the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

The String Games: words and images

Following my earlier posts about the images that illustrate each of the three different parts to my debut novel The String Games, I’ve decided to post them all here to give a sense of the work that has gone into creating them. The novel acts as a coming-of-age story and shares the growing up experiences of the protagonist as she struggles to come to terms with the abduction and murder of her younger brother. Fiona Zeichmeister has cleverly demonstrated the growth of a child through the stages of development in these pictures: from child to teenager and the as an adult.

 

 

 

Together with the cover, I am absolutely delighted with these images.

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My publisher, Victorina Press, has also arranged for The String Games bookmarks to be produced. Here is the image that illustrates them:

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I have used to back cover design to create a poster to promote a blog tour which begins on the 20 May and which will offer reviews of The String Games by some notable book bloggers. Indeed, there is already one review posted on Goodreads to give you a taster of the novel.

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The run up to publication day is an exciting time. If you would like to pre-order a copy of The String Games, you can do so at Victorina Press, Foyles or Waterstones.

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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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Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

As part of the research for my PhD which accompanied the writing of my novel The String GamesI came across the work of Judith Kegan Gardiner who discusses female identity and writing by women. She suggests that where women write about female protagonists there is a special link and proposes the analogy ‘the hero is her author’s daughter’. When I first read this, the idea that I could regard Nim (my protagonist) as my daughter caused concern. While I recognised that other women writers may regard their female protagonists in this way, I resisted the idea of applying the analogy to my own situation. I was afraid that if I thought of Nim as my daughter, a natural progression would be to conclude that Jenny (Nim’s mother) represented me. This I did not want to think about. The character of Jenny is by no means an idealised mother: she is short-tempered, snappy, stressed, clumsy, resentful and all manner of other negatives. Her redeeming quality, however, is that she genuinely wants to try to be a good mother.

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The more I thought about the possible link between my protagonist and me, the more I came to realise that I was not her fictional mother – Jenny takes that role in the story – but I was her author-mother. This realisation enabled me to approach later drafts of the novel with deeper understanding of my characters and my role as an author in “mothering” my young female protagonist. It also brought into play the idea of separation–individuation, the process that girls and mothers go through in order that children can go onto to become unique, independent adults. I came to understand that by the end of my work on the novel, I needed to separate from the character of Nim I had created, so that she, as my protagonist-daughter could continue her life in a fictional context through the minds of my readers and I, as the author-mother, am free to go on and create other characters in new fictional writing.

As this is a special post to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, 31 March 2019, I wonder, how do other women writers feel about their female protagonists? Do the theories of Judith Kegan Gardiner chime with you? I’d love to know what you think – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you.

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Jacob’s Ladder: how to reach for a better future

This is the third of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier posts, click the links to read part one and part two.

The third part of The String Games deals with the legacy of loss for the protagonist as an adult. Following manipulation as a teenager, she reinvents herself by returning to her given name, Imogen. Still swamped by issues of unresolved grief over the murder of her younger brother when she was ten, Imogen decides to return to the place in France where she last saw Josh in order to get to the truth of what really happened. This part of the novel is called Jacob’s Ladder.

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This illustration of Jacob’s Ladder by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part three of The String Games

Jacob’s Ladder is a string figure made by a single player that produces an intricate pattern of crossed strings. Used to name the final part of the novel, Jacob’s Ladder illustrates the way Imogen is able to reorder her life, with greater understanding and confidence, by re-engaging with aspects of her earlier years. The pleasing pattern of linked diamonds represents how Imogen is able to pull the threads of her personal history together creating a ladder to a better future. Thus, the metaphor of string continues to the final page of the novel.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games but it is available to pre-order from Victorina Press, Waterstones and Foyles. Alternatively, if you fancy dipping into my debut poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades (based on the theme of siblings), this is available next week. Do come along to the launch to celebrate my first step into the world of published poetry.

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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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Introducing Danielle Maisano and her novel ‘The Ardent Witness’

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

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

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

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

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Why did you decide to write a book, Danielle?

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

What is the inspiration behind your novel?

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

How did you decide on the title?

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

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

an established and assured and ardent witness,

carefully destroying himself and preserving himself incessantly,

clearly insistent upon his original duty.”

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

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

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

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

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

What were the challenges in writing The Ardent Witness?

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

What’s next for you, Danielle?

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

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

 

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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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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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The FABULOUS wider writing community

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Credit: Grafik Mekanik, Flickr

My novel The String Games will be published by Victorina Press in May 2019. It is a psychological drama that focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist when her four-year-old brother is abducted and murdered during a family holiday in France. The cover is being designed by Fiona Zechmeister and it is exciting to be part of the process from initial ideas to the final product. One of my roles has been to secure endorsements for the novel to support with marketing and promoting the book. From a study of novels which use child characters and child protagonists, I drew up a list of authors to approach. For my blogs each week this December, I will focus on the authors who have kindly offered their support. 

Nina Killham came back to me quickly with a positive response to my request. Nina is the author of three novels including Believe Me which is a wonderful book with a thirteen-year-old narrator called Nic. It is a funny and moving story about a boy who challenges his mother, an astrophysicist and atheist, by turning to the Bible for ways to understand contemporary life.

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I was first in touch with Nina a few years ago when she offer to give feedback on the first three chapters of a novel and the synopsis as a donation to the Authors for Refugees charity auction. I was lucky to win the lot and benefitted greatly from Nina’s feedback. We stayed in touch and she recommended several further novels for me to read so that I could learn how published authors develop stories around child characters. It was at Nina’s suggestion that I read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This is a great book that considers the lifelong repercussions from the accidental death of a child.

Without further ado, please let me unveil Nina’s full endorsement of The String Games:

Gail Aldwin excels at creating characters you care about. The String Games, her story of a child lost on a holiday to France, avoids melodrama and leaves the reader hoping the best for her characters as they move beyond the last page.

I’d like to thank Nina for her support, encouragement and of course, that lovely endorsement.

If you can’t wait until May to read my novel, you could always dip into my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt which is available from Waterstones in Dorchester and Bridport, The Bookshop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Serendip in Lyme Regis.

 

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