the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

A wish for South Sudan: enduring peace

Before I left the UK to begin my placement at Bidibidi in Uganda (a settlement where refugees from South Sudan are offered a chance to rebuild their lives) a friend recommended I read Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins. It tells the story of a young, glamorous aid worker, Emma McClune, who went to Sudan in 1987 with an ambition to do good. She embraced her role at Street Kids International and passionately worked towards improving access to education for children. Emma was also impulsive and headstrong: she married Riek Machar, a warlord, and became embroiled in politics. By the time of her death in 1993 in a car accident in Nairobi, Scroggins suggests that for all her courage and commitment, Emma did little to change anything.

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The backdrop to Emma’s story is the complex historic, social, cultural and political situation in Sudan. Following years of civil war, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation when it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Peace was short lived and civil war erupted in 2013 when President Kiir sacked his entire cabinet and accused Vice President Riek Machar of supporting a failed coup. An agreement to halt the conflict collapsed in 2015 and fighting continued, primarily in Yei River state. This is the area from which many of the refugees in Bidibidi fled in 2016. In Yei, the National Salvation Front (NAS), continued to fight government forces. By 2018, a power sharing agreement was signed between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar which led to the signing of a Unity Government agreement on 20 February 2020. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called upon members of the Transitional Government of National Unity to “fully adhere to the letter and spirit of the Agreement”, so that the people of South Sudan can finally realise the benefits of durable peace and stability they deserve.

Following the announcement of a peace agreement, the South Sudanese refugees I knew in Bidibidi remained cautious. None were ready to rush back to their homeland but instead adopted a ‘let’s wait and see’ approach. One of the caregivers (a teacher of young children) I worked with, Beatrice, talked about her life before becoming a refugee. She married young, had two children then was widowed when her husband was killed in a motorbike accident. Her father owned some land where she was able to develop skills of cultivation. She grew cassava, maize and beans. Then she married a second time (had two further children) and she continued to cultivate the land of her husband’s family. ‘My life at that time was very nice. I made money and paid for my children to go to school, paid for them when they were sick. I bought clothing for myself and my children. I had a very happy life in South Sudan. Then the time of war started and I had to save my life and my children. I lost everything: my land, my house, my garden. We were afraid as any person could attack you, rebels were everywhere. They would grab anything you have. They took things from my garden saying it belonged to them. If you don’t have luck they kill you, if you have luck they just let you go.’

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Off again …

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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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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Viva South Wales

 

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Although I have Viva Las Vegas ringing in my ears, this post is about an academic viva. Yesterday, I was examined by Julia Green, author of YA books including Breathing Underwater, and programme leader at Bath Spa University. After a 90 minute discussion about my work, Julia confirmed that I can continue my studies in Creative Writing to PhD level. I am pleased and relieved. There will be a lot of work involved, but with Philip Gross and Diana Wallace as my supervisors, I will be well supported.

While I was at the University, I took the opportunity to visit the Engaging with the Past exhibition. Held at Oriel y Bont, the exhibition accompanied the Representing the Tudors conference held during the summer.  I was asked to use one of the exhibits as a stimulus for a piece of creative writing. I’m pleased to say my story ‘Aethopian Maid’ is displayed next to Tiff Oben’s artwork. The story acknowledges the Black presence in Tudor England.

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Fabric at the British Library

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This is a piece of fabric I bought while on holiday in Banjul, capital of the Gambia. We spent a day in the city in order to  visit the Methodist Church where a new generator had been purchased  by the congregation  in New Malden.  The cloth celebrates the Methodist Church in the Gambia and I became fascinated by the Gambian tradition of wearing fabric to acknowledge and promote many different things. I remember seeing a woman in Albert Market wearing traditional dress with a matching head wrap in bright, printed fabric. When I asked if the cloth was for sale, I was told it was worn in support of a political party. While logos and designer brands have become part of popular culture in this country, it seems that wearing anything to indicate allegiance to a political party is limited to a badge or rosette.

I was prompted to make this post after visiting the West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song exhibition at the British Library.  There you will find a whole range of artefacts that demonstrate the interlinking nature of word, symbol and song including texts, drums, shell-stories and, of course, fabric. It’s well worth a visit. 

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Weaving it Real

See Jayne’s Skellett’s wonderful display currently at Bournemouth Library. Weaving it Real brings together ideas around identity through the work of local writers (including me!). There is a huge wall display, images and biographies lining the staircase and bookcases with mounted work. Here are a couple of photographs:

 

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There is also a table of prompts to help get you started with your own ideas. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a look.

