the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

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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Author and illustrator interview

Why not take a few minutes to watch this interview? Sit down, kick back – you may learn something fun and inspirational!

About illustrator, Fiona Zechmeister

Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo. Find out more about Fiona on her website: https://www.fionazeich.net

Twitter:                       https://twitter.com/fionazeichnet

Instagram:                 https://www.instagram.com/fionazeichnet/

About author, Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. Her forthcoming contemporary novel This Much Huxley Knows uses a young narrator to show adult experiences in a new light. When she’s not gallivanting around the world, Gail writes at her home in Dorset. 

Twitter:             https://twitter.com/gailaldwin

Facebook:         https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

About Victorina Press

Victorina Press was created by Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes. She is a Chilean-British writer and academic.  Her mission is to publish inspirational and great books. To do this, Victorina Press follows the principles of bibliodiversity, a concept developed by a group of Chilean independent publishers — Editores independientes de Chile —in the late 1990s. It is now part of the ethos of many worldwide independent publishers. Diversity is beautiful.

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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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Thrilled to bits!

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

Bear and Pandemonium purchased for two-year-old Leo
Happy prize winner from the ReviewSpot competition, ‘the illustrations are just amazing and so beautiful.’
This little girl loves Pandemonium and keeps repeating words from the story.
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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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Lockdown launch for PanDeMoNium

I guess the pandas at Hawes department store (the setting for Pandemonium) are glad the doors will once again open in the UK this week. Of course, with bookshops closed due to lockdown on launch day, Tuesday 1 December 2020, it doesn’t help in getting this children’s picture book out into the world. Fortunately, there’s the internet to rely on. As part of publication day celebrations, I’m holding a competition on Twitter. In Pandemonium, Peta gets up to mischief in the department store. You can see an early version of a double page spread below:

If she can be that naughty in a café, imagine what would happen in a sweet shop!

Here she is, nicely camouflaged amongst the hand finished rose and violet creams made by the House of Dorchester. If you’re active on Twitter, do pop over there now to follow, like and retweet my competition post for a chance to win this box of delicious rose and violet creams and a copy of Pandemonium. (These are the most gorgeous chocolates ever and I promise Peta hasn’t licked any!) The winner’s name will be picked from a hat at noon on Thursday 3 December. Due to the cost of postage, the competition is open to UK residents only.

If you’d like a copy of Pandemonium, please support Victorina Press by ordering through the website. Use coupon code XMAS2020 to receive 30% discount. Please help this independent press to discover more unheard voices and promote inclusion by purchasing directly from them.

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Blog tour, discount Christmas shopping and further adventures

Where would a writer be without readers? Thank you to everyone who has shown interest in Pandemonium. This week starts a big push to help my children’s picture book reach a wider audience with support from book bloggers. Do watch out for posts on social media with links to further reviews.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a copy of Pandemonium for a young child in your life, now’s the time to do it. There’s a 30% seasonal discount from all Victorina Press titles using the coupon code XMAS2020. Purchasing directly from the publisher is a good way to support this independent press in furthering their ambition to discover unheard voices and promote diversity in publishing. While visiting the Victorina Press bookshop for Christmas purchases, why not treat yourself, too? I can recommend you pre-order Amanda Huggins‘ wonderful novella All Our Squandered Beauty. It’s a captivating read.

I’ve had more fun taking Peta on further adventures in Pandemonium. See what she’s up to now:

In the café, Peta gets hungry …

Enjoy the last week of November and I’ll touch base again on publication day, 1 December 2020.

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Monday 16 November is Odd Socks Day!

Some of these campaigns really do make me cringe (think of #NationalDoughnutDay on 5 June) but not this one. #OddSocksDay is part of Anti-bullying Week 2020 which puts a spotlight on bullying and considers the steps that can be taken to prevent it. Every November, schools in the UK have a focus on bullying and by working with the wider school community, steps are put in place to protect vulnerable youngsters.

This year, #OddSocksDay on Monday 16 November launches a week of activites to raise awareness about bullying. This is intended to be a fun day where there’s no pressure to wear fashionable clothes or dress up. Everyone can wear odd socks, so it couldn’t be simpler. The idea is to encourage people to express themselves and everything that makes us unique.

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