the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

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!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Scratched Enamel Heart, Amanda Huggins

Here’s a treat for you. Amanda Huggins joins The Writer is a Lonely Hunter to answer a few questions about her latest (fabulous) short story collection Scratched Enamel Heart.

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About Scratched Enamel Heart

A lonely woman spends a perfect night with a stranger, yet is their connection enough to make her realise life is worth living? Maya, a refugee, wears a bracelet strung with charms that are a lifeline to her past; when the past catches up with her, she has a difficult decision to make. Rowe’s life on the Yorkshire coast is already mapped out for him, but when there is an accident at the steelworks he knows he has to flee from an intolerable future. In the Costa prize-winning ‘Red’, Mollie is desperate to leave Oakridge Farm and her abusive stepfather, to walk free with the stray dog she has named Hal.

These are stories filled with yearning and hope, the search for connection and the longing to escape. They transport the reader from India to Japan, from mid-west America to the north-east coast of England, from New York to London. Battered, bruised, jaded or jilted, the human heart somehow endures.

About Amanda

Amanda Huggins is the author of the short story collection, Separated From the Sea, which received a Special Mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards, and a second collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, which features ‘Red’, her prize-winning story from the 2018 Costa Short Story Award. She has also published a flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses and a poetry collection, The Collective Nouns for Birds, which is currently shortlisted for  a Saboteur Award.

She has been placed and listed in numerous competitions including Fish, Bridport, Bath, InkTears, the Alpine Fellowship Writing Award and the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award. Her travel writing has also won several awards, notably the BGTW New Travel Writer of the Year in 2014, and she has twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides New Travel Writer Award.

Amanda grew up on the North Yorkshire coast, moved to London in the 1990s, and now lives in West Yorkshire.

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Questions for Amanda

Your stories in Scratched Enamel Heart are set in different countries and locations. How do you decide on a setting for your story. What is the importance of the place in the development of your story?

It has always been important to me that my fiction has a strong sense of place – something I’ve carried over from my travel writing. Sometimes an idea for the setting comes first, and the story that follows is inspired and shaped by certain aspects of the location. The landscapes and cities in which the stories are set became important characters in their own right. They can reflect emotions or influence characters’ behaviour – such as the way the wait for the monsoon rains affects Maggie’s decisions in ‘A Longing for Clouds’, and the heat and desert landscape have an effect on Miranda in ‘Distant Fires’ – two stories set in the sensory overload of India. Closer to home, a snow-filled London becomes a major character in ‘A Brightness To It’, forming a soft-edged cocoon around the main characters. Two strangers bond in a soulless hotel room after a chance encounter, and are protected from the reality of the outside world by the beauty of their snow-changed environment – yet the city is only temporarily altered, and this reflects their own fragile situation. In ‘Red’, Mollie is trapped on Oakridge Farm with her mother and violent stepfather, and the vast spaces and relentless red dust of the American mid-west are a contrast to her confinement. The open plains and the endless highway offer freedom, yet the landscape is also hostile and bleak, holding up a mirror to her predicament. One of my favourite locations is Japan. My stories are often about displacement and alienation, trying to find connection, about lost characters in big cities. This can go hand in hand with the notion of things never being exactly as they seem, of them being a little off-centre, misunderstood, or lost in translation – and Japan is the perfect backdrop to reflect that.

The stories in Scratched Enamel Heart range in length from a single side to several pages. How do you decide the length of each story?

It’s not often that I set out to write a piece of fiction of a particular length. I’m usually exploring an idea without knowing where it will take me – it could end up being 300 words or 3000 words. Sometimes, when a longer story isn’t working, I find it can be pared right down to a one-page story that works much better. However, I am writing longer stories most of the time right now, and in doing so I seem to be going against the trend. As more writers are turning towards short flash pieces, I find I’m leaning towards longer fiction!

