the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

sneak preview: pan de mo nium

I’ve been working on a children’s picture book for a very long time indeed. The idea for pan de mo nium came when I was teaching a module of writing for children to undergraduates at the University of South Wales in 2015. We were looking at some features of anthropomorphism, where animals have human characteristics, and I shared examples where this technique was used to explore danger vicariously and therefore safely. Students joined the discussion before going slightly off task and started chatting about cute red pandas.

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Red pandas are found in the mountains of Nepal, northern Myanmar and central China. These animals spend most of their lives in trees.

I spent a long time wondering what the relationship would be like between a giant panda and a red panda living in central China. I started thinking about what it would be like to be part of the same family but look totally different. (Although in fact red pandas are not related to giant pandas). Could these thoughts be explored through anthropomorphism? Would it be possible for a cute and cuddly character to experience tensions around not fitting in?  I began to wonder if the issue of identity could be explored through children’s fiction by creating a purple panda.

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In Pan de mo nium Peta lives in a department store where her purple colour offers camouflage. She gets up to all sorts of mischief but when she’s spotted, the shop assistant puts an end to her tricks.  What can Peta do to become a cheeky panda once again?

Here’s a sneak preview of a scene from inside the book.  I love the colour palate that Fiona Zechmeister has cleverly used here.

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E-volunteering and working as an author

Now that I’ve returned to the UK from my VSO volunteer placement at Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda, I’m getting back into the swing of my writing life. You can read about how I am collaborating with illustrator Fiona Zechmeister on a children’s picture book called Pan-de-mo-nium here. But I’m not yet willing to relinquish my experiences in Uganda, so I’m very pleased to share the news that I’ve been appointed as a Psychosocial Support and Emotional Learning Expert E-volunteer. This appointment followed an online application and interview. I have a job description and an E-volunteer agreement which last six months and is renewable. I am very impressed with the thorough application process and the support offered by VSO in my new role. I’m also finding this work dovetails very well with my current writing project.

As part of my E-volunteer responsibilities, I’ll co-ordinate a task group with a focus on mental health, psychosocial support and emotional learning to help children and families in the poorest countries. Proposed work includes adapting advice material for parents to support the emotional wellbeing of young children during the Covid 19 lockdown. Already there is very relevant material published to support parenting, please see an example poster below:

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There are six posters altogether covering issues such as managing behaviour and providing structure for children during the Covid 19 lockdown. Click here to access these in a worldwide range of languages.

I’m also part of a storytelling task group and from my experience as an author of a children’s picture book, I hope to contribute fully.

During the Covid 19 restrictions, there are challenges in terms of coping with lockdown but also opportunities in extending virtual support to others. It’s a time of working out what’s important as an individual, as a family member and as part of a wider community.

How have you found Covid 19 has affected your outlook?

 

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Collaboration: writing and illustrating

I’ve been busy this week working with illustrator Fiona Zechmiester on a children’s picture book which has the working title ‘pan-de-mo-nim’. The main character is a purple panda called Peta. Because of her colouring, Peta is camouflaged and she causes chaos at her home in a department store. When one of the shop assistants notices she’s up to no good, Peta is made to look like all the other pandas which puts an end to her tricks. How can Peta become a cheeky panda again?

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Early sketches and exploration of colour

Fiona lives in Austria but studied in the UK and was awarded an MA in publishing from the University of Derby.  She works on a freelance basis and has been appointed by Victorina Press to illustrate my book which targets three-to-eight-year-old children. In Fiona’s work, the process of illustrating animals begins with a study of anatomy.

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Fiona’s research sketches

She then looks at details of a panda that are relevant to the story. Fiona has experience of using many different mediums for her illustrations but the story behind the picture is the guiding principle of the work.

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Fiona’s research sketches

As the illustrations have developed, I’ve redrafted the story and together Fiona and I decided on fonts and sizes for the text on different pages in the book. As much of my time as a writer involves working alone, this opportunity to work in collaboration has been a fantastic experience. I’ll be posting further illustrations as the picture book gets closer to publication with Victorina Press.

I previously worked with Fiona to design the cover of my debut novel The String Games. This cover won a finalist badge in the International Book Awards 2019. Voting is currently open at The People’s Book Prize where The String Games is a finalist in the fiction category 2020. Please pop over to the website and give my novel your support so that The String Games has a chance to receive further recognition in this prestigious competition. (If you voted in the earlier round, thank you, please vote again now the novel is a finalist.)

tsg final cover image for use on_web

 

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Off again …

I’ve been advised that following publication, there are six months to promote a debut novel to maximum effect. So, I’ve been getting out and about with The String Games by offering input at Dorset literary festivals, including the BridLitFest where I shared a platform with Maria Donovan and Rosanna Ley.

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(I’m also at the forthcoming inaugural Blandford Literary Festival at the end of November.)

