the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Approaching publication

My second contemporary novel for adults This Much Huxley Knows will be released on 8 July 2021. In preparation for the launch, advance reader copies have been sent to fellow authors and I’ve received some lovely early reviews posted on Goodreads.

One of my favourite reviews is from fellow Black Rose Writing author Sasha Lauren:

This book surprised me. It’s an innovative, delightful, and insightful story told in first person by a child. The narrator, Huxley, is an innocent, playful, provocative seven-year-old, an “only lonely,” (no siblings), who is achingly searching for a true friend and pushing those around him to be caring and reasonable. What is so extraordinary is that Gail Aldwin beautifully transports the reader inside Huxley’s head and heart. 

Huxley is a busy guy: he avoids football but longs for his turn on the monkey bars, covets the relationship his best mate Ben has with his wee sister, Juno, (which is both adorable and sightly heartbreaking), and strikes up a sweet friendship with Leonard, an old man in a scooter. All the while, he keeps himself amused, (and captivates or annoys others), with his whimsical words-within-words. 

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Introducing Barbara Conrey

I love writing a blog because I’m never quite sure who my posts will reach. Earlier this year Barbara Conrey got in touch and introduced me to her debut novel Nowhere Near Goodbye. It’s a well-paced, intense and thought-provoking novel which has received many superb reviews. I’d like to welcome Barbara to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter to discuss her book. 

About the author

Barbara Conrey is the USA Today Bestselling author of NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE, published on August 4th, 2020, by Red Adept Publishing. 

NOWHERE NEAR GOODBYE is Barbara Conrey’s debut novel.

Previously, Barbara worked in the health care industry before opting for an early retirement, which lasted all of three months. She then accepted a finance position, for which she had absolutely no background, and four years later, she decided to write a book. But not about finance.

Travel is her passion, along with reading, writing, hiking, and exploring antique shops. Her greatest love is Miss Molly, her rescue beagle. There are stories to be told about beagles, and Barbara hopes to incorporate some of them into her books.

Barbara lives in Pennsylvania, close to family and friends.

About Nowhere Near Goodbye

A mother’s love vs. a doctor’s oath.

Oncologist Emma Blake has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare brain cancer. Twenty-five years ago, Emma’s childhood friend Kate died of glioblastoma, and Emma vowed to annihilate the deadly disease. Now, Kate’s father, Ned, is pushing her to work harder to fulfill that promise.

When Emma discovers she’s pregnant, she’s torn between the needs of her family and the demands of her work. While Ned pressures her to do the unthinkable, her husband, Tim, decorates the nursery. Unwilling to abandon her research, Emma attempts to keep both sides of her life in balance.

Emma knows she needs to reconcile her past with her present and walk the fine line between mother and physician. But Ned has a secret, and when Emma discovers what he’s been hiding, the foundation of her world cracks.

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a story of family, failure, and second chances.

Q&A

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a great title. Were there others in contention? Why did you settle upon this title?

I also love this title (Nowhere Near Goodbye)! My first title was Remembering Kate because the story was originally about the child who died of Glioblastoma, not the doctor who researched the disease and discovered a procedure that would remove the tumor in its entirety without destroying healthy brain tissue.

Nowhere Near Goodbye was really organic: Emma, the pediatric oncologist who discovered the cure, was (first) Kate’s childhood friend. She was nowhere near ready to say goodbye to Kate when Kate died.

The novel has a gorgeous cover. Can you share the thinking behind this design?

I had seen a book cover that portrayed a window, and I loved it for its simplicity. When I explained to the designer who created the cover what I wanted, I ended up describing one of the most poignant scenes in the book. The only surprise was the African violet that sits on the windowsill. That was the designer’s addition. Unbeknownst to him, African violets were part of the table settings in my daughter’s garden wedding reception and have always been a favorite house plant of mine.

There seems to be an absence of grieving in the novel for the early death of Kate. Does this happen off stage or could it account for the ways some of the characters behave?

The absence of grieving was purposeful because the story was not about Kate. Still, Kate was never forgotten, and it was her death that caused so much good to happen: Emma’s determination to become an oncologist and find a cure for Glioblastoma. 

Mother-daughter relationships are put under the microscope in Nowhere Near Goodbye. Was this always your intention?

Yes! I want to put these relationships under the microscope to study what makes us (as both mothers and daughters) do the things we do. Love the way we do. 

I find the subject fascinating, maybe because of my relationship with my own mother, where I never realized she understood me until she was dying, and maybe because of my relationships with my own daughters. Writers can mine a wealth of stories just from studying mothers and daughters and the love/hate emotions they inspire. 

