the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

#Friday Flash: You never know

At the Winchester Writers’ Conference in July 2012, I won first place in the ‘Slim Volume, Short Edition’ competition. The prize gave me the opportunity to have sixty copies of Four Buses printed.  This is a collection of short stories and flash fiction and the piece below comes from this book.  For further information about Four Buses, please click here.

You never know

Taking a break from pruning roses, I sit on the wall and study the street. The windows of the terraced houses stare over the cars parked bumper to bumper in the residential bays. The bloke that lives two doors along is washing his car, and he nods at me while he sloshes a bucket of clean water over, indicating that the job is done. A bee sounds in my ear then heads for the jasmine bush. I take off my gloves and enjoy the spring sunshine that chases over my arms.

Joel turns the corner into the street, his hair is a mass of dark curls and he’s clutching a large, rectangular object. I dread to think what he’s bought at the car-boot sale this week. Other kids spend their pocket money on sweets, but Joel’s into collecting. He thinks he’ll unearth a treasure that no-one else has spotted. I blame my mother: they spend too much time watching antique shows on afternoon TV when Joel’s supposed to be doing homework. But I can’t complain, she offers the childcare for love not money.

He’s got the edge of the painting balanced on his trainer and with each step he moves a little closer to home. I cross the road to help him, and he lets me take one end. It’s heavy, the frame is chipped and the canvass spotted with mould. We rest it against the wall and I take a step back to admire his purchase.

‘Hmm, is it a ship?’ I ask.

‘It’s a sailing boat out on a wild sea. There are waves blasting against the hull. See the mast leaning? It’s likely to be a painting of the Cutty Sark or some other important vessel.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Look at the frame.’ He points to the place where a label displays the artist’s name. ‘He’s got to be important with a name like War Wick.’ I laugh – Joel hasn’t learnt how to pronounce Warwick – and he stares at me accusingly.

‘That’s a giant-sized purchase you’ve made this week.’

‘I know.’ He widens his eyes giving a flash of blue and smiles. ‘I was lucky to get it.’

‘How much did it cost?’

‘Two pounds,’ he says. ‘A man tried to buy if off me once the deal was done. That must mean it’s a worth something. He offered me a fiver but I’d said he’d have to go higher than that.’

‘Are you sure he wasn’t being kind? Didn’t want you to be out of pocket with a dud?’

‘I don’t think so.’ His shoulders hunch and I wish I’d never shared my suspicion. ‘I thought we could put it in the lounge. It’s got a wire to hang it by and everything.’

I’m thrown by Joel’s suggestion. There’s no way I’m ruining the wallpaper to display that monstrosity.

‘Wouldn’t it be better in your room? I mean it is your special purchase after all.’

‘No.’ He stares at the painting. ‘I want to share it with you, Mum.’

‘You’re right, darling.’ I swallow my objections. ‘Perhaps we can find a place for it in the hall. Important paintings are usually hung above the stairs.’

‘D’you really think it’s important?’

‘It could be.’ I choke on my lies. ‘You never know.’

‘You’re right.’ He nods his head. ‘You never know.’


Bored with Boxing Day? Read a little bit more about PNG

For those of you still wondering what on earth the artefact below is used for, let me put you out of your misery.  It is not a drinking vessel or a hearing aid, but a piece of clothing.

penis gourd

A penis gourd is worn amongst the male members of tribes in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is secured by the rattan loop and worn in an upright position without other clothing.  While it is frequently assumed that the wearer is making a sexual display it is more usual for Highlanders to simply wear the penis gourd to cover themselves.

One of my other treasures from Papua New Guinea is my bilum bag. This is a netted bag which is made from imported wool that is twisted into twine.  The colours make this type of bag more sought after than the tradition ones made from woven plant reed. Each bilum has a long strap that is worn by women across the forehead to enable the carrying of heavy loads balanced over the back.  Depending on the design, bilums also make useful baby carriers.

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A bit about Wabag, Papua New Guinea

I was minded to think of life in Papua New Guinea when I wrote the story called Big Wash which was published in the Writers’ Abroad anthology titled Foreign Encounters. The story details the eccentricities of expatriate life and is based on my experiences of living in Wabag, Enga Province in the early 1980s.

Something about the Highlands of Papua New Guinea has never left me and The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska took me right back to Wabag. Although I don’t own any of the bark cloth that is mentioned in the book, I do have one of these:

Kina shell

This is a kina shell necklace, made from Gold Lip Shell and drilled with two holes to allow it to be worn.  When the Leahy brothers first discovered the Highlands during the 1930s, their search was for gold which the Highlanders willing exchanged for pearl shells. These shells are valued all over Papua New Guinea but particularly in the Highlands where contact between tribes traditionally brought the shells very slowly from the coast to the mountain valley.

Papua New Guinea currency is also called the kina but the shells continue to be used in traditional ceremonial payment.

I also have one of these:

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On the road with ‘Four Buses’


Here I am signing copies of ‘Four Buses’ which was launched in Dorchester on Saturday.  I was delighted to have friends and fellow writers join me for the event, where I read a few stories from the collection and sold copies of the book. It was great to have friends who travelled from London and Cambridge to spend the launch with me, and a local friend who hurtled back for a wedding in Stafford, so keen to get her copy of ‘Four Buses’. I was thrilled when she emailed me today, saying she’d read the collection straight through in one go, and loved the way the stories were, ‘not spelled out yet were so clear.’ It’s good to accept praise from someone I really respect.

