the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Jacob’s Ladder: how to reach for a better future

This is the third of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier posts, click the links to read part one and part two.

The third part of The String Games deals with the legacy of loss for the protagonist as an adult. Following manipulation as a teenager, she reinvents herself by returning to her given name, Imogen. Still swamped by issues of unresolved grief over the murder of her younger brother when she was ten, Imogen decides to return to the place in France where she last saw Josh in order to get to the truth of what really happened. This part of the novel is called Jacob’s Ladder.

part_3_final_illustration

This illustration of Jacob’s Ladder by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part three of The String Games

Jacob’s Ladder is a string figure made by a single player that produces an intricate pattern of crossed strings. Used to name the final part of the novel, Jacob’s Ladder illustrates the way Imogen is able to reorder her life, with greater understanding and confidence, by re-engaging with aspects of her earlier years. The pleasing pattern of linked diamonds represents how Imogen is able to pull the threads of her personal history together creating a ladder to a better future. Thus, the metaphor of string continues to the final page of the novel.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games but it is available to pre-order from Victorina Press, Waterstones and Foyles. Alternatively, if you fancy dipping into my debut poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades (based on the theme of siblings), this is available next week. Do come along to the launch to celebrate my first step into the world of published poetry.

adversaries-comradesPOSTER

Leave a comment »

At the London Book Fair 2019

The London Book Fair is an annual event that this year took place from 12–14 March. I was lucky to be offered a ticket to attend by Victorina Press the publisher of my novel The String GamesThe fair was held at Olympia and the sheer scale of the building, crammed with stalls from publishers around the world, gives a sense of the enormity of the publishing business.

IMG_3013

One small section on the ground floor was occupied by the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) where Victorina Press had a stall. It was great to meet other authors published by Victorina Press and celebrate bibliodiversity. This is a term coined by independent publishers in Chile and adopted by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers. Bibliodiversity provides an opportunity for independent publishers to promote a different outlook and voice from the standardised content offered by major publishers. Victorina Press is an excellent example of bibliodiversity with a broad range of publications including adult novels and children’s fiction, practitioners’ guides, poetry and short fiction. You can read more about bibliodiversity on a blog post written by Danielle Maisano here.

Although the London Book Fair is primarily for industry, there are growing opportunities for writers to enjoy input. I attended several sessions at Author HQ including advice on how to market and promote your work. (You may see some of this learning put into practice as the launch of my novel approaches.) I also had the opportunity to meet friends, put faces to names I knew from social media and approach publishers I had met online. I loved the whole experience and was pleased to see uncorrected proofs of The String Games displayed on the Victorina stall.

fullsizeoutput_1cb7

I also grabbed a few freebies at the fair and brought home three further proof copies of The String Games. 

fullsizeoutput_1cca

These are now winging their way to book bloggers who will post reviews as part of my blog tour in May.

v2TSG Blog Tour poster

There are lots of exciting events happening prior to the launch of The String Games including the release of my debut poetry pamphlet adversaries/comradesIf you fancy coming to the launch of adversaries/comrades please find the details below:

adversaries-comradesPOSTER

So, that’s a round up of my very busy week. How are things going for you?

5 Comments »

Introducing Danielle Maisano and her novel ‘The Ardent Witness’

I am really pleased to welcome Danielle Maisano to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. She is also a Victorina Press author with a debut novel The Ardent Witness to be released on 9 March 2019. It is available to purchase here.

cover-small

I was lucky to receive a copy of the novel ahead of publication and really enjoyed reading it. Here’s a short review of the book:

Danielle Maisano’s The Ardent Witness is a character-driven novel set in Togo where the exuberance and camaraderie between young volunteers is shared and in Detroit (before and after the placement) where Lily’s personal development is explored. I particularly enjoyed the chapters set in Togo which included the frustrations, challenges and triumphs of trying to make a difference to the lives of people in a developing country. When tragedy hits, Lily reflects upon her own actions and her resolve to make a success of her placement is strengthened. This is a worthy debut novel. Thank you to Danielle for introducing me to Togo, a country I knew very little about.

And now, here is Danielle who has agreed to answer a few questions.

Photo B&W

Why did you decide to write a book, Danielle?

