the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

How to learn Spanish in Guatemala

I’m now at the end of my third week in Antigua, Guatemala, I have one more week here so I want to make the most of this fabulous opportunity to learn Spanish. It was after a fortnight that I noticed I was able to contribute more to the Spanish conversation around the dinner table and I certainly feel much less self conscious when trying to make myself understood. I’ve made a determined effort to learn the conjugations of a few important verbs and can now pose and answer simple questions using the past, imperfect, present and future tenses. The next step is to apply the rules to a greater range of verbs.

Much as my vocabulary in Spanish is growing, I seem to be losing the ability to recall words in English. I frequently have afternoon tea at a garden centre close to the school and when I walk around the grounds, I simply can’t remember the names of plants I recognise. Fortunately for me, the plants have tags which read the same in English as in Spanish (Begonia and Fuschia). Indeed, it strikes me that there are very many words in English that are similar in Spanish which must help to make Spanish one of the easier languages for English speakers to acquire. However, it is also easy to get caught out. For example, the Spanish word embarazada bears a striking resemblance to the English word ’embarrassed’ but actually means pregnant. You can image the humour and confusion in making such a mistake!

There are very many advantages to learning Spanish in Guatemala. For a start, the weather in Guatemala in January is lovely. I enjoy the way Antigua has all four seasons in one day: fresh and spring-like in the morning, a lovely summer’s day by noon, an autumnal chill in the afternoon and cold as winter at night. The city has lots of language schools where one-to-one classes are offered at very reasonable rates. Many Americans come here to brush up their language skills and I’ve enjoyed meeting other students from all over north America as well as others from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. My lessons take place on the roof terrace of the school with fabulous views.

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With my teacher, Jasmin. (See the smoke coming from the volcano in the distance.)

Jasmin is a very patient teacher who is tuned into my utterances and laughs at my frequent malapropisms. Most Guatemaltecos speak at a measured pace and this makes engaging in conversation a whole lot easier.

Some of the other benefits of learning Spanish in Guatemala include:

  • fabulous sights and sounds of the city such as the rhythmic clapping when tortillas are patted into shape on streets stalls and in markets
  • humming birds in the gardens
  • fantastic ruins around every corner
  • Mayan crafts, cultural traditions and archaeology
  • chicken buses for transport around the towns (former US school buses spruced up for service)

I’m sure if I had more time, I would be able to think up many other advantages but as I have homework to do, I’ll leave you with some photos.

 

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Pass it on

I have enjoyed so much support from other writers with the forthcoming publication of my debut novel The String Games so it is a pleasure to be able to pass this support on. My publisher asked me to review Nasrin Parvaz’s extraordinary memoir, One Woman’s Struggle in Iran and this I was pleased to do, partly because I travelled through Iran in 1981. (You can read the review here.) Imagine my delight to find an extract from this review used as an endorsement on the back cover of Nasrin’s memoir. It is a real privilege to find myself in this position and I truly hope this book finds the readership it deserves.

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Well done, Nasrin, for writing this powerful memoir where we can all learn from your tenacity and resilience.

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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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Pt 3: the FABULOUS wider writing community

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I entered a travel writing competition in 2016 and as runner-up, I was offered a bursary to attend a fiction retreat at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s creative writing centre. One of the tutors on the programme was Elizabeth Reeder who writes novels, essays and stories. Her debut novel, Ramshackle, was shortlisted for the Saltire Literary Award in 2013 and she’s gone on to write further novels.

The narrator of Ramshackle is fifteen-year-old Roe who one wintery day finds the man she thinks of as her father has gone missing. In the week that follows, Roe finds out more about herself and her father. At this point in growing up, Roe is an expert of her own experience but anything beyond causes anxiety. Roe’s voice is a mixture of confidence and vulnerability and this is something I wanted to explore in The String Games. Advice from Elizabeth was invaluable in moving forward with the middle part of my novel.

When it came to thinking of authors to approach to endorse The String Games, Elizabeth was at the top of my list. She’s an excellent writer so I’m delighted she felt able to offer the following words:

Gail Aldwin’s The String Games debuts her talent in an intimate portrayal of family, love and loss, and one that gives a glimpse into how crisis might shape each of us.

Elizabeth teaches creative writing at the University of Glasgow. I was fortunate to catch up with her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017 where she facilitated a wonderful readers’ workshop. Keep an eye out for other events Elizabeth is involved with. If you’re able to attend one of her workshops, seminars or talks you’re bound to enjoy it.

The String Games will be published in May 2019 but if you can’t wait until then you could always dip into my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt. It is also available from Waterstones in Dorchester and Bridport, The Bookshop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Serendip in Lyme Regis.

