the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Birthday visit to Northern Ireland

My mum and my son share a birthday in April. Mum is now 85 and expressed a desire to visit Giant’s Causeway. This provided a great excuse for a family trip to Northern Ireland.

We arrived on a beautiful Saturday morning. Our airbnb was situated near to Queen’s University, the Botanical Gardens and the Ulster Museum. So our first outing involved a wander in the sunshine …

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and lunch where my son ordered a dessert intended for two and managed to scoff the lot.

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On Sunday we were collected at 10am for a black cab tour of the murals of West Belfast. I was a little unsure about supporting this type of dark tourism which focuses on The Troubles, but I did learn an awful lot. Here is a photo of us standing in front of a section of the peace wall which separates the Loyalist and Protestant neighbourhood from the Nationalist and Republican. Some peace walls are up to 8m high and roads linking communities are secured by gates which are closed at nights.

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In the afternoon we visited Titanic Belfast which is a marvellous exhibition that really gives a sense of the scale and extent of industrial Belfast and the ramifications of the sinking.

The next day we headed for Giant’s Causeway. The coastline is beautiful and we stopped at Cushendun on the Antrim coast for photos.

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Further along we came to Carrick-o-Rede and crossed the hanging bridge first erected by Salmon fishermen in 1755.

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Giant’s Causeway is a remarkable sight and on a sunny day was packed with visitors but we still managed to find quiet places to sit and contemplate the stories and history of the place.

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In the evening we celebrated two birthdays with a special meal.

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Tip: if you’re a member of the National Trust remember to take your card to Northern Island and you’ll get free entry to the hanging bridge and Giant’s Causeway plus other places.

 

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Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

As part of the research for my PhD which accompanied the writing of my novel The String GamesI came across the work of Judith Kegan Gardiner who discusses female identity and writing by women. She suggests that where women write about female protagonists there is a special link and proposes the analogy ‘the hero is her author’s daughter’. When I first read this, the idea that I could regard Nim (my protagonist) as my daughter caused concern. While I recognised that other women writers may regard their female protagonists in this way, I resisted the idea of applying the analogy to my own situation. I was afraid that if I thought of Nim as my daughter, a natural progression would be to conclude that Jenny (Nim’s mother) represented me. This I did not want to think about. The character of Jenny is by no means an idealised mother: she is short-tempered, snappy, stressed, clumsy, resentful and all manner of other negatives. Her redeeming quality, however, is that she genuinely wants to try to be a good mother.

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The more I thought about the possible link between my protagonist and me, the more I came to realise that I was not her fictional mother – Jenny takes that role in the story – but I was her author-mother. This realisation enabled me to approach later drafts of the novel with deeper understanding of my characters and my role as an author in “mothering” my young female protagonist. It also brought into play the idea of separation–individuation, the process that girls and mothers go through in order that children can go onto to become unique, independent adults. I came to understand that by the end of my work on the novel, I needed to separate from the character of Nim I had created, so that she, as my protagonist-daughter could continue her life in a fictional context through the minds of my readers and I, as the author-mother, am free to go on and create other characters in new fictional writing.

As this is a special post to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, 31 March 2019, I wonder, how do other women writers feel about their female protagonists? Do the theories of Judith Kegan Gardiner chime with you? I’d love to know what you think – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you.

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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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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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Flaghead Chine Poetry Commission

During my writing residency at Short & Sweet in Wimborne (you can read about it here), I was contacted by landscape designer Barbara Uphoff to write a poem for  a plaque. Barbara developed the new seaside garden at Flaghead Chine in Poole and wanted to incorporate poetry into the design.

The garden is approached through the wooded and shady chine and it acts as a connection between the land and the sea. Constructed with Purbeck Stone planters, boulders and seating, the garden is positioned beside the sandy beach and gives views to Harry’s Rock across the water.

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Old Harry’s Rock from Pixabay

The garden is intended as a meeting point for family and friends where children can enjoy quiet play thanks to the three seashell structures. The sculptors Phil Bews and Diane Gorvins created small scale models of a whelk, an ammonite and a sea urgin which the stonemasons, Albion Stone, were able to use in making the large shells.

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My poem appears on a brushed metal plaque attached to one of the boulders. Barbara and I agreed the the poem should be a haiku to celebrate the natural environment. You can read it here:

It was an honour to write the poem and I am delight to see it positioned in the seaside garden as public art.

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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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Flash Fiction and ongoing projects

How did I source a publisher? What do I love about flash fiction? What are my other writing projects? Tracy Fells at The Literary Pig invited me to share some of my writing experiences. Do pop over and have a read. Click here.

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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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National Trust: Lacock Abbey

David has held life membership of the National Trust since a maiden aunt left him £100 when he was eleven. Here is his membership card complete with boyhood signature.

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The membership allows an accompanying guest to enter free of charge, so we tend to gravitate towards National Trust properties when out and about. Recently we visited Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. Both the Abbey and properties in the town are administered by the National Trust and this makes for an interesting visit. The Abbey is situated within extensive grounds where you can see the approach of spring.

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The building benefits from a variety of architectural styles owing to its history. First as an Augustinian abbey, then the home to a Tudor rogue, and finally as a family home and the birthplace of photography. In more recent times it has acted as a film location to a variety of productions including Harry Potter.

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Cloister that appears in Harry Potter

I usually come away from these visit with ideas for creative writing. Word prompts include stone feathers and stone blindfolds. Watch this space for creative outputs!

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Max Gate, Thomas Hardy’s home

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Thomas Hardy designed and lived in Max Gate, situated on the outskirts of Dorchester, from 1885 until his death in 1928. When we first moved to the county town, the house was occupied by tenants and you could only access two of the ground floor rooms. Over time, the National Trust have opened more of the rooms including the attic rooms where Emma, Hardy’s first wife withdrew to.

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Emma’s boudoir in the attic at Max Gate

Emma started to use the rooms as a daytime retreat, but by 1899 she decided to move her bedroom up there, too. She described her space as a ‘sweet refuge and solace’. It’s strange to think of Hardy working at this desk directly beneath Emma’s rooms.

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Thomas Hardy’s first floor study

In his study at the house, Hardy wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge and much of his poetry.

Very little of the furniture in the house belonged to Hardy because his second wife, Florence, sold everything upon his death. Therefore, the contents of each room is there to recreate the atmosphere that might have existed. As such, this is one of the few National Trust properties I’ve been to where visitors are encouraged to take a seat and enjoy the warmth of the fire in the lounge.

Use of the toilet, however, is not allowed (although there are loos for public use).

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Max Gate is well worth visiting for anyone staying in or passing through Dorchester.

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