the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Irenosen Okojie and the NCWIC

This week I was delighted to join the online National Creative Writing Industry Conference.

About the conference

Keynote speaker Irenosen Okojie says: I’m thrilled to be opening the 6th National Creative Writing Industry Conference. This vital, inspiring conference energizes aspiring writers. I’m looking forward to sharing experiences on finding my authorial voice, navigating the industry and methods to stay curious about the world which connects us to the writing process in rewarding ways.

About Irenosen Okojie

Irenosen was born in Nigeria and moved to England aged eight. During her education she attended state schools and boarding schools before studies at London Metropolitan University in Communication and Visual Culture. She is a freelance Arts Project Manager and Coordinator and writer of fiction. Her debut novel, Butterfly Fish, published by Jacaranda Books won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Edinburgh First Book Award. Her short story collection, Speak Gigantular was shortlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Saboteur Awards and nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. It was selected by film director Carol Morley as an Observer Summer Read.

About the keynote speech

I love a good keynote and this was certainly the best I’ve attended online. Irenosen talked a lot of sense and I so wanted to share her words of wisdom that I tweeted her observations and advice. Here are the top ten things that I took from the speech: 

  • Developing an adventurous spirit feeds into the work
  • There is no write way or wrong way to tell a story
  • Create a reward system for yourself while writing your novel to help you keep going
  • We need different exciting voices to enhance the publishing scene
  • Rejection is part of the writing process. Take on critique that is useful and ignore the rest
  • Read first novels. Often they can be brilliant but not always perfect… learn from their mistakes
  • Writing is a joy
  • Literature is for everyone
  • We must write for our sanities
  • Let writing become an obsession

How many of these do you sign up to? 

There are events scheduled for the rest of this week, so if you’re interested click here to see the sessions still available that might be of interest. Thanks to Comma Press and The Manchester Writing School for hosting the conference. 

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Celebrating Libraries Week

Libraries Week is an annual event which takes place during the second week of October. This year it runs from 5–10 October 2020 and aims to celebrate all that UK libraries have to offer. And it’s not just public libraries that participate but school libraries, workplace libraries and university libraries.

Titles available for loan through Dorset Libraries

In Dorset, our libraries have become community hubs where so much more is on offer than the loan of books, audiobooks and DVDs. Babies and young children enjoy songs and rhymes, school children join fun learning activities, residents can find out more about managing health and there’s access to wifi and games. Help is available at the library to find out about employment opportunities, and support to start a new hobby or set up a business. With so much going on, libraries are well worth celebrating.

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Writers Abroad

I’ve been a member of the online writing community Writers Abroad for the last year. It’s a privilege to join such a talented group of writers who currently live as expatriates or have had the experience of living overseas. I first learnt about the group from writer Susan Carey when we both had stories published during the first National Flash Fiction Day celebrations in 2012. I started following Susan’s blog and in 2013 she posted an open call for submissions to Foreign Encounters a Writers Abroad anthology inspired by chance or planned meetings. I wrote a story about living in Papua New Guinea and was pleased to have this published alongside other short stories, non-fiction and poetry.

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Salisbury Fringe goes online

Following from my earlier post, here are details of the Salisbury Fringe which will be streaming live Sunday 4th October on this link. I’m looking forward to seeing my two monologues performed by professional actors from 8:15pm.

Programme:

6.30pm – Duologues

Six duologues, pre-recorded on Zoom and broadcast on the night

7.00pm – Short Cuts

Five theatrical gems, film and live streamed on the night

8.15pm – The Monologue Mash

Eight monologues filmed by the actors, presented in two groups of four. You’ll have the chance to vote for your favourite!

A live, free event! What’s not to like? I hope you’ll join me in the audience.

Find out more about Salisbury Fringe here.

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Unusual connection

I received a direct message on Twitter this week from Rob Casey, a stand up poet, writer and performer who lives in Bridport. He teaches creative writing at Exeter College and is the Bard of Exeter City Football Club. While he was watching the first match of the season for Manchester City (against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Man City won 3-1), he noticed something about the kit that was relevant to me.

Training kit
Away kit

What do you notice? Love a bit of paisley, I do. Indeed I think the tear drop pattern is so great I named my first published book Paisley Shirt. It is a collection of short fiction and the title story is about a Polish man returning to visit a neighbour in the UK who helped to look after him as a child. With twenty-six other stories in this smart, square book there’s a lot of fiction to enjoy. Novelist and short story writer, Maria Donovan kindly endorsed the collection and says the stories are ‘sensitive, surprising, unnerving, tender and crucial.’ It’s easy to get a kindle copy or a paperback by popping over to Amazon. And, if you’re interested, you can read more about the history of the paisley pattern here.

