the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Relationship Strings

I spent the weekend at the VSO offices in Kingston with nine other international volunteers. We took part in facilitation training to assist in the development of our roles at educational settings based in Myanmar, Rwanda, Nepal, Malawi and Uganda. What a lovely bunch of people! Our WhatsApp group is now buzzing with feedback.

One of the things we educationalists find it hard to get our heads around is the idea of ‘passing the stick’. That is, we should adapt our ways of working so that we allow participants in our programmes to take a lead on how input should be focussed and which ideas and strategies to share and develop. As teachers, we’re too used to coming up with questions to solve, but for ownership of the process, participants need to be fully involved with identifying the areas of learning and routes to acquiring skills and confidence.

Many of you will know, I like using string so much I named my debut novel The String Games. But string is also an accessible learning resource available anywhere in the world and can be used to facilitate discussion. As a mixed group of people, the purpose of my activity was to shed light on the things we held in common. Following the directions in the participation manual, we sat in a circle on the floor and as the holder of the ball of string, I was the first to speak. I held the end of string and rolled the ball to someone who I knew I shared something with, saying their name and what we had in common. It could be that we’re both mothers, teachers, shop in the same stores, like the same food … anything really. Upon receipt of the ball, the next person hooks the string over their finger and rolls it to someone else, saying their name and the thing they hold in common. In this facilitation, I appointed roles to each of the participants so we could imagine the activity being delivered on my placement at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. You can read more about the context of my placement here.

The photo below shows the string pattern that was produced as part of the activity, illustrating the links between members of the group. In terms of using this on my placement with members of host and refugee communities, it could prove to be a useful tool to inform analysis and planning.

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Another way to use a ball of sting in participatory training is to sit in a circle and roll the ball from participant to participant whenever they wish to speak.  Holding the ball of string gives a platform to the speaker and avoids interruptions. The web that is created by hooking the string after turn taking demonstrates whether all have contributed to the discussion and whether certain members have dominated. I’m keen to try this activity at some point. Thanks to trainers Wim and Sue for their input over the weekend and to everyone on the course for their friendly support, ideas and encouragement.

My departure date for Uganda remains unconfirmed but as soon as the visa is sorted, I’ll be off.

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Off again …

I’ve been advised that following publication, there are six months to promote a debut novel to maximum effect. So, I’ve been getting out and about with The String Games by offering input at Dorset literary festivals, including the BridLitFest where I shared a platform with Maria Donovan and Rosanna Ley.

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(I’m also at the forthcoming inaugural Blandford Literary Festival at the end of November.)

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I’ve given talks with Dorset Libraries (love a public library) in Dorchester, Poole, Wareham and Creekmoor. An author event in Wellington Library was a good excuse to spend a weekend in Shropshire and meet up with an old friend. There have been talks for ladies’ groups, workshops with writers, public readings and even performances (one in Loughborough and the other at Scratch & Spit in Bridport). The String Games won an award for its cover design and is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize (voting for the winners commences in March 2020). Phew! I hope I’ve used my six months wisely.

As this period comes to an end, I’ve decided to refocus and use my experience of working with children and families to volunteer with VSO  at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. I’m heading off at the beginning of December for four months to support enrolment of girls and children with disabilities in Early Childhood Care and Education as these groups are currently under represented. Uganda has a progressive policy in supporting refugees fleeing the civil war in South Sudan. Families are given a plot of land on which to build a house and grow produce. There is access to health services, adults can work and children are offered places in schools. After several years of working with refugee families in London, I’m excited to have this opportunity. But it doesn’t mean a hiatus in blogging and writing. On the contrary, I hope this experience will generate new and important work.

Indeed, writing plans for later in 2020 are already taking shape. I’ll be at the Stockholm Writers Festival sharing my experiences as a debut novelist in May. This is a wonderful event for new and emerging writers in a great city.  And I’ll be delivering a talk and a workshop at the Mani Lit Fest in October where reading and writing are celebrated at a town near to the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor. My children’s picture book Pan-de-mo-nium is currently with illustrator Fiona Zeichmeister and will be released next year.  The contemporary novel I’ve been working This Much Huxley Knows is nearing completion.

