the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

The FABULOUS wider writing community

It was Nina Killham who first recommended I read The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. This is the debut work by a novelists who has gone on to write ten further books for adults plus others for the young adults and the children’s markets. As a first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean gained much attention and acclaim and was the first title chosen for Oprah’s Book Club in 1996. It is a powerful novel, full of suspense as the protagonist, mother to a missing boy, struggles to come to terms with what’s happened. It’s a very moving story that teaches about resilience and compassion in circumstances that are a nightmare to every parent.

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As there are parallels between my novel The String Games and Jacquelyn’s work (in terms of a focus on a lost child) I decided to get in touch with Jacquelyn through the contact page of her website. Imagine my surprise when minutes later a reply from this best-selling author popped into my inbox. Jacquelyn kindly agreed to  read my novel with a view to offering an endorsement. Although delighted with this response, I did feel rather impertinent even asking. As a child, my Grandma frequently used the reprimand ‘askers don’t get’ whenever me or my siblings became demanding. But if my Grandpa was within earshot he’d pipe up ‘don’t ask – don’t want’. This memory of my grandparents convinces me there is no harm in asking.

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Blog Tour: F J Morris, This Is (Not About) David Bowie

I was delighted to meet F J Morris in Bristol where she shared one of her fabulous stories with an attentive audience. I’d seen Freya’s name on many competition announcements for winners and attached to stories in quality journals, so it was a real treat to attend the reading. She is a great supporter of flash fiction and assisted the organisers of the first flash fiction festival in 2017. Now, I’m thrilled she has agreed to join me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, to celebrate the launch of her debut collection of flash fiction. With the intriguing title This Is (Not About) David Bowie, the imaginatively presented collection contains thought-provoking stories that gave me the chance to take another look at modern life, and rethink a thing or two. Shrinking Giants was one of my favourite pieces, full of poignancy yet with an ending that gives hope.

 

Thank you for joining me, Freya and congratulations on your new publication. Here are the questions I’ve posed which I think will be of interest to readers and writers.

Do you write with your audience in mind? Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is one that is living. I was going to say a human being, but to be honest, I’m not even that fussed what they identify as. I grew up in an old mining town on the outskirts of Bristol where my mum grew up. People didn’t really read. And so I’ve been asking myself a lot of big questions about fiction and why we should bother. Why should people read?

There are a lot of studies out that that explain how art helps us to understand ourselves and humanity better. Artists deal in feelings better than any other discipline. In the days we live in, it’s so important that we recognise the importance of feelings and how they influence us. Society doesn’t encourage us to be okay with them. They’re considered second-rate. But they have such a big influence on us. I read a study once that a judge’s decisions became more harsh depending on the time of day and his eating patterns (ie – if he’s hangry then you’ve no hope in hell). So it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how aware you are, your feelings are more in control of you than you know.

We are not machines. We are not products. So I think it’s vital that we value artists, and that artists recognise their own worth, their own power. What people are consuming right now is influencing them in ways they don’t even realise. And we need to write, sing, dance, paint our way out of it. We need a new story to tell ourselves. Stories that have peace, hope, joy, magic. Stories that make you glad to be alive. Stories that bring us together. But ultimately, we need more people reading, and that’s a challenge I’m interested in taking on. So I guess they’re the ones I want to reach out to.

What do you hope readers will take away from your collection? 

That anything is possible. That we are the writers of our own story. That we can be who we really are. A few people have read my collection and told me which stories were their favourites, and what I love the most is that they all chose different ones. I really wanted to cover a range of people, a spectrum of identities, ages, genders, backgrounds – that felt true to Bowie, and what he stood for. I wanted the collection to reflect his essence. Bowie in himself is a powerful idea. He reached out to everyone who didn’t fit in, and it turns out, that’s a hell of a lot of people. Like many, he gave me permission to be as outrageous as I wanted. He allowed me to take risks. To be true to myself. I hope people reading my collection will feel that too.

Can you describe the process of putting together a flash collection?

The initial idea only came when someone asked me to write a collection. I had wanted to put one together for a while. But every theme or idea I had to string a bunch of stories together ran out of juice. It was like being in a labyrinth, thinking you’re on the right track, only to find myself at another dead end.

