the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Relationship Strings

I spent the weekend at the VSO offices in Kingston with nine other international volunteers. We took part in facilitation training to assist in the development of our roles at educational settings based in Myanmar, Rwanda, Nepal, Malawi and Uganda. What a lovely bunch of people! Our WhatsApp group is now buzzing with feedback.

One of the things we educationalists find it hard to get our heads around is the idea of ‘passing the stick’. That is, we should adapt our ways of working so that we allow participants in our programmes to take a lead on how input should be focussed and which ideas and strategies to share and develop. As teachers, we’re too used to coming up with questions to solve, but for ownership of the process, participants need to be fully involved with identifying the areas of learning and routes to acquiring skills and confidence.

Many of you will know, I like using string so much I named my debut novel The String Games. But string is also an accessible learning resource available anywhere in the world and can be used to facilitate discussion. As a mixed group of people, the purpose of my activity was to shed light on the things we held in common. Following the directions in the participation manual, we sat in a circle on the floor and as the holder of the ball of string, I was the first to speak. I held the end of string and rolled the ball to someone who I knew I shared something with, saying their name and what we had in common. It could be that we’re both mothers, teachers, shop in the same stores, like the same food … anything really. Upon receipt of the ball, the next person hooks the string over their finger and rolls it to someone else, saying their name and the thing they hold in common. In this facilitation, I appointed roles to each of the participants so we could imagine the activity being delivered on my placement at the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Yumbe, Uganda. You can read more about the context of my placement here.

The photo below shows the string pattern that was produced as part of the activity, illustrating the links between members of the group. In terms of using this on my placement with members of host and refugee communities, it could prove to be a useful tool to inform analysis and planning.

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Another way to use a ball of sting in participatory training is to sit in a circle and roll the ball from participant to participant whenever they wish to speak.  Holding the ball of string gives a platform to the speaker and avoids interruptions. The web that is created by hooking the string after turn taking demonstrates whether all have contributed to the discussion and whether certain members have dominated. I’m keen to try this activity at some point. Thanks to trainers Wim and Sue for their input over the weekend and to everyone on the course for their friendly support, ideas and encouragement.

My departure date for Uganda remains unconfirmed but as soon as the visa is sorted, I’ll be off.

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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.

tsg final cover image for use on_web

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.

v2TSG Blog Tour poster

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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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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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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