Watch out for post from Uganda in the coming months. David is incredibly supportive and is 100% behind me. I’m very lucky to be married to him!

 

 

 

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Three things …

The clocks have gone back, it’s a misty moisty morning in Dorset, but there’s lots for me to look forward to. Here are my latest bits of news:

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Thanks to your support, The String Games is a finalist in fiction category of The People’s Book Prize 2019. There will be a further vote March–April 2020 to decide the winner and a black tie do in London for all the finalists on 15 April 2020. Great stuff!

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In December 2019, I’m going to Uganda with VSO for four months as a volunteer at the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement. The placement draws upon my experience of working with refugee families in London and the skills I developed to support parental involvement in children’s learning. I’ll be assigned to an early childhood care and education centre in order to aid recruitment to early education for girls and children with disabilities. You can read more about Bidibidi in this article from National Geographic. I’m looking forward to living, learning and contributing in Uganda.

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In May 2020, I’ll be in Sweden at the Stockholm Writers Festival. Last year I enjoyed this wonderfully inspiring event as a participant – next year I return as a faculty member. If you’re interested in attending an innovative writing festival in a fascinating city, you can’t do better than this. Booking opens (with a 15% early bird discount) today, 1 November 2019.

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Summer Break

I’ve been quiet on this blog over the summer because I spend a fortnight in Edinburgh each August. This is a wonderful city and delightful to visit when the Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing and during the two weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Each morning at the book festival there is a free session called 10 at 10, where on the stroke of ten o’clock a visiting author provides a short reading of their work. It was during one of these sessions that I was introduced to the fabulous short stories written by Wendy Erskine.

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by the castle with friends

Wendy’s stories are set in East Belfast where she lives and works as a teacher. They are drawn from the people and place but reflect a wider narrative around challenges associated with love, isolation and the everyday obstacles that can floor us. I was intrigued by the snippet from a short story Wendy shared so I bought the collection Sweet Home and attended a Q&A session later in the day at Golden Hare Books, located near where I stay each summer in Stockbridge.

In her introductions, Wendy explains that she hasn’t been writing for long and credits a course run by The Stinging Fly magazine as instrumental to her development as a short story writer. She also claims her only previous publishing success was having a recipe for baked banana printed in a newspaper. (The instructions involved nothing more than putting a banana in a hot oven until the skin turns brown and then eating it.)

Sweet Home is a remarkable collection of ten short stories that fizz with tension, sadness and humour. The dialogue is outstanding which makes attending a reading such a pleasure. If you’re looking to dip into a collection that shares dark themes which are illuminated through everyday interactions, then this is the one for you.

 

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This Much I Know, planning a new novel

I’m having such fun writing my current novel-in-progress. As I was deeply affected by the tragedy at the heart of The String GamesI decided my new novel would be lighter and funny. In order to avoid the very many redrafts that my debut novel involved, I planned This Much I Know to the nth degree. I also recycled characters from a previously written and incomplete novel called Paula’s Secret that told the story of two first-time mums. So with this head start, I thought it would be straight forward to complete the first draft. Instead, it’s taken me longer than ever to get to that stage and I’ve still got three more chapters to write.

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One of my early planning grids

I started writing This Much I Know in December 2017 and would never have guessed it would still be incomplete twenty months later. I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to get The String Games to print and at that stage I didn’t know I would also be working on the publication of my poetry pamphlet adversaries/comradesAnd following the release of a book, there is a massive amount of work to do to attract readers to the novel. Although I enjoy marketing and promotion, it does gobble away the hours.

Instead of giving myself a hard time about this delay, I’ve embraced it. I love my protagonist, six-year-old Mikey and his life in suburban London. I’ve set the story in New Malden, where I lived with my young family for ten years. It’s been such a joy to return to this location, and all the things I used to do with my children. I’ve drawn upon the Friday afternoons we spent at the park, cycle rides to school and the usual calendar of events such as firework nights and collecting conkers.

