the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Moving on

We are packing up our house, getting it ready to let it over the spring and summer. This will leave us free to wander about the UK and we’re aiming to spend time in Edinburgh and Cambridge. Meanwhile, we’re making the most of the things Dorset has to offer. At the weekend, we went on a 17km walk through the fields and here are some of the things we saw.

Dorset is a beautiful county. Did you spot the first bluebells? In the next couple of weeks there will be carpets of blue in the woodlands. It almost seems a pity to be leaving…

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Lots to get excited about

With the opportunity to meet up to six other people outside from 29 March (when some of the lockdown restrictions are lifted in England) I find my diary filling up. My mum is visiting from 1 April (she’s in our bubble) and my daughter returns to Dorchester until her new-build house is ready. I haven’t seen either since December when we had a pre-Christmas celebration so I’m really looking forward to catching up. Mum and my son share the same birthday in April so there will be more celebrations before she goes home.

In other news, David and I achieved a long held ambition yesterday. The windows of our house look over water meadows to a ridge with a clump of trees. Setting off at ten o’clock, we stomped beside hedgerows and through fields to reach the trees ninety minutes later. They were not as we expected, with the evergreens hiding two huge water tanks but the deciduous tree with its many trunks and extensive roots was fascinating.

We covered 15km in total and saw other interesting things along the way.

Our plans to visit Scotland depend on further lockdown restrictions being lifted but we will definitely be heading off in the coming months. Arrangements are confirmed that will enable us to spend time in Cambridge over the summer. And now the clocks have changed to British Summer Time, things are definitely looking up.

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Welcome to Jessica Norrie, author of The Magic Carpet

I became aware of Jessica Norrie and her novels through membership of a Facebook Group called Book Connectors. As the name suggests, it’s a place to connect, particularly targeted to authors and book bloggers. It was with real interest that I was drawn to Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet. There are certain commonalities in our experiences as authors (we were both formerly teachers) and in the subject of our novels. Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet covers the experiences of five families with children attending Year Three in an outer London school during the start of the academic year 2016. This Much Huxley Knows is set in the suburbs of London during the autumn term of the same year and is written from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy in Year Two.

Following email exchanges, I invited Jessica to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter in order to find out more about her experiencesI extend a warm welcome to Jessica and invite her to answer the following questions that occurred to me while reading The Magic Carpet. 

  • Although The Magic Carpet focuses on particular families during a specific time period, did you write this novel with universal truths in mind?

Towards the end of my teaching career, I felt the need to distil thirty years, thousands of individuals, situations and conversations into something coherent, otherwise they’d all continue buzzing round my head and I wouldn’t feel free to concentrate on anything else. As everyone knows, all human children and adults combine their similarities in different ways that make them into individuals but with common interests. I wanted to see if I could get at that. 

  • There is a large cast of characters in The Magic Carpet and the use of multiple viewpoints. How did you plan and write the novel to offer perspectives from so many different community members?

A 7-year-old said one day “If we only write in capital letters, you can’t tell us off for not using them.” That says so much about how children’s minds explore ideas, and what’s good and bad about learning to write. In the book I gave Mandeep the idea, and a grandmother who’s probably dyslexic but never diagnosed and helps with his homework after school, then I filled out the family, added neighbours, worked my way along the street… Actually five families reflect a fraction of what teachers encounter daily. Whenever I was struggling with the multiple POVs I reminded myself I was usually bombarded with thirty at once. It was just a question of keeping order. 

  • As the title of your novel suggests, traditional stories and personal histories are central to the writing. How important do you think traditional tales are to learning and development as a child and throughout life?

I was an exceptionally lucky child because with a bookseller father I had a huge variety of brilliant children’s books. But especially to children from homes without books, traditional tales are essential. They overlap across cultures and they’re stepping-stones to other reading. They help order good from bad too although I think nowadays we’d be rightly wary of handsome princes who break in and kiss us in bed or cripple us in tiny glass shoes. Traditional stories are also versatile to teach with and happy teachers make for happy learners! As opposed to fronted adverbials which are vicious spells cast by bad fairies.

  • James Kelman was accused of cultural appropriation in using an eleven-year-old boy from Ghana to narrate Pigeon English, a novel about gang culture on a south London estate. What are your views on cultural appropriation? 