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Launch of Dorset’s Digital Stories with Natasha Solomons

The Dorset Writers’ Network is running a competition for local writers. The aim is to produce an e-book with stories up to 500 words each which reflect the diversity of the county. Workshops to support new writing are scheduled at rural locations during January and February. Further details can be found here.

To celebrate the launch of the competition, Natasha Solomons has been invited to talk about her books and her writing journey. She lives in Dorset and has written novels that are set in the county. Her first novel Mr Rosenblum’s List was shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards, and tells the story of  an immigrant trying to settle in England after the Second World War.  The Novel in the Viola is based in the now abandoned Dorset village of Tyneham, and follows the lives  of service staff at Tyneford House. Natasha’s most recent novel is called The Gallery of Vanished Husbands which shares the experiences of Juliet Montague following the disappears of her husband.

This is a FREE event!

Saturday 24 January 2015 at 2:30pm

Dorchester Library and Learning Centre

Charles Street, Dorchester

Advance booking is required – please telephone 01305 224440

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Open Day at the British Library

With other postgraduate students, I spent a splendid day at the British Library, getting acquainted with the amazing resources that are available. I hadn’t been aware of the digital collections that are held and to handle some of the manuscripts was wonderful. While I was there I was issued with a reader’s pass (make sure you take the necessary ID when applying –  proof of address and proof of signature is necessary). I also made a reader room request so that I could have access to a play script of What Maisie Knew which I hope to use in my MPhil research.

Some of the resources presented at the workshop include: Read the rest of this entry »

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Mere Literary Festival

The small town of Mere, positioned at the western edge of Salisbury Plain, hosts a literary festival each year. It is organised by volunteers and includes a range of events for adults and children, those living nearby and visitors. The highlights for the seventeenth Mere Literary Festival include:

PAUL KERENSA – So a Comedian walks into a Church

The popular comedian discusses his recently published diary revealing the true and hilarious ‘Confessions of a Kneel-Down Stand-Up’.

Monday 14 October Grove Building 7.30pm. £5 in advance £6 on the door.

TARQUIN OLIVIER – So Who’s Your Mother?

What’s it like growing up the son of a great actor? More off-stage stories from his published memoir by the son of Laurence Olivier.

Tuesday 15 October Grove Building 7.30pm. £5 in advance £6 on the door.

CHRIS McCULLY – Poetry Masterclass

A must for all with poetry in their hearts as acclaimed poet, Chris McCully, analyses poems submitted by local writers

Wednesday 16 October, Grove Building 2.30pm. Retiring donations.

AN EVENING WITH DAMIEN LEWIS

One of Britain’s ‘20 Favourite Authors’, Damien Lewis has topped best-seller lists worldwide and has 29 books listed on ‘Good Reads’. He discusses his work including his latest book, ‘Zero Six Bravo’.

Friday 17 October, Grove Buildings 7.30pm. £5 in advance £6 on the door

CHILDREN’S EVENT with award-winning author GILLIAN CROSS

A free event at the library, tickets required

Saturday 18 October, 2.15pm

For the full programme, click here. Tickets available from Mere Library 01747 860546 or the Festival Organiser 01747 860475

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Lit Up! event: a life in writing

Along with writing friends Sarah Scally and  Fiona Murphy, I spent an excellent day on Saturday at Bournemouth Library learning how to make a living from writing.  That is, how to fund your writing through grant applications, residencies and commissions.  The workshop was organised by Lit Up! and provided practical advice, presentations and talks by poet Andrew McMillan and project organiser Amy Mason.

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By the end of the day, I’d made several new Twitter friends, generated fresh ideas for projects and came away with inspiration for new pieces of creative writing. The event more than lived up to its billing, a unique day full of tips on putting together bids, planning and executing successful writing sessions. Thank you very much Amy and Andrew for sharing inside information on how to get the most from the Arts Council.

Top tips included

  • subscribing to Arts Jobs  for regular updates on paid and unpaid writing opportunities
  • using the language of the brief to frame your application for residencies and writing opportunities (refer to target audience, outcomes etc)
  • drawing upon help from others to support your application, for example, references from other writers, project coordinators etc
  • Seek advice and support from the Arts Council. The Relationship Manager for the south-west is kate.offord@artscouncil.org.uk
  • the importance of tangible outcomes from writing sessions and workshops such as a celebration event or production of a pamphlet of work

By drawing on the ideas from the day, and combining these with the experience I’ve gained from workshop delivery at conferences and writing groups, I now feel much more confident in designing and seeking funding for my own literary writing project.  The only trouble is having the time to map this out.  My full-time work commitment is likely to go on until the end of August but with redundancy possible, I may be well be poring over my notes before too long.

Which skills would you like to develop for a life in writing?

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