Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Today, I’m welcoming Gail Aldwin to the clubhouse tearoom to share a cuppa and a chat.
Thank you for inviting me, Paula to chat about writing. It’s always something I love to do.
Can you start by telling us a little about your latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
My work in progress is called Little Swot and it’s a dual timeline novel about a journalist who is made redundant in her fifties. She decides to try podcasting as an alternative source of income and investigates the disappearance of her schoolmate, who walked out of her last end of school examination in 1978 and was never seen again. It’s good to be back in the thoes of a new writing project after a dry period of a several months. I left for a volunteering role at Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda in December 2019 and was repatriated early due to Covid-19. I had great plans to write while I was away but nothing materialised because the experience of living and working in a remote and under-resourced area was intense. Each evening I’d go back to my accommodation physically and mentally exhausted. The electricity supply was very erratic and often I had no light to read by. Instead I kept my mobile charged and listened to lots of podcasts.
Returning to the UK at the start of lockdown was a strange experience. Although I was happy to be back with my family, the life I’d left only four months earlier was significantly changed. I didn’t want to return to the driven woman I had been, determined to get my stories out into the world. Instead, I wanted to take my time and get back into writing when I was ready. At home I continued to listen to podcasts and it was while I followed the story of a man who (it was suspected) had murdered his wife, I realised some of these real-life experiences could not have been plotted better if it had been fiction. I find plotting the hardest part of novel writing and now take time to sort out the story before launching into the writing. So, I took this idea about podcasting and started to think about a possible story line. At the same time, I started to write a few flash fiction pieces based on Covid themes. When these found publication homes, I regained my confidence to begin a new novel.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
For Little Swot and my last novel This much Huxley knows(set during the Brexit referendum from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old), I used a grid to plan out a three-act structure for the writing. Once this was done, I launched into the first three chapters and then drafted a synopsis. I attend a writing group and it’s useful for members to have some background material about the story arc to inform their feedback. The synopsis becomes a working document that is updated with new developments. In writing Little Swot, I’ve also developed a one-line pitch and a one-paragraph pitch as I find it helps to have a rehearsed version of what the novel’s about should anyone ask. The publisher of The String Games,Victorina Press has just made a marketing/publicity appointment and I was asked to come up with a tag line for my debut. The final wording was agreed as: A lost boy, a splintered family, a sister’s guilt. I think this sums up the novel very well.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
I have to know what my characters look like before I can begin to give then beliefs, attitudes, skills and knowledge plus all the other paraphernalia that comes with character creation. Often I will settle on the image of an actor or photo in a newspaper or magazine. I have used real people to help in creating characters in the past but then I always got tempted to make my character like the person they were based on and that didn’t always suit the plot.
How do you select the names of your characters? & do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I focus on the year the novel is set and work out which names were popular during that period for characters of different ages. My name is straight out of the sixties and I think yours is too, Paula! I was a school teacher from 1990 to 2000 so I have lots of children’s name in store from that period. I also think about why characters are given certain names in the context of their fictional world. In choosing a classic name for a child, the parents may be aspirational. Using an unusual spelling or a name that links to cultural heritage also says something about the family and their priorities. I often change a character’s name during the writing process and that is precisely because I don’t know everything about them when I start off. Writing is about discovering.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you set yourself a daily word count?
When I started writing novels ten years ago, I had a daily word count. But after one or two completed manuscripts I realised I was frequently writing complete cr*p just to reach my daily writing goal. So then I switched to working for a specific number of hours and aimed for quality words. Now I’m back to drafting a new novel I’ve reverted to a daily one-thousand-word goal. It does mean that I can power through the painful first draft in a few months and then get onto the joy of redrafting.
Thank you so much for joining us Gail. The cakes were very nice here.
So dear readers, if you would like to find out more about Gail Aldwin’s debut The String Games (Victorina Press, 2019), is a coming-of-age novel and a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2020 and shortlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. She won a poetry competition and was awarded a contract to have her debut poetry pamphlet adversaries/comrades published(Wordsmith_HQ, 2019). Her flash fiction collection Paisley Shirt (Chapeltown Books, 2018) was long-listed in the Saboteur Awards 2018. Scheduled for publication in December 2020 is her first children’s picture book Pan de monium which features a purple panda who causes havoc in a department store and learns something about herself from the experience. You can find Gail on Twitter @gailaldwin and on her blog https://gailaldwin.com.