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!

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Woman on the Golden Hind

I’m reading a fascinating novel just now. It’s On Wilder Seas by Nikki Marmery. What an absolutely fabulous cover!

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The narrator is Maria, an enslaved woman who shares her experiences of living on the Golden Hind for nine months.  Meticulously researched, Nikki Marmery allows Maria to live and breathe where nothing is noted about her in the records besides the dates she boarded and left the ship. The action takes place in 1579 during Francis Drake’s circumnavigation voyage.  Maria is a lone woman amongst eighty sailors. Determined to become free, Maria uses tenacity and quick thinking to her advantage.

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Many of you will know there is a reconstruction of the English galleon that has been  berthed at St Mary Overie Dock in Southwark since 1996. Whenever I walk past this full-size reconstruction of Golden Hind I am reminded of how compact the ship appears. Goodness knows how Maria coped! Since the launch of the  reconstruction in 1973, the galleon has sailed  more than 140,000 miles to San Francisco, Japan, the Caribbean and other destinations.  Impressive!

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I will be interested to meet Nikki Marmery online when we appear alongside Karen Havelin on the Debutants panel at the Stockholm Writers’ Festival on Friday 22 May 2020. We are all previous attendees of the festival and have had our debut novels published in the last year. Join us at what is now known as the #StuckHomeWritersFestival here.

 

 

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A wish for South Sudan: enduring peace

Before I left the UK to begin my placement at Bidibidi in Uganda (a settlement where refugees from South Sudan are offered a chance to rebuild their lives) a friend recommended I read Emma’s War by Deborah Scroggins. It tells the story of a young, glamorous aid worker, Emma McClune, who went to Sudan in 1987 with an ambition to do good. She embraced her role at Street Kids International and passionately worked towards improving access to education for children. Emma was also impulsive and headstrong: she married Riek Machar, a warlord, and became embroiled in politics. By the time of her death in 1993 in a car accident in Nairobi, Scroggins suggests that for all her courage and commitment, Emma did little to change anything.

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The backdrop to Emma’s story is the complex historic, social, cultural and political situation in Sudan. Following years of civil war, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation when it gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Peace was short lived and civil war erupted in 2013 when President Kiir sacked his entire cabinet and accused Vice President Riek Machar of supporting a failed coup. An agreement to halt the conflict collapsed in 2015 and fighting continued, primarily in Yei River state. This is the area from which many of the refugees in Bidibidi fled in 2016. In Yei, the National Salvation Front (NAS), continued to fight government forces. By 2018, a power sharing agreement was signed between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar which led to the signing of a Unity Government agreement on 20 February 2020. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called upon members of the Transitional Government of National Unity to “fully adhere to the letter and spirit of the Agreement”, so that the people of South Sudan can finally realise the benefits of durable peace and stability they deserve.

Following the announcement of a peace agreement, the South Sudanese refugees I knew in Bidibidi remained cautious. None were ready to rush back to their homeland but instead adopted a ‘let’s wait and see’ approach. One of the caregivers (a teacher of young children) I worked with, Beatrice, talked about her life before becoming a refugee. She married young, had two children then was widowed when her husband was killed in a motorbike accident. Her father owned some land where she was able to develop skills of cultivation. She grew cassava, maize and beans. Then she married a second time (had two further children) and she continued to cultivate the land of her husband’s family. ‘My life at that time was very nice. I made money and paid for my children to go to school, paid for them when they were sick. I bought clothing for myself and my children. I had a very happy life in South Sudan. Then the time of war started and I had to save my life and my children. I lost everything: my land, my house, my garden. We were afraid as any person could attack you, rebels were everywhere. They would grab anything you have. They took things from my garden saying it belonged to them. If you don’t have luck they kill you, if you have luck they just let you go.’

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News about my creative writing

In all the time I’ve been busy volunteering in Uganda, there has been activity on the creative writing front at home. I was shortlisted in a poetry competition run by my publisher Victorina Press. My entry has now been translated into Spanish and included in this beautiful bilingual poetry anthology. David sent me a photo and I’m looking forward to reading the book when I get home.

