the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Excitement is building…

for the release of The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell

At two o’clock this afternoon Bloodhound Books officially revealed the cover of my new novel The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell. Doesn’t it look splendid? The pumps and tote bag give a distinctly 1970s vibe to the mystery while the rest of the branding suits the psychological suspense elements. To be honest, it’s a relief to have this off my desk and going out into the world in less than 4 weeks. The final stages of bringing a novel to publication is a mixture of joy and panic. Release day is Monday 3 July but if you’d like to get your UK copy organised early, here’s a Kindle pre-order link. (The paperback version should be available shortly.) My thanks go to Suzanne Goldring, Joanna Barnard and Jacquelyn Mitchard for the endorsements.

An enthusiastic early reader has posted a five-star review on Goodreads. It’s a real shot in the arm when someone who’s read my previous books says The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell is her favourite to date.

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Welcome to Maria McDonald, author of The Devil’s Own

Maria and I are both published by the leading independent fiction publisher Bloodhound Books. On signing my contract, I was encouraged to interact with other Bloodhound Books authors through a private Facebook group. This was where Maria and I met and we’ve taken this connection to a new level through this interview. I’m sure you’ll find Maria’s writing journey inspiring and her debut novel a sinister yet fascinating story. Here’s the blurb for The Devil’s Own.

A set of century-old diaries found in an attic draws an Irish couple into a tale of murder and madness, in this absorbing new suspense.

After forty years in the Irish army, Brian is looking forward to retiring and spending time with his wife—though he worries about adjusting to civilian life. While clearing the attic before they move house, he makes a discovery: three journals dating back to the early twentieth century.

One was written by Arthur, an ex-Connaught Ranger; another by Arthur’s wife, Edith, a colonel’s daughter; and the third by Henry, a British soldier and Arthur’s best friend.

Brian and his wife are soon engrossed in reading the diaries and following the intertwined stories of these three people from the past. But it soon becomes chillingly clear that these diaries contain more than the daily adventures of ordinary lives. Because one of the three is a killer . . .

Thank you, Maria, for joining me on The Writer is a Lonely Hunter and agreeing to answer the questions that struck me while reading your impressive debut novel.

What steps brought you to write The Devil’s Own?

The gem of the idea for this book has been lying dormant in the back of my mind since I first saw the Curragh Camp, way back in 1978. I was working, waitressing with my mother at a dinner dance in one of the messes. My career as a waitress was very short-lived! During a break over a cup of tea, we got talking to the army chef about the building we were in, the history of the camp and the general consensus on the night – if only walls could talk.

Little did I know I would end up living in the camp, albeit for a short time around 1993. The Curragh is filled with history, going back to the days of British rule. My husband was born in the Curragh, grew up there. At one stage it had a vibrant community, completely self-contained. I was fascinated by the stories I heard from his family and our friends about the people who lived in the camp. I didn’t write them down at the time. It would take another forty years for that first spark of an idea to come to fruition.

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How true crime podcasts inspired ‘The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell’ a psychological suspense mystery

In December 2022, Chris Dawson, a former PE teacher and rugby league star was sentenced to 24 years in prison by the New South Wales Supreme Court in Australia for the murder of his wife decades earlier. Although Lynette’s body has never been found, The Teacher’s Pet podcast shone a light on Chris Dawson’s sordid affair with a pupil from the school where he worked, the obsession with her that followed, and the disappearance of his wife. Release of the podcast hosted by Hedley Thomas in 2018 finally persuaded police to reinvestigate the case and charges were brought. 

I became hooked on true crime podcasts in early 2020. At the time, I was living in a remote town in the north west of Uganda and volunteering at a nearby refugee settlement. The power supply was very unreliable and cuts happened most evenings at eight o’clock. With no light to read by, I was often in bed and under my mosquito net around the same time. The nights were long and hot so I spent many hours listening to the podcasts I’d downloaded at a local hotel. I developed a fascination for crime stories from around the world but it was the series podcasts that allowed me to tune into the twists and turns that created crucial listening. It occurred to me I could learn something from the way podcasts were put together that could inform the plotting of my own fictional writing. 