I don’t really think I decided to write a book, I just sort of started doing it. As I mention in my author’s note, I honestly never thought I would write about my experiences in Togo. I always wanted to write a novel but I never thought it would be about that. But when I moved to London after having spent my two years in a tiny village in Togo, I felt a bit lost. I was so homesick for the life I had left there. So I began to write about it and it was therapeutic. A way to remember. At first, I wrote about things as they had actually happened, but then I began to see a different story taking place.  Which sort of leads to your next question…

What is the inspiration behind your novel?

I moved to London to study International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies and as I was becoming more educated in things like historical materialism, dependency theory and heterodox economic models a lot of what I experienced in Togo was beginning to make more sense to me. So I wanted to find a way to write about what I was learning theoretically in a more human form, connecting it to what I had experienced as a development worker by writing a novel.

How did you decide on the title?

I took the title from an English translation of a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “It Means Shadows” and I do think it sort of sums up the motif of the story –

“Let what I am, then, be in some place and in every time,

an established and assured and ardent witness,

carefully destroying himself and preserving himself incessantly,

clearly insistent upon his original duty.”

The narrator, Lily, is constantly looking for ways to do something meaningful with her life. She is young and idealistic and believes that she can make a difference in the world but she is struggling to find a way to do so. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end I think she chooses a path that sort of embodies this sentiment. To be an ardent witness. It is both active and passive at the same time. To have a passion for life, morals, an ethical code, to want to do good, but at the same time to accept the fact that you may not always have the ability to change things, to right every injustice. But there is a power in seeing and sharing what you have seen. I think that, in a sense, is the duty and desire of every writer, artist, or poet. It’s what drives them to create.

Do you have a day job? If so, how does working in a different context affect your writing?

When I started seriously writing the book, I had just finished my studies at SOAS and I was looking for work so I had a lot of time to write. Then, in the year that followed I did an internship at an NGO, which was part-time. I worked in a coffee shop and also did a bit of freelance writing. So my schedule was much more flexible than doing a 9-5 job and that was really when I completed most of the first draft. When I finally did find a full-time job at a homeless charity in North London, that was a very unproductive time in regards to the book. Luckily, after about a year there, my husband and I decided to take off and spend some time with my family in the US and then his family in Chile. We were gone for about 8 months and that was an amazing time because I was able to really focus on nothing else but the book. If I hadn’t had that time I would probably still be writing it. Working  9-5 thing is very difficult when you are also trying to do something creative. But then, when I was looking for work, I also had a lot of guilt that I had so much time to write when I should be working or looking for work. Chile was different because that time had been specifically set aside to write and I was very fortunate to have had that, plus a very encouraging and supportive partner. Since returning to London, I’ve been able to do part-time and freelance work which I find the most conducive to writing but I realize it’s really a privilege to be able to have that option, one I still sometimes feel very undeserving of. But then again, I guess there will always be reasons or excuses not to write and half of the job is overcoming them.

Are the names of characters important to you? How did you choose them?

Well, a lot of the names of American characters were just names that were always floating in my head, like Sonia and Lily. They were always sort of these archetypical characters that I had named some time ago that were waiting to pop up in my writing. The names for the Togolese characters were more sentimental. Like the character of Fati, there was a little girl that lived near me, she was only about one or two years old when I moved there and her name was Fatima and everyone called her Fati. Her brother brought her over almost every day, we played together and she would cry when it was time to leave. She was the sweetest little girl and I will always wonder what her life is like now. I wonder if she remembers me? Am I some weird sort of memory to her? Also the name Gladys, there was a young girl I knew who was from Ghana and I could see she was very isolated and alone and some of the other girls made fun of her for not speaking French well and I felt a sort of connection to her. We were both outsiders. So in the book, there is a connection there.

What were the challenges in writing The Ardent Witness?

Basically the main challenge was just to keep going. Having the confidence to finish what I started and believe that no matter what came of it, it was worth doing. I think that was the hardest part in the end.

What’s next for you, Danielle?

I think I may have started writing my next novel. I guess only time will tell.

You can find out more about Danielle by visiting her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

5 Comments »

The Worm: why use THAT title?

This is the second of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the three different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier post, you can read it here.

