the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Excitement is building…

for the release of The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell

At two o’clock this afternoon Bloodhound Books officially revealed the cover of my new novel The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell. Doesn’t it look splendid? The pumps and tote bag give a distinctly 1970s vibe to the mystery while the rest of the branding suits the psychological suspense elements. To be honest, it’s a relief to have this off my desk and going out into the world in less than 4 weeks. The final stages of bringing a novel to publication is a mixture of joy and panic. Release day is Monday 3 July but if you’d like to get your UK copy organised early, here’s a Kindle pre-order link. (The paperback version should be available shortly.) My thanks go to Suzanne Goldring, Joanna Barnard and Jacquelyn Mitchard for the endorsements.

An enthusiastic early reader has posted a five-star review on Goodreads. It’s a real shot in the arm when someone who’s read my previous books says The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell is her favourite to date.

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Welcome to Maria McDonald, author of The Devil’s Own

Maria and I are both published by the leading independent fiction publisher Bloodhound Books. On signing my contract, I was encouraged to interact with other Bloodhound Books authors through a private Facebook group. This was where Maria and I met and we’ve taken this connection to a new level through this interview. I’m sure you’ll find Maria’s writing journey inspiring and her debut novel a sinister yet fascinating story. Here’s the blurb for The Devil’s Own.

A set of century-old diaries found in an attic draws an Irish couple into a tale of murder and madness, in this absorbing new suspense.

After forty years in the Irish army, Brian is looking forward to retiring and spending time with his wife—though he worries about adjusting to civilian life. While clearing the attic before they move house, he makes a discovery: three journals dating back to the early twentieth century.

One was written by Arthur, an ex-Connaught Ranger; another by Arthur’s wife, Edith, a colonel’s daughter; and the third by Henry, a British soldier and Arthur’s best friend.

Brian and his wife are soon engrossed in reading the diaries and following the intertwined stories of these three people from the past. But it soon becomes chillingly clear that these diaries contain more than the daily adventures of ordinary lives. Because one of the three is a killer . . .

Thank you, Maria, for joining me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter and agreeing to answer the questions that struck me while reading your impressive debut novel.

What steps brought you to write The Devil’s Own?

The gem of the idea for this book has been lying dormant in the back of my mind since I first saw the Curragh Camp, way back in 1978. I was working, waitressing with my mother at a dinner dance in one of the messes. My career as a waitress was very short-lived! During a break over a cup of tea, we got talking to the army chef about the building we were in, the history of the camp and the general consensus on the night – if only walls could talk.

Little did I know I would end up living in the camp, albeit for a short time around 1993. The Curragh is filled with history, going back to the days of British rule. My husband was born in the Curragh, grew up there. At one stage it had a vibrant community, completely self-contained. I was fascinated by the stories I heard from his family and our friends about the people who lived in the camp. I didn’t write them down at the time. It would take another forty years for that first spark of an idea to come to fruition.

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Latest events

It was International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March 2023, a global event which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As my contribution to the day, I joined a group of readers and writers at Bridport Library where there was a series of events including a writerly quiz, a lucky dip and talks by local writers. I was delighted to be interviewed by Sarah Scally who asked some searching questions about This Much Huxley Knows. Also on the programme was Nikki May who enjoyed phenomenal and rapid success with her novel Wahala, which tells the story of three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and a fourth woman who infiltrates their group. (I have the novel on order from Dorset Libraries and will watch out for the TV series coming on the BBC.) It was refreshing to hear about her writing journey where it took five years to become an overnight success.

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Vaughan Town at el Barco de Ávila

It has long been an ambition to visit Ávila, close to Madrid in Spain. I love walled cities such as York and Ávila is equally impressive. ( I love to see the housing inside the walls.) When I realised it was possible to volunteer with Vaughan Town at el Barco de Ávila (a town not too far from Ávila), this killed two birds with one stone.

Vaughan Town is an organisation which recruits native English speaking volunteers to improve the spoken language skills of Spanish business people. Participants experience English emersion with over eighty hours of contact. As volunteers, David and I got to stay in a four-star hotel for six nights with all meals provided (three courses with wine at lunch and dinner plus a sumptuous breakfast). Volunteers came from Canada, England, the USA and Ireland. It was a unique opportunity to meet interesting people and converse with members of this intergenerational group. As well as one-to-ones, there were scripted telephone calls, group activities, presentations and comedy sketches. It was a rewarding experience to be part of the journey that saw participants develop their skills and fluency in using spoken English. I thoroughly recommend volunteering.

I’m here as the narrator in Cinderella (if you can see behind David’s head).

Now I’m back at home again, there’s lots of catching up to do. I’m continuing to work on a new novel set on a tropical island which focuses on the tension between affluent holidaymakers and local communities. The Vaughan Town experience has given me ideas for another story, so you could call it research.

But, the new priority for this week is getting in a practice run in preparation for the Weymouth half marathon on 19 March. Wish me luck!

