Author Interview; Gail Aldwin

Hello and welcome to another author interview! This time I have the pleasure of hosting Gail Aldwin, a prize-winning writer of short fiction and poetry. She has lived in Australia, Spain and Papua New Guinea and is now based in Dorset. Her new collection of short fiction Paisley Shirt is published by Chapeltown Books. You can purchase a Kindle edition on Amazon (the paperback will follow soon).

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Can you tell us what inspired this collection of stories?

I looked for commonalities in the range of short fiction I had written over time. I noticed a thread of resilience woven through the stories and selected the best. Paisley Shirt is a collection of short fiction that tells of the obstacles encountered in life and how it is possible to overcome them.

I understand you are also working on a novel. What do you find harder? Short stories or novel writing?

All writing is a pleasure and a challenge. I like being able to work on short fiction alongside novel writing. The timescale for finishing a longer piece of work means that it’s good to have other projects on the go where there is satisfaction in knowing the story is complete.

Can you tell us about your novel? What is it about and when will it be released?

I wrote a novel called The String Games as part of studies in creative writing with the University of South Wales. It is the story of the abduction and murder of a sibling told from the older sister’s viewpoint. Rather than a crime novel, the story focuses on the legacy of loss for the protagonist, as she moves from childhood to the teenage years and into adulthood. Last year, I entered the novel into a competition and although I didn’t win and wasn’t placed, one of the judges was a literary agent and offered me representation. This was a lovely experience but it didn’t last long! My agent took maternity leave and decided not to return to work, so I continue to seek a home for this novel.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve been interested in writing for over twenty years but as I child I didn’t like books. I experienced intermittent hearing loss, which meant it was difficult to learn to read, as I couldn’t distinguish the phonic sounds. Reading was hard work and it took until my teenage years to see books as a source of pleasure and enjoyment. My interest in writing started when I lived overseas and enjoyed writing letters. This grew into a love of writing short fiction and then novels, scripts and poetry.

Do you have a day job and if so what is it?

I currently work as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth. I love my job! It is a joy to watch students develop new skills and confidence. I am also Chair of the Dorset Writers Network. With the steering group, I work to inspire writers across the county by connecting creative communities.

Can you describe your writing process? 

When I get an idea, I muse on it for a while, then I decide which style of writing the content is suited to. Fragments or moments lend themselves to poetry, short fiction needs a story arc, I usually work collaboratively to develop scripts and novels are a home-alone process. The first draft of anything is about getting the words on the page, then the fun begins: shaping, deepening, layering through drafting and redrafting. For the first time ever, the novel I’m currently working on has been fully plotted. This Much I Know gives a child’s eye view of the interaction between adults in a suburban community where a paedophile is housed. The trick in writing from a child’s viewpoint is to exploit the gap in understanding between the child and the actions of adults around them. It’s a lot of fun playing around with strategies and techniques to capture the voice of a young child.

Tell us about your marketing and self-promotion approach

I am new to marketing and promotion so I refer to books with practical advice on how to move forward. I’ve learnt how to write a press release, have made contacts with local press and cultivated friendships on social media. I am hoping there are others like you, Chantelle, who are willing to interview me and review Paisley Shirt.

Where to find Gail:

Email:             gailaldwin@btinternet.com

Twitter:           @gailaldwin

Facebook:      https://www.facebook.com/gailaldwinwriter/

Blog:              The Writer is a Lonely Hunter

Chair DWN:    http://www.dorsetwritersnetwork.co.uk

My 2018 Writing Goals

After comparing the goals I set myself for 2017 with the reality, next comes setting the goals for the year ahead, 2018. Now is the time to admit I am scared! Before I even start writing these goals down, I have to tell you I am terrified of them. Read on to find out why!