The middle part of The String Games shows the protagonist, Nim, as an only child. She mistakenly shoulders a sense of guilt over the death of her younger brother, Josh, and this makes her vulnerable to manipulation by those she thinks of as friends. Thus, use of the string figure ‘the worm’ came to represent the second part of the novel (which deals with the teenage years). The worm is symbolic of the peer pressure Nim experiences which gnaws away at her sense of self.

part_2_final_illustration

This illustration of The Worm by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part two of The String Games

According to Anne Akers Johnson’s String Games from Around the World (1995), this figure is known in Germany as a train and elsewhere as a mouse, but in the fishing villages of Ghana it is called the worm. The figure is created by one player who loops string around the fingers of one hand. When the loose string is pulled the worm disappears. The idea of a worm gobbled as bait used in fishing represents aspects of Nim’s teenage years. It signifies Nim’s recognition that she was manipulated by her friends and order to maintain a sense of self, she changes her name to Imogen which facilitates a move into adulthood.

I’m delighted The String Games is now available for pre-order from Waterstones and Foyles. Why not do as bestselling author, Jacquelyn Mitchard suggests? Treat yourself and read this one. 

1 Comment »

Heads up: new publication

I am delighted to share the news that my debut poetry pamphlet will be published in March 2019. Last summer I entered a competition inviting submissions of poetry on the theme of siblings and I was thrilled to be judged joint winner with Rachel Lewis. My pamphlet is titled adversaries/comrades and includes a range of forms from prose poetry to pattern poetry all based on the relationships between siblings.

Wordsmith_HQ have done a wonderful job in creating the pamphlet and designing the cover.

FINAL COVER gail aldwin

The cover image is taken from a photo of children playing in Maumbury Rings, the Neolithic henge situated to the south of Dorchester. Every August bank holiday there is a wonderful day of music held at Maumbury Rings where picnickers enjoy a range of bands. This has become my favourite day of the year in the county town, so I am very pleased with the cover design.

Rachel’s poetry pamphlet is titled Three Degrees of Separation and explores issues about love, family, and survival in the face of mental ill-health. You can read more about the pamphlet and details of the pamphlet launch here

The launch of my poetry pamphlet will take place on Wednesday 27 March 2019, 7–9pm at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. Please register your interested in attending here. I’m very pleased Magdalena Atkinson will be offering musical accompaniment at the event. It should be a lovely evening…do come along.

adversaries-comradesPOSTER

 

 

 

2 Comments »

The String Games: what’s with the title?

I’ve used rainbow strings many times in my teaching career with adults and children. It’s a good form of kinaesthetic learning where students make string figures as a way to generate stories. The idea to use The String Games as the title for my novel came from the characters. There were instances where characters were strung along, they were puppets on a string and there was a need to cut the apron strings. String became a controlling metaphor for the novel and the title embedded within the story.

When the novel developed into three parts to reflect the development of the protagonist from child, to a teenager and then into an adult,  I decided to name each of the different parts of the novel after a string figure. This post considers the significance of the title of the first part of the novel, ‘Cat’s Cradle’. Following posts will consider the other two parts of the novel.

part_1_final_illustration

This illustration of Cat’s Cradle by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part one of The String Games

Cat’s Cradle is one of the oldest games in recorded human history, and involves passing a loop of string back and forth between two players. As part of the game, different figures are produced including diamonds, candles (straight strings), and an inverted cat’s cradle called a manger. Cat’s cradle is played in cultures throughout the world including Africa, Eastern Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the Arctic.

In using Cat’s Cradle as the title for the first part of my novel, it expresses the intimacy of a  relationship enjoyed by a child in close proximity with a caring adult. In The String Games it represents the relationship my child protagonist develops with her mother’s lover, Dee. When Jenny (Nim’s mother) is too traumatised by the abduction of Josh to care for her ten-year-old daughter, it is Dee who steps in to offer support. The idea of a cradle is indicative of the love Dee offers at a time of crisis.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games when it will be published by Victorina Press. In the meantime, if you’re interested in short fiction you could always try reading Paisley Shirt

6 Comments »

Squeezing the pips in Antigua

It’s my last few days in Guatemala and I’m determined to  make the most of them. Today I went on a bone-crunching bike ride around the villages on the outskirts of Antigua. You can imagine the difficulty of cycling over cobbled roads like this:

img_2906

Thankfully it was a bus ride to collect the bikes in San Juan del Obispo so the cycling to Antigua was mainly downhill.

img_2899

I never tire of visiting ruins in Antigua. Some are churches, others are convents but all the damaged facades are endlessly captivating. Here are a couple more ruins that have me enchanted:

Tomorrow we have a Spanish School outing to the coast. I’m looking forward to having lessons at la playa de Monterrico.