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A visit to the Pyramids of Giza


This is a classic image that comes to mind when mention is made of the Pyramids at Giza. In the foreground is the Sphinx which was carved from an outcrop of rock left behind when the stones for the Great Pyramid were quarried. Used for target practice by Napoleonic troops the human head remains without a nose and beard deliberately although the paws and haunches of the beast were renovated during the 1980s and 1990s. Behind is the Pyramid of Chephren, with steeper sides than the Great Pyramid and its summit intact. Chephren was the son of Cheops who reigned between 2589 and 2566 BC and for whom the Great Pyramid was built.

Gail on Great Pyramid

Here I am standing on the blocks of the north face of the Great Pyramid.  It was early in the morning and there were not too many people about so we were able to linger without being hassled by the tourist police or hawkers. I hope from this image you get a sense of the huge scale of the pyramid, the task of construction and the sheer antiquity of it.  We visited other, lesser known pyramids, including Mycerinus which is  sheathed in Aswan granite and is sometimes known as the Red Pyramid.  Closeby there are three subsidiary pyramids which you’ll see below: Read the rest of this entry »


Party venue: institution of mechanical engineers

When I booked my ticket for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s winter party, I had no idea that it was to be held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  At One Birdcage Walk the building is just around the corner from Westminster Palace and about a 30 minute walk from Waterloo.  Fortunately, by the time my train arrived, the wind had died down and the rain had turned to drizzle.  Even though I’d been advised to wear glitter tights, my outfit of black trousers and a top seemed appropriate and also suitable for travelling.  My only concession to party-wear were my shoes:  pointy with kitten heels. Although my toes cried for mercy with every step I managed to see the evening out without crumpling in a corner and although the acoustics in the library were appalling, I was able to chat with a number of writing friends.

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Plaza or Odeon? Take your pick

Dorchester is the county town of Dorset and with a population of around 20,000 it now boasts TWO cinemas. When we first moved here six years ago I was delighted to live within walking distance of a cinema and I’ve been a regular visitor to the Plaza ever since.

Built in the 1930s the Plaza has been updated to provide an all-digital, four screen, 3D and live satelite enabled modern cinema. Some new releases come to Dorchester very quickly but I ran out of luck one year waiting for Atonement to arrive and had to slip along to Weymouth to see the film.  That said, with tickets charged at £2.50 during the week and £3.50 on Friday and Saturday nights,  going to the Plaza is a brilliant and cheap night out.

However, we have an interloper on the Dorchester cinema scene with the Odeon three-screen cinema newly opened in Brewery Square.  The development is on the site of the former Eldridge Pope brewery and will have several new restaurants, shops and housing when it’s completed. In the meantime we have Carluccio’s and the Odeon to keep us guessing as to what the final facilities will be like. But with another cinema, therein lies a dilemma.

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National Association of Writers in Education: 25th anniversary conference

The Minster’s Western Front (Wikipedia)

I was in York at the weekend, attending a wonderful conference where I also delivered a workshop.  Participants attending ‘Flash Fiction:  keeping it short’ came from across the phases of education, all with an interest in developing writing for themselves and their students. I shared a range of prompts aimed to get those less experienced in writing flash started.  These included:

  • Looking at classified advertisements for inspiration
  • Getting ideas for writing from Dulux colour cards (this prompt originates from Calum Kerr, Director of National Flash Fiction Day)
  • Using pages from small, illustrated notebooks to focus the mind on purposeful word selection
  • Drawing upon a photo to think about the story behind the image, from the photographer’s point of view
  • Describing stereotypes from ‘Come Dine with Me’ to create characters you love to hate
  • Self publishing mini books by folding and cutting a sheet of A4 paper
  • Finding markets for your writing:  a selection of websites and magazines that accept flash fiction.

I’d like to thank everyone that came to the workshop for engaging so readily in the tasks, for being willing to share the outcomes from the prompts and for the feedback provided. Read the rest of this entry »


A visit to Winstone Books of Sherborne

Winstone’s is situated at 8 Cheap Street, towards the top of the town in Sherborne.  The shop is double fronted and light streams into the space that contains a huge range of books. As well as shelves along the walls, there are central displays and stands for book-themed gift cards.  A quarter of the floor space is dedicated to children’s books and the owner, Wayne Winstone has worked hard to establish links with schools to promote reading as an important life experience for children of all ages.

The children’s area is inviting with a couch, a rocking horse and a standard lamp to entice families to stay and browse.  Children are invited to review books and as part of the Sherborne Literary Festival, a short story competition for children was held.

Wayne has been successful in attracting authors to deliver talks and book signings at the shop and recent events included a book launch by Sarah Challis. Read the rest of this entry »


What the Dickens? magazine – goes to sponsume

The splendid team at What the Dickens? magazine are seeking your help in getting the next edition into a printed format.  The bi-monthly magazine has been available free on-line for one year with six excellent issues. You can read the back copies here.

To find out more about the team behind the magazine there’s a You Tube film which even includes a photo of me!

So, if you feel in the mood to back this creative endeavour go to the Sponsume page, check out the level of sponsorship you’re able to make and help to turn this magazine into a page turning printed version.

Thank you for your help.