the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Squeezing the pips in Antigua

It’s my last few days in Guatemala and I’m determined to  make the most of them. Today I went on a bone-crunching bike ride around the villages on the outskirts of Antigua. You can imagine the difficulty of cycling over cobbled roads like this:

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Thankfully it was a bus ride to collect the bikes in San Juan del Obispo so the cycling to Antigua was mainly downhill.

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I never tire of visiting ruins in Antigua. Some are churches, others are convents but all the damaged facades are endlessly captivating. Here are a couple more ruins that have me enchanted:

Tomorrow we have a Spanish School outing to the coast. I’m looking forward to having lessons at la playa de Monterrico.

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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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BridLit Fringe

I’m really chuffed to be sharing a few of my stories at the Bridlit Fringe alongside this talented group of local writers. If you’re in Bridport on the morning of Friday 16 November 2018, do drop into the Literary & Scientific Institute for a chance to hear a fantastic range of poetry and prose. Tickets are a bargain at only £5 and are available here.

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I hope to see some of you in the audience!

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Helen Corner-Bryant at the Dorchester Literary Festival

I was delighted to introduce Helen Corner-Bryant’s session ‘On Editing’ at the Dorchester Literary Festival last Sunday. As Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network, I worked with festival co-director, Janet Gleeson, to arrange this input. Helen is a wonderful speaker who has substantial experience in supporting writers, firstly as an editor’s assistant at Penguin, and then in setting up the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. Helen seeks to help writers overcome the creative barriers they encounter and with her team, they offer support that might otherwise take a writer much time to work out for themselves.

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Some top tips offered in the session include:

  • If you don’t feel confident writing dialogue it may be because you don’t know your characters well enough. Try interviewing your character or letting them have conversations in your head.
  • Make sure there is a point of tension on every page of your novel
  • Novels work well using a three act structure
  • When you come to a stop with your writing have a think about what this might mean for the work. Could it indicate a problem with the structure, plot or characterisation?

Did you know Cornerstones welcome submissions of the opening ten pages of your novel with the synopsis for a free evaluation?

Because Q&As are so valuable to writers, Helen has devised an ‘ask a literary consultant’ session where she outlines her role then opens the floor to questions. I am now working with the Dorset Writers’ Network to find a date and venue to offer this input. Follow the Dorset Writers’ Network on Facebook and Twitter for updates and/or subscribe to the newsletter on the website.

Helen’s book On Editing: How to edit your novel the professional way is an invaluable resource and is available from any good bookshop or can be purchased through Amazon.

 

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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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Writing residency in Shire Hall Café at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, Dorchester

I was delighted the Shire Hall Café agreed to join the creative café project started by my publisher Gill James. The café is situated on the mezzanine level of the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum and with the museum’s history of crime, punishment and justice, the café provides a stimulating environment for writers.

Joining me for the creative café were writers from Dorchester, Swanage and an American from Nevada. (She was a delegate at the Thomas Hardy Conference who took time out to visit me.) Two participants were interested in developing children’s fiction while others were busy with short stories aimed at the adult market. It was a pleasure and a privilege to offer feedback on their work in progress and to discuss new projects. Some of my writing prompts also proved useful in developing new writing.

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Sat on one of the long tables at the back of the café, we were able to enjoy the breeze through the open sash windows and the views across the tables. I am a frequent visitor to the café as I queued on the opening day to make sure I won the ‘free coffee for a year’ given to the first person through the door. The building is at the end of my road, so if I need a change of scene during one of my writing days at home, I pop along to claim my free drink and spend time writing in the café.

Thank you to the Shire Hall Café and the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum for hosting this event. If you would like information about joining a creative café session in the future, do contact me here.

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Good news: it’s all happening at the minute

Firstly, my interview ‘a conversation…’ is on the Greenacre Writers’ site now. Why not pop over and have a read?

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Secondly, I have a poem in the fabulous print publication Words for the Wild. You can read more about the project here.

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And lastly, I’m off to the Thomas Hardy Society‘s fiftieth conference this evening to hear Paul Henry read from his acclaimed poetry collections The Brittle Sea and Boy Running. It will be good to touch base with Paul again (we were both lecturers at the University in South Wales in 2015).

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Author talk at Sturminster Newton Library

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I was delighted to be invited by the Friends of Sturminster Newton Library to  talk about my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt. This north Dorset library is run by exceptional volunteers who do a wonderful job in supporitng local authors. I was made to feel like a guest of honour and I’m delighted that the collection is now in stock at this branch. Rather than wallowing in the heat, fifteen people turned out to hear me talk and many purchased copies of the collection.

As this was my first talk I prepared for it thoroughly by:

  • promoting the talk on Facebook and Twitter to attract an audience
  • arriving early to check out the venue
  • practising my delivery by talking to my reflection in the mirror
  • having props to hand including Victorian novels which mention paisley pattern
  • dressing in a paisley patterned top, and
  • creating a display of Chapeltown Books on a paisley patterned tablecloth

Feedback from the talk was very positive. One participant said I answered her question about sources of inspiration better than any other author. Another said my talk was engaging and inspiring. I now feel fully equipped to offer further talks. If any of you are interested in hosting a talk, please let me know.

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Paisley Shirt is available with free delivery from The Book Depository and is stocked in Gullivers Wimborne, The Bookshop Bridport, Serendip Lyme Regis, The Swanage Bookshop and branches of Watersones.

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