1 Comment »

How to learn Spanish in Guatemala

I’m now at the end of my third week in Antigua, Guatemala, I have one more week here so I want to make the most of this fabulous opportunity to learn Spanish. It was after a fortnight that I noticed I was able to contribute more to the Spanish conversation around the dinner table and I certainly feel much less self conscious when trying to make myself understood. I’ve made a determined effort to learn the conjugations of a few important verbs and can now pose and answer simple questions using the past, imperfect, present and future tenses. The next step is to apply the rules to a greater range of verbs.

Much as my vocabulary in Spanish is growing, I seem to be losing the ability to recall words in English. I frequently have afternoon tea at a garden centre close to the school and when I walk around the grounds, I simply can’t remember the names of plants I recognise. Fortunately for me, the plants have tags which read the same in English as in Spanish (Begonia and Fuschia). Indeed, it strikes me that there are very many words in English that are similar in Spanish which must help to make Spanish one of the easier languages for English speakers to acquire. However, it is also easy to get caught out. For example, the Spanish word embarazada bears a striking resemblance to the English word ’embarrassed’ but actually means pregnant. You can image the humour and confusion in making such a mistake!

There are very many advantages to learning Spanish in Guatemala. For a start, the weather in Guatemala in January is lovely. I enjoy the way Antigua has all four seasons in one day: fresh and spring-like in the morning, a lovely summer’s day by noon, an autumnal chill in the afternoon and cold as winter at night. The city has lots of language schools where one-to-one classes are offered at very reasonable rates. Many Americans come here to brush up their language skills and I’ve enjoyed meeting other students from all over north America as well as others from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. My lessons take place on the roof terrace of the school with fabulous views.

img_2852

With my teacher, Jasmin. (See the smoke coming from the volcano in the distance.)

Jasmin is a very patient teacher who is tuned into my utterances and laughs at my frequent malapropisms. Most Guatemaltecos speak at a measured pace and this makes engaging in conversation a whole lot easier.

Some of the other benefits of learning Spanish in Guatemala include:

  • fabulous sights and sounds of the city such as the rhythmic clapping when tortillas are patted into shape on streets stalls and in markets
  • humming birds in the gardens
  • fantastic ruins around every corner
  • Mayan crafts, cultural traditions and archaeology
  • chicken buses for transport around the towns (former US school buses spruced up for service)

I’m sure if I had more time, I would be able to think up many other advantages but as I have homework to do, I’ll leave you with some photos.

 

3 Comments »

Hola from Guatemala

I’ve been in Guatemala for a fortnight studying at Ixchel Spanish School in Antigua. It’s a wonderful city to spend time in with amazing ruins of convents and churches around every corner (most of them were damaged in the earthquake of 1773).

Volcanoes surround the city and I managed to hike up an elevation of 1,500 feet to reach the summit of Pacaya Volcano which stands at 8,373 feet.

I’ve visited Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán). To quote from Aldous Huxley’s famous 1934 travel book Beyond the Mexique Bay: “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

I’ve even popped into Honduras to visit the amazing archaeological site of the Maya civilisation at Copán.

With all these wonderful distractions it’s been increasingly difficult to engage with the seemingly impossible delightful task of learning Spanish. With two more weeks to go, who knows, I might even be able to speak a sentence in Spanish without correction from my teacher. Wish me luck!

Leave a comment »

Pass it on

I have enjoyed so much support from other writers with the forthcoming publication of my debut novel The String Games so it is a pleasure to be able to pass this support on. My publisher asked me to review Nasrin Parvaz’s extraordinary memoir, One Woman’s Struggle in Iran and this I was pleased to do, partly because I travelled through Iran in 1981. (You can read the review here.) Imagine my delight to find an extract from this review used as an endorsement on the back cover of Nasrin’s memoir. It is a real privilege to find myself in this position and I truly hope this book finds the readership it deserves.

fullsizeoutput_1c11

Well done, Nasrin, for writing this powerful memoir where we can all learn from your tenacity and resilience.

Leave a comment »