the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

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

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

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

part_3_final_illustration

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

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

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

adversaries-comradesPOSTER

Leave a comment »

Introducing Danielle Maisano and her novel ‘The Ardent Witness’

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

cover-small

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

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

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

Photo B&W

Why did you decide to write a book, Danielle?

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

What is the inspiration behind your novel?

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

How did you decide on the title?

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

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

an established and assured and ardent witness,

carefully destroying himself and preserving himself incessantly,

clearly insistent upon his original duty.”

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

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

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

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

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

What were the challenges in writing The Ardent Witness?

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

What’s next for you, Danielle?

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

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

 

5 Comments »

The String Games: what’s with the title?

I’ve used rainbow strings many times in my teaching career with adults and children. It’s a good form of kinaesthetic learning where students make string figures as a way to generate stories. The idea to use The String Games as the title for my novel came from the characters. There were instances where characters were strung along, they were puppets on a string and there was a need to cut the apron strings. String became a controlling metaphor for the novel and the title embedded within the story.

When the novel developed into three parts to reflect the development of the protagonist from child, to a teenager and then into an adult,  I decided to name each of the different parts of the novel after a string figure. This post considers the significance of the title of the first part of the novel, ‘Cat’s Cradle’. Following posts will consider the other two parts of the novel.

part_1_final_illustration

This illustration of Cat’s Cradle by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part one of The String Games

Cat’s Cradle is one of the oldest games in recorded human history, and involves passing a loop of string back and forth between two players. As part of the game, different figures are produced including diamonds, candles (straight strings), and an inverted cat’s cradle called a manger. Cat’s cradle is played in cultures throughout the world including Africa, Eastern Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the Arctic.

In using Cat’s Cradle as the title for the first part of my novel, it expresses the intimacy of a  relationship enjoyed by a child in close proximity with a caring adult. In The String Games it represents the relationship my child protagonist develops with her mother’s lover, Dee. When Jenny (Nim’s mother) is too traumatised by the abduction of Josh to care for her ten-year-old daughter, it is Dee who steps in to offer support. The idea of a cradle is indicative of the love Dee offers at a time of crisis.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games when it will be published by Victorina Press. In the meantime, if you’re interested in short fiction you could always try reading Paisley Shirt

6 Comments »

Writers’ Open House

Do come along to this event if you’re a published writer or just beginning your writing journey.

Flyer for 7 October

About the Dorset Writers Network

Run by a voluntary steering group, the Dorset Writers Network offers support to writers across the county including isolated writers in rural areas. Their last funded project resulted in the publication of an anthology by Dorset writers titled This Little World.

2 Comments »

Paisley Shirt

Paisley shirt

Examples of my short fiction have appeared in The Best of CaféLit 2012 and The Best of CaféLit 3. Now the publisher, Chapeltown Books, has agreed to publish a collection of my flash fiction. Paisley Shirt takes its title from a flash fiction story about a surprise relationship in middle age.  The Paisley Shirt collection will appear alongside other  flash fiction collections published by Chapeltown Books including January Stones 2013 by Gill James and From Dark to Light and Back Again by Allison Symes.

I will keep you updated as the work progresses.

5 Comments »

The academic year and writing

Although I’ve given up working in primary education, I still think of the year as divided into academic terms. In the past, as the beginning of December approached, my last reserves of energy would see me through the carol concerts and nativity plays to the final day.  More recently, I’ve held advisory posts working with senior leaders in schools to improve attainment for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils. While not actually working in a school, that same sense of being on my knees at the end of the term accompanied these roles. I’m currently working for a local authority, bringing together information on services to support children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Essentially, it’s a writing job and one that I’m really enjoying. I have colleagues, I work in an office and I have sufficient positive drive to enable me to continue my creative writing journey alongside paid employment.

Three days ago, I launched a new writing project. I’m beginning a story that investigates the teenage years of the protagonist from my novel How to be Brave. The adolescent years are very much off-stage in the novel and feedback from my viva suggested it would be well worth developing this storyline to compliment my work. I now understand why many of my friends are writing trilogies. It is a joy to discover another aspect of a character I know very well and see how she copes with the new challenges I have set. I’m hoping this piece of work will progress smoothly as I have developed a new approach to writing.  This time I have plotted the entire story before attempting to write. I’ll let you know how I get on.

51EfuiTHTCL

 

In the meantime, I have to think of a new title for my completed novel. The book had been through various working titles before I settled on How to be Brave.  It was obviously a good one as Louise Beech has recently published her debut novel with this title. Her story is about a mother who connects with her seriously ill child through the medium of storytelling. Good luck, Louise.

2 Comments »

Launch of The Swan-Daughter in Bicester

61247Last week, Dave and I travelled to Oxfordshire for the launch of Carol McGrath‘s novel The Swan-Daughter.  This is the second book in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy and it’s great to be back in the company of an accomplished story-teller. Carol’s style of writing is charming, allowing readers to enter the life of Gunnhild, the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swanneck. Based on research, the novel provides a lasting impression of the lives and struggles during the early Norman period. Essentially it’s a love story, starting with Gunnhild’s escape the nunnery at Wilton Abbey and her elopement with Count Alan of Richmond. 