Then Bowie died. It was like watching an explosion. A supernova. A massive star had collapsed at the end of its life, and it sent out these ripples, this burst of energy. His impact on people spilled out. David Bowie was more than a person. He was a feeling. He was an idea. So that’s when lightning struck, and I saw my way through the labyrinth.

But that was just the beginning. There were a whole host of obstacles and riddles to work through after the first draft. The journey to publication was not straight or easy, but the extra time helped me to develop it more. There were a lot of stories that fell short of what I wanted so I ditched them. And then I put the rest together into a larger narrative structured by David Bowie quotes. I wanted people to feel like there was a bigger picture, a journey to go on, but that element came later.

Do you have a favourite flash and what was the inspiration for writing it?

Slush puppies (there’s a reading of it here): it’s about hidden love between two school girls. I wrote it in a Bristolian accent, so I have to read it in one. And it has a sort of musical quality to it. I wanted to write it in such a way that when you read it, you could feel the build-up and overflowing passion.

My stories are a bit like Frankenstein’s monster – some of the story was inspired by something that happened to friends when I was growing up, some of it is my imagination, and a fair bit has been harvested from different poems I wrote when I was in love. This one does it all. It takes me back in so many ways. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and so is love.

Congratulations on your new appointment as Assistant Editor for fiction at Bare Fiction. What does this role involve?

Cheers! At the moment its: reading, reading, reading. Then deciding with the editor and team, which stories we think should be published. Robert does a wonderful job running the magazine, and his aspirations are amazing, so I can’t wait to help him achieve them. Plans and aspirations are a foot – so watch this space!

Do you have any favourite writing resources you would like to share with readers of The Writer is a Lonely Hunter?

Oh there are lots! When I read Orwell’s ‘Why I write’ in my twenties that basically became my mantra. I try to avoid writing to show off skills or knowledge. I remember a time when I was eight and I learnt this new word and was so excited to use it. But when I finally did, and nobody understood it, I realised how pointless it was. I felt the embarrassment of those around me, and how they withdrew. You lose people when you make them feel stupid – they disengage. So reading Orwell, made me consciously think about what sort of writer I wanted to be.

I’m always telling people to use the ‘Hemingway editor’ website. I’m going to use it on this interview. It helps me to be an editor to myself and to clean up my sentences. Then there’s Grammarly and Scrivener for the tools that make life easier.

What are your future plans?

To write. I know how that sounds. But it’s a constant fight with myself. I started to write a new novel called Burning down the house a few months ago, but with all the fiddling about, I’ve lost track of spending time on it. I want to write scripts, and make this app, and do another collection… So that’s my problem. Too many things, too many ideas, not enough writing.

What in insightful interview! Thank you, Freya. This is (not about) David Bowie is published by Retreat West Books and is currently on pre-order with Amazon. If anyone is in Bristol on 27 September at 7pm and would like to attend the book launch of This is (not about) David Bowie, your invitation is here.

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Travelling and writing

An interview with Allison Symes for Chandler’s Ford Today has me sharing stories about travelling overland on a converted Lodekka bus with Top Deck Travel in 1981.Group Shot at Winery Lyonn (2)

Find out how this journey links to the publication of Paisley Shirt here.

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Recently published on Paragraph Planet: take my advice

Please find below a 75-word story that was recently published on Paragraph Planet.  This is a great way for your work to reach a wider audience.The website’s been running since November 2008 and each day there’s a new 75-word story to enjoy.  Famous authors, aspiring writers and occasional dabblers have all been involved by making a range of submissions. Here’s one of mine:

Take my advice and see if it helps: (1) stay strong; (2) listen to your reflective voice; (3) treat yourself kindly; (4) tell the circling thoughts to piss off; (5) go out with friends: you’ve chosen them wisely; (6) eat well, drink a little wine; (7) work hard: there’s intrinsic satisfaction to be had; (8) you’re allowed to feel sad at times; (9) you’re special, remember that; (10) give it time, you’ll meet someone new.

Why don’t you give it a go?

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Launch of The Swan-Daughter in Bicester

61247Last week, Dave and I travelled to Oxfordshire for the launch of Carol McGrath‘s novel The Swan-Daughter.  This is the second book in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy and it’s great to be back in the company of an accomplished story-teller. Carol’s style of writing is charming, allowing readers to enter the life of Gunnhild, the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swanneck. Based on research, the novel provides a lasting impression of the lives and struggles during the early Norman period. Essentially it’s a love story, starting with Gunnhild’s escape the nunnery at Wilton Abbey and her elopement with Count Alan of Richmond. 