Congratulations on signing with Victorina Press for the publication of your novella. It’s good to have you onboard as a fellow Victorina Press author. You’ve also had a collection of poetry recently published, the wonderful The Collective Nouns For Birds. What’s it like being a writer of short fiction, long fiction and poetry? How do you manage your time?

Thanks, Gail! I’m already enjoying working with the Victorina team – and it’s lovely to share a publisher with writers I know, such as yourself and Chris Fielden. All our Squandered Beauty is my first novella, and is based around the title story from my first short story collection, Separated From the Sea.

The Collective Nouns for Birds began to take shape when I was snowed-in at a cottage in the North Pennines. I didn’t plan to write a collection – I was just feeling my way at first, as I hadn’t written any poetry since my late teens. However, I discovered I really enjoyed writing it, and the poems started to come together as a loosely themed body of work. A review by Amanda McLeod sums it up better than I can:  “Huggins explores…all the ways in which we lose things, the clarity and sometimes sadness that retrospection can bring. There is the transition from childhood to adulthood, the parting of lovers and friends, loss of life, of special places.”

I don’t think poetry and short fiction are always that different from each other. My prose style leans towards the lyrical/poetical, and I tend to write narrative poetry, so for me there is a real crossover between the two forms. Sometimes a poem will morph into a short story and vice versa – there are a couple of poems in my collection which also feature as flash pieces in Scratched Enamel Heart.

Longer fiction is a relatively new direction for me, and once again it’s something that has come about by accident rather than by design. Both my novellas have developed from short stories, and in each case it was because several readers wanted to know what happened next after those original stories had ended.

I sometimes find it difficult to manage my time – especially as I have a day job four days a week – but once I’m committed to a project then I always finish it before moving on to the next thing. I already have a ‘next thing’ in sight actually – and it may well turn out to be the longest writing project I’ve undertaken to date!

Wow, Amanda. You are so prolific. Good luck with your next project!

If you’re interested in learning more about Amanda, you can read a previous interview here.

Where to find Amanda

@troutiemcfish

https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

Where to purchase Scratched Enamel Heart

Available from 27 May from Amazon 

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My review of Scratched Enamel Heart

This short fiction collection contains twenty-four emotionally-charged stories that take readers on a journey to households and communities in a range of countries. Through these stories, Amanda Huggins cleverly shows us the commonality of emotional experience. That feelings of isolation, love, grief, loss and regret occur in different backgrounds and cultures. And equally, that hope and the promise of a fresh start is possible. Amanda Huggins writes in a beautiful and empathetic way to immerse readers in the challenges and dilemmas she presents to her characters. As readers we care about these characters and learn from them. This is a truthful, authentic and essential read.

 

 

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Tracking back to find the root of an idea

It’s long been my ambition to volunteer with VSO International. I received the vacancies newsletter for many years and have enjoyed browsing the range of educational opportunities available for one or two years. The problem has always been I can’t commit to that length of time. My husband has no interested in joining me, so I figure that if I want to stay married, the longest I can be away for is a few months. Back in the summer I noticed a position in Ethiopia working at a teaching training institution from April 2020 for six months. At last my time had come. I spent a couple of days working up an application and when I came to submit, the vacancy had vanished. After getting all fired up about this new possibility, I searched the VSO website for any other potential jobs and submitted several applications.

A few weeks later, I was invited to a Skype meeting for screening. Once successfully through this, it was explained that I needed to pass a situational online test and a panel interview to join the VSO bank, where I could wait for up to eighteen months for a short term vacancy to arise. My details would then be submitted to the country office for a further interview. During October, VSO suggested I apply for the post of protection and psychosocial support specialist working with early childhood care and education centres at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda. The position had originally been for one year but as funding was due to end in March 2020, this made a perfect short term position for me. I applied, was interviewed and offered the post to begin 8 December 2019.

