the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Introducing Barbara Conrey

I love writing a blog because I’m never quite sure who my posts will reach. Earlier this year Barbara Conrey got in touch and introduced me to her debut novel Nowhere Near Goodbye. It’s a well-paced, intense and thought-provoking novel which has received many superb reviews. I’d like to welcome Barbara to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter to discuss her book. 

About the author

Barbara Conrey is the USA Today Bestselling author of NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE, published on August 4th, 2020, by Red Adept Publishing. 

NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE is Barbara Conrey’s debut novel.

Previously, Barbara worked in the health care industry before opting for an early retirement, which lasted all of three months. She then accepted a finance position, for which she had absolutely no background, and four years later, she decided to write a book. But not about finance.

Travel is her passion, along with reading, writing, hiking, and exploring antique shops. Her greatest love is Miss Molly, her rescue beagle. There are stories to be told about beagles, and Barbara hopes to incorporate some of them into her books.

Barbara lives in Pennsylvania, close to family and friends.

About Nowhere Near Goodbye

A mother’s love vs. a doctor’s oath.

Oncologist Emma Blake has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare brain cancer. Twenty-five years ago, Emma’s childhood friend Kate died of glioblastoma, and Emma vowed to annihilate the deadly disease. Now, Kate’s father, Ned, is pushing her to work harder to fulfill that promise.

When Emma discovers she’s pregnant, she’s torn between the needs of her family and the demands of her work. While Ned pressures her to do the unthinkable, her husband, Tim, decorates the nursery. Unwilling to abandon her research, Emma attempts to keep both sides of her life in balance.

Emma knows she needs to reconcile her past with her present and walk the fine line between mother and physician. But Ned has a secret, and when Emma discovers what he’s been hiding, the foundation of her world cracks.

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a story of family, failure, and second chances.

Q&A

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a great title. Were there others in contention? Why did you settle upon this title?

I also love this title (Nowhere Near Goodbye)! My first title was Remembering Kate because the story was originally about the child who died of Glioblastoma, not the doctor who researched the disease and discovered a procedure that would remove the tumor in its entirety without destroying healthy brain tissue.

Nowhere Near Goodbye was really organic: Emma, the pediatric oncologist who discovered the cure, was (first) Kate’s childhood friend. She was nowhere near ready to say goodbye to Kate when Kate died.

The novel has a gorgeous cover. Can you share the thinking behind this design?

I had seen a book cover that portrayed a window, and I loved it for its simplicity. When I explained to the designer who created the cover what I wanted, I ended up describing one of the most poignant scenes in the book. The only surprise was the African violet that sits on the windowsill. That was the designer’s addition. Unbeknownst to him, African violets were part of the table settings in my daughter’s garden wedding reception and have always been a favorite house plant of mine.

There seems to be an absence of grieving in the novel for the early death of Kate. Does this happen off stage or could it account for the ways some of the characters behave?

The absence of grieving was purposeful because the story was not about Kate. Still, Kate was never forgotten, and it was her death that caused so much good to happen: Emma’s determination to become an oncologist and find a cure for Glioblastoma. 

Mother-daughter relationships are put under the microscope in Nowhere Near Goodbye. Was this always your intention?

Yes! I want to put these relationships under the microscope to study what makes us (as both mothers and daughters) do the things we do. Love the way we do. 

I find the subject fascinating, maybe because of my relationship with my own mother, where I never realized she understood me until she was dying, and maybe because of my relationships with my own daughters. Writers can mine a wealth of stories just from studying mothers and daughters and the love/hate emotions they inspire. 

In reading work by the feminist theorist Judith Keegan Gardiner, she proposes that for women writers the hero is her author’s daughter. What is your relationship to the characters you have created? 

I’m part of all of my characters. I’m torn between what I should do and what I want to do, like Emma. I’m irreverent, like Kate. I’m driven, like Ned. I’m feisty, like Miss Maggie.

What’s next for you, Barbara? 

Next is Miss Maggie’s story. I fell in love with her in Nowhere Near Goodbye. She entered the story as a sixty-year-old woman who has her own demons to fight, but she always had Emma’s back – even when Emma thought she was against her, Miss Maggie was only trying to show Emma the difference between what she wanted and what she thought she wanted.