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  1. Release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature – (Wasn’t this on the list last year and the year before too?) Okay, the time has definitely arrived. I am currently amending the last set of typos I picked up on a read through. As far as I am concerned I can’t make this book any better. In the next few weeks, I will put together the synopsis and start sending it to a small list of publishers I feel would be a good fit. I will wait three months, and in that time draw up a self-publishing book launch plan, that will have to make the release my best one yet. I will have to sort out a cover too. And then, finally, I will be free of this book!
  2. Continue To Work On My YA Trilogy – A year ago I had just finished the first draft of a novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I’m now at the fourth draft stage and have penned a sequel and started the third book. I had no idea this contemporary YA novel would evolve into a trilogy but it has! I don’t expect to get any of the books ready for release in 2018 but I fully intend to finish a first draft of the third book and then commence editing on all three. I’m looking forward to this challenge. I love these books!
  3. Kickstart My New Company Into Action – Okay, this is the terrifying goal. In 2015 I started Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which involves me running an adult writing group and children’s writing clubs and workshops. As time progressed I became increasingly inspired by various projects and wanted to take my writing group business to the next level. Cue a meeting with a lady from Dorset Community Action who explained that becoming a Community Interest Company (CIC) was the best way forward. I already had three project ideas in progress and becoming a CIC would make it much easier for me to access funding for them. Excited, I plunged ahead and just days before Christmas I received the certificate in the post. Chasing Driftwood is now a CIC! Immediately I felt terrified and since then I have veered between impossibly eager to get started, and wishing I could change my mind! It all suddenly feels very real and scary. I am going to have to drown out my fears of failure and remind myself again and again of the reasons I am doing this. To bring writing projects and opportunities to people in my community, particulalry those who might not be able to access them. If I keep the purpose in mind, I might be ok!
  4. Apply For Funding for A School Project – This will keep me busy for the next few weeks. I have a project already underway with a local school and applying for funding was put on hold while I became a CIC. Now I need to get on with things! I will update you on this when the whole thing gets going!
  5. Apply For More Funding for Community Writing Project – I already have a small bit of funding secured for a community writing project, but it’s am ambitious idea and we are going to need more! I also have to really sit down and plan this thing out to a meticulous degree. What, when, where, how, who and why. More information to come. Again, so daunting!
  6. Get Wheels In Motion For Two More Projects –  Not things I expect to start in 2018, but I do have two exciting projects in my mind and I need to at least get them outlined and discuss them with others. One has evolved from my own frustrations as an indie writer who cannot readily afford book covers, editing and promotion. I would love to be able to start a project that helps writers from poorer backgrounds access such things. Just an idea at the moment, but something I really want to talk about. The second idea involves children, writing and nature. Reconnecting the three!
  7. Push Forward With Pop-Up Book Shop Idea – This appeared in last year’s list. I want to set up a local pop-up shop for local indie authors. I’ve got a list of people who want to be involved, and just have not had the time to do anything about it. But I intend to change that this year!

Okay, that’s it. Only 7 things this time, but a lot of them are pretty big things. Releasing Elliot Pie and finishing the YA trilogy are not particularly scary. They’re exciting goals. But the CIC stuff? I want to do it all but I wish there was someone just above me, you know, an imaginary boss who has done all this before. She could take ultimate control and tell me what to do, and I would quite happily do it all. But there isn’t anyone. She doesn’t exist. It’s just me. And right now I can’t help feeling I have bitten off more than I can chew! We’ll have to see, I guess. For now, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that all I have to do is take one step at a time. One, then another, then another. I can do that.

 

My 2017 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

This is becoming a bit of an end of the year tradition for me now. Having outlined my goals for the year ahead, as that year draws to end, how did I do? How much did I achieve? Time to have a look at the goals I set myself at the start of 2017 and examine the reality!

  1. Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress A Song For Bill Robinson (literally days away from this now!) – Yes! I achieved this and a lot more. A year ago this gritty YA novel was days away from the completion of the very first draft. Right now, at the end of 2017, I have completed four drafts of this book, penned a sequel and started a third! This novel has become a trilogy! I’m still really enjoying it and I plan to get the whole trilogy written before I think about releasing the first book.
  2. Leave that aside, and go back to Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for a final draft read-through on the laptop, followed by a final read through on my Kindle – A year later, this particular book is still not done. A final draft became another draft, and then another and another. It went back to beta readers and I made several changes. A few weeks ago I thought I was finished but decided I really needed to cut the word count down. A decision was made to cut out an entire character and just days ago I finished this edit! I have now sent it back to my Kindle for another read on there, to pick up typos and make another list of things to cut out. One more draft should do it!
  3. Find a cover for Elliot Pie! Which is going to involve a lot of thinking and research and approaching various people as I really, really need to get this right- Not achieved, obviously, as the book is not ready, and I will be sending this one off to potential publishers just in case. In the meantime, I have been thinking about covers and will need to start doing some research soon.
  4. Devise a promotional plan for releasing Elliot Pie, which will involve online and real life launches, promotional material and so on – Also not achieved as the book still not ready!
  5. Release Elliot Pie!! – Another one sadly not achieved, BUT I did release The Tree Of Rebels instead!
  6. Go back to The Tree Of Rebels and rewrite it until I am happy – Achieved! Weirdly, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie swapped places, with The Tree Of Rebels being ready for release first.
  7. During this time, I suspect I will delve into a second and possibly third draft of A Song For Bill Robinson. I don’t think it will be ignored for an entire year!- Achieved! I actually managed four drafts, plus a sequel and a third started!
  8. Early in the new year, follow up on the initial contact I have made with two schools through my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business, and arrange to go in and speak to them about my project proposal- Achieved! I have one school on board and have had several meetings with them. I also decided to turn my business into a Community Interest Company. Once I get this through I can apply for the funding for the school project and many others!
  9. If they are on board, I then need to secure funding for the project!- sort of achieved! I have a school on board, but just waiting for my CIC to come through so we can get onto funding applications. (Though I have already secured a small amount of funding for another project!)
  10. In March I will run my first adult workshop under Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Having done various workshops now for Dorset Writers Network I am ready to take the plunge on my own and run a workshop on building your author platform- Achieved! This went really well and I put on another workshop myself in the summer.
  11. At this workshop I will be introducing my ideas and plans for a Dorset Pop-Up Book Shop, where indie authors can come along and sell their paperbacks in a pop-up shop, hopefully, to be welcomed into libraries, literary events and so on- Achieved! The Pop-Up Book Shop is in progress and will be one of the projects I hope to get funding for once my CIC is in place.
  12. At some point in 2017, I hope The Tree Of Rebels will finally be fit for purpose and I will then be planning another detailed promotional event and releasing it! Fingers crossed!- Achieved! I released The Tree Of Rebels in August 2017 and to date it was my most successful release, with a three-month launch plan and a Facebook release day event, among other things.