This role really appealed to me because I had spent several years in Wandsworth working as an advisor for refugee pupils. During that time my work involved curriculum development to promote a greater understanding of the plight of refugees. The aim of these sessions was to enable pupils in mainstream classrooms to develop greater empathy and understanding for new arrival children from refugee backgrounds. One of the resources I used was a publication called One Day We Had to Run! which collected the stories of unaccompanied boys fleeing war to find safety at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The boys were also encouraged to share their memories, experiences and hopes through painting. The material for the book was collected by Sybella Wilkes, then a young aid worker at the camp who now works as the senior communications officer with UNHCR. I remember thinking at the time that this was a great thing to do and I wondered if there would ever be an opportunity for me to do something similar. And so, I guess the seed or an idea or ambition was sewn.

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When I thought about this further, the actual ambition to volunteer with VSO goes back much further. I lived in Papua New Guinea for two years following marriage to my first husband in 1982.  Tom got a job in Wabag, Enga Province and I accompanied him there. While he trained a National team at the Department of Works and Supply, I volunteered at a pre-school. Amongst the expatriate community in this far flung town was a Caribbean poet called Archie Markham. He was a VSO volunteer attached to the Department of Information as a media coordinator. As a working poet, he also established a series of poetry readings which became a highlight for the community. He went on to write a memoir of his time in Wabag titled Papua New Guinea Sojourn: More Pleasures of Exile. It seems to me, this is the deeper root of my wish to become a VSO volunteer. It’s possibly something to do with reclaiming that young woman I once was and combining it with the experience of my more mature years as a teacher and writer. Who knows? Like Archie I may find inspiration to write from working with refugee families at Bidibidi.

Before I get ahead of myself, it’s important to remember I’ve only been in post for two weeks. The in-country orientation in Kampala has involved briefings on the role, an introduction to administration systems, IT support and health and safety. Accommodation has been found for me at my placement and I’ll be joining my new colleagues at the office in Yumbe on 6 January. In the meantime, I’m staying in Gulu over the holiday period which will give me a chance to obtain furniture and furnishings for my new temporary home as well as celebrate Christmas with other VSO volunteers. Although there’s a lot going on at the moment, it doesn’t stop me from looking forward to starting my role at Bidibidi.

 

 

 

 

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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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The String Games is released today!

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The journey to the release of my debut novel The String Games has included many pitfalls and high points. Today, I celebrate the support I have received along the way.

Thank you to my fellow students at the University of South Wales who offered support and advice through workshop sessions. Also to my supervisors who gave feedback and guidance which enabled me to submit The String Games alongside an academic thesis to receive the award of PhD.

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I’m grateful to Carol McGrath, Sue Stephenson and Denise Barnes for the wonderful feedback during memorable writing retreats in Port Isaac and other locations overseas.

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Dorset is a wonderful place to live and write. I’ve gained so much from supportive groups including Wimborne Writing led by Sarah Barr, the Vivo Gang, the RNA Dorset chapter and the Dorset Writers Network. Also thank you to the organisers of open mic nights including Apothecary.

For giving The String Games a good home, I’d like to thank all the lovely people who work for Victorina Press and also my fellow Victorina authors who celebrate diversity in publishing.

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A special mention for the authors who endorsed my novel Jacquelyn Mitchard, Nina Kilham, Elizabeth Reeder, and Sara Gethin.

Where would any author be without readers? The continued support of the Cerne Abbas Readers is much appreciated along with the amazing work of many wonderful book bloggers including Anne Williams and Jessie Cahalin.

I’ve loved being part of online communities including the Women Writers Network and thank everyone there.

I’ve grown in confidence and experience due to publication of my earlier work. Thanks to  Gill James at Chapeltown Books for publishing Paisley Shirt a collection of short fiction, and to Sophie-Louise Hyde at Wordsmith_HQ for publishing adversaries/comrades a poetry pamphlet.

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Lastly I must thank my supportive family who understand my need to write when I could be spending time with them.

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The String Games is released today and can be purchased online from Foyles, Waterstones and Victorina Press.