Gail’s review of Nowhere Near Goodbye

A remarkable novel of ambition, heartbreak and redemption, Nowhere Near Goodbye follows the journey of Emma who is inspired to find a cure for a rare cancer that killed her childhood friend. Emma is a driven woman who prioritises research commitments over relationships in order to make amends for the misplaced guilt she shoulders over Kate’s early death. Are her sacrifices worthwhile? Only if the promise of a fresh start comes to fruition. A thoroughly absorbing read.  

Purchase Links for Nowhere Near Goodbye

Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Bookshop.org

Find out more about Barbara through her social media links:

www.facebook.com/baconreywriter

www.Twitter.com/barbaraconrey

www.Instagram.com/barbara

Barbara Conrey Books – BookBub

Website

www.barbaraconreyauthor.com

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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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Introducing Linda Rosen

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Black Rose Writing author Linda Rosen to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Formerly a fitness professional, Linda became an novelist when her debut The Disharmony of Silence was published in March 2020. I’m so pleased to be able to connect with Linda who splits her time between New Jersey and Florida. As an early reader of Linda’s second novel Sisters of the Vine, I became immersed in the story of Liz, a most tenacious protagonist. I’m thrilled Linda has joined me for an interview to share more information about herself and her books.

About Sisters of the Vine

Housewife and mother with a loving husband to take care of her – that’s all Liz, a Fifties gal, ever wanted. Over her father’s objections, she drops out of college to marry Rick, who dreams of living off the land. They buy a farm on a verdant hillside in the Hudson Valley, but can’t agree on what to plant. When they discover French-American hybrid grapes, Liz is confident they’ll be happy. Grapes are classy.

As the rich soil sinks into her soul and the vines begin to thrive, the marriage grows rocky. Refusing to disappoint her father again, Liz is determined to make her marriage work . . . until she discovers a photograph hidden in the old barn.

Faced with impossible decisions, Liz is desperate. She has a vineyard ready to harvest and no idea how to accomplish the task. Does she have the moxie to flourish? Or will she and the land turn fallow?

Sisters of the Vine is released 25 March 2021 and is available for pre-order through the publisher Black Rose Writing.

Q & A

Sisters of the Vine is your second novel, can you tell us about your debut, The Disharmony of Silence

Thanks for asking. I’m happy to. The Disharmony of Silence is about a clandestine love affair in 1920s Brooklyn that leads to a family secret held for eighty-four years. Carolyn Lee, the protagonist, is desperate for family. When she discovers this shocking secret, she is determined, against all advice, to reveal it. The secret has the potential to tear lives apart. Or, it could bring her the closeness and comfort she longs for. It all depends on how she handles it.

The Disharmony of Silence was published at the start of the pandemic. How did this impact on you as a writer launching a debut novel?

Actually, having my debut published during this time was, for me, the silver lining in this pandemic. With book events all turning to virtual, I was able to “meet” readers from all over, from places I never would have gotten to if events were in person. In addition, the writing community is extremely giving and many well-published authors stepped up to help promote me, as well as my fellow 2020 debuts. Facebook groups were formed with on-line book clubs and podcasts and Zoom took over virtual book talks and interviews. I’ve met so many wonderful writers who I now call friends. And met readers, as I’m doing now on your blog, who I probably never would have met if not for Covid 19 shutting down in-person events. That said, I am looking forward to this pandemic being over and am so very sorry for everyone who has lost a loved one to this horrendous virus. 

A sense of place is important in Sisters of the Vine. How do you choose your settings?

Thank you. I worked hard for the vineyard to come alive. Settings are so important to me when I read a novel that I wanted to make mine evocative. I want my readers to inhabit place, smell the aromas and feel the textures. Therefore, I choose places that I know well, where I’ve walked the streets and ate the food, heard the birds sing, or as in Sisters of the Vine, stood in vineyards, felt the grapes in my fingers, smelled the rich moist earth and tasted the bold wine. 

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Happy publication day, Joe Siple

I’m delighted to welcome Joe Siple to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Joe is an established author published by Black Rose Writing, an independent press based in Texas. I was so impressed with Joe’s debut novel The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride, I decided to submit my second novel to Black Rose Writing and this has now been accepted for publication. In the meantime, Joe’s sequel The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride will be published today, 21 January 2021. I was fortunate to be an early reader of this splendid sequel and I’m thrilled Joe has agreed to join me for an interview. 

