the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

The String Games: words and images

Following my earlier posts about the images that illustrate each of the three different parts to my debut novel The String Games, I’ve decided to post them all here to give a sense of the work that has gone into creating them. The novel acts as a coming-of-age story and shares the growing up experiences of the protagonist as she struggles to come to terms with the abduction and murder of her younger brother. Fiona Zeichmeister has cleverly demonstrated the growth of a child through the stages of development in these pictures: from child to teenager and the as an adult.

 

 

 

Together with the cover, I am absolutely delighted with these images.

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My publisher, Victorina Press, has also arranged for The String Games bookmarks to be produced. Here is the image that illustrates them:

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I have used to back cover design to create a poster to promote a blog tour which begins on the 20 May and which will offer reviews of The String Games by some notable book bloggers. Indeed, there is already one review posted on Goodreads to give you a taster of the novel.

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The run up to publication day is an exciting time. If you would like to pre-order a copy of The String Games, you can do so at Victorina Press, Foyles or Waterstones.

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Launch for ‘adversaries/comrades’

It’s over a week ago that the launch for my debut poetry pamphlet was held at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. The bookshop is a splendid venue for such a occasion and I was pleased to welcome readers, poets, family and friends to the launch.

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The evening started with mingling, drinks and canapés.

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Next there was a Q & A where Sophie my publisher at Wordsmith_HQ posed a range of questions and following this I shared some of my poems from adversaries/comrades.

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Magdalena Atkinson, my former colleague from Dorset County Council, played some exquisite songs to accompany the theme of siblings which informed my poetry pamphlet.

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This is the official photo to mark the end of the formal proceedings with Sophie and me in the foreground.

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The evening finished with more mingling.

Writing is a strange occupation but it does follow a pattern. First you spend hours working away, improving your writing process and practice. Some of us are fortunate to have our work valued by a publisher who agrees to launch the product. Others have self-belief and publish as indies to enable their work to reach an audience. Whatever route is taken, it’s important to celebrate the publication with an event so that the written product is given a public presentation.

adversaries/comrades has received some wonderful reviews from poets I admire:

Gail Aldwin’s pamphlet, adversaries/comrades, shows us a family world of dodgy deals, discord and sibling rivalry; and love. No family member is exempt; conflict is a fact of family life. Extraordinary, though, is the lack of cynicism showing through the emotion. This is honest, and above all witty, alive with imagery and very moving.

Amanda Oosthuizen, poetry publisher at Words for the Wild

 

This engaging collection of poems draws the reader into moments many of us recognise from family life. They reveal a clarity of vision and memory when put under the poet’s microscope…There is a sense of delight in the choosing of each word of this assured collection.

Alison Lock, poet and writer

 

Gail’s poetry is sharp, astute, playful, wry, yet never sentimental. Every word has earned its place, and the imagery is as clear as a bell. This is a poet who takes her craft seriously, yet isn’t afraid to play with words as well as work with them. An accomplished debut pamphlet.”

Amanda Huggins, Author of Separated From the Sea 

 

It is polished and surprising, exploring the tenderness of complex family relationships but with a narrative voice that is not afraid to touch upon a sub-text of bruises, scars and painful childhood moments. The tenderness of the writing is showcased in the opening poem, ‘Birthday’. I really enjoyed the variety of technique in this collection, as it moves from prose poems to shorter lyric pieces and concrete poetry.

Anne Caldwell, Freelance Writer & Poet, and Associate Lecturer at Open University

 

Thank you to everyone who came to the launch and for all the good wishes I received from those who couldn’t make it. If you would like to purchase a copy of adversaries/comrades the pamphlet is stocked at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester, or it can be purchased through Wordsmith_HQ.

 

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Women writers! How do you relate to your female protagonist?