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Other news relates to the The String Games. My debut novel is one of fourteen finalist in The People’s Book Prize and voting is now open to select a winner in the fiction category. Thank you to everyone who has supported me to reach this stage. You are now able to vote again and if you haven’t voted before, this is your chance. Find out all about The String Games here. You don’t need to have read the whole novel as the opening pages are available for you to make a judgement. When you’re ready to vote, scroll down, add your details, tick the box and submit. The String Games is up against some stiff competition but wouldn’t it be great to see a Dorset writer on the stage come presentation day? Congratulations to the other finalists.

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Gulu: a thriving town with a troubled past

I’m staying in Gulu for the Christmas holidays and it’s a good place to be. There are lots of volunteers to socialise with and a good range of cafés and restaurants to idle away the hours. The town has a bustling centre with shops, banks and a good market. I’m staying on the outskirts where there are long avenues lined with government and NGO offices, newly built compounds with smart housing and a clutch of reasonably priced hotels. The town is now the main hub of north Uganda having expanded considerably since the 1990s. It will be recognised as a city in the not too distant future.

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The current prosperity masks a troubled past. The north of Uganda has traditionally supported the south but has not enjoyed the same rewards. In the 1980s tensions in the area deteriorated into tribal conflict and bloodshed. Upon gaining power, President Museveni sent forces north to establish his authority. Opposition to this became fertile ground for the development of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Following the defeat of Alice Lakwena’s rebellion (who led a troops under a banner of Christian and Acholi rituals), Joseph Kony seized control of the rebels and introduced a doctrine where it was legitimate to abduct children and induct them into the Lord’s Resistance Army where the massacre of villagers was a regular occurrence. After years of dominating the area and following a lengthy peace process, Joseph Kony fled into the Central African Republic (CAR). It is believed he is still at large in CAR although he is rumoured to be in South Sudan or elsewhere. Members of the LRA where reabsorbed into society through traditional ceremonies of cleansing and forgiveness and eventually given amnesty by the government. There has not been any conflict in the north since 2005. But as I walk the town centre amongst the shops with wide verandas, it’s shocking to realise this was where 15,000 children slept each evening as an escape from the LRA. And, it’s sobering to think that the child soldiers who once served the LRA now have families of their own and somehow have to live with the autocracies they committed.

During the long drive from Kampala to Gulu, our driver (I’ll call him Paul) shared his experiences of growing up during the reign of terror inflicted by the LRA. He was approached by the LRA on three occasions and managed to escape by answering their questions with a clear head and by keeping calm throughout these terrifying experiences. He knew the chances of escape were slim: three of this brothers and his father had been murdered by the LRA. Each time he was released, he managed to hide amongst trees until the danger had passed. One time, he was walking home from school for the holidays. He had heard rebels were in the area so headed for his aunt’s house. Once there, he borrowed his cousin’s bicycle to make a speedy visit to his mother. On the way there, he was stopped by rebels. The latest arbitrary ruling by Kony included a new law banning the riding of bicycles. He watched the rebels chop the bike to pieces and then burn it. Later he was allowed to leave and he hid until the rebels had moved on and he was able to make it home on foot. Later, when he told his aunt what had happened, the family decided that the bicycle was new and had to be replaced. Paul didn’t want this debt hanging over him, so instead of using money to pay his school fees, he offered this as compensation. Without classes to attend, Paul developed his skills in tending a vegetable garden. Fortunately, the school allowed him to resume his studies when money permitted.

Paul’s experiences chime with an excerpt from a non fiction book I’m reading called Aboke Girls by Els de Temmerman which describes the abduction of 139 girls from St Mary’s School in Aboke in 1996. One of the sisters followed the rebels into the bush and asked for the girls to be returned. Surprisingly, 109 girls were released. The book records what happened to some of the 30 who remained in captivity. Here is a horrifying event observed by Sarah:

…the rebels spotted a man riding down the path. He tried to get away but the rebels had already grabbed him. ‘Why do you ride a bicycle?’ Lagira questioned him. Didn’t he know Kony’s law banning the riding of bicycles? The man pointed at his leg, which was swollen and smeared with some local medicine. He couldn’t walk and was on his way to the hospital for treatment, he stammered, and he pleaded for mercy. But Lagira coldly told him that his leg would be cut off, according to the rules. At that moment, a woman accidently bumped into them. She too was grabbed by the rebels. Lagira ordered her to kneel down and bite off the leg. If she refused to do so, she would be killed. With horror, Sarah witnessed how the woman did as she was told. But of course, she could not get through the bone, so Lagira gave her an axe. Even then, it took all her strength to cut the leg in two. Both were left behind on the road, crying.