The book launch was held at Cole’s Books in the delightful market town of Bicester. We stayed overnight in the Pentewan B&B  a lovely place tucked away from the main thoroughfare – we even had a dip in the hot tub in the garden!

St Catherine's College

St Catherine’s College

The following day, we stopped in Oxford and Dave and I wandered through the grounds of his old college then spent the afternoon in the Ashmolean Museum. It was great! Now that I have membership at the Bodleian Library, I look forward to returning, research for my studies makes a good excuse.

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A bit of luck

Just when I thought I had to return to the office for three more days of work after taking leave next week, I discovered that I’m actually owed some days. As a result, my last day of employment with the County Council will be Friday and I’m madly trying to get everything done ready for a holiday in Edinburgh starting on Saturday.  We’re flying from Southampton and taking hand luggage only, so decanting liquids has been the order of the day. Fortunately, the flat that we’re staying at in Stockbridge provides shampoo and shower gel, so it’s only face creams that I need to worry about.

I’ve packed a couple of paperbacks including The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie and The Polish Boxer (which was recommended by Sarah Bower) and you can read a review here. I’ve downloaded two audiobooks to my ipod: Catch 22 and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So when I’m not attending sessions at the Book Festival or the Fringe I’ll have plenty to keep my busy.

Have a good week.

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The Notebook

Please find The Notebook below, my entry to FLASH MOB 2013. This is a blog competition celebrating International Flash Fiction Day on 22 June. To join the carnival all you have to do is post a previously unpublished piece of flash fiction (300 words or fewer, not including title) to your own blog before the 10 June. Not long to go, so you’d better get cracking! Find more details here.

listing books read notebook           The Notebook

            ‘You’ll have another one?’ Paul drained his pint glass and nodded towards Jane’s tumbler containing only water from the melted ice. ‘One more G and T won’t do you any harm.’

            ‘I guess not,’ she said.

            While he was at the bar, Jane took the pad from her handbag and made a note of jobs for the weekend: woollen wash, change sheets, dismantle wardrobe, take to dump.

            ‘What’s that you’re doing?’ He ground the base of her glass against the table and leaned over, trying to read the words.

            ‘It’s to stop me forgetting the one or two things I need to do.’

            ‘You and your lists.’

            ‘Indeed,’ Jane closed the cover.

            Paul weaved his fingers through his fringe and Jane’s spine contracted with a stab of irritation. He’d always worn that ring on his right hand, as if he never was sure about being married. A shaft of light through the stained glass made a kaleidoscope of colours on the carpet, a torch through the fug.

            ‘Of course, if you really had your priorities right, my name would be at the top of your list,’ said Paul.‘That would show you believe in me.’

            ‘I do Paul,’ sighed Jane. ‘You’ll get a job soon enough.’

            ‘I worked 20 years for that firm and what do I get for my loyalty?’

            ‘They made the whole department redundant. It’s not as if they were picking on you.’

            ‘Less of the lecture, Jane.’

            By ten o’clock Paul’s shoulders were hunched and he jabbed Jane’s notebook. ‘Come on then. Put me at the top of the list.’

            Jane took the ballpoint and scrawled across the page: I be-leave-in you, Paul.

            She passed the paper over and he squinted, trying to decipher her writing.

            ‘That’ll do,’ he said.

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The Next Big Thing: Paula’s Secret

I’ve admired the short stories and flash fiction written by Angela Williams under the name of Susan Carey for sometime time now.  Like me, Angela’s work has featured on the 1000 words website and her story was chosen for inclusion in the National Flash Fiction Day e-anthology for 2012. Angela lives in Amsterdam, and is a member of Writers Abroad. When she shared information about the group’s annual anthology on her blog, it gave me a chance to think back to my expatriate days in Papua New Guinea and I submitted a story that was accepted for publication in ‘Foreign Encounters’.  I was delighted when she tagged me in ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog chain and I answer the questions below:

What is the working title of your next book?

My latest novel started life as ‘First Time Mums’ but then graduated to the new working title of ‘Paula’s Secret’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started work on this manuscript during the summer of 2012.  I’d written a couple of pieces of flash fiction about those first few months after childbirth, when relationships shift to give priority to the baby and I thought there was mileage in the idea.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a romantic comedy and I’m new to this genre. I met Allie Spencer at a story slam in Shaftesbury and when I read a couple of her books and some others, I thought I’d like to give it a try.

