the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

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.

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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

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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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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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Pass it on

I have enjoyed so much support from other writers with the forthcoming publication of my debut novel The String Games so it is a pleasure to be able to pass this support on. My publisher asked me to review Nasrin Parvaz’s extraordinary memoir, One Woman’s Struggle in Iran and this I was pleased to do, partly because I travelled through Iran in 1981. (You can read the review here.) Imagine my delight to find an extract from this review used as an endorsement on the back cover of Nasrin’s memoir. It is a real privilege to find myself in this position and I truly hope this book finds the readership it deserves.

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Well done, Nasrin, for writing this powerful memoir where we can all learn from your tenacity and resilience.

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The FABULOUS wider writing community

It was Nina Killham who first recommended I read The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. This is the debut work by a novelists who has gone on to write ten further books for adults plus others for the young adults and the children’s markets. As a first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean gained much attention and acclaim and was the first title chosen for Oprah’s Book Club in 1996. It is a powerful novel, full of suspense as the protagonist, mother to a missing boy, struggles to come to terms with what’s happened. It’s a very moving story that teaches about resilience and compassion in circumstances that are a nightmare to every parent.

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As there are parallels between my novel The String Games and Jacquelyn’s work (in terms of a focus on a lost child) I decided to get in touch with Jacquelyn through the contact page of her website. Imagine my surprise when minutes later a reply from this best-selling author popped into my inbox. Jacquelyn kindly agreed to  read my novel with a view to offering an endorsement. Although delighted with this response, I did feel rather impertinent even asking. As a child, my Grandma frequently used the reprimand ‘askers don’t get’ whenever me or my siblings became demanding. But if my Grandpa was within earshot he’d pipe up ‘don’t ask – don’t want’. This memory of my grandparents convinces me there is no harm in asking.

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Pt 3: the FABULOUS wider writing community

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I entered a travel writing competition in 2016 and as runner-up, I was offered a bursary to attend a fiction retreat at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s creative writing centre. One of the tutors on the programme was Elizabeth Reeder who writes novels, essays and stories. Her debut novel, Ramshackle, was shortlisted for the Saltire Literary Award in 2013 and she’s gone on to write further novels.

The narrator of Ramshackle is fifteen-year-old Roe who one wintery day finds the man she thinks of as her father has gone missing. In the week that follows, Roe finds out more about herself and her father. At this point in growing up, Roe is an expert of her own experience but anything beyond causes anxiety. Roe’s voice is a mixture of confidence and vulnerability and this is something I wanted to explore in The String Games. Advice from Elizabeth was invaluable in moving forward with the middle part of my novel.

When it came to thinking of authors to approach to endorse The String Games, Elizabeth was at the top of my list. She’s an excellent writer so I’m delighted she felt able to offer the following words:

Gail Aldwin’s The String Games debuts her talent in an intimate portrayal of family, love and loss, and one that gives a glimpse into how crisis might shape each of us.

Elizabeth teaches creative writing at the University of Glasgow. I was fortunate to catch up with her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2017 where she facilitated a wonderful readers’ workshop. Keep an eye out for other events Elizabeth is involved with. If you’re able to attend one of her workshops, seminars or talks you’re bound to enjoy it.

The String Games will be published in May 2019 but if you can’t wait until then you could always dip into my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt. It is also available from Waterstones in Dorchester and Bridport, The Bookshop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Serendip in Lyme Regis.

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The FABULOUS wider writing community

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Credit: Grafik Mekanik, Flickr

My novel The String Games will be published by Victorina Press in May 2019. It is a psychological drama that focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist when her four-year-old brother is abducted and murdered during a family holiday in France. The cover is being designed by Fiona Zechmeister and it is exciting to be part of the process from initial ideas to the final product. One of my roles has been to secure endorsements for the novel to support with marketing and promoting the book. From a study of novels which use child characters and child protagonists, I drew up a list of authors to approach. For my blogs each week this December, I will focus on the authors who have kindly offered their support. 

Nina Killham came back to me quickly with a positive response to my request. Nina is the author of three novels including Believe Me which is a wonderful book with a thirteen-year-old narrator called Nic. It is a funny and moving story about a boy who challenges his mother, an astrophysicist and atheist, by turning to the Bible for ways to understand contemporary life.

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I was first in touch with Nina a few years ago when she offer to give feedback on the first three chapters of a novel and the synopsis as a donation to the Authors for Refugees charity auction. I was lucky to win the lot and benefitted greatly from Nina’s feedback. We stayed in touch and she recommended several further novels for me to read so that I could learn how published authors develop stories around child characters. It was at Nina’s suggestion that I read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This is a great book that considers the lifelong repercussions from the accidental death of a child.