I achieved 8 out of the 12 things on my list, and I actually achieved a hell of a lot more than I had set out to! Although a year in indie publishing is always a bumpy ride, with things going wrong (Pronoun shutting down!) and things going right (lots of writing done!) it’s actually really helpful to sit down like this to examine the reality. It just shows that the best-laid plans can change dramatically. It does me good to list my achievements and anything not achieved on this list will be top of the 2018 Writing Goals list which will be my blog post next week!

What about you? Did you set any particular goals for 2017 and if you did, how well did you do?

 

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

I’ve never been very good at asking for help, and I blame my parents for this. With the best of intentions, they brought us kids up to be polite, and not ask for things. It was one of the most repeated mantras of my childhood. ‘Don’t ask for anything! Wait until you are offered!’ I can see why they drummed this into us. They didn’t want their children to be brattish or demanding. They thought children who marched into someone’s house and asked for an ice lolly were rude. I can clearly remember playing in the garden at my Nan and Grandad’s house on various hot summer days. We knew the ice creams were kept in the chest freezer in the cellar. We knew our doting Nan would give us one if we asked, but we didn’t dare. We kept egging each other on, urging one of us to go and ask for an ice cream. I expect we worked up the nerve eventually, but it definitely took some time!

Not asking for things in sweet shops and toy shops was the norm. My mum would have given us ‘the look’ if we had ever dared. She always said it was much nicer to give a child something they had not been expecting. But the trouble is, not asking for treats becomes translated by a child into not asking for anything, including help. Take me in the classroom, all the way through my education, too scared to put my hand up for any reason, including going to the toilet!

I’ve had a problem with asking for help my entire life. I hate asking anyone for anything. If I have any kind of problem, I will do everything I can to try to solve it on my own, before I give in and reach out for a helping hand. It really is quite ridiculous. I can’t help assuming that asking for help annoys the person you are asking, puts them out, or means they will begrudge you.

This has also made things harder as an indie writer. Indie writers cannot do it all alone. They just can’t. But in the beginning, this was how I approached things. I struggled with so many aspects of indie publishing, from formatting, to cover design, to marketing, to gaining reviews, and I was absolutely rubbish at asking for help! I truly didn’t want to bother people.

Fast forward four years and six books later and I am beginning to change my mindset. For my sixth book, The Tree Of Rebels, I actually had a book launch.  I wasn’t quite brave enough to do a real life one, so I opted for a Facebook one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was amazed by the response and the positive results of sales, reviews and follows. I’ve also started asking for help more by sending out ARC’s for the first time ever. I would never have done this before, but now I am trying to live with the mantra; ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ Out of the 45 people I asked, 31 responded positively, and I have received 18 reviews on Amazon UK and 6 on Amazon US. This has without a doubt given this sixth book a far bigger kick into orbit than the others have, and I will learn from this and do an even bigger and better book launch next time!

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Learning to ask for help is not easy when it has been indoctrinated into us to be polite. Last week was a really hectic one for me work-wise. I had all the normal bits to do and a rather big dog walking/sitting job as well. I love my day-job as a dog walker and sitter, but I’ve only gone back to it fairly recently as it was too tricky to combine with my youngest when he was first born. Last week I was so busy walking back and forth, that my blog post didn’t get written or posted and I only managed to scrape in an hour or two of editing Elliot Pie each day. There was one day in particular when I had a lot of walking to do, washing to hang out, a parcel to post that had been sitting there for weeks, washing up to do and God knows what else. Instead of trying to do everything myself and then getting grumpy, I reached out to the kids and got them to help. Two took the parcel to the post office and one hung out the washing, and wow, what a difference it made just having those two jobs crossed off the list! I felt I could breathe again and calm down and it made me realise how rubbish I am at asking for help at home too.

I do what my mum used to do. I do everything myself get worn out, feel unappreciated and then moan about it! I must stop doing this! I have four children and the oldest three are more than capable of helping out. If it involves the animals, they jump at the chance anyway, so why the hell am I trying to do it all by myself? Again, I think the reluctance to delegate chores goes back to being told not to ask for things as a child.

I don’t want my children to grow up unable to ask for help, so I am trying to set them a good example now. I’ve told them all about the amazing response I had when asking for help to launch the latest book. I want them to see that asking for help doesn’t make you weak, or needy, or annoying. Yes, you should strive to be independent and proactive, but when you genuinely need help from others, you should not feel ashamed to ask for it. And it makes such a huge difference!

Have you ever found it hard to ask for help? How did you overcome this? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment and share.