About The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride

Jason Cashman has reached the goal he spent the last twenty years seeking, but instead of feeling content, he feels empty. When he meets Alexandra Lopez, a ten-year-old America-loving girl facing deportation, he is inspired by his old friend, Murray McBride, to give her five wishes before she must leave.

They set out to check off as many wishes as possible, but when Jason’s transplanted heart begins to fail, he must choose between his obligations to the past and his hope for a future.

The interview

 Q. I’m fascinated by the relationships between characters in your novels and particularly the strength of intergenerational friendships. What inspired you to write about this?

A. I’ve always been intrigued by how similar most people are, at their core. Yet people of all kinds–young and old, black and white, religious and atheist–seem so different on the surface. I find it fun to explore relationships where the characters find a way to get beyond their superficial differences, to the closeness we all crave.  

Q. In The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride, your young protagonist faces an uncertain future in America due to ill health and her family’s immigration status. Why write about such a contentious issue?

A. There are two reasons. The first is a result of a family trip to Guatemala. During this “volunteer vacation” we saw the difference between people who were receiving money from a relative in the U.S.–some in the U.S. illegally– and those who weren’t. And I realized that if I were in their situation, I would also do whatever it took to provide for my family’s well-being. We also met many kind, gentle people there and I realized just how human they are, which is easy to lose sight of in the debate over immigration in this country. 

The second reason was the result of the change in U.S. immigration policy that separated young children from their parents as a way to scare others from trying to cross the border illegally, as well as the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced innocent families into territory run by Mexican drug lords. I knew that writing about these things could anger some readers and potentially hurt my career, but it was important that the people I reach with my book see the humanity in these people. I also think it’s important to note that I don’t believe we should have “open borders” and let anyone in. But I do think we need an immigration policy that treats people as human beings. That is the point I try to make with this book, and I believe making that point is worth the risk. 

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Meet Dawn Knox

I’m delighted to welcome Dawn Knox to my blog today. We’ve both had stories in print and online anthologies from Bridge House Publishing and have met in person at London celebration events. Dawn writes in a range of genres so I’m thrilled to learn more about her latest release.

Dawn, please can you tell us about your new book?

Of course! It’s called The Macaroon Chronicles and it’s published by Chapeltown Publishing. It is a – hopefully – humorous romp on the fictitious Isle of Macaroon with Eddie the Bald Eagle who is really a chicken but doesn’t like to admit it and his friends: Brian, who’s a monkey, Colin who’s a lemur and doesn’t like to be referred to as a monkey, Gideon the failed spy who’s a pig and finally, two teenage rabbits, Babs and Deirdre, who are addicted to social media. The geography of the Isle of Macaroon is interesting because it contains Meringue Mountains with chocolate waterfalls, cheese mines, a custard river and the island itself, is surrounded by the Bouillabaisse Sea to the east and the Vichyssoise Ocean to the west.

How did you become interested in writing?

I’ve always read lots of books and made up stories in my head, probably as a result of being an only child, but writing stories only began about fifteen years ago when I was trying to help my, then, teenage son to complete his essay homework. In fact, I was actually trying to encourage him to start it! And the beginning of a story which I came up with interested me so much that I carried on writing it although I think my son thought of an idea of his own for his essay. But that incident began a real passion for writing and a few years ago when I had a bit of upset in my life and was feeling rather down I realised that writing was therapeutic and could lift me out of my thoughts and transport me to a different world. I’ve been writing each day ever since. 

Do you prefer to write in any particular genre and if so, which?

I’ve tried many genres including sci-fi, speculative fiction, historical romance, horror and humorous, quirky stories. I’ve also won two prizes for non-fiction writing, which surprised me greatly! It would be hard to say which I prefer although it’s probably fair to say that I prefer the genre I’m writing in at that particular moment. The only genre I haven’t written is erotica and at the moment I have no plans to start that although if I did want to have a go, I think I’d use a pen name!

Of all the stories you’ve written, which is your favourite and why?