Without further ado, please let me unveil Nina’s full endorsement of The String Games:

Gail Aldwin excels at creating characters you care about. The String Games, her story of a child lost on a holiday to France, avoids melodrama and leaves the reader hoping the best for her characters as they move beyond the last page.

I’d like to thank Nina for her support, encouragement and of course, that lovely endorsement.

If you can’t wait until May to read my novel, you could always dip into my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt which is available from Waterstones in Dorchester and Bridport, The Bookshop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Serendip in Lyme Regis.

 

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Blog Tour: F J Morris, This Is (Not About) David Bowie

I was delighted to meet F J Morris in Bristol where she shared one of her fabulous stories with an attentive audience. I’d seen Freya’s name on many competition announcements for winners and attached to stories in quality journals, so it was a real treat to attend the reading. She is a great supporter of flash fiction and assisted the organisers of the first flash fiction festival in 2017. Now, I’m thrilled she has agreed to join me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter, to celebrate the launch of her debut collection of flash fiction. With the intriguing title This Is (Not About) David Bowie, the imaginatively presented collection contains thought-provoking stories that gave me the chance to take another look at modern life, and rethink a thing or two. Shrinking Giants was one of my favourite pieces, full of poignancy yet with an ending that gives hope.

 

Thank you for joining me, Freya and congratulations on your new publication. Here are the questions I’ve posed which I think will be of interest to readers and writers.

Do you write with your audience in mind? Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is one that is living. I was going to say a human being, but to be honest, I’m not even that fussed what they identify as. I grew up in an old mining town on the outskirts of Bristol where my mum grew up. People didn’t really read. And so I’ve been asking myself a lot of big questions about fiction and why we should bother. Why should people read?

There are a lot of studies out that that explain how art helps us to understand ourselves and humanity better. Artists deal in feelings better than any other discipline. In the days we live in, it’s so important that we recognise the importance of feelings and how they influence us. Society doesn’t encourage us to be okay with them. They’re considered second-rate. But they have such a big influence on us. I read a study once that a judge’s decisions became more harsh depending on the time of day and his eating patterns (ie – if he’s hangry then you’ve no hope in hell). So it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how aware you are, your feelings are more in control of you than you know.

We are not machines. We are not products. So I think it’s vital that we value artists, and that artists recognise their own worth, their own power. What people are consuming right now is influencing them in ways they don’t even realise. And we need to write, sing, dance, paint our way out of it. We need a new story to tell ourselves. Stories that have peace, hope, joy, magic. Stories that make you glad to be alive. Stories that bring us together. But ultimately, we need more people reading, and that’s a challenge I’m interested in taking on. So I guess they’re the ones I want to reach out to.

What do you hope readers will take away from your collection? 

That anything is possible. That we are the writers of our own story. That we can be who we really are. A few people have read my collection and told me which stories were their favourites, and what I love the most is that they all chose different ones. I really wanted to cover a range of people, a spectrum of identities, ages, genders, backgrounds – that felt true to Bowie, and what he stood for. I wanted the collection to reflect his essence. Bowie in himself is a powerful idea. He reached out to everyone who didn’t fit in, and it turns out, that’s a hell of a lot of people. Like many, he gave me permission to be as outrageous as I wanted. He allowed me to take risks. To be true to myself. I hope people reading my collection will feel that too.

Can you describe the process of putting together a flash collection?

The initial idea only came when someone asked me to write a collection. I had wanted to put one together for a while. But every theme or idea I had to string a bunch of stories together ran out of juice. It was like being in a labyrinth, thinking you’re on the right track, only to find myself at another dead end.

Then Bowie died. It was like watching an explosion. A supernova. A massive star had collapsed at the end of its life, and it sent out these ripples, this burst of energy. His impact on people spilled out. David Bowie was more than a person. He was a feeling. He was an idea. So that’s when lightning struck, and I saw my way through the labyrinth.

But that was just the beginning. There were a whole host of obstacles and riddles to work through after the first draft. The journey to publication was not straight or easy, but the extra time helped me to develop it more. There were a lot of stories that fell short of what I wanted so I ditched them. And then I put the rest together into a larger narrative structured by David Bowie quotes. I wanted people to feel like there was a bigger picture, a journey to go on, but that element came later.

Do you have a favourite flash and what was the inspiration for writing it?