The book launch was held at Cole’s Books in the delightful market town of Bicester. We stayed overnight in the Pentewan B&B  a lovely place tucked away from the main thoroughfare – we even had a dip in the hot tub in the garden!

St Catherine's College

St Catherine’s College

The following day, we stopped in Oxford and Dave and I wandered through the grounds of his old college then spent the afternoon in the Ashmolean Museum. It was great! Now that I have membership at the Bodleian Library, I look forward to returning, research for my studies makes a good excuse.

2 Comments »

Interview with Kate Kelly

RRcover (2)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I  met Kate Kelly at the  recent Bridport Story Slam where we acted at judges along with Julie Musk. It is always great to meet a local person who has found success with writing.  Kate’s  debut novel for young people, a Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction) thriller, is published by Curious Fox. Thank you Kate, for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog.

  • Tell us about your writing journey

I have written all my life. My father was an author and so it felt natural that I should want to follow in his footsteps. But about ten years ago I decided I wanted to take it a bit more seriously. I decided I wanted to be published, and I set about achieving this goal.

I started out with short stories. Short stories are a great way to hone your skills and learn the craft. Before long I was starting to place them in magazines and anthologies. I was writing Science Fiction and for this, and some other genres, the short story market remains healthy.

I then turned my attention to longer fiction. My first attempt at a children’s novel was soundly rejected by everyone I sent it to, but, with my second effort things were very different. I booked myself onto a 1-2-1 with a literary agent at the Frome Festival and could barely believe it when she asked to see the rest of the manuscript. The result was that she signed me and, after some reworking, sent Red Rock out to publishers. And, as you can see, it was picked up by Curious Fox.

  • Where inspired you to write Red Rock?

The inspiration for Red Rock came when I was working on oceanographic survey ships in the Arctic. I stared out at the ice; at the seals and puffins and the occasional polar bear, and I started to think about the last ice age, about the advance and retreat of the ice sheets. I looked towards the coast of Greenland and I started to wonder what might be underneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. What secrets might it be hiding?

In Red Rock I answer those questions.

  • What is your next writing project?

It will be another adventure story for the same age group. Possibly also with a Cli-Fi element to it, but I’m not making any promises.

  • Which authors do you admire and why?

This is a hard one because there are some amazing authors out there. But the ones I admire the most aren’t afraid to be bold and to do something different. Authors such as Sarah Crossan for instance, or Colin Mulhern, or Rachel Ward.

But I’m going to name an author who doesn’t debut until next year, and that is Sara Crowe. Every time I read something she has written I find myself thinking ‘Wow, I wish I could write like that!’, so keep an eye out for Bone Jack, coming in April from Andersen Press.

  • Can you offer some tips for yet to be published writers?

Write the book you want to read. Don’t follow trends, write something fresh and new, and above all, listen to criticism and never stop trying to improve.

For further information, see Kate’s blog at: http://scribblingseaserpent.blogspot.co.uk

 

 

Leave a comment »

Back from Edinburgh

Having enjoyed the Edinburgh Fringe and International Book Festival last year, I booked again for a return visit in 2013. Had I known in advance what would be in store for me during the intervening period, I would have reserved a week under a sunshade. However, having galvanised a bit of energy, I made it to Charlotte Square most mornings for the 10 at 10 session which featured a short reading from a visiting author. One of the treats included the opening pages from the The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extense. This is a debut novel that is included in Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club. The story is told in the distinctive voice of seventeen year old Alex and revolves around an unusual friendship with Mr Peterson, an American, pot-smoking widower. You can read more about the book in a Guardian review here.

Further highlights included another debut novelist, Courtney Collins talking about her book The Burial, a story inspired by the life of Jessie Hickman a twentieth century Australian horse rustler.  I also got to touch base with Ronald Frame talking about his latest novel Havisham.

In terms of the Fringe, we caught a few comedy shows including Rachel Parrish whose singing/comedy act had me in stitches (the performer is tagged as the Glee-Club chick gone wrong).

When we returned to Dorset, the plants in the garden decided to put on a welcome home display

Begonia

Begonia

Dahlias

Dahlias

Yucca

Yucca

3 Comments »

A bit of luck

Just when I thought I had to return to the office for three more days of work after taking leave next week, I discovered that I’m actually owed some days. As a result, my last day of employment with the County Council will be Friday and I’m madly trying to get everything done ready for a holiday in Edinburgh starting on Saturday.  We’re flying from Southampton and taking hand luggage only, so decanting liquids has been the order of the day. Fortunately, the flat that we’re staying at in Stockbridge provides shampoo and shower gel, so it’s only face creams that I need to worry about.

I’ve packed a couple of paperbacks including The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie and The Polish Boxer (which was recommended by Sarah Bower) and you can read a review here. I’ve downloaded two audiobooks to my ipod: Catch 22 and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So when I’m not attending sessions at the Book Festival or the Fringe I’ll have plenty to keep my busy.

Have a good week.

6 Comments »