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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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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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One Woman’s Struggle in Iran by Nasrin Parvaz

 

I was very interested to read this memoir particularly as I travelled through Iran in 1981 as part of an overland journey from London to Kathmandu. Just one year later, political activist Nasrin Parvaz and many other women were imprisoned by the Islamic state for demanding freedom and equality in Iran.

Nasrin and I are roughly the same age. I was twenty when I set out on my travels, she was arrested by the regime’s secret police at the age of twenty-one. My journey was one of culture and learning, hers was of torture, deprivation and hardship. But before I share my thoughts about Nasrin’s memoir, let me describe the situation for me at the time.

It was on 20 January 1981 that fifty-two American hostages were released from the US Embassy in Tehran. They had been held for 444 days by a group of Iranian college students who supported the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah.  None of our group of travellers held American passports but it was impossible to obtain transit visas in London, so we were advised to apply for them once in Paris. Again, no visas were issued. Without the ability to proceed through Iran, our journey would be curtailed. It was then decided that all passengers from the two buses travelling in convoy would hand our passports over to Doug, the bus company’s courier. We all chipped in to cover the cost of his flight to Delhi where visas we issued to us all. 

Nasrin, a member of a socialist party was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the Iranian regime’s secret police in 1982. She spent eight years in jail where she endured physical and mental torture and periods of solitary confinement. She was denied medical treatment and kept under the threat of execution. Throughout, she refused to recant and confess to charges against her as an infidel.

In order to drive through Iran, a revolutionary guard travelled on board the lead bus and directed the driver to pass through Tehran. Here people were friendly and waved to us through the windows. In country areas whenever our bus parked it was ambushed by angry mobs. They thought we were Americans. They pounded and rocked the bus until we moved on. It was only possible to go outside safely in unpopulated areas. This included climbing the desert lighthouse near Bam in Southern Iran.

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Although travelling through Iran was dangerous and scary, many of the places on our journey were remote and beautiful. These experiences contrast drastically with those of Nasrin, who was forced to wear a blindfold and chador in captivity.  She suffered numerous interrogations and episodes of torture but never gave away information relating to her comrades. In one of the most chilling descriptions of intimidation, the women were forced to sit in constructions that represented their own graves and not allowed to move. From Nasrim’s memoir, it seems that friendships  developed in prison enabled her to survive and glimpses of sky and other small gifts of nature brought joy.

Nasrin gives a frank account of her time in Iran’s prison system which has opened my eyes to the extremes that can be endured and overcome. It is a testament to her resilience and that of others who remained resolute and refused to recant their beliefs. Nasrin survived and I celebrate her ability to share these experiences from which we can all learn. I recommend this memoir to you.

I received an advance copy of One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, a prison memoir from Victorina Press to inform this post. The memoir is available to pre-order from Victorina Press and Waterstones.

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Flaghead Chine Poetry Commission

During my writing residency at Short & Sweet in Wimborne (you can read about it here), I was contacted by landscape designer Barbara Uphoff to write a poem for  a plaque. Barbara developed the new seaside garden at Flaghead Chine in Poole and wanted to incorporate poetry into the design.

The garden is approached through the wooded and shady chine and it acts as a connection between the land and the sea. Constructed with Purbeck Stone planters, boulders and seating, the garden is positioned beside the sandy beach and gives views to Harry’s Rock across the water.

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Old Harry’s Rock from Pixabay

The garden is intended as a meeting point for family and friends where children can enjoy quiet play thanks to the three seashell structures. The sculptors Phil Bews and Diane Gorvins created small scale models of a whelk, an ammonite and a sea urgin which the stonemasons, Albion Stone, were able to use in making the large shells.

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My poem appears on a brushed metal plaque attached to one of the boulders. Barbara and I agreed the the poem should be a haiku to celebrate the natural environment. You can read it here:

It was an honour to write the poem and I am delight to see it positioned in the seaside garden as public art.

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Writing Inspiration – The South West

When Nicole Fitton and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Nicole to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter where she answers our shared questions (mine appear after).  First, let me introduce Nicole.

Nicole Fitton lives and writes in the heart of Devon. She writes both thrillers and short stories, many of which have been short and longlisted. This year her flash fiction piece ‘Yellow‘ was featured as part of  National Flash Fiction Day on the Flash Flood Journal Blog.

Nicole Fitton

  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!

Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.

I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgo whilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.

Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!

WestWard Ho!

  1. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?

Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year round.It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.

Nicole’s Blog : www.nicolefittonauthor.com

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

Twitter:@MisoMiss

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

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Gail Aldwin

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  1. Have you always lived in South West England?

Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.

Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.

  1. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?

Chapel Porth in winter

My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off.  I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.

Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset.  Along the shaded riverside walk I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!

  1. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?

Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.

Dorset Writers Network:            http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

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

Twitter:                                     @gailaldwin

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