Pigeon English is a fantastic novel, partly based I understand on Damilola Taylor. Anyone from any background is free to take that story or any other and write it their own way – Edna O’Brian did with Girl, encountering the same accusations. Opinions have hardened in recent years and I wouldn’t dare write The Magic Carpet now. Not because I think I shouldn’t, but because I’m terrified of trolls who expect everyone else to accept their opinion but don’t compromise or listen themselves. That’s not to say that evidenced criticism for poor research, or for perpetuating stereotypes and tropes isn’t absolutely valid and welcome. 

You can’t set a realistic novel in London with only one ethnicity. It’s obvious to anyone who’s lived in diverse streets and learnt in diverse schools. By coincidence, Guy Gunaratne published his excellent In Our Mad and Furious City while I was finishing TMC. It also has five London narrators from different backgrounds. Does he have more right to do that because he’s BAME? He writes Irish, Afro-Caribbean, Muslim yet he’s not any of those. As a white woman, do I have more right than a man to write about domestic violence against women? Was I fair to set it in an Asian heritage household? Sadly, domestic violence exists in all cultures. Fortunately so do good stories and writers. 

If opportunities to write and publish were historically fairer, this debate wouldn’t arise and everyone could develop empathy and imagination by writing and reading whatever they’re drawn to. Until very recently opportunities for writers from any kind of minority have been so limited that it’s logical now to justify ring fencing their life experiences and histories for them. But in the long term if all writers only write about what they know best it will limit everyone.   

Hmm – I’m a bit conflicted on this!

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International Women’s Day 2021

To celebrate IWD this year, I joined a Zoom workshop titled Writing Menopause: culture, sex and identity delivered by Apala Chowdry and Maggie Winters. Following an exchange on Twitter, I offered to write a blog post about the experience of joining this workshop.

There were about eight women of a certain age (including myself) as participants. The warm up activity involved using the chat facility to write about our experience of menopause. This involved identifying a word starting with letters from A-Z to share our experience. When this task was complete, we were unmuted and read out our words simultaneously. This created a wonderful chorus of voices and launched us into the next task.

The focus of the first few writing exercises involved considering water as a metaphor for change.

A 5th century Roman mosaic of Thalassa in the Hatay Archaeological Museum

We watched a video of wild swimming and drew upon our own experience of swimming in the sea to write for twenty minutes about the sea as a person. We did this by thinking about the physical characteristics of a personified body of water and also the communication skills of this character.

In this free writing task, I recorded the following:

You wear a robe of silken cloth. The material shimmers as the sun catches threads of silver. You are languorous today, not your normal state of being. I remember last time we met, you were full of yourself. Sucking your teeth and blowing bubbles to make everyone laugh. You were the centre attention, just where you like to be. Yet today, I think you may be trying to lull me. Do you sense my mood? Pensive. I was prepared for an argument. I have practised saying the truths you never want to hear. The words roll off my tongue like the sea jewels you collect. You turn away, showing me your deaf ear. I know you too well to let you get away with this. I shall have my say. And when I’m drained of talk, you lap at my feet for once, a faithful dog. 

The next exercise involved building on this introduction in a further twenty minute of free writing. The final part of this section of the workshop provided an opportunity to develop a character emerging from the water who meets with another person. We were asked to think about the tension in this encounter. What happens to a character’s sense of self as a result? I took a character from my work in progress to experiment in this section.

The final thirty minutes of the workshop involved thinking about our own life stories. I found this section incredibly worthwhile and would recommend anyone trying out these tasks. It is remarkable how a set of writing instructions were able to provide me with a tangible sense of when I am in life, and what’s left to achieve. If you’d like to give this a go, here’s what to do:

Spend fifteen minutes writing the story of your life in five sentences. Label the sentences, 1 – 5. The writing might include different stages of life, ie from childhood to being an adult, but not necessarily.

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Introducing Linda Rosen

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Black Rose Writing author Linda Rosen to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Formerly a fitness professional, Linda became an novelist when her debut The Disharmony of Silence was published in March 2020. I’m so pleased to be able to connect with Linda who splits her time between New Jersey and Florida. As an early reader of Linda’s second novel Sisters of the Vine, I became immersed in the story of Liz, a most tenacious protagonist. I’m thrilled Linda has joined me for an interview to share more information about herself and her books.