It would have to be one of those stories that are in my book The Great War – 100 Stories of 100 Words Honouring Those Who Lived and Died 100 Years Ago and I would probably pick a different one each day (well, at least for one hundred days!). I always describe that book as the one that contains my heart and soul. Writing a story in exactly 100 words necessarily means that it is a compact and concentrated story and of course the subject of the First World War is extremely emotive. But of all the stories I have written they are the ones which mean the most to me.

Have any of your characters ever decided to take things into their own hands and write themselves a bigger part or a different part than you’d intended? If so which one or ones?

Two of the characters in The Macaroon Chronicles are ones who wrote themselves larger parts. The first is Eddie the Bald Eagle who’s really a chicken and he came about when I was planning a short story to read at my writers’ group. I’d been watching a clip of the British ski-jumper Mike Edwards or as everyone knew him, ‘Eddie the Eagle’, who captured everyone’s hearts in the Winter Olympics of 1988 in Calgary. I thought ‘Eddie the Eagle’ was a fine name and initially, the character was going to be human but I thought it might be fun if he was actually a bird. And then to give him a twist, I turned him into a Bald Eagle and even more bizarrely, I decided that his vanity would compel him to represent himself as a bald eagle whereas in fact, he was a bald chicken. The other character was Gideon who merely popped up to help Eddie out of one of the many spots of bother in which he finds himself, but Gideon was so endearing with his incompetence and inability to pass his exams to become a fully-qualified spy, he earned his place in the rest of the book.  He is completely inept at using the espionage tools he’s been given and has an unfortunate knack of shooting any bystanders with his sleeping-dart-tipped pens. So, Gideon was allowed to stay and he ended up joining Eddie, Colin and Brian on their adventures on the Isle of Macaroon.

Is there a specific word count to which you usually work either intentionally or unintentionally?

When I’m writing short stories, they tend to be between 2000 and 3000 words unless of course I am aiming for a Drabble which is exactly 100 words. However, I generally I end up with more words than I intend and then have to edit to cut back to the desired word count. But I think that’s good because it makes me think about the appropriate words and perhaps to cut out any waffle.

I notice food features greatly in your current work. Tell us more.

It certainly does, as I’ve said before, the Isle of Macaroon is made of many food-related geographical features and even the names of the towns reflect this, in that at the beginning, Eddie, Brian and Colin are heading to Spudwell to the stadium, to perform in a music concert. The chums’ boat is moored in Hummus-on-Sea and just before Christmas, Colin finds himself in Treacletart and on his way back to Hummus-on-Sea, he’s nearly run down by the bus from Eggsenham!

I assume you must like macaroons. True or false?

Unfortunately, I have to stick to a strict diet which limits carbohydrates. Nowadays I don’t eat macaroons at all but I adore anything that’s coconut flavoured.

In The Macaroon Chronicles, on the Isle of Macaroon, there are Meringue Mountains with chocolate waterfalls, cheese mines and a custard river. Sounds delicious! Where would you head to first?

Definitely the cheese mines would be my first port of call for the reason that I gave above, in that I have to limit the carbohydrates I eat. But perhaps a trip to the Bouillabaisse Sea might be quite tasty as well!


You can follow Dawn here on https://dawnknox.com 

on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DawnKnoxWriter

on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SunriseCalls 

Amazon Author: http://mybook.to/DawnKnox

The Macaroon Chronicles can be purchased here mybook.to/TheMacaroonChronicles

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Two authors and a facebook group

Author M J Keeley and I met on the Black Rose Authors Facebook group. This is provided by our American publisher to link authors for information sharing purposes. Matthew’s debut Turning the Hourglass was published with Black Rose Writing in 2019 and my second novel This Much Huxley Knows will be published in 2021. When we discovered we were both UK writers published overseas, we wondered if there were other experiences we had in common. This joint post from Matthew and I suggests there are many different ways into writing. 

Why do you write?

Matthew says:

I’ve always had a love of telling stories – because I love reading stories, I think. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve captured someone’s attention and lured them into a plot or a character. I’m an English teacher and, although I don’t usually write for children myself, it’s great to see an entire room of young people fixated when you’re reading a story aloud. To be a writer who can achieve that is something I always aim for. Writing is also something I’ve had to hone over years of practice (and will continue doing!) so there’s a sense of pride in knowing I have a talent that it’s taken me hard work to sharpen.

