the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Two authors and a facebook group

on December 4, 2020

Author M J Keeley and I met on the Black Rose Authors Facebook group. This is provided by our American publisher to link authors for information sharing purposes. Matthew’s debut Turning the Hourglass was published with Black Rose Writing in 2019 and my second novel This Much Huxley Knows will be published in 2021. When we discovered we were both UK writers published overseas, we wondered if there were other experiences we had in common. This joint post from Matthew and I suggests there are many different ways into writing. 

Why do you write?

Matthew says:

I’ve always had a love of telling stories – because I love reading stories, I think. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve captured someone’s attention and lured them into a plot or a character. I’m an English teacher and, although I don’t usually write for children myself, it’s great to see an entire room of young people fixated when you’re reading a story aloud. To be a writer who can achieve that is something I always aim for. Writing is also something I’ve had to hone over years of practice (and will continue doing!) so there’s a sense of pride in knowing I have a talent that it’s taken me hard work to sharpen.

Gail says:

As humans I think we all need a creative outlet. For others it may be cooking or gardening or painting but for me it’s all about writing. I find the whole process absorbing: from the terror of a blank page to the gruelling process of getting a first draft down. The drafting and redrafting brings joy. I love the way stories become nuanced and layered with more detail and crafting applied. I find nailing the plot the biggest challenge and when it’s done, this brings the greatest satisfaction.

What writing support do you have access to online or in person? Any tips for resources for other writers?

Matthew says:

I subscribe to Writing Magazine and find it really useful – particularly the Writers’ News section. I think almost everything I’ve had published was through a submission call I found there. I’ve recently started using the Story Origin website too. It takes a bit of figuring out but it’s been a really helpful tool in gaining more newsletter subscribers and forming an advance review team for my new novel. Over the years I’ve also befriended other authors online, mostly through beta reading swaps. It’s been really helpful just to have some support through the writing process and to be able to talk through your frustrations with other authors!

Gail says:

I’m a member of a comedy sketch writing group called 3-She and we draft our material on a website called WritersDuet which allows us to work on one document simultaneously. Accompanying discussion takes place on a WhatsApp group call. This approach continued while I volunteered at Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. It’s wonderful to be able to stay in contact with creative friends from even the most remote locations. When I was repatriated due to Covid-19, I initiated online support with other writing groups for feedback and sharing of short stories and novel excerpts. I also belong to Writers Abroad, an online support group for writers living overseas where updates on writing opportunities and competitions are shared. Although this group has now closed, a few of us are working together to create a new forum.

How do you find time for writing?

Matthew says:

With great difficulty! As a full time teacher it’s tough, particularly during term time. If I manage to write anything on a weeknight I consider that a success. So most of my writing is done at weekends and during school holidays. It took me over five years to write each of my first two novels and that seems to be a lot compared to most other writers, but I managed it nonetheless. I don’t have children though, so I have no idea how writers with families fit it all in!

Gail says:

After ten years of shoehorning my writing into a scheduled of paid employment, I now write full time. Because I sleep badly, I’m often at my computer in the middle of the night. This is very bad sleep hygiene, but when I’m lying in bed with ideas flying around, it seems a wasted opportunity not to get them down. 

What is one of the most important things you’ve come to learn about writing?

Matthew says:

Not to over-write. I think when we begin ‘properly’ writing we have this illusion that writing means using as many adjectives as possible and filling every sentence with intense detail and figurative language – I did anyway. It’s taken me a long time to learn the art of editing and simplicity. Reading Stephen King’s On Writing was really helpful. He talks about the ‘invisibility’ of writing and how language that draws too much attention to itself can end up being a distraction. Now I really strive to write fluidly without over-complication that pulls the reader out of the moment. A lot of that has involved ditching redundant adverbs (and any redundant words really!), unnecessary speech tags, and passive voice.

Gail says:

Don’t expect the first draft to be any good. I’ve heard authors say writing is like moulding a piece of clay. You have to keep working at it until the pot is shaped and smoothed and ready for firing. The trouble with writing is you have to make the clay as well! From initial idea to final product is a long journey. To sustain me through the rigours of writing, I’ve learnt to enjoy every stage of the process. 

What achievement in your writing has been most important to you?

Matthew says:

Probably the publication of my first short story. It was called Blue Sky and appeared in an anthology released by a now-defunct publisher. In retrospect, the story wasn’t very good and some of the writing is terrible, but getting that acceptance email and then seeing my name printed in the pages of a real book was really powerful. It spurred me on and woke me up to the idea that I must have some degree of skill. From there, I’ve had many more short stories published and my second novel is about to be released. I’m much prouder of my recent work but I still remember how exciting it was to see that first story in print.

Gail says:

I sold my first story in 2010. A local writing project called Broadsheet Stories supplied fiction on A3 sheets to cafes across Dorset. A new story was printed each week and mine was released in December that year. At the time, I thought about taking a photo of the £25 cheque but decided against it. The next time I received cash for my writing was in 2016 when I won first prize in the Bournemouth National Poetry Day competition. I’ve been writing for over ten years and at this stage it’s important to receive some return for my effort. In no other profession are people asked to give away their work for free. 

Where will your writing journey take you over the next five years?

Matthew says:

I’d love to have at least one other novel published by then. I’m working on a manuscript right now – something quite different to anything I’ve written previously. Moreover, I want writing to play a bigger part in my life, rather than being an extra activity that I squeeze in around my full-time job. I’m not sure what that will look like yet but that’s the goal and I’m taking steps to build up my writing platform!

Gail says:

I’d like to continue writing collaboratively and independently. I love co-writing comedy sketches and dream of taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe one day. In the meantime, my children’s picture book Pandemonium needs to be marketed and promoted and my second novel This Much Huxley Knows will be published in July 2021. 

About Matthew Keeley

Matthew is a writer and English teacher living in Glasgow. His debut sci-fi novel, Turning the Hourglass, was published in 2019 by Black Rose Writing and his new novel, The Stone in My Pocket, will be published early in 2021 through The Conrad Press. He also writes short stories, the occasional poem, and arts reviews for award-winning online magazine The Wee Review.

You can find out more about Matthew here: https://linktr.ee/matthewjkeeley

About Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Pandemonium, a children’s picture book written by Gail, was published on 1 December 2020. Gail regularly appears at literary and fringe festivals. Her home overlooks water meadows in Dorset. You can find Gail on Twitter @gailaldwin.


2 responses to “Two authors and a facebook group

  1. Really interesting exchange Gail. Thanks to you and Mathew for sharing.

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