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Paula is the main character, previously dotty about her dog but once Baby Boo arrives, she refocuses her attention. She’s juxtaposed with her best friend Kirsty, who is also a new mother and struggling to use the same methods that brought her success in the workplace to become a model parent.  It’s the different approaches to parenting that bring humour to the novel and I guess Ann Hathaway would be a good lead.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Kirsty struggles to make the most of family life with her new-born and when Paula won’t reveal who is the father of her baby, Kirsty decides that bringing her best friend’s family together is her next priority.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I won a competition during 2012 to have sixty copies of my fiction collection ‘Four Buses printed, so I know all about the rewards and pitfalls of self publishing. It may sound mad but getting the book into print isn’t my priority at the moment. I’m much more concerned with getting the writing to the best possible standard.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft took five months and it’s currently in a drawer waiting for me to gather my wits and tackle it again.  I’m planning to begin the rewriting at the end of January, then I’ll be going full pelt ready to submit a decent draft to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme at the end of August.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I haven’t read many books written about new mothers although when I was researching titles I came across one or two.  ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell is a good example of how the arrival of a baby casts light into the shadows of personal experience. But I can’t begin to compare ‘Paula’s Secret’ to such an accomplished novel and it’s not in the same genre, anyway.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Getting positive comments on the short stories and flash fiction that I’ve written has encouraged me to try writing with strong themes, on a bigger scale.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Floosie the Husky-cross dog has a significant role in the story!

I’d like to tag a wonderful writer of historical fiction, Carol McGrath, who is hugely knowledgeable about the medieval period. She’s a great on-line friend, tweeting early in the mornings and her blog Scribbling in the Margins, provides posts from all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Carol during a writing retreat in Cornwall and another which she hosted in Portugal. Carol is an attentive listener and when I share my writing, her feedback is erudite. She’s a great companion, story-teller and adventurer. I can’t wait to read her first novel, which she wrote while undertaking post-graduate studies at the Royal Holloway University. ‘The Handfasted Wife’ will be published in 2013.

 

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National Association of Writers in Education: 25th anniversary conference

The Minster’s Western Front (Wikipedia)

I was in York at the weekend, attending a wonderful conference where I also delivered a workshop.  Participants attending ‘Flash Fiction:  keeping it short’ came from across the phases of education, all with an interest in developing writing for themselves and their students. I shared a range of prompts aimed to get those less experienced in writing flash started.  These included:

  • Looking at classified advertisements for inspiration
  • Getting ideas for writing from Dulux colour cards (this prompt originates from Calum Kerr, Director of National Flash Fiction Day)
  • Using pages from small, illustrated notebooks to focus the mind on purposeful word selection
  • Drawing upon a photo to think about the story behind the image, from the photographer’s point of view
  • Describing stereotypes from ‘Come Dine with Me’ to create characters you love to hate
  • Self publishing mini books by folding and cutting a sheet of A4 paper
  • Finding markets for your writing:  a selection of websites and magazines that accept flash fiction.

I’d like to thank everyone that came to the workshop for engaging so readily in the tasks, for being willing to share the outcomes from the prompts and for the feedback provided. Read the rest of this entry »

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Writing Britain (and more about notebooks)

The British Library’s current exhibition Writing Britain illustrates the changing landscape of the country over the last 1000 years with reference to items from the collection and loans from elsewhere. The exhibition includes artwork, original manuscripts and texts that explore a range of locations grouped according to the following sections:

  • Rural dreams
  • Dark Satanic Mills
  • Wild Places
  • Beyond the City
  • Cockney Visions
  • Waterlands

Interestingly, writing about Dorset features in several of the sections, including Maiden Castle by John Cowper Powys which tells the story of a supernatural presence at the iron-age hill fort near Dorchester. Jane Austen’s Persuasion is set in Bath and Lyme Regis, where Louisa Musgrave falls from the harbour wall (known as The Cobb) in an attempt to gain male attention. Harold Pinter’s script for The French Leiutenant’s Woman, based upon the novel by John Fowles is also set in Lyme Regis. A little further along the Dorset coast, Chesil Beach features as the location for Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, where Edward and Florence spend their wedding night at a fictitional hotel on the beach.

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