Gail says:

As humans I think we all need a creative outlet. For others it may be cooking or gardening or painting but for me it’s all about writing. I find the whole process absorbing: from the terror of a blank page to the gruelling process of getting a first draft down. The drafting and redrafting brings joy. I love the way stories become nuanced and layered with more detail and crafting applied. I find nailing the plot the biggest challenge and when it’s done, this brings the greatest satisfaction.

What writing support do you have access to online or in person? Any tips for resources for other writers?

Matthew says:

I subscribe to Writing Magazine and find it really useful – particularly the Writers’ News section. I think almost everything I’ve had published was through a submission call I found there. I’ve recently started using the Story Origin website too. It takes a bit of figuring out but it’s been a really helpful tool in gaining more newsletter subscribers and forming an advance review team for my new novel. Over the years I’ve also befriended other authors online, mostly through beta reading swaps. It’s been really helpful just to have some support through the writing process and to be able to talk through your frustrations with other authors!

Gail says:

I’m a member of a comedy sketch writing group called 3-She and we draft our material on a website called WritersDuet which allows us to work on one document simultaneously. Accompanying discussion takes place on a WhatsApp group call. This approach continued while I volunteered at Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. It’s wonderful to be able to stay in contact with creative friends from even the most remote locations. When I was repatriated due to Covid-19, I initiated online support with other writing groups for feedback and sharing of short stories and novel excerpts. I also belong to Writers Abroad, an online support group for writers living overseas where updates on writing opportunities and competitions are shared. Although this group has now closed, a few of us are working together to create a new forum.

How do you find time for writing?

Matthew says:

With great difficulty! As a full time teacher it’s tough, particularly during term time. If I manage to write anything on a weeknight I consider that a success. So most of my writing is done at weekends and during school holidays. It took me over five years to write each of my first two novels and that seems to be a lot compared to most other writers, but I managed it nonetheless. I don’t have children though, so I have no idea how writers with families fit it all in!

Gail says:

After ten years of shoehorning my writing into a scheduled of paid employment, I now write full time. Because I sleep badly, I’m often at my computer in the middle of the night. This is very bad sleep hygiene, but when I’m lying in bed with ideas flying around, it seems a wasted opportunity not to get them down. 

What is one of the most important things you’ve come to learn about writing?

Matthew says:

Not to over-write. I think when we begin ‘properly’ writing we have this illusion that writing means using as many adjectives as possible and filling every sentence with intense detail and figurative language – I did anyway. It’s taken me a long time to learn the art of editing and simplicity. Reading Stephen King’s On Writing was really helpful. He talks about the ‘invisibility’ of writing and how language that draws too much attention to itself can end up being a distraction. Now I really strive to write fluidly without over-complication that pulls the reader out of the moment. A lot of that has involved ditching redundant adverbs (and any redundant words really!), unnecessary speech tags, and passive voice.

Gail says:

Don’t expect the first draft to be any good. I’ve heard authors say writing is like moulding a piece of clay. You have to keep working at it until the pot is shaped and smoothed and ready for firing. The trouble with writing is you have to make the clay as well! From initial idea to final product is a long journey. To sustain me through the rigours of writing, I’ve learnt to enjoy every stage of the process. 

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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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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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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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Introducing Danielle Maisano and her novel ‘The Ardent Witness’

I am really pleased to welcome Danielle Maisano to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. She is also a Victorina Press author with a debut novel The Ardent Witness to be released on 9 March 2019. It is available to purchase here.

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I was lucky to receive a copy of the novel ahead of publication and really enjoyed reading it. Here’s a short review of the book:

Danielle Maisano’s The Ardent Witness is a character-driven novel set in Togo where the exuberance and camaraderie between young volunteers is shared and in Detroit (before and after the placement) where Lily’s personal development is explored. I particularly enjoyed the chapters set in Togo which included the frustrations, challenges and triumphs of trying to make a difference to the lives of people in a developing country. When tragedy hits, Lily reflects upon her own actions and her resolve to make a success of her placement is strengthened. This is a worthy debut novel. Thank you to Danielle for introducing me to Togo, a country I knew very little about.

