Part 1 of Gail Aldwin’s interview last week shared Gail’s memories from her round the world bus trip and how it influenced her Paisley Shirt flash fiction collection (published by Chapeltown Books). Here she shares her writing tips, the joys of creating characters and her thoughts on ebooks and “real” books. Comments on the latter would be welcome!
Image Credit: All images were kindly supplied by Gail Aldwin unless otherwise stated.
What are the most important tips for writers, Gail? I’d list always editing your work on paper and not on screen as one (you miss things on screen). Do you enjoy editing? What aspect of writing do you love the most and which do you loathe and why? What is the single most important thing any writer can do to improve their work?
The most important thing for any writer is getting the words on the page. It’s fine having stories swirling around your head but committing them to paper is the first step in reaching an audience. I find the first draft of anything be it poetry, plays or fiction the hardest. Sometimes I have to force myself to sit at my desk and have rewards of tea and biscuit breaks when I’ve completed a set amount of work. I am target driven so setting myself a daily word count can help in writing longer projects.
For me, the fun in writing is the redrafting. I love honing stories to make them textured and layered. Editing can be a challenge because typos are never obvious and it takes time to identify if structural changes are needed. I often print out the text and read it aloud to check for flow and accuracy.
Allison: Another huge advantage to reading work out loud is that you can literally hear if your dialogue works. If you trip over something as you read out loud, so will your readers – time to get the editing pen out again! I have sometimes used Audacity to record my reading out loud (especially for longer short stories) so I can play it back and, after wincing at how I sound(!), I really get to hear how my tale comes across. For flash stories, because they are so short, I tend to read them out loud a few times.
Do you “see” or “hear” your characters as you write? I hear my characters, gradually fill in a portrait of them and then write. I also focus on personality traits rather than physical attributes, as traits drive a character’s responses and actions. I find the physical attributes come more easily once I’ve got the personality in place.
In terms of creating characters, I often use a template to identify basic things about family background, education, likes and dislikes, friendships etc. When I have a sense of the character I set about thinking of their appearance. I look through magazines, identify characters on television adverts or use people I know vaguely or have watched in cafes to assume a physical appearance. I need to know what the character looks like in order to develop their voice. Then I go through a long period of holding conversations in my head between characters so that I am confident about how they interact. I am currently working on a novel with a six-year-old narrator using characters recycled from a previously abandoned piece of work. This time I have plotted the novel to the nth degree which has helped to streamline the writing process.
Allison: I’ve been known to outline a piece of flash fiction to help me get my ideas in the right order. Outlining is so useful (and I think crucial) for any story.
Which author do you think you learnt the most from and why? Which author has inspired you the most and why? Which is your favourite book/author?
It’s a good idea to study published authors who have a connection with any a new project you wish to tackle. For my current WIP I read many contemporary novels that used child narrators. I love the techniques of onomatopoeia, malapropism, incorrect grammar and idiosyncratic presentation used in novels by Chris Cleave, Emma Donoghue and Christopher Wakling. By reading the work of these authors I learnt to create a voice suitable for my young narrator.
I recently discovered the terms deep and shallow reading. Deep reading refers to people who love the work of a single author and read everything they’ve ever written. Shallow readers prefer to dip into the work of lots of different authors. I’m definitely more on the shallow side although I admit to reading every novel in the First Ladies Detective Agency series because I adore Precious Ramotswe and long to visit Botswana.
Allison: I had not heard of these terms before. I’m definitely a deep reader for Terry Pratchett, Wodehouse, Austen, Rowling etc. I am reading far more contemporary fiction now, which is great, and especially flash fiction collections (I wonder why!) so am expanding the range of authors I’m reading too. I suspect most of us cross the deep and shallow reading lines.
Do you prefer “real” books or ebooks and why?
As I don’t own a Kindle, it’s real books for me every time. I’ve tried reading ebooks on my computer but it’s not as if you can snuggle down with a laptop for a comfortable read. On long journeys I listen to audio books and especially when travelling overseas. Listening to a story is a great way to cope with jetlag – so long as you don’t nod off!
Allison: I highly recommend getting a Kindle. I find it useful for holidays (no more worries about how many books I can take with me!) and when travelling (easy to slip into a bag etc). I read both “real” books and from the Kindle during my main reading session. Audio books are fantastic for long car journeys especially (and can be a great way of encouraging a love of stories in people who aren’t necessarily big readers). At the end of the day, I don’t think the format matters that much – the paperback is far too useful and nice a format for it to go and the Kindle can give you a relatively cheap way of trying out different books and without having to lug them all around with you!
Had you always wanted to be a writer or was it something that developed over time? I have long held a dream of having a huge bookshelf with books of my choosing on it with some to have my name on it as my publications so what was the start of your writing journey?
I didn’t start writing seriously until 2009 and it takes a long time to acquire the skills and confidence to become a competent writer. It’s also a very competitive field with lots of really good writers seeking publication. So, although my ambition is to one day have a novel published I’m not wedded to this goal. It’s important retain a sense of pleasure in writing and this helps me to cope with the inevitable rejections.
Allison: It was being open to new things that led me to try writing flash fiction and the rest is history, as they say. Having a variety of things to write is also a good idea as (a) you never get bored and (b) if you’re stuck on one piece, well it is highly unlikely you’ll be stuck on them all.
How did you get involved with the Dorset Writers Network? What are its aims?
The Dorset Writers’ Network was established around eight years ago when Sue Ashby (the founder) was delivering writing for wellbeing workshop and wanted to link writing groups around the county. The aim of the DWN is to inspire writers and connect creative communities. It’s a great ambition and now that I am Chair, I hope we can move forward in attracting younger writers to our network.
What do you love most about teaching creative writing for a living? What is the greatest joy for you as a creative writing tutor?
I was recently appointed as a visiting tutor to undergraduates of creative writing at Arts University Bournemouth. This is a splendid institution that offers provision drawing from industry and academia. From my research into creative writing I developed a number of seminars focusing on voice and narration that were well received by the students. It’s great to see the development in the students’ writing and their growing skills at working collaboratively in sessions.
Many thanks for such interesting insights, Gail, as to what you write and why. Good luck with your future writing plans.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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