I’ve been working on a synopsis of the novel so that I can enter #Pitmad. This is a quarterly Twitter event that enables writers to get their work seen by agents through a concise synopsis that can be shared as a tweet. The next #Pitmad is on September 5, 2019 (8AM – 8PM EDT). I’ve not whittled my synopsis down to 280 characters yet but you can get the gist of what I’m writing about from the short synopsis below:

Six-year-old Mikey Griffiths is an only child who sees in Leonard, a disabled new arrival at his local church, similar challenges around fitting in. Isolated at school, Mikey has few friends and annoys staff with his silly jokes. Although Leonard is unkempt and socially awkward,  he gets Mikey’s sense of humour and this brings the two close. Mikey inadvertently arouses suspicion about Leonard which fuels community tensions and relationships between Mikey’s parents and their neighbours deteriorate. It is Mikey’s Dad who saves Leonard from smoke inhalation when a gang attack his home. The shock of this incident causes everyone to reassess how they treat newcomers to the community and Leonard is helped to integrate so that Mikey can be friends with him once again.

What do you think? Do I stand a chance of attracting literary representation with this synopsis?

 

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Round up​ of the summer so far …

As I am a ridiculously target driven writer, I thought I’d share with you some of the writing milestones from June and July 2019.

Sturminster Newton Literary Festival, 15 June

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In this the inaugural year of the festival, I was delighted to have a place on the author trail which involved running a stall in Joshua’s Coffee Shop so that I could chat to customers about my publications. I felt honoured to be part of the trail as Gillian Cross one of my favourite children’s authors had a stall elsewhere in the town. (The only problem was I didn’t get a chance to say hello to her!)

Later in the afternoon, I offered a workshop titled ‘a sense of place in writing’ at the library. I was delighted to work with many talented writers and receive feedback from the workshop in the form of this tweet:

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London Launch of The String Games, 22 June 

This took place at Housmans Radical Bookshop and I was so pleased to welcome friends, family, fellow Victorina Press authors and readers to this unique venue. I was delighted that every copy of The String Games sold.

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The People’s Book Prize, June 2019

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BIG NEWS for the summer. The String Games has been longlisted in this unique literary competition where the public decides the nation’s next bestsellers and writers of tomorrow. Find out here about The String Games and cast your vote to enable me to reach the next stage. All you have to do is scroll down to add your details, tick a box about receiving the newsletter and submit. Thank you to all those who have already voted.

Scratch & Spit, Lyric Theatre, Bridport, 24 June

Here I am strutting my stuff during a ten-minute performance slot. What am I going on about? The analogy between writing and running!

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Loughborough Poetry Event, 28 June

Alongside Rachel Lewis (who also had a poetry pamphlet published by Wordsmith_HQ), I was billed as a headline act at the launch of the Purple Breakfast Review Issue 8. It was great to spend an evening with so many accomplished poets and to read from adversaries/comrades.

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Shaftesbury Fringe, Saturday 6 July

As part of 3-She, I co-write comedy sketches with Maria Pruden and Sarah Scally. This summer we took a group of gifted West Dorset actors to the Shaftesbury Fringe to perform our comedy sketch show Big Heads & Others. What a lot of fun we had! The next show will be staged at Dorchester Arts Centre at 8pm on 18 September 2019.

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Meet the Author talk, Dorchester Library, Saturday 20 July

I had a fabulous audience for this 90-minute talk about the inspiration behind my poetry, short fiction and The String Games. They asked probing questions and we enjoyed a lively discussion. I’ve now been asked to offer further talks at Dorset libraries, so watch this space!

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Friday Freebie with Patsy Collins, Friday 26 July

This is an online event where I share information about my debut novel and there’s a chance to win a free signed copy of The String Games by leaving a comment on Patsy’s blog – you’ve got until midnight BST on 31 July to do this. Why not pop over for a read? Just click here.

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What’s next?

