the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

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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Approaching publication

My second contemporary novel for adults This Much Huxley Knows will be released on 8 July 2021. In preparation for the launch, advance reader copies have been sent to fellow authors and I’ve received some lovely early reviews posted on Goodreads.

One of my favourite reviews is from fellow Black Rose Writing author Sasha Lauren:

This book surprised me. It’s an innovative, delightful, and insightful story told in first person by a child. The narrator, Huxley, is an innocent, playful, provocative seven-year-old, an “only lonely,” (no siblings), who is achingly searching for a true friend and pushing those around him to be caring and reasonable. What is so extraordinary is that Gail Aldwin beautifully transports the reader inside Huxley’s head and heart. 

Huxley is a busy guy: he avoids football but longs for his turn on the monkey bars, covets the relationship his best mate Ben has with his wee sister, Juno, (which is both adorable and sightly heartbreaking), and strikes up a sweet friendship with Leonard, an old man in a scooter. All the while, he keeps himself amused, (and captivates or annoys others), with his whimsical words-within-words. 

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Reading outside my comfort zone

I’ve been experimenting with genres of books I wouldn’t normally read. With increasing years, I’m told people are less open to new experiences because we feel more comfortable staying within the predictable. As I have a big birthday approaching, now seems a good time to try some new reading material. Please find below reviews for three books that have taken me beyond the contemporary fiction, women’s fiction and historical fiction that I normally read.

The Future BuildersD N Knox and Colin Payn

Science Fiction/Techno Fiction/ Climate Change Fiction

First it was the compelling cover image then it was the fascinating title that piqued my interest. From the very first page of The Future Brokers, I was intrigued by this ingenious glimpse into the world of 2050. Medical advances mean that following an accident, George’s body is fitted with devices that give him an edge which becomes of particular interest to others. The world in which he lives is oddly recognisable but strangely sinister. From the multiple viewpoints and distinct voices, (I particularly love George’s sense of humour) I was able to understand the motivations of the different characters which became an excellent way to drive the plot forward. As the threads come together, momentum builds to offer a tense and exciting climax.

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The HeronJean M Roberts

Time Travel Fiction 

The rich, sensory writing in The Heron drew me into the story. Jean Roberts introduces the setting of the novel as Pine Tree House, Oyster River, New Hampshire. Using a dual timeline, the story switches from a contemporary narrative to the seventeenth century. Abbey is a feisty protagonist who visits the house and is inducted into paranormal happenings by Jeremiah and Miriam. She navigates the past and the present to identify similarities in experiences. This is a confidently told story, full of detail and description. It’s an impressive, sensory and engaging read. 

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Mother of Floods, Madeleine F White

Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

A patchwork of women’s experiences, Mother of Floods is embroidered with traditional tales to pinpoint key beliefs and values. The rich prose adds rhythm to the story, resonant of the drums that bring about change. In this ambitious debut, White weaves together stories of family struggles in Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Iraq. In Britain, Dave the deceased husband of Martha, slips into the virtual world to keep tabs on his family, discover new insights into their challenges and dilemmas, and intercepts to give the support he was unable to offer while alive. Their story explodes into one of universal significance. The dystopian world that evolves casts light on individual experiences and the golden thread that joins us. A remarkable story.

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What do you think are the advantages for writers in reading outside their normal comfort zone? 

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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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Thrilled to bits!

I’ve received brilliant feedback from parents and grandparents who are looking forward to sharing Pandemonium with the youngsters in their lives at Christmas. Some children have received early copies and I’ve been sent photos of them enjoying the book. Fortunately, everyone has agreed I can post these pictures on social media so here’s a gallery I’d like you to see.

Bear and Pandemonium purchased for two-year-old Leo
Happy prize winner from the ReviewSpot competition, ‘the illustrations are just amazing and so beautiful.’
This little girl loves Pandemonium and keeps repeating words from the story.
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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 right 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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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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sneak preview: pan de mo nium

I’ve been working on a children’s picture book for a very long time indeed. The idea for pan de mo nium came when I was teaching a module of writing for children to undergraduates at the University of South Wales in 2015. We were looking at some features of anthropomorphism, where animals have human characteristics, and I shared examples where this technique was used to explore danger vicariously and therefore safely. Students joined the discussion before going slightly off task and started chatting about cute red pandas.