Prior to leaving for Uganda, I had established a regular writing routine which meant getting up early to focus on a writing project before the working day started. I hoped to continue this routine while living overseas but the demands of volunteering on the settlement and the inconsistent electricity supply put an end to that ambition. Power in the town kicked in for about 40 minutes at seven in the morning, and at that time there was always a rush to prepare for the day ahead where I worked with colleagues to improve the social and emotional wellbeing of refugee families fleeing conflict in South Sudan. It was challenging and rewarding work which left little headspace for creativity. Instead, I became absorbed in the refugee stories I collected as part of my work, and the podcasts I listened to each evening. With a wealth of material stored away, I was empowered to write again following repatriation to my home in Dorset, UK due to Covid-19. 

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Interview with Barbara Conrey

It is my pleasure to welcome Barbara Conrey to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter once again. We first met online in 2021 when she was kind enough to answer questions about her debut novel Nowhere Near Goodbye. (You can find the piece here.) She now has a splendid second novel released with the evocative title My Secret to Keep. This fascinating story made me wonder about Barbara’s writing process which she explains in this author interview. But first, here is some information about the novel:

When Maggie Bryan works up the nerve to tell her parents she’s pregnant, they immediately disown her. Later that night, her boyfriend is killed. In desperation, she turns to her brother, Sam. Against his wife’s wishes, Sam brings Maggie to his home in rural Pennsylvania.

While Maggie awaits the birth of her child and navigates the tension in her new home, she decides to finish high school. There, she meets Anne Phillips, a volunteer educator and full-time architect. Over time, Maggie becomes drawn to Anne in ways she doesn’t understand, but she knows enough to keep her feelings hidden.

After a devastating loss, Maggie tries to move on, but secrets and betrayals keep her from living her fullest life. Beginning in the late 1940s and spanning decades, My Secret to Keep portrays a woman at war with society, her family, and herself.

And now to the questions:

How much planning was involved in writing a novel that spans decades?

Writing a novel that spans decades is eerily similar to those blasted reading math problems when I was in grade school – and I wasn’t very good at them then, either. So there’s a lot of counting forwards and backward and practically using my fingers to ensure I’ve got my timelines right.

The blurb describes Maggie as a woman at war with society, her family, and herself. This so clearly describes the protagonist, and yet she achieves acceptance too. Did you know what would happen at the end of the novel when you started writing the book?

The ending of this book nearly did me in because Maggie only achieved acceptance, and by this, I mean accepting herself after she lost Anne. I was devastated.

You cleverly dovetailed the latter part of the novel with the story in your debut, Nowhere Near Goodbye. This gave me the chance to reconnect with Kate’s story. Was this your intention?

Most people don’t know that once Nowhere Near Goodbye was under contract, I had to rewrite a good half of the book. I had originally submitted it as a two-person point of view, with one being Emma and the other being Kate. My editor convinced me I could make a stronger story by changing to a single point of view, Emma’s.

So I had all this material. Some of it I used in Maggie’s character in Nowhere Near Goodbye; don’t forget, I had to rewrite a good part of the book, so I fleshed out Maggie’s role, and when I did that, Maggie became much more interesting. That’s when I started thinking about a prequel to Nowhere Near Goodbye to tell Maggie’s story.

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Latest events

It was International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March 2023, a global event which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As my contribution to the day, I joined a group of readers and writers at Bridport Library where there was a series of events including a writerly quiz, a lucky dip and talks by local writers. I was delighted to be interviewed by Sarah Scally who asked some searching questions about This Much Huxley Knows. Also on the programme was Nikki May who enjoyed phenomenal and rapid success with her novel Wahala, which tells the story of three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and a fourth woman who infiltrates their group. (I have the novel on order from Dorset Libraries and will watch out for the TV series coming on the BBC.) It was refreshing to hear about her writing journey where it took five years to become an overnight success.

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Self belief and Writing

I volunteer with the Women Writers Network and help to bring attention to women writers by managing the Twitter account for one week every couple of months. (It’s worth following the Twitter account where a writerly tweetchat is held on the third Thursday of each month at 6pm GMT. The next topic is Women Writers as Observers on 16 February 2023.) In order to engage with readers and writers, I frequently pose questions to develop connections and on one occasion came up with the following: how important is self-belief to writers? It was clear from the tweets that came back, many women writers think self-belief is highly important or even crucial to a writer. How else do writers develop the stamina and commitment to bring a project to its conclusion? The suggestion took me by surprise. Belief in the work had always been at the top of my list ­– the feeling that my stories are important and I’m the only one who came write them. But, I was forced to reflect. If self-belief is necessary for a writer, how do I get some?

