the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

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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Adventures in #PanDeMoNium

Since the start of November, I’ve posted photos on social media of a cheeky purple panda who’s out and about. This is to help promote my forthcoming children’s picture book Pandemonium. In case you don’t follow me on Twitter @gailaldwin, here’s what’s been happening this week.

Last hot chocolate for a month and clinging on for dear life.
Up to something or just hanging around?
What’s happening hare?
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Art under the lockdown lens

In a determined effort to make the most of our freedom before lockdown, David and I visited the Russell-Cotes Gallery in Bournemouth on Saturday. Formerly the home of Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes, the building was completed in 1901 and is stuffed with paintings, sculptures and mementos from overseas travels enjoyed by the couple.

Photo: Ethan Doyle White

Unlike the photo above, it was pouring with rain when we visited, as evidenced by this photo of the leaking conservatory.

Fortunately, the rest of the house is dry! Until 18 April 2021, there is a special exhibition titled Hidden Highlights Life in Lockdown which comprises eighty of the galleries ‘lesser works’ taken out of storage to replace planned exhibitions which had to be rescheduled due to Coronavirus. The gallery invites visitors to reinterpreted the paintings on display through a lockdown lens. Some of the works include hilarious captions which had me laughing out loud. What do you think of these examples?

Shall we drive to Corfe Castle to test our eyesight?

The hand washing and hand sanitising inspection was very thorough
Socially-distanced dating Georgian style

The exhibition has inspired me to run a social media campaign to promote Pandemonium along the same lines. Here’s the first example:

Ghost Buster! Corona Buster!

Stay safe and well.

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Celebrating Libraries Week

Libraries Week is an annual event which takes place during the second week of October. This year it runs from 5–10 October 2020 and aims to celebrate all that UK libraries have to offer. And it’s not just public libraries that participate but school libraries, workplace libraries and university libraries.

Titles available for loan through Dorset Libraries

In Dorset, our libraries have become community hubs where so much more is on offer than the loan of books, audiobooks and DVDs. Babies and young children enjoy songs and rhymes, school children join fun learning activities, residents can find out more about managing health and there’s access to wifi and games. Help is available at the library to find out about employment opportunities, and support to start a new hobby or set up a business. With so much going on, libraries are well worth celebrating.

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Unusual connection

I received a direct message on Twitter this week from Rob Casey, a stand up poet, writer and performer who lives in Bridport. He teaches creative writing at Exeter College and is the Bard of Exeter City Football Club. While he was watching the first match of the season for Manchester City (against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Man City won 3-1), he noticed something about the kit that was relevant to me.

Training kit
Away kit

What do you notice? Love a bit of paisley, I do. Indeed I think the tear drop pattern is so great I named my first published book Paisley Shirt. It is a collection of short fiction and the title story is about a Polish man returning to visit a neighbour in the UK who helped to look after him as a child. With twenty-six other stories in this smart, square book there’s a lot of fiction to enjoy. Novelist and short story writer, Maria Donovan kindly endorsed the collection and says the stories are ‘sensitive, surprising, unnerving, tender and crucial.’ It’s easy to get a kindle copy or a paperback by popping over to Amazon. And, if you’re interested, you can read more about the history of the paisley pattern here.

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Pan de mo nium: cover reveal

I love the stage in the writing process when all that hard work comes to fruition. There are steps along the way that cause angst or excitement but there’s nothing to replace that sense of ‘it really is going to happen’ when I see the final cover design for my publication. Here it is, ta-dah:

Welcome to the world of Pan de mo nium my children’s picture book. You can read more about the inspiration for the story here. I absolutely love this image as it captures the characteristics of giant pandas:

They’re fun: see that cheeky expression!

They’re shy: those eyes!

They’re a symbol of vulnerability: imagine it!

They’re peaceful: well, not so peaceful in the case of Pan de mo nium. That’s the point of the story!

The final draft has gone to the printers and I’ll receive proofs within the next week. A last read through and then these copies will be sent into the world headed for readers and book bloggers who have kindly agreed to offer early reviews.

Be sure to get a copy for young children in time for Christmas by placing a pre-order now at the Victorina Press website.

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Good company at Victorina Press

Established in 2017, Victorina Press believes in bibliodiversity. This is where small independent presses create a healthy publishing eco system by ensuring new and undiscovered authors reach an audience. I feel lucky to be published with Victorina Press alongside Rhiannon Lewis author of My Beautiful Imperial a Water Scott recommended historical novel, Chris Fielden author of Alternative Afterlives, fellow Dorset writer Vicki Goldie author of the cosy crime Charters Mysteries series and more recently Amanda Huggins, with her coming-of-age novella All Our Squandered Beauty.