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Salisbury Fringe here I come!

I was delighted to find out this week that two monologues I submitted to Salisbury Fringe have been selected for a monologue mash. This is an evening where professional actors perform the monologues on Zoom. A total of eight monologues are split into two groups and the audience votes for their favourite in each set of four. There will follow a run off between the two successful pieces, a second vote will take place and the winner announced.

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Pan de mo nium: cover reveal

I love the stage in the writing process when all that hard work comes to fruition. There are steps along the way that cause angst or excitement but there’s nothing to replace that sense of ‘it really is going to happen’ when I see the final cover design for my publication. Here it is, ta-dah:

Welcome to the world of Pan de mo nium my children’s picture book. You can read more about the inspiration for the story here. I absolutely love this image as it captures the characteristics of giant pandas:

They’re fun: see that cheeky expression!

They’re shy: those eyes!

They’re a symbol of vulnerability: imagine it!

They’re peaceful: well, not so peaceful in the case of Pan de mo nium. That’s the point of the story!

The final draft has gone to the printers and I’ll receive proofs within the next week. A last read through and then these copies will be sent into the world headed for readers and book bloggers who have kindly agreed to offer early reviews.

Be sure to get a copy for young children in time for Christmas by placing a pre-order now at the Victorina Press website.

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Good company at Victorina Press

Established in 2017, Victorina Press believes in bibliodiversity. This is where small independent presses create a healthy publishing eco system by ensuring new and undiscovered authors reach an audience. I feel lucky to be published with Victorina Press alongside Rhiannon Lewis author of My Beautiful Imperial a Water Scott recommended historical novel, Chris Fielden author of Alternative Afterlives, fellow Dorset writer Vicki Goldie author of the cosy crime Charters Mysteries series and more recently Amanda Huggins, with her coming-of-age novella All Our Squandered Beauty.

I first met Amanda at a Christmas party celebrating our first flash fiction collections published in 2018 by Chapeltown Books. You can read more about Amanda’s Brightly Coloured Horses here. Amanda went on to have two further collections published by Retreat West Books and a poetry pamphlet which won a Saboteur Awards prize in 2020.

Now Amanda is an author with Victorina Press, I had the pleasure to receive an early copy of her novella for review:

All Our Squandered Beauty is a coming-of-age novella set in the 1970s where the protagonist, Kara, a fisherman’s daughter struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father. She rejects the prospect of early marriage that her best friend settles for and focuses instead on future studies in London. During the summer, she spends time on a Greek island where she learns more about herself and her relationships with others. Kara can’t see that she’s emotionally fragile but gradually she learns some mistakes can be rectified while others she has to live with. The sea provides a backdrop to the narrative, sometimes powerful ‘to see the water change from grey to ink and the sky deepen to fire’ and at other times benign, ‘millpond calm, a deep deep blue.’ This is a wonderful read filled with tenderness, charm and hope.

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You can purchase All Our Squandered Beauty now from the Victorina Press shop and it will be available from early 2021 through Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.

 

 

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Welcome to Catherine Randall and ‘The White Phoenix’

This post celebrates the publication day of The White Phoenix for friend and children’s novelist Catherine Randall. She’s wanted to write since she was a child and now Catherine has fulfilled this ambition with a fabulous middle grade children’s bookI adore the feisty thirteen-year-old protagonist in this novel, Lizzie Hopper, who helps to run the family bookshop near St Paul’s in the year of the Great Fire.

“Catherine Randall brings the streets of 17th century London vividly to life… A heart-warming and skilfully told tale.” Ally Sherrick, Black Powder and The Buried Crown

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Welcome Catherine.

Can you start by telling us where your writing journey began?

My writing journey began when I was a six-year-old living in Lincolnshire and I wrote my first ‘book’, alarmingly entitled, ‘Catherine, Lucy and the Goat’. We moved to Shropshire when I was seven, and I continued to write ‘books’, mostly thinly disguised imitations of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, with a few Victorian melodramas thrown in. When I grew up I tried my hand at adult short stories, but realised quite quickly that my heart was in children’s books. The books I read as a child remain the ones that resonate most deeply with me, and now I love reading new children’s books, partly as research, and partly just because they’re a great read.

What inspired you to write The White Phoenix?