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Copenhagen, Stockholm and the Writers Festival

I don’t watch much television but David and I thoroughly enjoyed the Scandinavian noir crime series The Bridge.  With Saga Norén as the lead detective (it is suggested she has Asperger’s), audiences follow collaborative investigations between Sweden and Denmark.  Before this programme, I had never been aware of the significance of the Øresund/Öresund Bridge in linking the two countries and this seeded an idea for a visit.

It was from a tweet by writer Lizzie Harwood, that I became aware of the second Stockholm Writers Festival (SWF) scheduled for the beginning of May 2019. The programme included writers I was keen to meet and became the incentive I needed to book a trip to Denmark and Sweden. Once the flights were organised, we left it to the last minute to find accommodation in Copenhagen and by chance, we ended up in a good hotel located close to the Langelinie promenade. Each morning we took a run to visit the Little Mermaid statue, then followed a path along the ramparts of the fort then bought pastries for breakfast which we ate on the rooftop of the hotel.

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After four nights in Copenhagen, we travelled across the bridge by train to Stockholm and stayed at an airbnb in the city. The SWF began on Friday afternoon with a celebration of winning writers from the First Pages competition, followed by a literary quiz and mingling in a bar. The festival brought together English language writers in Sweden and participants from other countries. On Saturday and Sunday there were a range of workshops offered, panel discussions, talks, opportunities for networking and one-to-ones with agents. I attended two workshops that were particularly empowering and they have enabled me to revisit pieces of flash fiction and develop them for publication. (One of these stories has since been accepted by FlashFlood, the National Flash Fiction Day journal which will appear on the website on 15 June.) The first workshop was delivered by Jessica Lourey who shared strategies to identify powerful emotions from personal history to feed fictional stories. The other was a workshop on developing dialogue delivered by Cassie Gonzales which highlighted elements of the said, the unsaid and the unsayable. The two inputs dovetailed to create a valuable resource in plotting fiction.

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Now I’m back at home and I’m delighted to be able to apply the new skills I developed at the festival. I’m also thrilled to be part of a new writing community and have connected with many participants at the festival through social media. Thank to you to Catherine Pettersson, founder of the festival, and all those who have supported it to make the event so successful.

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Launch for ‘adversaries/comrades’

It’s over a week ago that the launch for my debut poetry pamphlet was held at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. The bookshop is a splendid venue for such a occasion and I was pleased to welcome readers, poets, family and friends to the launch.

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The evening started with mingling, drinks and canapés.

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Next there was a Q & A where Sophie my publisher at Wordsmith_HQ posed a range of questions and following this I shared some of my poems from adversaries/comrades.

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Magdalena Atkinson, my former colleague from Dorset County Council, played some exquisite songs to accompany the theme of siblings which informed my poetry pamphlet.

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This is the official photo to mark the end of the formal proceedings with Sophie and me in the foreground.

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The evening finished with more mingling.

Writing is a strange occupation but it does follow a pattern. First you spend hours working away, improving your writing process and practice. Some of us are fortunate to have our work valued by a publisher who agrees to launch the product. Others have self-belief and publish as indies to enable their work to reach an audience. Whatever route is taken, it’s important to celebrate the publication with an event so that the written product is given a public presentation.

adversaries/comrades has received some wonderful reviews from poets I admire:

Gail Aldwin’s pamphlet, adversaries/comrades, shows us a family world of dodgy deals, discord and sibling rivalry; and love. No family member is exempt; conflict is a fact of family life. Extraordinary, though, is the lack of cynicism showing through the emotion. This is honest, and above all witty, alive with imagery and very moving.

Amanda Oosthuizen, poetry publisher at Words for the Wild

 

This engaging collection of poems draws the reader into moments many of us recognise from family life. They reveal a clarity of vision and memory when put under the poet’s microscope…There is a sense of delight in the choosing of each word of this assured collection.

Alison Lock, poet and writer

 

Gail’s poetry is sharp, astute, playful, wry, yet never sentimental. Every word has earned its place, and the imagery is as clear as a bell. This is a poet who takes her craft seriously, yet isn’t afraid to play with words as well as work with them. An accomplished debut pamphlet.”