About Sisters of the Vine

Housewife and mother with a loving husband to take care of her – that’s all Liz, a Fifties gal, ever wanted. Over her father’s objections, she drops out of college to marry Rick, who dreams of living off the land. They buy a farm on a verdant hillside in the Hudson Valley, but can’t agree on what to plant. When they discover French-American hybrid grapes, Liz is confident they’ll be happy. Grapes are classy.

As the rich soil sinks into her soul and the vines begin to thrive, the marriage grows rocky. Refusing to disappoint her father again, Liz is determined to make her marriage work . . . until she discovers a photograph hidden in the old barn.

Faced with impossible decisions, Liz is desperate. She has a vineyard ready to harvest and no idea how to accomplish the task. Does she have the moxie to flourish? Or will she and the land turn fallow?

Sisters of the Vine is released 25 March 2021 and is available for pre-order through the publisher Black Rose Writing.

Q & A

Sisters of the Vine is your second novel, can you tell us about your debut, The Disharmony of Silence

Thanks for asking. I’m happy to. The Disharmony of Silence is about a clandestine love affair in 1920s Brooklyn that leads to a family secret held for eighty-four years. Carolyn Lee, the protagonist, is desperate for family. When she discovers this shocking secret, she is determined, against all advice, to reveal it. The secret has the potential to tear lives apart. Or, it could bring her the closeness and comfort she longs for. It all depends on how she handles it.

The Disharmony of Silence was published at the start of the pandemic. How did this impact on you as a writer launching a debut novel?

Actually, having my debut published during this time was, for me, the silver lining in this pandemic. With book events all turning to virtual, I was able to “meet” readers from all over, from places I never would have gotten to if events were in person. In addition, the writing community is extremely giving and many well-published authors stepped up to help promote me, as well as my fellow 2020 debuts. Facebook groups were formed with on-line book clubs and podcasts and Zoom took over virtual book talks and interviews. I’ve met so many wonderful writers who I now call friends. And met readers, as I’m doing now on your blog, who I probably never would have met if not for Covid 19 shutting down in-person events. That said, I am looking forward to this pandemic being over and am so very sorry for everyone who has lost a loved one to this horrendous virus. 

A sense of place is important in Sisters of the Vine. How do you choose your settings?

Thank you. I worked hard for the vineyard to come alive. Settings are so important to me when I read a novel that I wanted to make mine evocative. I want my readers to inhabit place, smell the aromas and feel the textures. Therefore, I choose places that I know well, where I’ve walked the streets and ate the food, heard the birds sing, or as in Sisters of the Vine, stood in vineyards, felt the grapes in my fingers, smelled the rich moist earth and tasted the bold wine. 

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Cool new photography feature

I’ve just worked out how to use a slider to compare photos. Thrilled by this discovery, I wanted to share it with you immediately. The photo on the left is the view from my writing room yesterday and the right shows this morning.

View from my window on consecutive days.

It’s so much duller today but but I’m excited by the possibilities of this new feature. Watch this space as I try to improve my photography, and explore the benefits of WordPress further.

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Lockdown walks

Although currently in lockdown, we are allowed to take daily exercise. David and I are in the habit of running one day and walking the next. We don’t run together as he’s much faster than me. On walking days, we cover a 10km loop that takes us along Poundbury hill fort to the village of Bradford Peverell and then through Charminster on the outskirts of Dorchester to home.

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken on recent walks. From flooded fields, to early buds, lambs in the fields and cottage homes, an azure sky to rain afoot. I hope you enjoy these images of Dorset.

How are you coping during the pandemic?

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Author and illustrator interview

Why not take a few minutes to watch this interview? Sit down, kick back – you may learn something fun and inspirational!

About illustrator, Fiona Zechmeister

Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo. Find out more about Fiona on her website: https://www.fionazeich.net

Twitter:                       https://twitter.com/fionazeichnet

Instagram:                 https://www.instagram.com/fionazeichnet/

About author, Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. Her forthcoming contemporary novel This Much Huxley Knows uses a young narrator to show adult experiences in a new light. When she’s not gallivanting around the world, Gail writes at her home in Dorset. 