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Cracking on with the writing

Ever since I received a publishing contract for my dual timeline mystery The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell, I’ve been slaving over a new manuscript. It seemed completely do-able to get this latest work-in-progress shipshape before the publication schedule for book number three arrives in 2023. In October, I had nothing near a complete draft. It seems to me I approach each new novel in a different way. For the current work, I kept losing the thread of what I was doing which made me turn back to the beginning and start again. During the early months, I wasn’t sure what the spine of the story was about. But I worked my way into it and discovered one of the themes to be coercive control. Phew! That was a relief. But writing has many layers and the next priority was to ensure the three viewpoint characters had distinct voices. This is when a little comedy crept in and I discovered one of the characters to be quite humorous. (As a rule of thumb, if the writing makes me chuckle, I assume others will find it funny too.)

I’ve worked as hard as I can to complete and edit the manuscript. The next stage involves sending it to five beta readers for feedback. During my last read through, I discovered I’d used the word with 655 times. That meant I needed to get the pruning sheers out and reduce the usage considerably. Other of my high frequency words include all, now and only. Thank goodness for the find and replace function.

I’m now settling into a few days away from writing. It’s my husband’s birthday today and with my adult children home for Christmas, we visited the I Grew Up in the 80s exhibition at Dorset Museum. We also treated ourselves to breakfast in the cafe. Here are a couple of photos:

Who remembers these? (The visit also acts as research for a story I’m developing set in the 1980s.)

I will be away from my computer for much the Christmas break. On 2 January, I’m heading off to Cambodia but I’ll be back in touch again afterwards. What plans do you have for the next few weeks?

Happy holidays everyone!


Navigating Technology as a Writer

I received an email recently enquiring about my skills at navigating technology as a writer. I was invited to share my favourite hacks and short cuts in using Microsoft Word. In answer to the question what’s your best technology tip? I recommend use of the read aloud function. I use a MacBook Air and it’s easy to set up this facility following these easy instructions. You can even choose the gender of your computer-generated voice. For Microsoft support click here.

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How to win a publishing contract

For anyone on Twitter, you may have come across online pitching events that encourage writers to compose a tweet using 280 characters to get their story under the eyes of literary agents and publishers. If the tweet is ‘liked’ there’s an opportunity to submit a query letter, synopsis of the work and the first three chapters for consideration. It’s a good way to bypass the slush pile and I’ve attracted some interest by honing my elevator pitch to the size of a tweet. In previous twitter pitches I’ve used the following to describe my latest novel (the words in capitals suggest comparable titles):


Menopausal journalist rediscovers her mojo by developing a true crime podcast about a missing West Country teenager in 1979. The dual timeline reveals the girl’s story of infatuation and exploitation with an unforgettable twist. 

Earlier this year, I saw another twitter pitch advertised by Bloodhound Books, a leading independent publisher based in Cambridge.

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A few developments in my writing life

I’m now getting back into a regular writing routine after a happy and very sociable summer. The winner of the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize was announced at a launch event on Tuesday and my congratulations go to Tess Burnett for her novel The Hanging of Hettie Gale. Tess wasn’t able to attend the prize giving but alongside the other shortlisted writer, Philip Beale, I hobnobbed with celebrated Dorset writers Tracy Chevalier and Minnette Walters. On hand to announce the winner was Kate Adie. Here’s a photo of me with co-director Paul Atterbury – you might recognise him from the Antiques Roadshow.

I’ve just be told that an interview I did with 10Radio back in March has been uploaded to SoundCloud. If you’d like to tune in and hear me chatting with Suzie Grogan about all things connected with writing This Much Huxley Knows, here’s the link.

Meanwhile, the publisher of my debut novel, Victorina Press, has been busy producing new graphics to market The String Games. I liked them so much, I thought I’d share them with you here:

That’s all my news for the minute. I look forward to catching up with you again soon.