Amanda Huggins, Author of Separated From the Sea 

 

It is polished and surprising, exploring the tenderness of complex family relationships but with a narrative voice that is not afraid to touch upon a sub-text of bruises, scars and painful childhood moments. The tenderness of the writing is showcased in the opening poem, ‘Birthday’. I really enjoyed the variety of technique in this collection, as it moves from prose poems to shorter lyric pieces and concrete poetry.

Anne Caldwell, Freelance Writer & Poet, and Associate Lecturer at Open University

 

Thank you to everyone who came to the launch and for all the good wishes I received from those who couldn’t make it. If you would like to purchase a copy of adversaries/comrades the pamphlet is stocked at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester, or it can be purchased through Wordsmith_HQ.

 

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At the London Book Fair 2019

The London Book Fair is an annual event that this year took place from 12–14 March. I was lucky to be offered a ticket to attend by Victorina Press the publisher of my novel The String GamesThe fair was held at Olympia and the sheer scale of the building, crammed with stalls from publishers around the world, gives a sense of the enormity of the publishing business.

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One small section on the ground floor was occupied by the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) where Victorina Press had a stall. It was great to meet other authors published by Victorina Press and celebrate bibliodiversity. This is a term coined by independent publishers in Chile and adopted by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers. Bibliodiversity provides an opportunity for independent publishers to promote a different outlook and voice from the standardised content offered by major publishers. Victorina Press is an excellent example of bibliodiversity with a broad range of publications including adult novels and children’s fiction, practitioners’ guides, poetry and short fiction. You can read more about bibliodiversity on a blog post written by Danielle Maisano here.

Although the London Book Fair is primarily for industry, there are growing opportunities for writers to enjoy input. I attended several sessions at Author HQ including advice on how to market and promote your work. (You may see some of this learning put into practice as the launch of my novel approaches.) I also had the opportunity to meet friends, put faces to names I knew from social media and approach publishers I had met online. I loved the whole experience and was pleased to see uncorrected proofs of The String Games displayed on the Victorina stall.

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I also grabbed a few freebies at the fair and brought home three further proof copies of The String Games. 

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These are now winging their way to book bloggers who will post reviews as part of my blog tour in May.

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There are lots of exciting events happening prior to the launch of The String Games including the release of my debut poetry pamphlet adversaries/comradesIf you fancy coming to the launch of adversaries/comrades please find the details below:

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So, that’s a round up of my very busy week. How are things going for you?

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Heads up: new publication

I am delighted to share the news that my debut poetry pamphlet will be published in March 2019. Last summer I entered a competition inviting submissions of poetry on the theme of siblings and I was thrilled to be judged joint winner with Rachel Lewis. My pamphlet is titled adversaries/comrades and includes a range of forms from prose poetry to pattern poetry all based on the relationships between siblings.

Wordsmith_HQ have done a wonderful job in creating the pamphlet and designing the cover.

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The cover image is taken from a photo of children playing in Maumbury Rings, the Neolithic henge situated to the south of Dorchester. Every August bank holiday there is a wonderful day of music held at Maumbury Rings where picnickers enjoy a range of bands. This has become my favourite day of the year in the county town, so I am very pleased with the cover design.

Rachel’s poetry pamphlet is titled Three Degrees of Separation and explores issues about love, family, and survival in the face of mental ill-health. You can read more about the pamphlet and details of the pamphlet launch here

The launch of my poetry pamphlet will take place on Wednesday 27 March 2019, 7–9pm at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. Please register your interested in attending here. I’m very pleased Magdalena Atkinson will be offering musical accompaniment at the event. It should be a lovely evening…do come along.

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BridLit Fringe

I’m really chuffed to be sharing a few of my stories at the Bridlit Fringe alongside this talented group of local writers. If you’re in Bridport on the morning of Friday 16 November 2018, do drop into the Literary & Scientific Institute for a chance to hear a fantastic range of poetry and prose. Tickets are a bargain at only £5 and are available here.

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I hope to see some of you in the audience!

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