This week I received an email from my publisher Victorina Press who want me to start working with illustrator Fiona Zechmeister on the children’s picture book I’ve drafted which has the working title Peta the Panda. This is an exciting new project and I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

 

 

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How one event can change a life forever

Joanne Nicholson and I met online in May 2018 and found we had much in common as writers, although I live in the UK and Joanne lives in Australia. We wrote a joint post to share our writing experiences which you can read here. Now we are both busy promoting our new novels, we thought it was time to touch base again. In Joanne’s novel Only the Lonely the catalyst for the story is a fatal car accident, in my novel The String Games the catalyst comes when a young boy goes missing. This got us thinking about how one event can change a life forever which we decided to discuss here. Over to Joanne:

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In life, one day often blends into the next until somewhere out of the blue, something extraordinary can happen that alters our lives irrevocably.  In my novel, Only the Lonely one such event turns Tiffany’s life upside down. On the night of Tiffany’s eighteenth birthday, her parents are tragically killed in a car accident, caused by someone driving under the influence of alcohol. This leaves Tiffany going through the normal machinations of coming of age while struggling to deal with grief and overwhelming loneliness.

When Tiffany discovers, as the sole heir to her parents’ estate, that her parents have a frozen embryo in storage from when they received IVF to have her, she decides to give birth to her biological sibling in order to create a sense of family and belonging again. Due to ethical concerns, her request is met with objections from the clinic. It raises the question whether a frozen embryo should be treated as property or a person and whether it is morally right for Tiffany to have IVF to implant this embryo, as she has no known fertility issues. Tiffany is forced to sue the clinic to have the procedure, as she can’t bring herself to destroy or donate the embryo, as it is the last link to her parents.

That one isolated car accident at the start of the story is responsible for the chain reaction causing Tiffany’s carefree lifestyle into one where she takes on the full responsibility of her life and the life of her unborn twin. As an author, I enjoy the process of taking inspiration from real life events and then developing characters to weave a story of challenges and ethical dilemmas to take readers on a journey. The inspiration for this novel came from a real life story, where a twenty-five-year-old woman in the USA gave birth to a baby from a donor frozen embryo that was twenty-four years old. This sparked the kernel of an idea – where a woman could be implanted with, and give birth to, her own twin. I then established why someone would want to do that, and the car accident that killed Tiffany’s parents was pivotal to the storyline.

Thank you to Joanne for sharing details of the inspiration behind your novel Only the Lonely. I have to admit, this is a fascinating subject and one that will engage many readers.

Now to Gail:

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One of the worst experiences of my life was losing my three-year-old son for forty minutes on the beach at St Jean de Luz in France. I was rubbing sunscreen onto my daughter and when I looked up, he was gone. Although this episode ended happily it made me think about different possible outcomes, the vulnerability of little children in countries where they can’t speak the language, and the parental fear of losing a child. I decided this would be a good hook for novel readers but instead of telling the story from a parental perspective, I decided to explore the legacy of loss from the viewpoint of an older sibling.

It is this catalyst of a lost child that drives the narrative in The String Games. This coming-of-age novel explores the dynamics of a fractured family coping with the aftermath of four-year-old Josh’s abduction and murder during a holiday in France. It explores how guilt is unfairly shouldered by his older sister, Nim, who is the protagonist of the novel. In second part, readers get to understand  the repercussions for Nim as she moves into the teenage years and the murky world of peer manipulation. In the final part of The String Games, Nim (who is now an adult) reverts to her given name of Imogen and tries to move forward with her life but echoes from this early tragedy force her to return to France and find answers. The novel raises issues relating to what makes a good mother and whether it is possible to forgive. The metaphor of string runs throughout the story where the characters’ lives are tangled and knotted but ultimately this is a story of fresh starts and new beginnings. 

I recently learnt that The String Games has been longlisted in The People’s Book Prize for fiction 2019. This is a national award that finds and promotes new and undiscovered work. The organisation supports the complete eradication of illiteracy and this is something very important to me as, following years of working with parents and children to build their literacy skills, there is still a need in communities for further work. In this longlisting, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match: an opportunity to gain a wider readership for The String Games and support a cause close to my heart. Winners of the competition are decided by a public vote and I hope you feel able to give The String Games your vote to enable the novel to reach the next stage. Voting is easy. All you have to do is click on the link below:

https://peoplesbookprize.com/summer-2019/the-string-games/

 – Scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your name and email address

– tick yes or no to receive the newsletter

– Click submit

Could your vote for my novel help to change my life forever?