I’ve been fascinated by the Great Fire of London ever since I was a child. When I visited London from Shropshire at the age of ten, the first thing I wanted to see was the Monument to the Fire. When I moved to London in my early twenties, I loved walking round the City, with its ancient churches and old street names dotted among the modern glass and steel buildings. Much later, at a time when I was looking for a subject for a story, I caught part of a radio programme about the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, and it reawakened my interest. When I started researching I discovered that London in 1666 was a great setting for a novel, not just because of the Fire but because of all the other things that were going on – war, fear of invasion, the plague, as well as all the prophecies swirling round London about the year 1666. I was initially going to write about St Paul’s, but then I realised it would be more fun to write about the many bookshops that clustered round the cathedral, especially as it was possible for a woman and her daughter to run a bookshop by themselves.

I started writing some time ago, but many of the themes in the book have turned out to have more resonance today than I could ever have imagined.

What are the challenges of publishing your first book during a pandemic?

The first thing to say is that I am absolutely delighted to be having a book published, and the thought of publication has been a beacon of light in what has been a tough year both generally and personally. However, there’s no denying that there are significant challenges. I think the worst thing is that I’ve not been able to do any events with children at bookshops or libraries. I know authors are doing virtual school visits, but it’s quite daunting if you have to start like that. I’m used to going into schools to talk about the Great Fire, but not so used to going into schools to promote a novel as well. But it is something I would very much like to do so I’ll have to get my head round it!

And of course I can’t help being sad that I’m not able to have a proper launch party, because there are so many people who have shared in this journey with me and whom I would like to thank. However, I am having a series of very small parties instead, so that’s going to be fun.

Who is the ideal reader for The White Phoenix?

I really hope that children aged from about 9 to 12 or 13 will enjoy it. I suppose it is a cliché to say so, but I have written the sort of book that I would have liked to read at that age. However, I also know that quite a few adults have read and enjoyed it, so that’s very gratifying.

Is there a message in the novel that you want young readers to grasp?

Lizzie, the main protagonist in the book, refuses to give in to the prejudice of other people around her and makes friends with a Catholic girl at a time when Catholics were very much considered the enemy. I hope that young readers will take away the message that they should never let others tell them what type of people they can or can’t be friends with.

I also hope that young readers grasp the message that you should stand up for what you believe in, which is what Lizzie tries to do, though not always successfully.

Which children’s authors have influenced you?

From my own childhood – Gillian Avery who wrote wonderful, vivid stories about Victorian children such as The Greatest Gresham;  Penelope Farmer who wrote my all-time favourite children’s book, the time-slip story Charlotte Sometimes; and K.M.Peyton, author of the Flambards books among many others. I had the privilege of meeting her once and she was so lovely.

More recent writers who have influenced me include Eva Ibbotson, Hilary McKay (I just love her family stories) and Lydia Syson who has written some terrific historical novels for teenagers.

But I am discovering new children’s authors all the time, and they all have an influence.

What’s next, Cathy?

I’m very excited about my new historical novel set largely in the early nineteenth-century, so once The White Phoenix is well and truly launched, I’m looking forward to getting back to that. However, I have to say that quite a few people have asked about a sequel to The White Phoenix, so I might give that some thought too. I love the characters so much, it would be a pleasure to go back to them.

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The Blurb

London, 1666. After the sudden death of her father, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hopper and her mother take over The White Phoenix – the family bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

But England is at war with France and everywhere there are whispers of dire prophecies. As rumours of invasion and plague spread, Lizzie battles prejudice, blackmail and mob violence to protect the bookshop she loves.

When the Great Fire of London breaks out, Lizzie must rescue more than just the bookshop. Can she now save the friend she wasn’t supposed to have?

Purchase links

Foyles, Waterstones, Book Guild Bookshop, Amazon.

Social media

Twitter: @Crr1Randall

For children’s literature that is emotionally engaging, do give The White Phoenix a read. You won’t be disappointed.

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At the London Book Fair 2019

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Writing plates are spinning

I’m currently in the fortunate position of having a debut novel published, a children’s picture book under contract, a novel on submission and a new work-in-progress. My time is carved up between marketing and promoting The String Games, sending out submission packages for This Much Huxley Knowsfinalising the illustrations for Pan de mo nium and cracking through the first draft of Little Swot. It’s just as well my only other commitment is ten hours a week e-volunteering with VSO. Some days it feels like my feet hardly touch the ground but I’m not complaining.

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Does this girl look like a little swot?

With all of these plates spinning, the real excitement is my new work-in-progress Little Swot which is quite different from my other manuscripts. The idea came from evenings in Ugandawhen I was too tired to read, too hot to sleep and so listened to podcasts. I’m writing one thousand words each day which soon adds up and I’m now over half way through the story and pleased with my progress. I’ve written a synopsis so I know what’s going to happen and I’ve played around with ideas for pitching the novel to publishers when the time comes.Indeed, I’d love to receive some feedback from you. Do you think this novel idea has legs?

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