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Red pandas are found in the mountains of Nepal, northern Myanmar and central China. These animals spend most of their lives in trees.

I spent a long time wondering what the relationship would be like between a giant panda and a red panda living in central China. I started thinking about what it would be like to be part of the same family but look totally different. (Although in fact red pandas are not related to giant pandas). Could these thoughts be explored through anthropomorphism? Would it be possible for a cute and cuddly character to experience tensions around not fitting in?  I began to wonder if the issue of identity could be explored through children’s fiction by creating a purple panda.

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In Pan de mo nium Peta lives in a department store where her purple colour offers camouflage. She gets up to all sorts of mischief but when she’s spotted, the shop assistant puts an end to her tricks.  What can Peta do to become a cheeky panda once again?

Here’s a sneak preview of a scene from inside the book.  I love the colour palate that Fiona Zechmeister has cleverly used here.

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Happy Birthday to you

My debut novel The String Games is one year old today. It’s been quite a journey from launch to anniversary and here are some of the things I have learnt along the way.

Book launches

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  • invite everyone you know and turn the launch into a party to thank all those who have shown interest in your writing . Make sure there’s plenty of wine and nibbles, and loads of books to sell!

Make the most of opportunities 

  • when I attended a Christmas lunch 2018 with the Society of Authors in Salisbury, I had no idea it would lead to an invitation to deliver a session at the Bridport Literary Festival 2019. Chance meetings are often the best!

Put yourself out there

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  • Press releases have enabled The String Games to feature locally, regionally and nationally in print publications and online features. I’ve also talked on local radio programmes several times. There’s nothing wrong with getting about!

Literary festivals

  • I’ve attended so many festivals as a participant but now I’m a published novelist it’s a delight to feature on programmes as an invited guest. Besides the Bridport Literary Festival, I’ve also delivered input at Sturminster Newton Literary Festival, Blandford Literary Festival and Stockholm Writers Festival. Get me, delivering at international events!

Finge Festivals

  • I write collaboratively as part of 3-She to develop comedy sketches. Last summer we took a show to  Shaftesbury Fringe. There’s such a lot to be learnt from the process of writing with others. Love a good gig!

Curry favour with your publisher

  • I’m delighted that Victorina Press have show confidence and commitment in me as an author and thanks to my publisher, I attended the London Book Fair 2019. My novel is also a finalist in The People’s Book Prize. Covid 19 permitting, there’s a black tie do to celebrate this achievement later this year!
  • The team at Wordsmith_HQ continue to promote my poetry pamphlet adversaries/comrades and share my writing successes across their writing community. Good eggs all round!

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Woman on the Golden Hind

I’m reading a fascinating novel just now. It’s On Wilder Seas by Nikki Marmery. What an absolutely fabulous cover!

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The narrator is Maria, an enslaved woman who shares her experiences of living on the Golden Hind for nine months.  Meticulously researched, Nikki Marmery allows Maria to live and breathe where nothing is noted about her in the records besides the dates she boarded and left the ship. The action takes place in 1579 during Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage.  Maria is a lone woman amongst eighty sailors. Determined to become free, Maria uses tenacity and quick thinking to her advantage.

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Many of you will know there is a reconstruction of the English galleon that has been  berthed at St Mary Overie Dock in Southwark since 1996. Whenever I walk past this full-size reconstruction of Golden Hind I am reminded of how compact the ship appears. Goodness knows how Maria coped! Since the launch of the  reconstruction in 1973, the galleon has sailed  more than 140,000 miles to San Francisco, Japan, the Caribbean and other destinations.  Impressive!

SWF

I will be interested to meet Nikki Marmery online when we appear alongside Karen Havelin on the Debutants panel at the Stockholm Writers’ Festival on Friday 22 May 2020. We are all previous attendees of the festival and have had our debut novels published in the last year. Join us at what is now known as the #StuckHomeWritersFestival here.

 

 

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