And now, here is Danielle who has agreed to answer a few questions.

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Why did you decide to write a book, Danielle?

I don’t really think I decided to write a book, I just sort of started doing it. As I mention in my author’s note, I honestly never thought I would write about my experiences in Togo. I always wanted to write a novel but I never thought it would be about that. But when I moved to London after having spent my two years in a tiny village in Togo, I felt a bit lost. I was so homesick for the life I had left there. So I began to write about it and it was therapeutic. A way to remember. At first, I wrote about things as they had actually happened, but then I began to see a different story taking place.  Which sort of leads to your next question…

What is the inspiration behind your novel?

I moved to London to study International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies and as I was becoming more educated in things like historical materialism, dependency theory and heterodox economic models a lot of what I experienced in Togo was beginning to make more sense to me. So I wanted to find a way to write about what I was learning theoretically in a more human form, connecting it to what I had experienced as a development worker by writing a novel.

How did you decide on the title?

I took the title from an English translation of a poem by Pablo Neruda entitled “It Means Shadows” and I do think it sort of sums up the motif of the story –

“Let what I am, then, be in some place and in every time,

an established and assured and ardent witness,

carefully destroying himself and preserving himself incessantly,

clearly insistent upon his original duty.”

The narrator, Lily, is constantly looking for ways to do something meaningful with her life. She is young and idealistic and believes that she can make a difference in the world but she is struggling to find a way to do so. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end I think she chooses a path that sort of embodies this sentiment. To be an ardent witness. It is both active and passive at the same time. To have a passion for life, morals, an ethical code, to want to do good, but at the same time to accept the fact that you may not always have the ability to change things, to right every injustice. But there is a power in seeing and sharing what you have seen. I think that, in a sense, is the duty and desire of every writer, artist, or poet. It’s what drives them to create.

Do you have a day job? If so, how does working in a different context affect your writing?

When I started seriously writing the book, I had just finished my studies at SOAS and I was looking for work so I had a lot of time to write. Then, in the year that followed I did an internship at an NGO, which was part-time. I worked in a coffee shop and also did a bit of freelance writing. So my schedule was much more flexible than doing a 9-5 job and that was really when I completed most of the first draft. When I finally did find a full-time job at a homeless charity in North London, that was a very unproductive time in regards to the book. Luckily, after about a year there, my husband and I decided to take off and spend some time with my family in the US and then his family in Chile. We were gone for about 8 months and that was an amazing time because I was able to really focus on nothing else but the book. If I hadn’t had that time I would probably still be writing it. Working  9-5 thing is very difficult when you are also trying to do something creative. But then, when I was looking for work, I also had a lot of guilt that I had so much time to write when I should be working or looking for work. Chile was different because that time had been specifically set aside to write and I was very fortunate to have had that, plus a very encouraging and supportive partner. Since returning to London, I’ve been able to do part-time and freelance work which I find the most conducive to writing but I realize it’s really a privilege to be able to have that option, one I still sometimes feel very undeserving of. But then again, I guess there will always be reasons or excuses not to write and half of the job is overcoming them.

Are the names of characters important to you? How did you choose them?

Well, a lot of the names of American characters were just names that were always floating in my head, like Sonia and Lily. They were always sort of these archetypical characters that I had named some time ago that were waiting to pop up in my writing. The names for the Togolese characters were more sentimental. Like the character of Fati, there was a little girl that lived near me, she was only about one or two years old when I moved there and her name was Fatima and everyone called her Fati. Her brother brought her over almost every day, we played together and she would cry when it was time to leave. She was the sweetest little girl and I will always wonder what her life is like now. I wonder if she remembers me? Am I some weird sort of memory to her? Also the name Gladys, there was a young girl I knew who was from Ghana and I could see she was very isolated and alone and some of the other girls made fun of her for not speaking French well and I felt a sort of connection to her. We were both outsiders. So in the book, there is a connection there.

What were the challenges in writing The Ardent Witness?

Basically the main challenge was just to keep going. Having the confidence to finish what I started and believe that no matter what came of it, it was worth doing. I think that was the hardest part in the end.

What’s next for you, Danielle?

I think I may have started writing my next novel. I guess only time will tell.

You can find out more about Danielle by visiting her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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