In reading work by the feminist theorist Judith Keegan Gardiner, she proposes that for women writers the hero is her author’s daughter. What is your relationship to the characters you have created? 

I’m part of all of my characters. I’m torn between what I should do and what I want to do, like Emma. I’m irreverent, like Kate. I’m driven, like Ned. I’m feisty, like Miss Maggie.

What’s next for you, Barbara? 

Next is Miss Maggie’s story. I fell in love with her in Nowhere Near Goodbye. She entered the story as a sixty-year-old woman who has her own demons to fight, but she always had Emma’s back – even when Emma thought she was against her, Miss Maggie was only trying to show Emma the difference between what she wanted and what she thought she wanted.

Gail’s review of Nowhere Near Goodbye

A remarkable novel of ambition, heartbreak and redemption, Nowhere Near Goodbye follows the journey of Emma who is inspired to find a cure for a rare cancer that killed her childhood friend. Emma is a driven woman who prioritises research commitments over relationships in order to make amends for the misplaced guilt she shoulders over Kate’s early death. Are her sacrifices worthwhile? Only if the promise of a fresh start comes to fruition. A thoroughly absorbing read.  

Purchase Links for Nowhere Near Goodbye

Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Bookshop.org

Find out more about Barbara through her social media links:

www.facebook.com/baconreywriter

www.Twitter.com/barbaraconrey

www.Instagram.com/barbara

Barbara Conrey Books – BookBub

Website

www.barbaraconreyauthor.com

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Reading outside my comfort zone

I’ve been experimenting with genres of books I wouldn’t normally read. With increasing years, I’m told people are less open to new experiences because we feel more comfortable staying within the predictable. As I have a big birthday approaching, now seems a good time to try some new reading material. Please find below reviews for three books that have taken me beyond the contemporary fiction, women’s fiction and historical fiction that I normally read.

The Future BuildersD N Knox and Colin Payn

Science Fiction/Techno Fiction/ Climate Change Fiction

First it was the compelling cover image then it was the fascinating title that piqued my interest. From the very first page of The Future Brokers, I was intrigued by this ingenious glimpse into the world of 2050. Medical advances mean that following an accident, George’s body is fitted with devices that give him an edge which becomes of particular interest to others. The world in which he lives is oddly recognisable but strangely sinister. From the multiple viewpoints and distinct voices, (I particularly love George’s sense of humour) I was able to understand the motivations of the different characters which became an excellent way to drive the plot forward. As the threads come together, momentum builds to offer a tense and exciting climax.

Amazon UK

The HeronJean M Roberts

Time Travel Fiction 

The rich, sensory writing in The Heron drew me into the story. Jean Roberts introduces the setting of the novel as Pine Tree House, Oyster River, New Hampshire. Using a dual timeline, the story switches from a contemporary narrative to the seventeenth century. Abbey is a feisty protagonist who visits the house and is inducted into paranormal happenings by Jeremiah and Miriam. She navigates the past and the present to identify similarities in experiences. This is a confidently told story, full of detail and description. It’s an impressive, sensory and engaging read. 

Amazon UKAmazon USA

Mother of Floods, Madeleine F White

Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

A patchwork of women’s experiences, Mother of Floods is embroidered with traditional tales to pinpoint key beliefs and values. The rich prose adds rhythm to the story, resonant of the drums that bring about change. In this ambitious debut, White weaves together stories of family struggles in Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Iraq. In Britain, Dave the deceased husband of Martha, slips into the virtual world to keep tabs on his family, discover new insights into their challenges and dilemmas, and intercepts to give the support he was unable to offer while alive. Their story explodes into one of universal significance. The dystopian world that evolves casts light on individual experiences and the golden thread that joins us. A remarkable story.

Amazon UKAmazon USABookshopUK

What do you think are the advantages for writers in reading outside their normal comfort zone? 

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Welcome to Jessica Norrie, author of The Magic Carpet

I became aware of Jessica Norrie and her novels through membership of a Facebook Group called Book Connectors. As the name suggests, it’s a place to connect, particularly targeted to authors and book bloggers. It was with real interest that I was drawn to Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet. There are certain commonalities in our experiences as authors (we were both formerly teachers) and in the subject of our novels. Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet covers the experiences of five families with children attending Year Three in an outer London school during the start of the academic year 2016. This Much Huxley Knows is set in the suburbs of London during the autumn term of the same year and is written from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy in Year Two.

Following email exchanges, I invited Jessica to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter in order to find out more about her experiencesI extend a warm welcome to Jessica and invite her to answer the following questions that occurred to me while reading The Magic Carpet. 

  • Although The Magic Carpet focuses on particular families during a specific time period, did you write this novel with universal truths in mind?