I first met Amanda at a Christmas party celebrating our first flash fiction collections published in 2018 by Chapeltown Books. You can read more about Amanda’s Brightly Coloured Horses here. Amanda went on to have two further collections published by Retreat West Books and a poetry pamphlet which won a Saboteur Awards prize in 2020.

Now Amanda is an author with Victorina Press, I had the pleasure to receive an early copy of her novella for review:

All Our Squandered Beauty is a coming-of-age novella set in the 1970s where the protagonist, Kara, a fisherman’s daughter struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father. She rejects the prospect of early marriage that her best friend settles for and focuses instead on future studies in London. During the summer, she spends time on a Greek island where she learns more about herself and her relationships with others. Kara can’t see that she’s emotionally fragile but gradually she learns some mistakes can be rectified while others she has to live with. The sea provides a backdrop to the narrative, sometimes powerful ‘to see the water change from grey to ink and the sky deepen to fire’ and at other times benign, ‘millpond calm, a deep deep blue.’ This is a wonderful read filled with tenderness, charm and hope.

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You can purchase All Our Squandered Beauty now from the Victorina Press shop and it will be available from early 2021 through Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.

 

 

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Welcome to Catherine Randall and ‘The White Phoenix’

This post celebrates the publication day of The White Phoenix for friend and children’s novelist Catherine Randall. She’s wanted to write since she was a child and now Catherine has fulfilled this ambition with a fabulous middle grade children’s bookI adore the feisty thirteen-year-old protagonist in this novel, Lizzie Hopper, who helps to run the family bookshop near St Paul’s in the year of the Great Fire.

“Catherine Randall brings the streets of 17th century London vividly to life… A heart-warming and skilfully told tale.” Ally Sherrick, Black Powder and The Buried Crown

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Welcome Catherine.

Can you start by telling us where your writing journey began?

My writing journey began when I was a six-year-old living in Lincolnshire and I wrote my first ‘book’, alarmingly entitled, ‘Catherine, Lucy and the Goat’. We moved to Shropshire when I was seven, and I continued to write ‘books’, mostly thinly disguised imitations of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, with a few Victorian melodramas thrown in. When I grew up I tried my hand at adult short stories, but realised quite quickly that my heart was in children’s books. The books I read as a child remain the ones that resonate most deeply with me, and now I love reading new children’s books, partly as research, and partly just because they’re a great read.

What inspired you to write The White Phoenix?

I’ve been fascinated by the Great Fire of London ever since I was a child. When I visited London from Shropshire at the age of ten, the first thing I wanted to see was the Monument to the Fire. When I moved to London in my early twenties, I loved walking round the City, with its ancient churches and old street names dotted among the modern glass and steel buildings. Much later, at a time when I was looking for a subject for a story, I caught part of a radio programme about the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, and it reawakened my interest. When I started researching I discovered that London in 1666 was a great setting for a novel, not just because of the Fire but because of all the other things that were going on – war, fear of invasion, the plague, as well as all the prophecies swirling round London about the year 1666. I was initially going to write about St Paul’s, but then I realised it would be more fun to write about the many bookshops that clustered round the cathedral, especially as it was possible for a woman and her daughter to run a bookshop by themselves.

I started writing some time ago, but many of the themes in the book have turned out to have more resonance today than I could ever have imagined.

What are the challenges of publishing your first book during a pandemic?

The first thing to say is that I am absolutely delighted to be having a book published, and the thought of publication has been a beacon of light in what has been a tough year both generally and personally. However, there’s no denying that there are significant challenges. I think the worst thing is that I’ve not been able to do any events with children at bookshops or libraries. I know authors are doing virtual school visits, but it’s quite daunting if you have to start like that. I’m used to going into schools to talk about the Great Fire, but not so used to going into schools to promote a novel as well. But it is something I would very much like to do so I’ll have to get my head round it!

And of course I can’t help being sad that I’m not able to have a proper launch party, because there are so many people who have shared in this journey with me and whom I would like to thank. However, I am having a series of very small parties instead, so that’s going to be fun.

Who is the ideal reader for The White Phoenix?

I really hope that children aged from about 9 to 12 or 13 will enjoy it. I suppose it is a cliché to say so, but I have written the sort of book that I would have liked to read at that age. However, I also know that quite a few adults have read and enjoyed it, so that’s very gratifying.

Is there a message in the novel that you want young readers to grasp?

Lizzie, the main protagonist in the book, refuses to give in to the prejudice of other people around her and makes friends with a Catholic girl at a time when Catholics were very much considered the enemy. I hope that young readers will take away the message that they should never let others tell them what type of people they can or can’t be friends with.

I also hope that young readers grasp the message that you should stand up for what you believe in, which is what Lizzie tries to do, though not always successfully.

