the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Crazy few days

We rushed back from Bidibidi refugee settlement to the main town in Yumbe, Uganda on Wednesday 18 March to listen to President Museveni’s address. It had been a busy day  at the settlement where I delivered activities to parents of village 15 and 13. The sessions were particularly enjoyable. I distributed loops of string so that we could share string figures. The purpose was to allow refugee parents to reconnect with their cultural traditions in order to build psychosocial wellbeing. I also taught the English string figure ‘cup of tea’ so that we could reflect on the challenges of undertaking new learning for adults and for young children.  It isn’t easy teaching a string figure to a group of over one hundred participants so I relied on parents who grasped the process quickly to be able to help others. The session was an amazing success. Discussion focused on how we learn best and we talked about observing demonstrations, listening to instructions, following illustrated guidance contained in handouts, having one-to-one support and how moving our muscles can help us to learn. We then related this to children’s learning and how parents can best support learning in the home. Women in the group ululated when participants showed string figures they knew and I felt everyone went away from the session having learnt something. I had four further sessions to deliver that week, so I was looking forward to more positive experiences, but first we needed to know what President Museveni had planned in response to Covid19.

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There was the usual power shortage in Yumbe, so my colleagues and I went to a cafe with solar power in order to watch the address on television. The restrictions announced weren’t exactly a surprise, but the email I received during the speech was. My flight home had already been brought forward from 2 April to 26 March and now there was new advice from VSO Uganda to take the Emirates flight to Gatwick leaving on 20 March. That meant I had to start packing for departure to Kampala the next morning in order to catch the flight the following day.

So that’s what happened. Yumbe to Kampala is over 600km and the road is unsealed for the first part of the journey. I said goodbye to my colleagues at the office in the morning, then set off.

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I arrived in Kampala at 8pm, just in time to grab some dinner at the hotel then head off to bed. I got up early the following morning to complete a couple of reports and finish my work. One of the achievements of my placement involved collecting information on young children with disabilities living in the seven villages with Early Childhood Care and Education centres in Zone 3. With the database complete, I shared it with other NGOs to allow staff to follow up with medical and/or educational assessments. A replacement for my role at Bidibidi has been appointed and the database will also be useful to offer targeted provision to children and families in need of psychosocial support and parenting help.

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A new way to plan your fictional stories

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A sunny morning in Stockholm

I came away from the Stockholm Writers Festival in May with some fabulous new approaches to writing fiction that I’d like to share with you. The techniques I describe are suitable for use in flash fiction, short stories and longer work. This post draws from separate workshop sessions I attended which were delivered by Jessie Lourey and Cassie Gonzales:

  • Jessie focused on using life experiences to fuel fictional writing. She recommends mining your life story to identify powerful emotions that can be invested into your characters. We’ve all experienced fear, power, joy etc and it’s by connecting with the emotions and writing them into your character’s story arc that it’s possible to create very effective fiction.
  • Cassie Gonsalez shared her approach to creating layered stories by using dialogue which is more than just expository. By thinking about the said, the unsaid and the unsayable, it’s possible to develop narratives that suggest a bigger story than simply the words on the page.

Applying the learning:

Years ago, I had coffee with a woman who told me a story about being terrified of storms. To prevent this fear being passed to her children, whenever there was a storm, she opened the curtains and gathered her children to admire the thunder and lightening while all the time she stood rigid and blinked back fear. I decided to use this as an idea for a story but because I’m not afraid of storms, I drew upon Jessie’s advice to identify an occasion when I was truly petrified and I remembered the time muggers set upon me. With these emotions captured, I then turned to Cassie’s advice.

Cassie shared a visual she had developed to analyse how dialogue works in fiction between two characters with a focus on the said, the unsaid and the unsayable. The idea here is to complete the model by identifying the emotions underneath the interactions between two characters in considering their wants, needs, loves and fears. (I added the word ‘theme’ to the grid where Cassie has used the term ‘third thing’.)

 

wants needs loves fears
Character 1  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character 2  

 

 

 

 

 

theme unsaid unsayable

Rather than share the stories we analysed in the workshop, I’ll present how I used Cassie’s model as a planning grid to support the writing of a flash fiction piece, Chink, which has been published by Cabinet of Heed, issue 22.

 

Theme: empowerment

wants needs loves fears
Kate

 

courage

 

to be free

 

independence

 

being alone

 

Robert

 

possession of his wife to be in control power being alone
theme unsaid unsayable

 

The grid is a little difficult to explain without reading the story, so I suggest you read the two in conjunction to see if what I’ve mapped out fits with your understanding of the story.

Chink

A navy sky extinguishes the day. Sitting on the balcony, Kate reflects upon her laziness. No excursions to the volcano for Kate, just a sunbed, a pile of paperbacks and the company of Robert. Still wearing his shorts, Robert stretches his legs then scratches a mosquito bite on his knee. Kate is cool in her strappy dress. She reaches for the tumbler, drains the contents then crunches a sliver of ice.

‘One more before we go down for dinner?’ he asks.

 But he’s not even dressed. Hasn’t yet had a shower.

‘No thank you,’ she says. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Good.’ He sits back in his chair.

What now? She waits. Irritation makes her skin prick.

‘Are you going to have steak again tonight?’ she asks.

‘Think I’ll ask for it blue this time.’

Yes, so raw it’s almost mooing.

From behind the mountains comes a rumble. Although Kate knows these steamy days can lead to storms, she hopes she’s wrong. Holding her breath, she clutches the armrests and counts. A flash comes before she’s reached number eight. She’s rigid in the chair but Robert gets up for a better look.

‘It’s coming this way.’ His voice is gleeful and he cocks his head. Doesn’t he know it’s ridiculous to swagger in flip-flops?

‘I’ll get inside.’ Kate reaches for her bag but when she turns, Robert is blocking the doorway.

‘Surely by now you can face it.’

She hesitates. Does he know what she’s thinking? What she’s planning? Of course not! Robert means the lightening.

‘Let me pass,’ she says.

‘No.’ He grabs her shoulders and manoeuvres her for a better view. Kate closes her eyes, resists his pinching grip.

‘There’s no point in struggling,’ he says. ‘You can’t be scared all your life.’

Kate breathes through her mouth, takes comfort from the steady pumping of her heart, listens to the gushes from her lungs. The crack and the searing light skewer her to the spot but she controls the trembling.

‘See, it’s not so difficult, is it?’

When the thunder comes again, she’s ready. This time with eyes wide open she waits for the crack and watches the chink of light brighten the gloom. A path to her future is illuminated. She can do it. She really can.

It is by using Cassie’s grid that I was able to indentify the theme of the story as empowerment. Rather than the storm diminishing Kate, by facing it, she is able to also face an independent future. It is ironic that Robert assists her in this journey by forcing her to watch the storm.

I hope this post is of use to you in your writing. If you’d care to comment, I’d love to hear what you think. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet voted for The String Games in The People’s Book Prize, please pop over to the website. All you have to do is scroll down to add your details, tick the newsletter box then press submit. It’ll only take two minutes to complete but I will be forever grateful!

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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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