Towards the end of my teaching career, I felt the need to distil thirty years, thousands of individuals, situations and conversations into something coherent, otherwise they’d all continue buzzing round my head and I wouldn’t feel free to concentrate on anything else. As everyone knows, all human children and adults combine their similarities in different ways that make them into individuals but with common interests. I wanted to see if I could get at that. 

  • There is a large cast of characters in The Magic Carpet and the use of multiple viewpoints. How did you plan and write the novel to offer perspectives from so many different community members?

A 7-year-old said one day “If we only write in capital letters, you can’t tell us off for not using them.” That says so much about how children’s minds explore ideas, and what’s good and bad about learning to write. In the book I gave Mandeep the idea, and a grandmother who’s probably dyslexic but never diagnosed and helps with his homework after school, then I filled out the family, added neighbours, worked my way along the street… Actually five families reflect a fraction of what teachers encounter daily. Whenever I was struggling with the multiple POVs I reminded myself I was usually bombarded with thirty at once. It was just a question of keeping order. 

  • As the title of your novel suggests, traditional stories and personal histories are central to the writing. How important do you think traditional tales are to learning and development as a child and throughout life?

I was an exceptionally lucky child because with a bookseller father I had a huge variety of brilliant children’s books. But especially to children from homes without books, traditional tales are essential. They overlap across cultures and they’re stepping-stones to other reading. They help order good from bad too although I think nowadays we’d be rightly wary of handsome princes who break in and kiss us in bed or cripple us in tiny glass shoes. Traditional stories are also versatile to teach with and happy teachers make for happy learners! As opposed to fronted adverbials which are vicious spells cast by bad fairies.

  • James Kelman was accused of cultural appropriation in using an eleven-year-old boy from Ghana to narrate Pigeon English, a novel about gang culture on a south London estate. What are your views on cultural appropriation? 

Pigeon English is a fantastic novel, partly based I understand on Damilola Taylor. Anyone from any background is free to take that story or any other and write it their own way – Edna O’Brian did with Girl, encountering the same accusations. Opinions have hardened in recent years and I wouldn’t dare write The Magic Carpet now. Not because I think I shouldn’t, but because I’m terrified of trolls who expect everyone else to accept their opinion but don’t compromise or listen themselves. That’s not to say that evidenced criticism for poor research, or for perpetuating stereotypes and tropes isn’t absolutely valid and welcome. 

You can’t set a realistic novel in London with only one ethnicity. It’s obvious to anyone who’s lived in diverse streets and learnt in diverse schools. By coincidence, Guy Gunaratne published his excellent In Our Mad and Furious City while I was finishing TMC. It also has five London narrators from different backgrounds. Does he have more right to do that because he’s BAME? He writes Irish, Afro-Caribbean, Muslim yet he’s not any of those. As a white woman, do I have more right than a man to write about domestic violence against women? Was I fair to set it in an Asian heritage household? Sadly, domestic violence exists in all cultures. Fortunately so do good stories and writers. 

If opportunities to write and publish were historically fairer, this debate wouldn’t arise and everyone could develop empathy and imagination by writing and reading whatever they’re drawn to. Until very recently opportunities for writers from any kind of minority have been so limited that it’s logical now to justify ring fencing their life experiences and histories for them. But in the long term if all writers only write about what they know best it will limit everyone.   

Hmm – I’m a bit conflicted on this!

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Introducing Linda Rosen

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Black Rose Writing author Linda Rosen to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Formerly a fitness professional, Linda became an novelist when her debut The Disharmony of Silence was published in March 2020. I’m so pleased to be able to connect with Linda who splits her time between New Jersey and Florida. As an early reader of Linda’s second novel Sisters of the Vine, I became immersed in the story of Liz, a most tenacious protagonist. I’m thrilled Linda has joined me for an interview to share more information about herself and her books.

About Sisters of the Vine

Housewife and mother with a loving husband to take care of her – that’s all Liz, a Fifties gal, ever wanted. Over her father’s objections, she drops out of college to marry Rick, who dreams of living off the land. They buy a farm on a verdant hillside in the Hudson Valley, but can’t agree on what to plant. When they discover French-American hybrid grapes, Liz is confident they’ll be happy. Grapes are classy.

As the rich soil sinks into her soul and the vines begin to thrive, the marriage grows rocky. Refusing to disappoint her father again, Liz is determined to make her marriage work . . . until she discovers a photograph hidden in the old barn.

Faced with impossible decisions, Liz is desperate. She has a vineyard ready to harvest and no idea how to accomplish the task. Does she have the moxie to flourish? Or will she and the land turn fallow?