Which children’s authors have influenced you?

From my own childhood – Gillian Avery who wrote wonderful, vivid stories about Victorian children such as The Greatest Gresham;  Penelope Farmer who wrote my all-time favourite children’s book, the time-slip story Charlotte Sometimes; and K.M.Peyton, author of the Flambards books among many others. I had the privilege of meeting her once and she was so lovely.

More recent writers who have influenced me include Eva Ibbotson, Hilary McKay (I just love her family stories) and Lydia Syson who has written some terrific historical novels for teenagers.

But I am discovering new children’s authors all the time, and they all have an influence.

What’s next, Cathy?

I’m very excited about my new historical novel set largely in the early nineteenth-century, so once The White Phoenix is well and truly launched, I’m looking forward to getting back to that. However, I have to say that quite a few people have asked about a sequel to The White Phoenix, so I might give that some thought too. I love the characters so much, it would be a pleasure to go back to them.

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The Blurb

London, 1666. After the sudden death of her father, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hopper and her mother take over The White Phoenix – the family bookshop in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

But England is at war with France and everywhere there are whispers of dire prophecies. As rumours of invasion and plague spread, Lizzie battles prejudice, blackmail and mob violence to protect the bookshop she loves.

When the Great Fire of London breaks out, Lizzie must rescue more than just the bookshop. Can she now save the friend she wasn’t supposed to have?

Purchase links

Foyles, Waterstones, Book Guild Bookshop, Amazon.

Social media

Twitter: @Crr1Randall

For children’s literature that is emotionally engaging, do give The White Phoenix a read. You won’t be disappointed.

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At the London Book Fair 2019

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Two in a row

I’m delighted to share the news that my debut novel The String Games has been shortlisted in another literary competition. This one is very close to my heart. As a resident of Dorchester I’m proud to be one of the final three in a competition founded by the Dorchester Literary Festival and sponsored by Hall & Woodhouse.

The aim of the competition is to continue Dorset’s literary tradition by investing in its homegrown talent. A judging panel, including professional writers and a leading literary agent compile the shortlist so this is a real chance to gain wider recognition for my debut novel. The awards ceremony, hosted by a leading writer will be held on 5 October 2020 (Covid-19 permitting).

I attended the previous two ceremonies, the inaugural competition was in 2018 and hosted by Kate Adie when Philip Browne won with his remarkable non-fiction book The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell about a shipwreck off the Dorset coast in 1786.

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Philip Browne receives his prize from Kate Adie.

Last year, my good friend Maria Donovan was on the shortlist and came runner-up with her moving story about loss and grief from a young boy’s perspective in The Chicken Soup Murderwhile Emma Timpany took the prize with Travelling in the Dark.

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Shortlistees from 2019 with Emma on the left, Maria on the right and centre is Minette Walters

I look forward to meeting the other shortlisted writers but the in meantime, I celebrate all those who were on the longlist:

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Although my name is on the cover of The String Games, there are many Dorset people who helped this novel reach its audience. Thank you to all those readers and writers who gave feedback and others who supported with proof reading and editing. Without you, my story may never have found a home with Victorina Press or gained recognition in writing competitions such as this.

 

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Posh frocks, presentations and prizes

Traditionally held at Stationers’ Hall, the eleventh annual awards ceremony for The People’s Book Prize was instead organised via Zoom thanks to Covid19. Finalists from the three categories were there, authors of fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature, plus all the publishers. The evening was hosted by founder Tatiana Wilson and director Tony Humphreys. At one point I found myself virtually rubbing shoulders with prize patron, Frederick Forsyth.

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We wore our finest clothes to make the occasion special. While I drank a cup of tea, others sipped wine. Like all finalists in the fiction category, I was able to say a few words about my novel and then the winner was announced. Author of The Weighing of the Heart gained the the sparkling trophy and I was very pleased to celebrate Paul Tudor Owen‘s success. I’ve been following Paul on Twitter for some time and feel I know him from the podcasts and interviews he’s offered since his novel was launched in March 2019. The Weighing of the Heart is a contemporary novel set in New York where the English protagonist Nick Braeburn becomes fascinated by his landlady’s Egyptian art and a young artist who lives nearby. Paul was very gracious in his acceptance speech and highlighted the importance of small presses in bringing to market stories that are overlooked by the big five publishers.

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Who can you spot in this photo of fiction finalists and others?

Becoming a finalist in The People’s Book Prize has been a wonderful experience. It’s raised the profile of my coming-of-age novel The String Gamesprovided a platform for my publisher Victorina Press and has given me the chance to connect with lots of wonderful authors. And there are many of you reading this post who I have to thank for helping me reach the finals. Without your votes, I would never have come this far. So, let me take this opportunity to thank you very much for your support.

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