Twitter:             https://twitter.com/gailaldwin

Facebook:         https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

About Victorina Press

Victorina Press was created by Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes. She is a Chilean-British writer and academic.  Her mission is to publish inspirational and great books. To do this, Victorina Press follows the principles of bibliodiversity, a concept developed by a group of Chilean independent publishers — Editores independientes de Chile —in the late 1990s. It is now part of the ethos of many worldwide independent publishers. Diversity is beautiful.

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Happy publication day, Joe Siple

I’m delighted to welcome Joe Siple to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Joe is an established author published by Black Rose Writing, an independent press based in Texas. I was so impressed with Joe’s debut novel The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride, I decided to submit my second novel to Black Rose Writing and this has now been accepted for publication. In the meantime, Joe’s sequel The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride will be published today, 21 January 2021. I was fortunate to be an early reader of this splendid sequel and I’m thrilled Joe has agreed to join me for an interview. 

About The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride

Jason Cashman has reached the goal he spent the last twenty years seeking, but instead of feeling content, he feels empty. When he meets Alexandra Lopez, a ten-year-old America-loving girl facing deportation, he is inspired by his old friend, Murray McBride, to give her five wishes before she must leave.

They set out to check off as many wishes as possible, but when Jason’s transplanted heart begins to fail, he must choose between his obligations to the past and his hope for a future.

The interview

 Q. I’m fascinated by the relationships between characters in your novels and particularly the strength of intergenerational friendships. What inspired you to write about this?

A. I’ve always been intrigued by how similar most people are, at their core. Yet people of all kinds–young and old, black and white, religious and atheist–seem so different on the surface. I find it fun to explore relationships where the characters find a way to get beyond their superficial differences, to the closeness we all crave.  

Q. In The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride, your young protagonist faces an uncertain future in America due to ill health and her family’s immigration status. Why write about such a contentious issue?

A. There are two reasons. The first is a result of a family trip to Guatemala. During this “volunteer vacation” we saw the difference between people who were receiving money from a relative in the U.S.–some in the U.S. illegally– and those who weren’t. And I realized that if I were in their situation, I would also do whatever it took to provide for my family’s well-being. We also met many kind, gentle people there and I realized just how human they are, which is easy to lose sight of in the debate over immigration in this country. 

The second reason was the result of the change in U.S. immigration policy that separated young children from their parents as a way to scare others from trying to cross the border illegally, as well as the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced innocent families into territory run by Mexican drug lords. I knew that writing about these things could anger some readers and potentially hurt my career, but it was important that the people I reach with my book see the humanity in these people. I also think it’s important to note that I don’t believe we should have “open borders” and let anyone in. But I do think we need an immigration policy that treats people as human beings. That is the point I try to make with this book, and I believe making that point is worth the risk. 

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Meet Dawn Knox

I’m delighted to welcome Dawn Knox to my blog today. We’ve both had stories in print and online anthologies from Bridge House Publishing and have met in person at London celebration events. Dawn writes in a range of genres so I’m thrilled to learn more about her latest release.

Dawn, please can you tell us about your new book?

Of course! It’s called The Macaroon Chronicles and it’s published by Chapeltown Publishing. It is a – hopefully – humorous romp on the fictitious Isle of Macaroon with Eddie the Bald Eagle who is really a chicken but doesn’t like to admit it and his friends: Brian, who’s a monkey, Colin who’s a lemur and doesn’t like to be referred to as a monkey, Gideon the failed spy who’s a pig and finally, two teenage rabbits, Babs and Deirdre, who are addicted to social media. The geography of the Isle of Macaroon is interesting because it contains Meringue Mountains with chocolate waterfalls, cheese mines, a custard river and the island itself, is surrounded by the Bouillabaisse Sea to the east and the Vichyssoise Ocean to the west.

How did you become interested in writing?