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Cracking on with the writing

Ever since I received a publishing contract for my dual timeline mystery The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell, I’ve been slaving over a new manuscript. It seemed completely do-able to get this latest work-in-progress shipshape before the publication schedule for book number three arrives in 2023. In October, I had nothing near a complete draft. It seems to me I approach each new novel in a different way. For the current work, I kept losing the thread of what I was doing which made me turn back to the beginning and start again. During the early months, I wasn’t sure what the spine of the story was about. But I worked my way into it and discovered one of the themes to be coercive control. Phew! That was a relief. But writing has many layers and the next priority was to ensure the three viewpoint characters had distinct voices. This is when a little comedy crept in and I discovered one of the characters to be quite humorous. (As a rule of thumb, if the writing makes me chuckle, I assume others will find it funny too.)

I’ve worked as hard as I can to complete and edit the manuscript. The next stage involves sending it to five beta readers for feedback. During my last read through, I discovered I’d used the word with 655 times. That meant I needed to get the pruning sheers out and reduce the usage considerably. Other of my high frequency words include all, now and only. Thank goodness for the find and replace function.

I’m now settling into a few days away from writing. It’s my husband’s birthday today and with my adult children home for Christmas, we visited the I Grew Up in the 80s exhibition at Dorset Museum. We also treated ourselves to breakfast in the cafe. Here are a couple of photos:

Who remembers these? (The visit also acts as research for a story I’m developing set in the 1980s.)

I will be away from my computer for much the Christmas break. On 2 January, I’m heading off to Cambodia but I’ll be back in touch again afterwards. What plans do you have for the next few weeks?

Happy holidays everyone!


How to win a publishing contract

For anyone on Twitter, you may have come across online pitching events that encourage writers to compose a tweet using 280 characters to get their story under the eyes of literary agents and publishers. If the tweet is ‘liked’ there’s an opportunity to submit a query letter, synopsis of the work and the first three chapters for consideration. It’s a good way to bypass the slush pile and I’ve attracted some interest by honing my elevator pitch to the size of a tweet. In previous twitter pitches I’ve used the following to describe my latest novel (the words in capitals suggest comparable titles):


Menopausal journalist rediscovers her mojo by developing a true crime podcast about a missing West Country teenager in 1979. The dual timeline reveals the girl’s story of infatuation and exploitation with an unforgettable twist. 

Earlier this year, I saw another twitter pitch advertised by Bloodhound Books, a leading independent publisher based in Cambridge.

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A few developments in my writing life

I’m now getting back into a regular writing routine after a happy and very sociable summer. The winner of the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize was announced at a launch event on Tuesday and my congratulations go to Tess Burnett for her novel The Hanging of Hettie Gale. Tess wasn’t able to attend the prize giving but alongside the other shortlisted writer, Philip Beale, I hobnobbed with celebrated Dorset writers Tracy Chevalier and Minnette Walters. On hand to announce the winner was Kate Adie. Here’s a photo of me with co-director Paul Atterbury – you might recognise him from the Antiques Roadshow.

I’ve just be told that an interview I did with 10Radio back in March has been uploaded to SoundCloud. If you’d like to tune in and hear me chatting with Suzie Grogan about all things connected with writing This Much Huxley Knows, here’s the link.

Meanwhile, the publisher of my debut novel, Victorina Press, has been busy producing new graphics to market The String Games. I liked them so much, I thought I’d share them with you here:

That’s all my news for the minute. I look forward to catching up with you again soon.


Busy bees

June has been packed with activities! As we only have a fortnight left until we leave for London, we’re trying to make the most of our remaining time in Edinburgh. My son visited last week and we went on a couple of outings which involved obligatory photos:

A view of Arthur’s Seat from Blackford Hill
Jonny and David in Circus Lane, Stockbridge
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At a loose end around 10:30am today (BST)?

Why not tune into Suzie Grogan’s Talking Books radio show on 10Radio (or use your usual world steaming service) to find me giving away the inside story on writing This Much Huxley Knows and much more. Alternatively, if you’d prefer a breath of Scottish air, here are some photos from our walk in the Pentland Hills (south west of Edinburgh) yesterday.

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On the road

Me and David are heading off to spend time on the road. It’s hard planning which clothes to take given the weather will be variable. We’re going to Edinburgh first, then London, then Spain, Portugal and Greece. Although I’ve decide to abandon my fleecy coat, I will take my electric blanket which I’ll use while we’re in the UK. Oh, and I’ve packed lots of outfits which involve layers.

I’ll continue writing while we’re away. My work in progress – now titled The Escape Village Resort – is developing well. I’ve fine tuned the elevator pitch to 280-characters – the length of a tweet – to aid online querying. Which version do you prefer?

ABIGAIL’S PARTY x THE SERPENT (This relates to comparable TV programmes)

Six mismatched millennials live it up at a tropical resort: one couple are honeymooners, another get married, the third approach the seven-year itch. A storm threatens. Who’s to blame when one of the women goes missing? 

FOLEY x LOGAN (This relates to comparable authors, Lucy Foley, author of The Hunting Party and T M Logan, author of The Holiday which was recently televised on Channel 5)

Three mismatched couples live it up at a remote island resort. Amongst the group are a flirt, a bully and a show off. During the shenanigans coercive control rules. The temperature rises, storms threaten. Who survives the tropical party? 

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