the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

How to learn Spanish in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Hola from Guatemala

I’ve been in Guatemala for a fortnight studying at Ixchel Spanish School in Antigua. It’s a wonderful city to spend time in with amazing ruins of convents and churches around every corner (most of them were damaged in the earthquake of 1773).

Volcanoes surround the city and I managed to hike up an elevation of 1,500 feet to reach the summit of Pacaya Volcano which stands at 8,373 feet.

I’ve visited Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán). To quote from Aldous Huxley’s famous 1934 travel book Beyond the Mexique Bay: “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.”

I’ve even popped into Honduras to visit the amazing archaeological site of the Maya civilisation at Copán.

With all these wonderful distractions it’s been increasingly difficult to engage with the seemingly impossible delightful task of learning Spanish. With two more weeks to go, who knows, I might even be able to speak a sentence in Spanish without correction from my teacher. Wish me luck!

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Walking the Camino Inglés

David and I set out to walk the Camino Inglés. The route starts in Ferrol and continues southwards to Santiago de Compostela in the centre of Galicia. Distances covered on foot over 100km are considered proper pilgrimages so I was entitled to claim my Compostela at the end.
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We completed the journey in five days and stayed in a variety of places including bunk beds at an albergue (overnight accommodation to assist pilgrims on their way) and a number of hostels. There were probably about thirty others completing the same journey each day and we got to meet some fascinating people. Each day had its challenges:
Day One: Ferrol to Pontedueme
I wasn’t expecting to complete the whole 29km of this leg as many split the journey into two parts by stopping at Neda. But, as we were making such good progress we pressed on. Here I am with my ample backpack.
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Day Two: Pontedueme to Betanzos
Only 19.5km seemed a doddle after the first day but the image below identifies the challenges of steep inclines and descents. I felt absolutely dreadful on arriving n Betanzos and made sure I packed dried fruit and nuts for the next day to keep me going.
Day Three: Betanzos to Bruma
Faced with 29km, I off loaded some of the heavier items in my backpack onto David. I then suffered a backpack malfunction because I hadn’t packed it properly and the frame was digging into my back. Once that was sorted I was ready for cake!
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I seemed to build stamina on this leg of the journey but acquired blisters!
Day Four: Bruma to Sigüeiro
24km, mainly downhill. Easy walking in the drizzle. More blisters.
Day Five: Sigüeiro to Santiago
Only 16m and an easy walk to our destination.
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What did I discover from this camino?
  • I can walk several days in a row with a pack on my back
  • walking long distances is a great way to test the body and free the mind
  • it’s possible to meet the most surprising people in out of the way places

Would I do it again?

Absolutely!

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Visiting Kim Martins, NZ

I am getting about this week! Today I’m being interviewed by Kim Martins who lives in New Zealand. Do pop over to her blog Up North for a read.

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While you’re there, take a look around Kim’s blog. There are some fascinating posts about Kim’s taste in books and you can learn about  El Hubs and the house building project. Great photos, too.

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Travelling and writing

An interview with Allison Symes for Chandler’s Ford Today has me sharing stories about travelling overland on a converted Lodekka bus with Top Deck Travel in 1981.Group Shot at Winery Lyonn (2)

Find out how this journey links to the publication of Paisley Shirt here.

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Welcome: Mandy Huggins

I’m delighted to welcome fellow Chapeltown Books author Mandy Huggins to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter. She is a prolific writer whose name appears frequently as a winner or runner-up in a range of competitions and her stories are widely published on websites and in print anthologies. Brightly Coloured Horses, her collection of flash fiction has received rave reviews and I’m keen to learn more about Mandy.

 

 

What do you do for a day job? How does working in a different context affect your writing?

I work in engineering, so it’s a completely different world to writing. I enjoy getting out and talking to people every day, and writing is a solitary pursuit, so it actually makes for a good mix. The only real way my day job affects my writing is by severely restricting the time I have to actually write! I have a half hour walk to work, which is useful thinking time, so I’m often jotting down notes as soon as I arrive.

You’re widely known as the writer Mandy Huggins, but you’re also called Amanda and Troutie McFish. How are your different personas distinguished?

Troutie McFish is a nickname that was given to me by a colleague when I lived in London, and it became my Twitter handle and blog name long before I was promoting my writing. It always raises a smile when I tell people my email address!

I recently made a decision to use the name Amanda for my forthcoming short story collection, Separated From the Sea. All my family, friends and work colleagues know me as Mandy, but it feels like the right moment in my writing career to start using my full name as my author name. I just hope I don’t confuse everyone!

You’ve enjoyed considerable success with travel writing and short fiction. Do you think there is elitism attached to different types of writing?

Yes, sadly I think there is elitism attached to different types of writing, and genre fiction such as horror and fantasy is often perceived to be less ‘worthy’ than contemporary literary fiction. However, I think things have changed in the poetry world. The new wave of performance poets has led to a sudden upsurge in sales of poetry collections, and I think this is one form of writing that is becoming much less elitist.

Do you have ambition to be published in any particular journal or anthology? Where are your favourite places to be published? Do you have any recommendations for platforms to seek publication or particular resources?

I dream of having a short story published in The New Yorker, and it would be lovely to be included in Salt’s Best British Short Stories. However, I’m lucky to have been published in an interesting mix of journals, websites, newspapers and anthologies, and I’m grateful to every editor that has ever liked my work enough to have me!

The main resources I use for competition listings and publication opportunities are the Competition Guide supplement that comes twice-yearly with Writing Magazine, Mslexia’s Indie Press Guide, and the writer Paul Mcveigh’s wonderful blog.

