walking and writing

We spent the weekend in Fowey and took an amazing walk around the coastal path where this photo was taken – hard to believe it’s January from looking at this.

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The journey back took us inland along the Saint’s Way. This path was rediscovered in 1984 when local ramblers found a series of forgotten granite stiles. The circular route was labelled ‘strenuous’ and ‘muddy’ and with adjectives like that, I would normally have avoided it. But, with my new fitness routine established, everything was fine.

At my desk on Monday, I received feedback on a writing submission I made earlier in the month. The lovely Suzie at Writers in the Alley forwarded a request from an agency interested in using local writing for a South West Trains advertising campaign. I rang the company and with a ten-minute deadline submitted some work. Two pieces of flash fiction were shortlisted for presentation to the client. When I learnt more about the proposal I was scared silly that my stories would end up on one of those huge ‘out of home’ posters opposite the platform at London underground stations. I needn’t have worried. South West Trains didn’t go for the idea and I’m left feeling disappointed and relieved.

On the upside, I have received some good news. My application for a writing residency at Brisons Veor has been accepted and I’ll be spending a couple of weeks at Cape Cornwall later in the year.

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Flaming June

June was a turbulent month primarily due to the referendum. When the results came out I was in Spain and was woken by a text from Ryanair suggesting I celebrate remaining in the EU by reserving a £9.99 flight. All was well, I thought, and I tuned into BBC radio coverage to discover that things were far from expected. It was strange receiving this news in the place where I first began to think of myself as a European. In 1986, I lived in Santiago de Compostela, shared a tiny flat in Plaza San Agustin where  I was woken each morning by stall holders preparing for the daily market. I have to thank Brian Henry who encouraged me to study while living there and this set me on a route to gaining a university degree. I made friends, explored the cities and the countryside in my Mini Traveller and built a strong and enduring love of the place. I’m truly devastated that the referendum has robbed me of my European identity and feel that so many opportunities may be lost. It was certainly a flaming June, but not due to the weather.

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Gail and Cathie, Malpica, Galicia

For the last three weeks I’ve been travelling  with Cathie on one of her biannual trips from Australia. (We met in 1981 on a double-decker bus headed for Kathmandu). She has found my obsession with tapping into Brexit news on my iphone and seeking support from FB friends to be curious. She is of the opinion I should accept the majority decision and if this had been an election, I absolutely could. But, the referendum result has such huge implications and challenges what I know to be true: collaboration is of benefit to everyone. It pains me to think about a disconnect from Europe where I’ve found friendship, enjoyed learning and developed intercultural projects.

Thanks to the internet, I’ve signed petitions and emailed my MP. I joined a rally in London and have fallen out with my husband. (He voted leaIMG_0864ve but we don’t talk about it any more.) On the upside, I’ve seen several shows in London and spent a day at Wimbledon. After queuing from 6am, Cathie and I got tickets on court 2. It was the second day of the tournament and we watched Australians Kyrgios and Tomic win their matches. (The Fanatics were entertaining, too, with their timely chants.)

I guess it’s time to enjoy the summer and wait to see what autumn will bring.

 

 

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Travel (and writing)

I’ve had a recent success with travel writing – my submission about a journey to Enga Province in Papua New Guinea was highly commended in the Mairi Hedderwick Travel Writing Award. (Have a look on the link, where I have a short bio and a photo!) As a prize I’ve been given a £200 grant towards a course at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. I’m looking forward to heading north later this year.

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Here’s a photo from Enga.

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Holidays for 2016

This being the third day of January, I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve booked three holidays for 2016! (I’ve ditched my Boxing Day blues and have begun to look forward.)

"Taormina.Teatro Greco" by M. Schwarzwälder - Own work.

“Taormina.Teatro Greco” by M. Schwarzwälder

 

First up, I’ll be travelling with my husband to Sicily for 6 days at the end of April. A quick flick through the Rough Guide (a Christmas present from my mother) and I saw we could travel from Catania to Palermo by buses or trains and booked flights to and from these airports. Other destinations I’d like to cover are Taormina for the Teatro Greco and Siracusa.

