I know that you're an intrepid traveller - amongst other things you lived in Papua New Guinea for two years, and travelled from London to Kathmandu by bus. Do you ever use these experiences in your writing, and is creating a strong sense of place important in your work?
I began writing creatively as apart of my studies to become a teacher. Job satisfaction is seeing pupils gain skills and confidence but as they moved forward, I was standing still. This realisation sent me back to university where I wrote a travel book about the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Failing to find a publisher coincided with pregnancy and all writing went on hold. Had I enjoyed early success with my writing I may very well have been more influenced by a sense of place. As my fiction developed, I found character to be more important than place, although I do use my experience of living and working overseas to imagine life in a range of contexts. I once wrote a story set in Nigeria, which was published online and a reader contacted me to say it reminded her of growing up in the country. This was very pleasing feedback as I’d never been to Nigeria but had read about the country and used my experience to imagine place. I am very conscious to avoid cultural appropriation and am wary of the tensions in using a white narrator in post-colonial contexts.
What's the first book that you remember reading? Is there a book that changed your life? Which book do you wish you'd written? And what was the last book that made you cry?
My reading history is checkered. I grew up suffering from intermittent hearing loss which meant it was challenging to distinguish phonic sounds and this made learning to read very difficult. As a child I regarded reading as hard work. Technically I could decode but I never saw books as a source of interest or pleasure until I was a teenager. Then I borrowed my sister’s copy of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and I was hooked.
I came across the terms shallow and deep readers recently. Shallow readers tend to read books by lots of different authors while deep readers find authors they like and read everything they’ve written. I am a shallow reader and like to dip into a range of work. So while I adored The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (a story about obsessive love) I’ve only read one or two of his other novels. Thinking back, I reconnect with the raw emotions produced by the reading but I rarely cry over books.
You write in such a mix of genres and styles - poetry, flash, short stories, and comedy for screen and stage - and create an eclectic mix of characters. Where do all your characters come from? And which of these things do you enjoy writing the most?
I am a visual writer and see my characters long before I hear their voices or begin to understand them. I might develop a character from someone I’ve seen in a café or by flicking through magazines to find images I connect with.
Once I know what a character looks like, I build their interior world. By thinking about their unique skills and talents I identify traits and motivations. Then, I see how these characters cope in different locations and contexts and develop their interaction with others.
I love working with other writers on collaborative projects developing scripts for stage and screen. One of the challenges of writing collaboratively is to have a shared understanding of character and plot. As a result, we spend a lot of time working on backstories and developing scenes before we divvy up the writing tasks. Each writer has to be confident to tackle any part of the writing project. The editing process is much easier when working collaboratively and as for proof reading – it’s easy to spot each other’s mistakes!
Your flash fiction collection, Paisley Shirt, came out at the beginning of February, and has garnered a number of 5-star reviews. Reviews and press attention are hard-won - have you found it tough going, or do you enjoy the promotion and marketing side of writing?
I am inexperienced at promoting and marketing but I always like a challenge. It’s been fun to develop ways to connect with an audience whilst trying not to badger readers into buying my collection. It was serendipitous that I named the collection Paisley Shirt, which has provided considerable potential for writing content material associated with this title. By drawing upon the history of the paisley pattern, I have been able to discover links to Kashmir and Paisley in Scotland through the tradition of women wearing shawls with a paisley pattern in the Victorian period. I’ve traced representations of paisley patterned garments in Victorian novels such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and discovered many artists’ paintings of women wearing paisley shawls. There is potential for further research into the craft of weaving and embroidery and how this is represented in art and fiction. I’ve even discovered the influence of paisley pattern in my home country through Dorset Feather Stitchery. It’s been a fascinating journey and new ideas for catching the interest of potential readers for Paisley Shirt is an ongoing process.
What’s next for you, Gail Aldwin?
I lost my literary agent when she decided not to return to work after maternity leave, so I have a novel called The String Games that needs a home and another novel on the go. I also want to go through the poems I’ve written over the past few years and shape them into a collection. A children’s story I wrote is under consideration by a publisher, so it would be marvellous to see that in print.
Blog: The Writer is a Lonely Hunter can be found here
Gail’s new collection of short fiction, Paisley Shirt, is available for Kindle from Amazon , and the paperback is available from Book Depository and also from all good bookshops.