the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

One month until lift-off

My second contemporary novel for adults This Much Huxley Knows will be released by Black Rose Writing on Thursday 8 July 2021. It’s an absolute delight that this uplifting and humorous book will be available in print and on Kindle. There are so many people to thank for bringing This Much Huxley Knows into the world, so if you fancy reading a copy, do check out the acknowledgements. Of course, if you can’t wait until launch day it’s possible to request an electronic copy from Netgalley.

Later this month, the blog tour begins. I am so impressed with the voluntary workforce of bloggers who do so much to promote books and reading. Here’s the poster:

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First page pitch at Cork World Book Fest

Librarians based in Cork selected the first five hundred words and a two sentence pitch of my work in progress Little Swot for feedback from literary agent Simon Trewin as part of the Cork World Book Fest. Alongside nine others (including Jean M Roberts and Andrew Wolfendon – both fellow Black Rose Writing authors) I read my pitch an opening to a large Zoom audience. The feedback was as follows:

  • include only the most pertinent information in the pitch
  • think about adding three new paragraphs the at the beginning of the novel to act as a prologue
  • make the dialogue sound less written and more spoken

Here’s my revised elevator pitch for Little Swot, a dual timeline crime novel

Following redundancy in 2010, menopausal journalist Stephanie Brett investigates the earlier disappearance of a teenage, West Country girl in a cold case podcast. Through the 1978 timeline, Carolyn Forster tells her own story of infatuation and exploitation.

I’m still working on the new first three paragraphs and the updated dialogue. Watch this space for further developments!

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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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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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Lockdown launch for PanDeMoNium

I guess the pandas at Hawes department store (the setting for Pandemonium) are glad the doors will once again open in the UK this week. Of course, with bookshops closed due to lockdown on launch day, Tuesday 1 December 2020, it doesn’t help in getting this children’s picture book out into the world. Fortunately, there’s the internet to rely on. As part of publication day celebrations, I’m holding a competition on Twitter. In Pandemonium, Peta gets up to mischief in the department store. You can see an early version of a double page spread below:

If she can be that naughty in a café, imagine what would happen in a sweet shop!

Here she is, nicely camouflaged amongst the hand finished rose and violet creams made by the House of Dorchester. If you’re active on Twitter, do pop over there now to follow, like and retweet my competition post for a chance to win this box of delicious rose and violet creams and a copy of Pandemonium. (These are the most gorgeous chocolates ever and I promise Peta hasn’t licked any!) The winner’s name will be picked from a hat at noon on Thursday 3 December. Due to the cost of postage, the competition is open to UK residents only.

If you’d like a copy of Pandemonium, please support Victorina Press by ordering through the website. Use coupon code XMAS2020 to receive 30% discount. Please help this independent press to discover more unheard voices and promote inclusion by purchasing directly from them.

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Blog tour, discount Christmas shopping and further adventures

Where would a writer be without readers? Thank you to everyone who has shown interest in Pandemonium. This week starts a big push to help my children’s picture book reach a wider audience with support from book bloggers. Do watch out for posts on social media with links to further reviews.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a copy of Pandemonium for a young child in your life, now’s the time to do it. There’s a 30% seasonal discount from all Victorina Press titles using the coupon code XMAS2020. Purchasing directly from the publisher is a good way to support this independent press in furthering their ambition to discover unheard voices and promote diversity in publishing. While visiting the Victorina Press bookshop for Christmas purchases, why not treat yourself, too? I can recommend you pre-order Amanda Huggins‘ wonderful novella All Our Squandered Beauty. It’s a captivating read.

I’ve had more fun taking Peta on further adventures in Pandemonium. See what she’s up to now:

In the café, Peta gets hungry …

Enjoy the last week of November and I’ll touch base again on publication day, 1 December 2020.

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Monday 16 November is Odd Socks Day!

Some of these campaigns really do make me cringe (think of #NationalDoughnutDay on 5 June) but not this one. #OddSocksDay is part of Anti-bullying Week 2020 which puts a spotlight on bullying and considers the steps that can be taken to prevent it. Every November, schools in the UK have a focus on bullying and by working with the wider school community, steps are put in place to protect vulnerable youngsters.

This year, #OddSocksDay on Monday 16 November launches a week of activites to raise awareness about bullying. This is intended to be a fun day where there’s no pressure to wear fashionable clothes or dress up. Everyone can wear odd socks, so it couldn’t be simpler. The idea is to encourage people to express themselves and everything that makes us unique.

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Adventures in #PanDeMoNium

Since the start of November, I’ve posted photos on social media of a cheeky purple panda who’s out and about. This is to help promote my forthcoming children’s picture book Pandemonium. In case you don’t follow me on Twitter @gailaldwin, here’s what’s been happening this week.

Last hot chocolate for a month and clinging on for dear life.
Up to something or just hanging around?
What’s happening hare?
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