 

In June, my friend Cathie is over from Australia and I’ve arranged a visit to Santiago de Compostela. I lived in the city for a year in 1986 and studied for my A levels while Brian Henry and others worked at El Centro Britanico teaching English as a foreign language. I took my family to the area last year and loved it so much that Cathie’s visit provided a good excuse for another trip. I’ve since been brushing up my Spanish and hope to engage in many more conversations that I was able to do last time. I love the old streets and plazas of the city.

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“Calle de San Francisco, Santiago de Compostela” by Diego Delso.

Edinburgh is my third destination with a visit during the fringe (although I particularly like going to the book festival). I usually attend the ten at ten sessions where visiting writers share a short reading. It’s always a good way to start the morning.

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What holiday plans do you have for 2016?

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Fabric at the British Library

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This is a piece of fabric I bought while on holiday in Banjul, capital of the Gambia. We spent a day in the city in order to  visit the Methodist Church where a new generator had been purchased  by the congregation  in New Malden.  The cloth celebrates the Methodist Church in the Gambia and I became fascinated by the Gambian tradition of wearing fabric to acknowledge and promote many different things. I remember seeing a woman in Albert Market wearing traditional dress with a matching head wrap in bright, printed fabric. When I asked if the cloth was for sale, I was told it was worn in support of a political party. While logos and designer brands have become part of popular culture in this country, it seems that wearing anything to indicate allegiance to a political party is limited to a badge or rosette.

I was prompted to make this post after visiting the West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song exhibition at the British Library.  There you will find a whole range of artefacts that demonstrate the interlinking nature of word, symbol and song including texts, drums, shell-stories and, of course, fabric. It’s well worth a visit. 

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The calm after the storm

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Having seen the waves crashing over Porthleven on the television, we decided to make a visit to the fishing port near Helston during our weekend in Cornwall. The sun shone and everything was very calm when we arrived. Porthleven’s most recognisible building the Bickford-Smith Institute with its 70 foot tower had sustained only a few broken windows that were boarded.

Here’s another photo showing a very calm sea.

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Now, at the end of the half term break and the weather is looking up again.

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A week in the Mani

I was fortunate to spend a week at the beginning of June with Sarah Bower and  Carol McGrath at a house that Carol has taken for a year in the Mani area of Greece. Stoupa is a delightful village with a harbor and sandy beaches at the south of the Peloponnese, quite the best spot for a writing retreat owing to the literary connections. A little way along the coast at Kardamyli is the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor, which was bequeathed to the Benaki Museum following his death. Patrick was made an honorary citizen of the village  following his participation in the Cretan Resistance during World War 2. He wrote about the area in his book titled Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and he is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest travel writers.

Bruce Chatwin is the other notable writer with links to the Mani. He finished writing The Songlines while staying at the Hotel Kalamitsi in 1985. The book records his experiences of traveling in Australia and his ideas about the necessity of walking to human development. For my undergraduate dissertation I wrote about the works of Bruce Chatwin and I’ve always felt that he had a hand in securing me a first-class honours. So, when the opportunity came to visit the place where his ashes are buried, I was delighted.

Most references to where Chatwin’s ashes are buried refer to a tiny, Byzantine church in the mountains above Kardamyli. Some name Exochori as the nearest village and others refer to Chori. Without definite directions, we set off early in our search, visiting several villages situated in the Taygetos mountains that provide the backdrop to the glorious coastal area. The road took us into Chori where there was a white-washed church beside the road. From there we looked across to the golden stones of a church perched amongst olive trees. We found the path that took us alongside residential houses and out onto a grassy strip of land. The view from the church showed the wide expanse of aqua sea and the land spilling down from the mountains. An ideal final resting place for Bruce Chatwin, someone who loved broad horizons.

The church in Chori

The church in Chori

A picture of Bruce marks the spot where his ashes are buried

A picture of Bruce marks the spot where his ashes are buried

After the excitement of this discovery and the time spent absorbing the atmosphere and the wonderful views, we headed for Kardamyli. At a restaurant beside the beach we enjoyed a mezze of salads for lunch.

My companions at the restaurant

My companions at the restaurant

Cheers to Carol and Sarah for your great company and a big thank you to Carol for being such a brilliant host.

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