Do you ever get jealous of the success of other writers?

No, not at all. I’m always delighted when writers I know are published or win an award.

Brightly Coloured Horses, your newly published collection of flash fiction has consistently received 5* reviews. What were the challenges in putting the collection together?

I selected the stories I wanted to include in Brightly Coloured Horses from around 50 pieces of flash fiction I’ve written in the last five years or so. In the end it wasn’t that difficult to choose. The 27 stories that made it were the ones that just seemed to fit together naturally as a cohesive collection. I’m a very slow writer, and a lot of work had already gone into honing every story.

What’s next for you, Mandy?

I’m thrilled to say that I have another book coming out in June – my first full-length short story collection, Separated From the Sea. I’m currently working on the final edits with Amanda Saint at Retreat West Books, and the cover reveal is imminent! Two books coming out in the same year is wonderful, but it’s not for the faint-hearted! The promotional side of things is hard work and time-consuming, as you know, and I’m finding I have no time left over to write anything new. The third book could be a long way off!

Thank you for joining me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, Mandy. What an exciting year you have ahead.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/troutiemcfish

Blog: http://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.co.uk/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brightly-Coloured-Horses-Mandy-Huggins/dp/1910542199

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Scenes from Kashmir

Following my recent discovery that paisley print pattern originates in Kashmir, I hunted out purchases I made while visiting the area in 1981. I was a passenger on a Top Deck overland trip from London to Kathmandu. We travelled on a converted Lodekka bus which had a kitchen area downstairs and sleeping accommodation up.

For the journey to Kashmir we took local transport and stayed in luxurious houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar.

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My purchases from Kashmir include a carpet which sits in front of the hearth in our Dorset home. I paid a deposit and it was dispatched to my parents when they settled the balance and collected it after a wrangle with customs. (I was delightfully unaware of all this – having a fun time in Australia.)

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A jacket, which I’m self-conscious of wearing due to the real fur trimming.

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And a set of tables which travelled from Kashmir to Australia and then onto Papua New Guinea before furnishing various homes in the UK.

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The carved finish of leaf patterns on these tables is close to being a paisley style pattern. Unlike Paisley Shirt my collection of short fiction, these are not available to purchase on Amazon! (If wishing to obtain my collection, please ignore the warning that the book is out of stock and place an order anyway – it will be sent to you given time.)

I never quite understood why I went on such a spending spree in Kashmir. I blame the tea which I now realise must have been laced with hash. You can find the low-down on the overland experience from Trevor Carroll in his book Crossing Continents with Top Deck.

 

Enjoy!

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In Vienna

We spent five days in Vienna in early September. It is a great city to walk around and when we got tired it was easy to catch a tram or tube back to our hotel. (I can recommend the Kugel Hotel in a good location with outstandingly helpful staff and an excellent breakfast). We were based in the museum quarter and went to loads of galleries with exhibitions of Klimt and Schiele (the Upper Belvedere was particularly stunning with displays that showed connections between the two artists). Hotel staff recommended a visit to the opera and after an hour long wait (those wearing shorts were turned away) we got standing tickets to Il Trovatore for three euros each.

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with my very tall family members

The food was another highlight:

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melon cocktail with a rasher of streaky bacon as a garnish

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cake and tea for me

 

 

 

 

 

But the highlight was eating beside the Danube canal at Meierei at Stadtpark  (hotel staff made the reservation) where we enjoyed a delicious meal and I ordered venison goulash.

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venison goulash with curd cheese toast, broccoli and black walnut

 

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Retreats for You with Debbie Flint

I met Debbie Flint in 2011 when we both attended a retreat at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.  (I returned there last year – you can read about my second visit here.) Debbie works as a presenter on QVC shopping channel, has a number of books published, and she’s recently taken over a writing retreat in Devon. It was great to touch base with Debbie again and draw upon her experience as a TV presenter to produce a couple of YouTube clips where I talk about my writing journey. Debbie’s help was invaluable in introducing me to interview techniques, accessing handy tips and supporting me through the process. I’d never done anything like this before so her coaching allowed me to feel confident throughout filming and I’m delighted with the results. You can watch the interviews here.

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Debbie has made Retreats for You into a homely and relaxing place to write and reflect. My window overlooks the square with views onto the fields beyond. There’s no excuse for not getting on with your work as a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided. It’s  also good to be in the company of other writers and tap into the positive energy this creates. A few days away makes all the difference to my word count, I find!

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Walking and writing

We spent the weekend in Fowey and took an amazing walk around the coastal path where this photo was taken – hard to believe it’s January from looking at this.

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The journey back took us inland along the Saint’s Way. This path was rediscovered in 1984 when local ramblers found a series of forgotten granite stiles. The circular route was labelled ‘strenuous’ and ‘muddy’ and with adjectives like that, I would normally have avoided it. But, with my new fitness routine established, everything was fine.

At my desk on Monday, I received feedback on a writing submission I made earlier in the month. The lovely Suzie at Writers in the Alley forwarded a request from an agency interested in using local writing for a South West Trains advertising campaign. I rang the company and with a ten-minute deadline submitted some work. Two pieces of flash fiction were shortlisted for presentation to the client. When I learnt more about the proposal I was scared silly that my stories would end up on one of those huge ‘out of home’ posters opposite the platform at London underground stations. I needn’t have worried. South West Trains didn’t go for the idea and I’m left feeling disappointed and relieved.

On the upside, I have received some good news. My application for a writing residency at Brisons Veor has been accepted and I’ll be spending a couple of weeks at Cape Cornwall later in the year.

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