the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

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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One-to-one with the Dorset Growth Hub

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I’ve just had a one-to-one session with digital specialist David Allison from the Dorset Growth Hub. We met at the Duchess of Cornwall in Poundbury to discuss ways to enhance my use of social media for marketing purposes. As a result, I have now taken advantage of the additional facilities on this WordPress blog including use of the poll below. When you have a minute, can you give me some feedback?

If you’re based in Dorset and need help to gain skills and confidence to market your  work as a writer, it’s worth getting in touch with the Dorset Growth Hub, to see how they can help you.

 

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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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The String Games has found a good home

I’m delighted to share the news that my contemporary novel The String Games has been accepted for publication by the lovely people at Victorina Press. It’s been a long journey to reach this point which has involved all sorts of creative and academic diversions. Little did I know that when I started writing the novel, I would end up being awarded a PhD in creative writing!

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The String Games tells the story of the abduction and murder of a boy from the viewpoint of his older sister. Rather than a crime novel, The String Games focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist, as she moves from childhood to the teenage years and into adulthood. This three-part structure is rather like a triptych in that it allows the protagonist to look back on her younger self and struggle to recognise the child she once was. It is by engaging with her personal history that Imogen is able to address issues of unresolved grief and integrate the loss of her brother.

Here is the opening page to prick your curiosity:

2013

An idea strikes. Imogen turns around on the stairs wanting to hurry back, but strangers stand like prongs. She battles through to reach the office where she jostles for projects and promotions. Heaving the door open, she sprints to her desk. Heads turn but Imogen ignores her colleagues. Her fingers slip on the keyboard and she has to retype the password. Breath churns from deep in her lungs and her heart beats like a hammer. Why didn’t she think of this before? Turning the screen, she doesn’t want anyone to see what’s she’s doing.It’s a private matter. While she waits for the homepage to load, she glances through the rain-stained window and onto the Thames. Water rucked like a crinkled cloth brings to mind a recurring image from her childhood. A little boy with wet hair shivers, wearing only his trunks. She wants to reach for him, press her arms around his shoulders, draw Josh into a hug. A big sister should keep her brother safe.

Typing his name will bring up the usual lilac lettering that tells Imogen she’s used the same search term time and again. Her stomach clenches and is knotted like a ball of string. Gathering confidence she enters the name of the girl she used to be into the search bar: Nim Mashard. Clasping her hands, she waits to see whether this will locate new information about Josh’s case.

The String Games will be published in May 2019 and I look forward to working with Victorina Press to make this novel the best it can be.

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Jessie Cahalin AKA Books in my Handbag

Jessie Cahalin is a prolific book blogger who is also a published author. I was delighted to read her recently published novel You Can’t Go It Alone which has received many four and five star reviews. Jessie kindly dedicates much support to other writers through her blog.  You can find my cover on Jessie’s very popular Handbag Gallery. Here you can click on any cover you fancy and the link takes you to further information about the book. Here’s a picture of what to expect:

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She hosts a Blogger’s Cafe, too. This works on the same principle as the Handbag Gallery but this time showcases the blogs of a range of authors.

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I’ve been fortunate to be interviewed on Jessie’s blog and she’s posted one of my stories. You can read both here. All Jessie’s posts are accompanied by wonderful images to compliment the text. The care Jessie takes in presentation makes it an absolute delight to appear on her blog.

To top all this, Jessie has just posted an outstanding review of Paisley Shirt. She’s taken prompts from my collection to write the review as a piece of flash fiction. This not only demonstrates her talents as a writer but is a wonderful tribute to my collection. I am absolutely thrilled and can’t thank Jessie enough.

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It’s well worth taking time to browse Jessie’s blog. It is a celebration of reading and writing where you’re bound to find something of interest.

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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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One Woman’s Struggle in Iran by Nasrin Parvaz

 

I was very interested to read this memoir particularly as I travelled through Iran in 1981 as part of an overland journey from London to Kathmandu. Just one year later, political activist Nasrin Parvaz and many other women were imprisoned by the Islamic state for demanding freedom and equality in Iran.

Nasrin and I are roughly the same age. I was twenty when I set out on my travels, she was arrested by the regime’s secret police at the age of twenty-one. My journey was one of culture and learning, hers was of torture, deprivation and hardship. But before I share my thoughts about Nasrin’s memoir, let me describe the situation for me at the time.

It was on 20 January 1981 that fifty-two American hostages were released from the US Embassy in Tehran. They had been held for 444 days by a group of Iranian college students who supported the Iranian Revolution which overthrew the Shah.  None of our group of travellers held American passports but it was impossible to obtain transit visas in London, so we were advised to apply for them once in Paris. Again, no visas were issued. Without the ability to proceed through Iran, our journey would be curtailed. It was then decided that all passengers from the two buses travelling in convoy would hand our passports over to Doug, the bus company’s courier. We all chipped in to cover the cost of his flight to Delhi where visas we issued to us all. 

Nasrin, a member of a socialist party was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the Iranian regime’s secret police in 1982. She spent eight years in jail where she endured physical and mental torture and periods of solitary confinement. She was denied medical treatment and kept under the threat of execution. Throughout, she refused to recant and confess to charges against her as an infidel.

In order to drive through Iran, a revolutionary guard travelled on board the lead bus and directed the driver to pass through Tehran. Here people were friendly and waved to us through the windows. In country areas whenever our bus parked it was ambushed by angry mobs. They thought we were Americans. They pounded and rocked the bus until we moved on. It was only possible to go outside safely in unpopulated areas. This included climbing the desert lighthouse near Bam in Southern Iran.

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Although travelling through Iran was dangerous and scary, many of the places on our journey were remote and beautiful. These experiences contrast drastically with those of Nasrin, who was forced to wear a blindfold and chador in captivity.  She suffered numerous interrogations and episodes of torture but never gave away information relating to her comrades. In one of the most chilling descriptions of intimidation, the women were forced to sit in constructions that represented their own graves and not allowed to move. From Nasrim’s memoir, it seems that friendships  developed in prison enabled her to survive and glimpses of sky and other small gifts of nature brought joy.

Nasrin gives a frank account of her time in Iran’s prison system which has opened my eyes to the extremes that can be endured and overcome. It is a testament to her resilience and that of others who remained resolute and refused to recant their beliefs. Nasrin survived and I celebrate her ability to share these experiences from which we can all learn. I recommend this memoir to you.

I received an advance copy of One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, a prison memoir from Victorina Press to inform this post. The memoir is available to pre-order from Victorina Press and Waterstones.

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Big Heads and Others

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Really pleased to see Big Heads and Others an evening of comedy sketches co-written by Sarah Scally, Maria Pruden and me in the autumn brochure for the Bridport Arts Centre. The show will take you on a journey from the topical and tropical to the meticulous and ridiculous. Do come along if you’re in the area. It is being staged on Thursday 8 November 2018 at 7.30pm. For tickets click here.

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