Joanne and I hope this post has pricked your curiosity about our novels. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Joanne Nicholson’s Only the Lonely, you can do so through AmazonUK and AmazonAustralia. Copies of The String Games by Gail Aldwin can be purchased and sent worldwide through her publisher’s website at Victorina Press.

You can find Joanne at:

Website: joannenicholsonauthor.com
Facebook: joannenicholsonauthor
Instagram: @joannenicholsonauthor
Twitter: @jolnicholson
You can find Gail at:
Twitter: @gailaldwin

 

 

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The String Games needs your vote

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I was delighted to hear that The String Games has been longlisted in The People’s Book Prize fiction category. This is a national award that finds and promotes new and undiscovered work. One of the organisation’s aims is to support the complete eradication of illiteracy. This is something very important to me as, following years of working with parents and children to build their literacy skills, there is still a need in communities for further work. In this longlisting, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match: an opportunity to gain a wider readership for The String Games and connect with a cause close to my heart.

To reach the next stage of the competition depends on public support. I hope you feel able to support me by voting for The String Games to become a finalist in the fiction category. It’s easy to vote, just click here to leave your details, tick yes or no to receive the newsletter then submit.  If you’d like to leave a comment that would be a bonus. The opening chapter of The String Games is available to read here 
Thank you for your help. The String Games has important messages to share about how it’s possible to come to terms with challenges in life. It’s a story about fresh starts and new beginnings which readers find empowering.
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The String Games wins an award

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Victorina Press the publisher of The String Games is delighted that two of their books have been awarded as finalists in the Best Cover Design for Fiction and Non-Fiction in the 2019 International Book Awards. My novel The String Games was selected as a finalist in the Best Cover Design for Fiction.

The cover image features the profile of the protagonist of the novel as a young woman and the string design for the title represents the controlling metaphor of the novel. The catalyst for The String Games is the abduction and murder of a young boy and the story is told from the perspective of his older sister. The characters lead tangled lives that are knotted and twisted but Imogen is eventually able to get to the truth of what happened to her brother and address issues of unresolved grief. The outcome of this coming-of age story is positive, showing the possibility of fresh starts and new beginnings

I worked with the illustrator, Fiona Zechmeister, to produce the cover design. It was a collaborative effort to bring about a cover we were both pleased with. Fiona is an outstanding illustrator and I’m delighted her skills are recognised in this award.

The String Games  is available online through Victorina PressWaterstones and Amazon.  It is  also stocked by independent bookshop in Dorset including Serendip in Lyme Regis,  The Book Shop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Winstone’s in Sherborne.

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Round up for May 2019

May was a busy month which ended with the launch of The String Games at Waterstones in Dorchester. It was a fabulous evening with so many friends there to help give the novel a proper send off. Thank you to Sophie and Jorge from Victorina Press for travelling from Shropshire to help celebrate the launch.

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Earlier in May I received some fabulous reviews on my blog tour (you can read the best bits here) and I also appeared in several publications including:

The Dorset Echo: How writer Gail Aldwin gained creative stamina from running

Female First: My Inspiration for The String Games by Gail Aldwin

Jera’s Jamboree: Interview with Gail Aldwin

Whispering Stories: The Writing Life of Gail Aldwin

Books in my Handbag: Gail Aldwin’s Debut Novel The String Games

Troutie McFish Tales: Writing and Running

If you want to listen to my advice for writing flash fiction, you can hear me on the Write Club Podcast. It’s worth listening to the whole podcast although I’m introduced at 27:18. I was also on Keep 106 the community radio station for Dorchester and enjoyed a lovely chat on KeeP Talking with Andy Worth who interviewed me and Town Crier Alistair Chisholm as part of Local Radio Day.

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Photo credit: Rob Mott

Phew! Quite a month. I hope June might be a little quieter although there is another book launch in London, so somehow I doubt it. Here’s an invitation, I’d love to see you there.

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