As part of the research for my PhD which accompanied the writing of my novel The String GamesI came across the work of Judith Kegan Gardiner who discusses female identity and writing by women. She suggests that where women write about female protagonists there is a special link and proposes the analogy ‘the hero is her author’s daughter’. When I first read this, the idea that I could regard Nim (my protagonist) as my daughter caused concern. While I recognised that other women writers may regard their female protagonists in this way, I resisted the idea of applying the analogy to my own situation. I was afraid that if I thought of Nim as my daughter, a natural progression would be to conclude that Jenny (Nim’s mother) represented me. This I did not want to think about. The character of Jenny is by no means an idealised mother: she is short-tempered, snappy, stressed, clumsy, resentful and all manner of other negatives. Her redeeming quality, however, is that she genuinely wants to try to be a good mother.

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The more I thought about the possible link between my protagonist and me, the more I came to realise that I was not her fictional mother – Jenny takes that role in the story – but I was her author-mother. This realisation enabled me to approach later drafts of the novel with deeper understanding of my characters and my role as an author in “mothering” my young female protagonist. It also brought into play the idea of separation–individuation, the process that girls and mothers go through in order that children can go onto to become unique, independent adults. I came to understand that by the end of my work on the novel, I needed to separate from the character of Nim I had created, so that she, as my protagonist-daughter could continue her life in a fictional context through the minds of my readers and I, as the author-mother, am free to go on and create other characters in new fictional writing.

As this is a special post to mark Mother’s Day in the UK, 31 March 2019, I wonder, how do other women writers feel about their female protagonists? Do the theories of Judith Kegan Gardiner chime with you? I’d love to know what you think – please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you.

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Jacob’s Ladder: how to reach for a better future

This is the third of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier posts, click the links to read part one and part two.

The third part of The String Games deals with the legacy of loss for the protagonist as an adult. Following manipulation as a teenager, she reinvents herself by returning to her given name, Imogen. Still swamped by issues of unresolved grief over the murder of her younger brother when she was ten, Imogen decides to return to the place in France where she last saw Josh in order to get to the truth of what really happened. This part of the novel is called Jacob’s Ladder.

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This illustration of Jacob’s Ladder by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part three of The String Games

Jacob’s Ladder is a string figure made by a single player that produces an intricate pattern of crossed strings. Used to name the final part of the novel, Jacob’s Ladder illustrates the way Imogen is able to reorder her life, with greater understanding and confidence, by re-engaging with aspects of her earlier years. The pleasing pattern of linked diamonds represents how Imogen is able to pull the threads of her personal history together creating a ladder to a better future. Thus, the metaphor of string continues to the final page of the novel.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games but it is available to pre-order from Victorina Press, Waterstones and Foyles. Alternatively, if you fancy dipping into my debut poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades (based on the theme of siblings), this is available next week. Do come along to the launch to celebrate my first step into the world of published poetry.

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The Worm: why use THAT title?

This is the second of three posts sharing information about the title of my novel The String Games and includes information about the three different parts contained within. If you missed the earlier post, you can read it here.

The middle part of The String Games shows the protagonist, Nim, as an only child. She mistakenly shoulders a sense of guilt over the death of her younger brother, Josh, and this makes her vulnerable to manipulation by those she thinks of as friends. Thus, use of the string figure ‘the worm’ came to represent the second part of the novel (which deals with the teenage years). The worm is symbolic of the peer pressure Nim experiences which gnaws away at her sense of self.

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This illustration of The Worm by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part two of The String Games

According to Anne Akers Johnson’s String Games from Around the World (1995), this figure is known in Germany as a train and elsewhere as a mouse, but in the fishing villages of Ghana it is called the worm. The figure is created by one player who loops string around the fingers of one hand. When the loose string is pulled the worm disappears. The idea of a worm gobbled as bait used in fishing represents aspects of Nim’s teenage years. It signifies Nim’s recognition that she was manipulated by her friends and order to maintain a sense of self, she changes her name to Imogen which facilitates a move into adulthood.

I’m delighted The String Games is now available for pre-order from Waterstones and Foyles. Why not do as bestselling author, Jacquelyn Mitchard suggests? Treat yourself and read this one. 

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The String Games: what’s with the title?

