the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Two authors and a facebook group

Author M J Keeley and I met on the Black Rose Authors Facebook group. This is provided by our American publisher to link authors for information sharing purposes. Matthew’s debut Turning the Hourglass was published with Black Rose Writing in 2019 and my second novel This Much Huxley Knows will be published in 2021. When we discovered we were both UK writers published overseas, we wondered if there were other experiences we had in common. This joint post from Matthew and I suggests there are many different ways into writing. 

Why do you write?

Matthew says:

I’ve always had a love of telling stories – because I love reading stories, I think. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve captured someone’s attention and lured them into a plot or a character. I’m an English teacher and, although I don’t usually write for children myself, it’s great to see an entire room of young people fixated when you’re reading a story aloud. To be a writer who can achieve that is something I always aim for. Writing is also something I’ve had to hone over years of practice (and will continue doing!) so there’s a sense of pride in knowing I have a talent that it’s taken me hard work to sharpen.

Gail says:

As humans I think we all need a creative outlet. For others it may be cooking or gardening or painting but for me it’s all about writing. I find the whole process absorbing: from the terror of a blank page to the gruelling process of getting a first draft down. The drafting and redrafting brings joy. I love the way stories become nuanced and layered with more detail and crafting applied. I find nailing the plot the biggest challenge and when it’s done, this brings the greatest satisfaction.

What writing support do you have access to online or in person? Any tips for resources for other writers?

Matthew says:

I subscribe to Writing Magazine and find it really useful – particularly the Writers’ News section. I think almost everything I’ve had published was through a submission call I found there. I’ve recently started using the Story Origin website too. It takes a bit of figuring out but it’s been a really helpful tool in gaining more newsletter subscribers and forming an advance review team for my new novel. Over the years I’ve also befriended other authors online, mostly through beta reading swaps. It’s been really helpful just to have some support through the writing process and to be able to talk through your frustrations with other authors!

Gail says:

I’m a member of a comedy sketch writing group called 3-She and we draft our material on a website called WritersDuet which allows us to work on one document simultaneously. Accompanying discussion takes place on a WhatsApp group call. This approach continued while I volunteered at Bidibidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. It’s wonderful to be able to stay in contact with creative friends from even the most remote locations. When I was repatriated due to Covid-19, I initiated online support with other writing groups for feedback and sharing of short stories and novel excerpts. I also belong to Writers Abroad, an online support group for writers living overseas where updates on writing opportunities and competitions are shared. Although this group has now closed, a few of us are working together to create a new forum.

How do you find time for writing?

Matthew says:

With great difficulty! As a full time teacher it’s tough, particularly during term time. If I manage to write anything on a weeknight I consider that a success. So most of my writing is done at weekends and during school holidays. It took me over five years to write each of my first two novels and that seems to be a lot compared to most other writers, but I managed it nonetheless. I don’t have children though, so I have no idea how writers with families fit it all in!

Gail says:

After ten years of shoehorning my writing into a scheduled of paid employment, I now write full time. Because I sleep badly, I’m often at my computer in the middle of the night. This is very bad sleep hygiene, but when I’m lying in bed with ideas flying around, it seems a wasted opportunity not to get them down. 

What is one of the most important things you’ve come to learn about writing?

Matthew says:

Not to over-write. I think when we begin ‘properly’ writing we have this illusion that writing means using as many adjectives as possible and filling every sentence with intense detail and figurative language – I did anyway. It’s taken me a long time to learn the art of editing and simplicity. Reading Stephen King’s On Writing was really helpful. He talks about the ‘invisibility’ of writing and how language that draws too much attention to itself can end up being a distraction. Now I really strive to write fluidly without over-complication that pulls the reader out of the moment. A lot of that has involved ditching redundant adverbs (and any redundant words really!), unnecessary speech tags, and passive voice.

Gail says:

Don’t expect the first draft to be any good. I’ve heard authors say writing is like moulding a piece of clay. You have to keep working at it until the pot is shaped and smoothed and ready for firing. The trouble with writing is you have to make the clay as well! From initial idea to final product is a long journey. To sustain me through the rigours of writing, I’ve learnt to enjoy every stage of the process. 

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Writing prize longlist announced

Imagine my delight when I received an email saying The String Games has been longlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Local Writing Prize. This is fabulous news as it means my novel is recognised in my home county of Dorset. An announcement on Facebook gives details of the five other longlistees. It’s such fun to find myself in the great company of three writers I know and respect. They are Helen Baggott, author of Posted in the Past, Cathie Hartigan author of Notes from the Lost (Cathie was also shortlisted in 2018 competition with her debut novel) and Brent Shore author of Blessed are the Meek. The two other authors are A K Biggins author of Losing Jane and Vivienne Endecott  author of Exploring Englishness.