When I asked Paul, how it was possible to be reconciled with people who had committed such horrors, he just referred to the amnesty. And then he said it was important to celebrate the memory of those who had been put to death by the rebels. To commemorate their lives rather than dwelling on murder. And so Paul is able to find a way forward.

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Three things …

The clocks have gone back, it’s a misty moisty morning in Dorset, but there’s lots for me to look forward to. Here are my latest bits of news:

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Thanks to your support, The String Games is a finalist in fiction category of The People’s Book Prize 2019. There will be a further vote March–April 2020 to decide the winner and a black tie do in London for all the finalists on 15 April 2020. Great stuff!

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In December 2019, I’m going to Uganda with VSO for four months as a volunteer at the Bidibidi Refugee Settlement. The placement draws upon my experience of working with refugee families in London and the skills I developed to support parental involvement in children’s learning. I’ll be assigned to an early childhood care and education centre in order to aid recruitment to early education for girls and children with disabilities. You can read more about Bidibidi in this article from National Geographic. I’m looking forward to living, learning and contributing in Uganda.

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In May 2020, I’ll be in Sweden at the Stockholm Writers Festival. Last year I enjoyed this wonderfully inspiring event as a participant – next year I return as a faculty member. If you’re interested in attending an innovative writing festival in a fascinating city, you can’t do better than this. Booking opens (with a 15% early bird discount) today, 1 November 2019.

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Summer Break

I’ve been quiet on this blog over the summer because I spend a fortnight in Edinburgh each August. This is a wonderful city and delightful to visit when the Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing and during the two weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Each morning at the book festival there is a free session called 10 at 10, where on the stroke of ten o’clock a visiting author provides a short reading of their work. It was during one of these sessions that I was introduced to the fabulous short stories written by Wendy Erskine.

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Wendy’s stories are set in East Belfast where she lives and works as a teacher. They are drawn from the people and place but reflect a wider narrative around challenges associated with love, isolation and the everyday obstacles that can floor us. I was intrigued by the snippet from a short story Wendy shared so I bought the collection Sweet Home and attended a Q&A session later in the day at Golden Hare Books, located near where I stay each summer in Stockbridge.

In her introductions, Wendy explains that she hasn’t been writing for long and credits a course run by The Stinging Fly magazine as instrumental to her development as a short story writer. She also claims her only previous publishing success was having a recipe for baked banana printed in a newspaper. (The instructions involved nothing more than putting a banana in a hot oven until the skin turns brown and then eating it.)

Sweet Home is a remarkable collection of ten short stories that fizz with tension, sadness and humour. The dialogue is outstanding which makes attending a reading such a pleasure. If you’re looking to dip into a collection that shares dark themes which are illuminated through everyday interactions, then this is the one for you.

 

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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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How one event can change a life forever

Joanne Nicholson and I met online in May 2018 and found we had much in common as writers, although I live in the UK and Joanne lives in Australia. We wrote a joint post to share our writing experiences which you can read here. Now we are both busy promoting our new novels, we thought it was time to touch base again. In Joanne’s novel Only the Lonely the catalyst for the story is a fatal car accident, in my novel The String Games the catalyst comes when a young boy goes missing. This got us thinking about how one event can change a life forever which we decided to discuss here. Over to Joanne:

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In life, one day often blends into the next until somewhere out of the blue, something extraordinary can happen that alters our lives irrevocably.  In my novel, Only the Lonely one such event turns Tiffany’s life upside down. On the night of Tiffany’s eighteenth birthday, her parents are tragically killed in a car accident, caused by someone driving under the influence of alcohol. This leaves Tiffany going through the normal machinations of coming of age while struggling to deal with grief and overwhelming loneliness.

When Tiffany discovers, as the sole heir to her parents’ estate, that her parents have a frozen embryo in storage from when they received IVF to have her, she decides to give birth to her biological sibling in order to create a sense of family and belonging again. Due to ethical concerns, her request is met with objections from the clinic. It raises the question whether a frozen embryo should be treated as property or a person and whether it is morally right for Tiffany to have IVF to implant this embryo, as she has no known fertility issues. Tiffany is forced to sue the clinic to have the procedure, as she can’t bring herself to destroy or donate the embryo, as it is the last link to her parents.