I’ve always read lots of books and made up stories in my head, probably as a result of being an only child, but writing stories only began about fifteen years ago when I was trying to help my, then, teenage son to complete his essay homework. In fact, I was actually trying to encourage him to start it! And the beginning of a story which I came up with interested me so much that I carried on writing it although I think my son thought of an idea of his own for his essay. But that incident began a real passion for writing and a few years ago when I had a bit of upset in my life and was feeling rather down I realised that writing was therapeutic and could lift me out of my thoughts and transport me to a different world. I’ve been writing each day ever since. 

Do you prefer to write in any particular genre and if so, which?

I’ve tried many genres including sci-fi, speculative fiction, historical romance, horror and humorous, quirky stories. I’ve also won two prizes for non-fiction writing, which surprised me greatly! It would be hard to say which I prefer although it’s probably fair to say that I prefer the genre I’m writing in at that particular moment. The only genre I haven’t written is erotica and at the moment I have no plans to start that although if I did want to have a go, I think I’d use a pen name!

Of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favourite and why?

It would have to be one of those stories that are in my book The Great War – 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those Who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago and I would probably pick a different one each day (well, at least for one hundred days!). I always describe that book as the one that contains my heart and soul. Writing a story in exactly 100 words necessarily means that it is a compact and concentrated story and of course the subject of the First World War is extremely emotive. But of all the stories I have written they are the ones which mean the most to me.

Have any of your characters ever decided to take things into their own hands and write themselves a bigger part or a different part than you’d intended? If so which one or ones?

Two of the characters in The Macaroon Chronicles are ones who wrote themselves larger parts. The first is Eddie the Bald Eagle who’s really a chicken and he came about when I was planning a short story to read at my writers’ group. I’d been watching a clip of the British ski-jumper Mike Edwards or as everyone knew him, ‘Eddie the Eagle’, who captured everyone’s hearts in the Winter Olympics of 1988 in Calgary. I thought ‘Eddie the Eagle’ was a fine name and initially, the character was going to be human but I thought it might be fun if he was actually a bird. And then to give him a twist, I turned him into a Bald Eagle and even more bizarrely, I decided that his vanity would compel him to represent himself as a bald eagle whereas in fact, he was a bald chicken. The other character was Gideon who merely popped up to help Eddie out of one of the many spots of bother in which he finds himself, but Gideon was so endearing with his incompetence and inability to pass his exams to become a fully-qualified spy, he earned his place in the rest of the book.  He is completely inept at using the espionage tools he’s been given and has an unfortunate knack of shooting any bystanders with his sleeping-dart-tipped pens. So, Gideon was allowed to stay and he ended up joining Eddie, Colin and Brian on their adventures on the Isle of Macaroon.

Is there a specific word count to which you usually work either intentionally or unintentionally?

When I’m writing short stories, they tend to be between 2000 and 3000 words unless of course I am aiming for a Drabble which is exactly 100 words. However, I generally I end up with more words than I intend and then have to edit to cut back to the desired word count. But I think that’s good because it makes me think about the appropriate words and perhaps to cut out any waffle.

I notice food features greatly in your current work. Tell us more.

It certainly does, as I’ve said before, the Isle of Macaroon is made of many food-related geographical features and even the names of the towns reflect this, in that at the beginning, Eddie, Brian and Colin are heading to Spudwell to the stadium, to perform in a music concert. The chums’ boat is moored in Hummus-on-Sea and just before Christmas, Colin finds himself in Treacletart and on his way back to Hummus-on-Sea, he’s nearly run down by the bus from Eggsenham!

I assume you must like macaroons. True or false?

Unfortunately, I have to stick to a strict diet which limits carbohydrates. Nowadays I don’t eat macaroons at all but I adore anything that’s coconut flavoured.

In The Macaroon Chronicles, on the Isle of Macaroon, there are Meringue Mountains with chocolate waterfalls, cheese mines and a custard river. Sounds delicious! Where would you head to first?

Definitely the cheese mines would be my first port of call for the reason that I gave above, in that I have to limit the carbohydrates I eat. But perhaps a trip to the Bouillabaisse Sea might be quite tasty as well!


You can follow Dawn here on https://dawnknox.com 

on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DawnKnoxWriter

on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls 

Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox

The Macaroon Chronicles can be purchased here mybook.to/TheMacaroonChronicles

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