Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Her first children’s picture book Pandemonium was warmly received. In July 2021, Gail’s second novel This Much Huxley Knows will be released. It tells the story of community tensions during Brexit from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old narrator. Gail regularly appears at literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, Gail volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second-largest refugee settlement in the world. Her home overlooks water meadows in Dorset.
Interviewed by Dawn Knox
DK: Why do you write?
GA: As humans, I think we all need a creative outlet. For others, it may be cooking or gardening or painting, but for me, it’s all about writing. I find the whole process absorbing: from the terror of a blank page to the gruelling process of getting a first draft down. The drafting and redrafting bring joy. I love the way stories become nuanced and layered with more detail and crafting applied. I find nailing the plot the biggest challenge and when it’s done, this brings the greatest satisfaction.
DK: What do you write?
GA: Like most other people, there are shopping lists, birthday cards, emails even the odd letter. Of course, my most focused forms of writing are for publication and include contemporary novels, poetry and short fiction. I also co-write plays and comedy sketches that have been performed at venues in Dorset, Brighton and Salisbury. When I set out in 2009 to become a published writer, I never imagined I would also have a children’s picture book published. Writing for children was the last thing on my mind! It was while working as a lecturer delivering input on children’s books to students at the University of South Wales that I struck upon the idea for Pandemonium. Over the years the idea for a cheeky panda causing havoc in a department store developed. The proposal for a full-colour children’s picture book aimed at 2–7-year-olds was accepted by Victorina Press and Fiona Zechmeister appointed as the illustrator. It was then the intensive collaborative work began to ensure the text told one story and the illustrations told a parallel and more nuanced version.
DK: Who do you write for?
GA: When writing fiction, I always have the reader in mind. I strike upon one person (usually female) and create an imagined dialogue with them as the work progresses. I don’t go as far as giving them a name but I’m pretty clear about their age, family commitments, work, interests etc. When I’m sure about who I’m writing for, it’s easier to tailor the voice of my characters and the plot to its readership. Without this in mind, my story could easily get wildly out of hand and go down all sorts of avenues and dead ends. For poetry, the process is different with a focus on patterns of words and images.
DK: When do you write?
GA: Starting out as a writer, I was still working as a teacher and bringing up my two children. I got up at 5am each weekday to secure quiet time dedicated to writing. I no longer have a day job but I continue to get up early to complete a few writing tasks before breakfast. With more free time, I approach writing flexibly. If I don’t sleep well, you’ll find me tapping away at my laptop. It’s not good sleep hygiene but when ideas are flying around my head, I like to pin them down.
DK: Where do you write?
GA: I share a desk with my husband in a back bedroom of our Dorset home. He has the lion’s share of the space and I’m bundled at one end. I don’t mind because when I’ve got my head down, the writing environment really doesn’t matter. So long as it’s quiet and there’s a power point, I simply plug in my laptop and get to work.
DK: How do you write?
GA: Plotting is the most difficult part of writing a novel. I now plan to the nth degree before committing a word to the page. In the past, I’ve wasted too much time writing without knowing where the story was going to attempt that again. I write most things on a laptop but I always have a notebook at my side and my diary. I like to set deadlines and make ‘to do’ lists which help to keep me on top of the process. Writing a novel is an unwieldy beast only tamed by good organisation! When working collaboratively on comedy sketches and scripts, my co-writers and I use an online website called WritersDuet. This enables us to work on one document from our different homes and we talk using a WhatsApp group call. This works well and I even contributed to some comedy sketches using this method while I volunteered in Uganda.
This interview was first published on Dawn's blog here.