That one isolated car accident at the start of the story is responsible for the chain reaction causing Tiffany’s carefree lifestyle into one where she takes on the full responsibility of her life and the life of her unborn twin. As an author, I enjoy the process of taking inspiration from real life events and then developing characters to weave a story of challenges and ethical dilemmas to take readers on a journey. The inspiration for this novel came from a real life story, where a twenty-five-year-old woman in the USA gave birth to a baby from a donor frozen embryo that was twenty-four years old. This sparked the kernel of an idea – where a woman could be implanted with, and give birth to, her own twin. I then established why someone would want to do that, and the car accident that killed Tiffany’s parents was pivotal to the storyline.

Thank you to Joanne for sharing details of the inspiration behind your novel Only the Lonely. I have to admit, this is a fascinating subject and one that will engage many readers.

Now to Gail:

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One of the worst experiences of my life was losing my three-year-old son for forty minutes on the beach at St Jean de Luz in France. I was rubbing sunscreen onto my daughter and when I looked up, he was gone. Although this episode ended happily it made me think about different possible outcomes, the vulnerability of little children in countries where they can’t speak the language, and the parental fear of losing a child. I decided this would be a good hook for novel readers but instead of telling the story from a parental perspective, I decided to explore the legacy of loss from the viewpoint of an older sibling.

It is this catalyst of a lost child that drives the narrative in The String Games. This coming-of-age novel explores the dynamics of a fractured family coping with the aftermath of four-year-old Josh’s abduction and murder during a holiday in France. It explores how guilt is unfairly shouldered by his older sister, Nim, who is the protagonist of the novel. In second part, readers get to understand  the repercussions for Nim as she moves into the teenage years and the murky world of peer manipulation. In the final part of The String Games, Nim (who is now an adult) reverts to her given name of Imogen and tries to move forward with her life but echoes from this early tragedy force her to return to France and find answers. The novel raises issues relating to what makes a good mother and whether it is possible to forgive. The metaphor of string runs throughout the story where the characters’ lives are tangled and knotted but ultimately this is a story of fresh starts and new beginnings. 

I recently learnt that The String Games has been longlisted in The People’s Book Prize for fiction 2019. This is a national award that finds and promotes new and undiscovered work. The organisation supports the complete eradication of illiteracy and this is something very important to me as, following years of working with parents and children to build their literacy skills, there is still a need in communities for further work. In this longlisting, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match: an opportunity to gain a wider readership for The String Games and support a cause close to my heart. Winners of the competition are decided by a public vote and I hope you feel able to give The String Games your vote to enable the novel to reach the next stage. Voting is easy. All you have to do is click on the link below:

https://peoplesbookprize.com/summer-2019/the-string-games/

 – Scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your name and email address

– tick yes or no to receive the newsletter

– Click submit

Could your vote for my novel help to change my life forever?

Joanne and I hope this post has pricked your curiosity about our novels. If you’d like to purchase a copy of Joanne Nicholson’s Only the Lonely, you can do so through AmazonUK and AmazonAustralia. Copies of The String Games by Gail Aldwin can be purchased and sent worldwide through her publisher’s website at Victorina Press.

You can find Joanne at:

Website: joannenicholsonauthor.com
Facebook: joannenicholsonauthor
Instagram: @joannenicholsonauthor
Twitter: @jolnicholson
You can find Gail at:
Twitter: @gailaldwin

 

 

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The String Games needs your vote

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I was delighted to hear that The String Games has been longlisted in The People’s Book Prize fiction category. This is a national award that finds and promotes new and undiscovered work. One of the organisation’s aims is to support the complete eradication of illiteracy. This is something very important to me as, following years of working with parents and children to build their literacy skills, there is still a need in communities for further work. In this longlisting, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match: an opportunity to gain a wider readership for The String Games and connect with a cause close to my heart.

To reach the next stage of the competition depends on public support. I hope you feel able to support me by voting for The String Games to become a finalist in the fiction category. It’s easy to vote, just click here to leave your details, tick yes or no to receive the newsletter then submit.  If you’d like to leave a comment that would be a bonus. The opening chapter of The String Games is available to read here 
Thank you for your help. The String Games has important messages to share about how it’s possible to come to terms with challenges in life. It’s a story about fresh starts and new beginnings which readers find empowering.
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