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I’ve given talks with Dorset Libraries (love a public library) in Dorchester, Poole, Wareham and Creekmoor. An author event in Wellington Library was a good excuse to spend a weekend in Shropshire and meet up with an old friend. There have been talks for ladies’ groups, workshops with writers, public readings and even performances (one in Loughborough and the other at Scratch & Spit in Bridport). The String Games won an award for its cover design and is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize (voting for the winners commences in March 2020). Phew! I hope I’ve used my six months wisely.

As this period comes to an end, I’ve decided to refocus and use my experience of working with children and families to volunteer with VSO  at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. I’m heading off at the beginning of December for four months to support enrolment of girls and children with disabilities in Early Childhood Care and Education as these groups are currently under represented. Uganda has a progressive policy in supporting refugees fleeing the civil war in South Sudan. Families are given a plot of land on which to build a house and grow produce. There is access to health services, adults can work and children are offered places in schools. After several years of working with refugee families in London, I’m excited to have this opportunity. But it doesn’t mean a hiatus in blogging and writing. On the contrary, I hope this experience will generate new and important work.

Indeed, writing plans for later in 2020 are already taking shape. I’ll be at the Stockholm Writers Festival sharing my experiences as a debut novelist in May. This is a wonderful event for new and emerging writers in a great city.  And I’ll be delivering a talk and a workshop at the Mani Lit Fest in October where reading and writing are celebrated at a town near to the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor. My children’s picture book Pan-de-mo-nium is currently with illustrator Fiona Zeichmeister and will be released next year.  The contemporary novel I’ve been working This Much Huxley Knows is nearing completion.

Watch out for post from Uganda in the coming months. David is incredibly supportive and is 100% behind me. I’m very lucky to be married to him!

 

 

 

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An interview with Fiona Murphy

Profile pictureToday, I’m delighted to introduce Fiona Murphy. She’s an enthusiastic writer, full of intriguing ideas and stories and she’s always keen to make children and parents laugh. She lives in Weymouth with her husband and grown up children. After losing her job she dug out the poetry she had written for her children when they were younger. It was always a dream to get them illustrated and published, but back in the 90s this proved difficult. With the help of social media and the internet she managed to achieve this and while battling with illness, her dream came true. She hopes to continue writing for children and is looking for an agent. Fiona’s collection of children’s poetry titled Down the Plughole is illustrated by Michelle Last and published by Poetry Space.

·            Tell us about your writing journey

I wrote stories for my children when they were young and I’d read them aloud. My children and their friends loved to hear these stories and people said I should try to get them published.  Instead, I kept them in a drawer and many years later, when ill-health meant I couldn’t work any longer, I revisited the stories. I wondered if I could work as a writer.  I had a lot of time to think when I was ill, about my life and where it would go. I wanted to work, I’d had a job since I was fifteen, so during an interview at the job centre, I asked if they’d pay for me to do a writing course and eventually they agreed to cover half the fee.  The course taught me how to put articles together and approach publishers.  I returned to my children’s poetry and thought I could develop that.

  • What inspires you to write now?

I like to come up with characters that make children laugh.  I’m always thinking about new characters and the ideas come from chance remarks, comments, anything from everyday life.  It’s like a seed being planted in my head that gets me thinking.  I like to try out some of the ideas on kids and they tell me whether they like them or not.

·            How did you find an illustrator to turn your children’s poetry into a picture book?

Fiona (illustrated by Michelle Last)

I went to a Facebook page called Writing and Illustrating for Kids and typed a comment saying that I’d written children’s poems and asked if anyone was interested in working with me.  I got two replies and decided to approach Michelle Last, who lives in Leicester.  I loved the quirkiness of her illustrations and the simplicity of the way she draws – it’s quite unique and very suitable for young children.  We each signed a non-disclosure agreement and I sent her examples of my writing.  She illustrated a couple of poems and sent me other drawings. I thought about poems I could write to complement her style.  I wrote some poems in response to her drawings about witches and pirates.  Other poems came from ideas prompted by family and friends.  We worked via email and Facebook until we had a complete book. Then, we met at the Tate Modern in London in March 2011. We made plans to get published, looked at children’s books in the shop and talked about future projects.   I researched publishers of children’s poetry who accepted unsolicited manuscripts and sent off samples of our work.  Michelle did the front cover, and I set up a Facebook page. I built a following on Twitter and came in contact with Sue Simms of Poetry Space. I knew Poetry Space was based in Bristol and sent her an email. She asked to see the book and when I didn’t hear back, I sent a chaser.  A little later she replied saying she wanted to publish Down the Plughole. It turned out that she loved the book and hadn’t got back to me because she’d been on holiday. We signed a contract with Sue and I began to learn more about publishing and layout. I did more work and found out how to add borders and further images. I tried to make the book as attractive as possible for children.

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