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Anticipating Bidibidi and Yumbe

I arrived in Uganda on 7 December and in all the time since I’ve been anticipating what it will be like on placement with VSO at the Bidibidi refugee settlement near Yumbe. Whenever, I told anyone I was heading to Yumbe the response was invariably the same. A little sigh and a rubbing of my shoulder followed. One can interpret this in many ways. What I already knew about the area is that it’s been under-resourced for decades and that it’s fairly remote from any large centre. The people I spoke with also offered two other pieces of information about Yumbe:

  • it’s very hot
  • the road is very bad

Although I’ve undertaken further research about the area and the settlement, it’s difficult to imagine what it will actually be like to live and volunteer there. So, I’d like to share with you my first impressions of Yumbe and will fill you in with details about Bidibidi as I get to know the place. However, this won’t be for another couple of days. My scheduled departure for placement was postponed yesterday. I arrived at the office ready to load the vehicle with furnishings for my rented house and pile in my suitcases. Only the car wasn’t in the office compound. It was at the garage and hadn’t yet been fixed. It’s likely that I’ll now leave on Wednesday instead. So now I’m back at Sjarlot’s house and waiting … anticipating Bidibidi and Yumbe.

In the meantime, I have writing to complete. I’m working on a new comedy sketch show as part of 3-She. We’re hoping to get this staged in Dorset sometime in the autumn. WhatsApp video calling allows me to collaborate with my fellow writers Maria Pruden and Sarah Scally. During a recent video call the dogs in the compound were barking so much that the sound carried and unsettled Maria’s cat. Amazing that dogs in Uganda can make a Dorset cat arch its back!

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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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Fashion as an inspiration for writing

The Wimborne Writing Group went on a summer outing this week to the Blandford Fashion Museum. Tucked away behind the market square in a delightful Georgian house, the fashion collection of the founder, Mrs Betty Penny, forms the basis of the displays. I loved looking at garments from the 1960s and 1970s and remembered owning dresses with Laura Ashley flower prints. My favourite exhibit was a mini dress and hot pants set made from lime green cotton with white trim. It was sleeveless with off centre decorative lacing on the skirt in matching white cotton.

Sarah Barr  who leads the  Wimborne Writing Group, provided some prompts for writing as we browsed the displays. She suggested we find an outfit we liked and to imagine:

  • who the owner would have been
  • what they were like
  • their name, age and occupation

Why don’t you have a go at writing a short piece of prose by using Sarah’s prompts and applying them to this lovely exhibit?

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1960s Mini Dress and Hot Pants Set

Get in touch if you’re willing to share your story.

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The calm after the storm

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Having seen the waves crashing over Porthleven on the television, we decided to make a visit to the fishing port near Helston during our weekend in Cornwall. The sun shone and everything was very calm when we arrived. Porthleven’s most recognisible building the Bickford-Smith Institute with its 70 foot tower had sustained only a few broken windows that were boarded.

Here’s another photo showing a very calm sea.

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Now, at the end of the half term break and the weather is looking up again.

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Update: Bookshops in Dorset

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Following my tour of independent bookshops a few years ago, I thought it was time for an update.  I’ve honoured each bookshop with a ‘best of’ category, hoping this might tempt you to visit.

Best of bookshops for atmosphere: Serendip, Lyme Regis

Situated in the seaside town, this bookshop is a must for all visitors.  Once inside, the atmosphere tempts you to linger, with great lighting and eclectic background music.  Step further into the shop and you’ll find seating for comfortable book-browsing.

Best of bookshops for location: The Book Shop, Bridport

 

 

Directly opposite Buckey Doo Square, where the weekly market sprawls across the pavement, you’ll find Book Shop. Right at the heart of the town, Book Shop does what it says on the sign, sells books to customers in a knowledgable, straightforward and efficient manner.

Best of bookshops with a bonus: Winstone’s, Sherborne

This is one of the largest bookshops I’ve come across, double fronted with a generous children’s section. The shop is easy to navigate and has staff on hand to answer queries. As a bonus, Winstone’s also sells  delicious coffee.

Best of bookshops with friendly staff: Gullivers, Wimborne Minster

Close to the Minster, Gullivers is a family run business, committed to community involvement. The staff are enthusiastic about their role in promoting reading with families and children and organise book-related events such as the Wimborne Literary Festival.

Best of bookshops for quirky stock: Black Pug Books, Wimborne Minster

This bookshop sells ‘loved and used books’ and is well worth a visit.  Occupying the front room of Victoria Sturgess’s house, you’ll soon feel at home there, poring over the shelves.

Best of Bookshop I’m planning to visit: Westbourne Book Shop, Bournemouth

Owned by the Angel family who also run Gullivers in Wimborne, this shop provides a good excuse to visit Bournemouth (as if you need one). There’s also the Westbourne Book Binge to look forward to in 2018.

Best of Dorchester: Waterstones

Staff at Waterstones in Dorchester are amazingly helpful and the manager, Jan Jaggard, is generous in supporting workshops delivered by the Dorset Writers’ Network.  There will be a flash fiction workshop hosted at Waterstones on 13 May 2018. Click here for more details.

With all these shops selling a range of high quality literature, it’s no wonder the county is full of people interested in books, reading and writing.

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