I’ve used rainbow strings many times in my teaching career with adults and children. It’s a good form of kinaesthetic learning where students make string figures as a way to generate stories. The idea to use The String Games as the title for my novel came from the characters. There were instances where characters were strung along, they were puppets on a string and there was a need to cut the apron strings. String became a controlling metaphor for the novel and the title embedded within the story.

When the novel developed into three parts to reflect the development of the protagonist from child, to a teenager and then into an adult,  I decided to name each of the different parts of the novel after a string figure. This post considers the significance of the title of the first part of the novel, ‘Cat’s Cradle’. Following posts will consider the other two parts of the novel.

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This illustration of Cat’s Cradle by Fiona Zechmeister appears in part one of The String Games

Cat’s Cradle is one of the oldest games in recorded human history, and involves passing a loop of string back and forth between two players. As part of the game, different figures are produced including diamonds, candles (straight strings), and an inverted cat’s cradle called a manger. Cat’s cradle is played in cultures throughout the world including Africa, Eastern Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the Arctic.

In using Cat’s Cradle as the title for the first part of my novel, it expresses the intimacy of a  relationship enjoyed by a child in close proximity with a caring adult. In The String Games it represents the relationship my child protagonist develops with her mother’s lover, Dee. When Jenny (Nim’s mother) is too traumatised by the abduction of Josh to care for her ten-year-old daughter, it is Dee who steps in to offer support. The idea of a cradle is indicative of the love Dee offers at a time of crisis.

You’ll have to wait until May 2019 to read The String Games when it will be published by Victorina Press. In the meantime, if you’re interested in short fiction you could always try reading Paisley Shirt

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Pass it on

I have enjoyed so much support from other writers with the forthcoming publication of my debut novel The String Games so it is a pleasure to be able to pass this support on. My publisher asked me to review Nasrin Parvaz’s extraordinary memoir, One Woman’s Struggle in Iran and this I was pleased to do, partly because I travelled through Iran in 1981. (You can read the review here.) Imagine my delight to find an extract from this review used as an endorsement on the back cover of Nasrin’s memoir. It is a real privilege to find myself in this position and I truly hope this book finds the readership it deserves.

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Well done, Nasrin, for writing this powerful memoir where we can all learn from your tenacity and resilience.

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The FABULOUS wider writing community

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Credit: Grafik Mekanik, Flickr

My novel The String Games will be published by Victorina Press in May 2019. It is a psychological drama that focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist when her four-year-old brother is abducted and murdered during a family holiday in France. The cover is being designed by Fiona Zechmeister and it is exciting to be part of the process from initial ideas to the final product. One of my roles has been to secure endorsements for the novel to support with marketing and promoting the book. From a study of novels which use child characters and child protagonists, I drew up a list of authors to approach. For my blogs each week this December, I will focus on the authors who have kindly offered their support. 

Nina Killham came back to me quickly with a positive response to my request. Nina is the author of three novels including Believe Me which is a wonderful book with a thirteen-year-old narrator called Nic. It is a funny and moving story about a boy who challenges his mother, an astrophysicist and atheist, by turning to the Bible for ways to understand contemporary life.

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I was first in touch with Nina a few years ago when she offer to give feedback on the first three chapters of a novel and the synopsis as a donation to the Authors for Refugees charity auction. I was lucky to win the lot and benefitted greatly from Nina’s feedback. We stayed in touch and she recommended several further novels for me to read so that I could learn how published authors develop stories around child characters. It was at Nina’s suggestion that I read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. This is a great book that considers the lifelong repercussions from the accidental death of a child.

Without further ado, please let me unveil Nina’s full endorsement of The String Games:

Gail Aldwin excels at creating characters you care about. The String Games, her story of a child lost on a holiday to France, avoids melodrama and leaves the reader hoping the best for her characters as they move beyond the last page.

I’d like to thank Nina for her support, encouragement and of course, that lovely endorsement.

If you can’t wait until May to read my novel, you could always dip into my short fiction collection Paisley Shirt which is available from Waterstones in Dorchester and Bridport, The Bookshop in Bridport, Gullivers in Wimborne and Serendip in Lyme Regis.

 

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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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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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