Sisters of the Vine is released 25 March 2021 and is available for pre-order through the publisher Black Rose Writing.

Q & A

Sisters of the Vine is your second novel, can you tell us about your debut, The Disharmony of Silence

Thanks for asking. I’m happy to. The Disharmony of Silence is about a clandestine love affair in 1920s Brooklyn that leads to a family secret held for eighty-four years. Carolyn Lee, the protagonist, is desperate for family. When she discovers this shocking secret, she is determined, against all advice, to reveal it. The secret has the potential to tear lives apart. Or, it could bring her the closeness and comfort she longs for. It all depends on how she handles it.

The Disharmony of Silence was published at the start of the pandemic. How did this impact on you as a writer launching a debut novel?

Actually, having my debut published during this time was, for me, the silver lining in this pandemic. With book events all turning to virtual, I was able to “meet” readers from all over, from places I never would have gotten to if events were in person. In addition, the writing community is extremely giving and many well-published authors stepped up to help promote me, as well as my fellow 2020 debuts. Facebook groups were formed with on-line book clubs and podcasts and Zoom took over virtual book talks and interviews. I’ve met so many wonderful writers who I now call friends. And met readers, as I’m doing now on your blog, who I probably never would have met if not for Covid 19 shutting down in-person events. That said, I am looking forward to this pandemic being over and am so very sorry for everyone who has lost a loved one to this horrendous virus. 

A sense of place is important in Sisters of the Vine. How do you choose your settings?

Thank you. I worked hard for the vineyard to come alive. Settings are so important to me when I read a novel that I wanted to make mine evocative. I want my readers to inhabit place, smell the aromas and feel the textures. Therefore, I choose places that I know well, where I’ve walked the streets and ate the food, heard the birds sing, or as in Sisters of the Vine, stood in vineyards, felt the grapes in my fingers, smelled the rich moist earth and tasted the bold wine. 

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Happy publication day, Joe Siple

I’m delighted to welcome Joe Siple to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. Joe is an established author published by Black Rose Writing, an independent press based in Texas. I was so impressed with Joe’s debut novel The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride, I decided to submit my second novel to Black Rose Writing and this has now been accepted for publication. In the meantime, Joe’s sequel The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride will be published today, 21 January 2021. I was fortunate to be an early reader of this splendid sequel and I’m thrilled Joe has agreed to join me for an interview. 

About The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride

Jason Cashman has reached the goal he spent the last twenty years seeking, but instead of feeling content, he feels empty. When he meets Alexandra Lopez, a ten-year-old America-loving girl facing deportation, he is inspired by his old friend, Murray McBride, to give her five wishes before she must leave.

They set out to check off as many wishes as possible, but when Jason’s transplanted heart begins to fail, he must choose between his obligations to the past and his hope for a future.

The interview

 Q. I’m fascinated by the relationships between characters in your novels and particularly the strength of intergenerational friendships. What inspired you to write about this?

A. I’ve always been intrigued by how similar most people are, at their core. Yet people of all kinds–young and old, black and white, religious and atheist–seem so different on the surface. I find it fun to explore relationships where the characters find a way to get beyond their superficial differences, to the closeness we all crave.  

Q. In The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride, your young protagonist faces an uncertain future in America due to ill health and her family’s immigration status. Why write about such a contentious issue?

A. There are two reasons. The first is a result of a family trip to Guatemala. During this “volunteer vacation” we saw the difference between people who were receiving money from a relative in the U.S.–some in the U.S. illegally– and those who weren’t. And I realized that if I were in their situation, I would also do whatever it took to provide for my family’s well-being. We also met many kind, gentle people there and I realized just how human they are, which is easy to lose sight of in the debate over immigration in this country. 

The second reason was the result of the change in U.S. immigration policy that separated young children from their parents as a way to scare others from trying to cross the border illegally, as well as the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced innocent families into territory run by Mexican drug lords. I knew that writing about these things could anger some readers and potentially hurt my career, but it was important that the people I reach with my book see the humanity in these people. I also think it’s important to note that I don’t believe we should have “open borders” and let anyone in. But I do think we need an immigration policy that treats people as human beings. That is the point I try to make with this book, and I believe making that point is worth the risk. 

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Thrilled to bits!

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

Bear and Pandemonium purchased for two-year-old Leo
Happy prize winner from the ReviewSpot competition, ‘the illustrations are just amazing and so beautiful.’
This little girl loves Pandemonium and keeps repeating words from the story.
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Blog tour, discount Christmas shopping and further adventures

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

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

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

In the café, Peta gets hungry …

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

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Monday 16 November is Odd Socks Day!

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

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

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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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