Slush puppies (there’s a reading of it here): it’s about hidden love between two school girls. I wrote it in a Bristolian accent, so I have to read it in one. And it has a sort of musical quality to it. I wanted to write it in such a way that when you read it, you could feel the build-up and overflowing passion.

My stories are a bit like Frankenstein’s monster – some of the story was inspired by something that happened to friends when I was growing up, some of it is my imagination, and a fair bit has been harvested from different poems I wrote when I was in love. This one does it all. It takes me back in so many ways. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and so is love.

Congratulations on your new appointment as Assistant Editor for fiction at Bare Fiction. What does this role involve?

Cheers! At the moment its: reading, reading, reading. Then deciding with the editor and team, which stories we think should be published. Robert does a wonderful job running the magazine, and his aspirations are amazing, so I can’t wait to help him achieve them. Plans and aspirations are a foot – so watch this space!

Do you have any favourite writing resources you would like to share with readers of The Writer is a Lonely Hunter?

Oh there are lots! When I read Orwell’s ‘Why I write’ in my twenties that basically became my mantra. I try to avoid writing to show off skills or knowledge. I remember a time when I was eight and I learnt this new word and was so excited to use it. But when I finally did, and nobody understood it, I realised how pointless it was. I felt the embarrassment of those around me, and how they withdrew. You lose people when you make them feel stupid – they disengage. So reading Orwell, made me consciously think about what sort of writer I wanted to be.

I’m always telling people to use the ‘Hemingway editor’ website. I’m going to use it on this interview. It helps me to be an editor to myself and to clean up my sentences. Then there’s Grammarly and Scrivener for the tools that make life easier.

What are your future plans?

To write. I know how that sounds. But it’s a constant fight with myself. I started to write a new novel called Burning down the house a few months ago, but with all the fiddling about, I’ve lost track of spending time on it. I want to write scripts, and make this app, and do another collection… So that’s my problem. Too many things, too many ideas, not enough writing.

What in insightful interview! Thank you, Freya. This is (not about) David Bowie is published by Retreat West Books and is currently on pre-order with Amazon. If anyone is in Bristol on 27 September at 7pm and would like to attend the book launch of This is (not about) David Bowie, your invitation is here.

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Big Heads staged at Bridport Arts Centre

Over the past couple of years, Sarah Scally, Maria Pruden and I have been co-writing comedy sketches. Once we had sufficient material, Maria approached a group of local actors who agreed to perform the sketches and Bridport Arts Centre offered to stage it. The premiere of Big Heads & Others was on Thursday 8 November 2018.

The first sketch we completed was called Killer Ladybugs – this was drafted during a workshop led by Christine Diment of Juno Theatre. The sketch clashes the invasive behaviours of harlequin ladybirds with Donald Trump’s America First policies. It was topical material at the time of his election yet two years later and (unfortunately for the world) the material remains fresh.  This sketch was originally staged by Cast Iron Theatre in Brighton, so we were confident the writing was entertaining. Our actors Declan Duffy (Borderbug) and Lee Wyles (Ladybug) brought a new and exciting interpretation to the sketch.

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Another sketch called Baby Love also had a previous outing, this time at the Salisbury Fringe where it was performed as a scripted reading. This gave us ideas on how to stage the sketch at Bridport where a woman (Lee Wyles) waits for the X54 bus and chats to Lauren (Sally Hunt) who is obsessed with her little one, Dasiy-Waisy.

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Big Heads was the most experimental of the pieces and took our audience to Easter Island where they learnt what the famous statues were thinking. This was a static piece which relied on voice, silence and facial expression to convey meaning. Our actors Sally Hunt, Dewi Lambert and Declan Duffy performed this brilliantly and audience reaction confirmed it to be a popular sketch.

The three sketches were tied together with a linking piece that used physical theatre to tell the story of a hapless charity envelope collector (Declan Duffy) and his encounters with others.

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The evening was held as a charity fundraiser for the Bridport Arts Centre. All tickets for the show were sold and we had a warm and receptive audience. Thank you to everyone who came along and laughed in all the right places. This was the first time Maria, Sarah and I had directed a performance and we were incredibly grateful to Lee, Sally, Declan and Dewi for their ideas and input. We also had additional roles to ensure the performance went well: Sarah  was responsible for sound effects and lighting, Maria for narration and prompting, I was backstage assisting with costume changes and we all helped as stage hands.

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Gail Aldwin, Sarah Scally, Maria Pruden

 

It was a splendid collaborative effort by performers and writers, one that we plan to repeat in 2019 with further comedy sketches.

Thanks to Peter Roe of Wessex Media for the fabulous photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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