Poet Q&A: Gail Aldwin

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We’ve been busy at Wordsmith_HQ getting ready for our final launch with Gail Aldwin, winner of our ‘Siblings’ competition in 2018. Gail’s collection draws us in to the lives of ordinary, difficult, rewarding family relationships; her poems stood out to us then and have since been tied together in her debut poetry pamphlet, adversaries/comrades.

Ahead of her launch, we wanted to introduce Gail to you and to hear more about her poetry, her writing process, and (of course) with whom she would most like to share a dinner!

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1. What do you like / enjoy about writing?

Writing is like breathing – life doesn’t happen without it.

2. What are you reading right now?

For fiction, I’m reading a fabulous book by Ali Bacon, In the Blink of an Eye, about the re-imagined relationships of David Octavius Hill who worked with Robert Adamson in Victorian Scotland using early photography. In terms of poetry, I’m enjoying Becky Cherriman’s Echolocation, a powerful pamphlet exploring themes from motherhood.

3. Where did you draw your inspiration from re: ‘Siblings’ competition and subsequent pamphlet?

Most of the poems for the competition and pamphlet came from observations of relationships and stories I’ve heard. Only one or two relate to episodes from my personal history. Everything in the poem changes with redrafting so the original inspiration is sometimes not evident in the final poem.

4. How would you describe your research process and how long do you spend researching before starting with the writing itself?

It’s the other way around for me. Ideas germinate before I start writing and then I’ll think about form and purpose from reading around.

5. How did it feel when you won the ‘Siblings’ competition and began working on your manuscript for the collection?

I’d seen the competition advertised on the National Association for Writers in Education newsletter, checked out the Wordsmith website and decided ‘siblings’ was a brilliant theme for poetry. Once I submit for a competition, I generally file everything away and try to forget about it. When good news comes in the form of an acceptance or competition win, it’s a lovely surprise. I’d never written a series of poems on a theme before so it was a challenge and a learning process. After much drafting and redrafting, it was satisfying to get to the stage of selecting and ordering the poems into the arc of my first poetry manuscript.

6. What was the biggest challenge when working on the manuscript ahead of its publication with us here at Wordsmith?

It was strange to suddenly find myself propelled into writing as a poet where previously I’d considered myself to be a writer. I struggled with levels of confidence but I recovered from this pretty quickly by realising that any type of creative writing cross-fertilizes to improve my writing generally.

7. What advice would you give to someone trying to avoid common traps, mistakes or overcome key challenges in relation to getting their work published?

Rejection is an occupational hazard for any writer. You have to put your work out there in order for it to reach an audience. Try not to get downhearted when the inevitable rejections occur. Take pleasure in celebrating the successes of others and be generous in sharing opportunities that are presented.

8. If you had the opportunity to go through this experience again, would you change anything? If so, what would you change?

Because I am lucky in having two projects coming to publication in 2019, the pre-publication stage has been quite intense. If it had been possible to separate the publication of adversaries/comrades from the publication of my debut novel, The String Games, by more than a couple of months, I would certainly do that. But I’m not really complaining – I know I’m very fortunate to be in this position.

9. Do you feel you have developed any skills since becoming a writer, developing this poetry collection and working with Wordsmith as your publisher?

Working with the team at Wordsmith_HQ has been a real pleasure: from the mentoring support with Sophie to the wonderful cover design by Emily. It seems to me that although the initial writing is done independently it takes a team effort to bring a project to publication. Working in this way has improved my knowledge of the publication process and has developed my skills at working collaboratively.

10. Tell us as a little bit about your next publication or the current / next manuscript you are working on… what’s it called and what’s it about?

The catalyst for my debut novel, The String Games, is the abduction and murder of the protagonist’s younger brother during a family holiday in France. Like a triptych, the novel is structured into three parts that captures the legacy of loss for the protagonist as she moves from childhood into the teenage years and then becomes an adult who is able to address issues of unresolved grief. The novel is published by Victorina Press and will be released in May 2019.

11. Now, just a fun one now to end the interview. If you could go for dinner with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

I have always been fascinated by the power of individuals to influence outcomes on the worldwide stage, Malala is a good example this. But I’d like to hark back to the 1980s when Bob Geldof rallied fundraising support for the Ethiopian famine appeal through Live Aid. So if you can organise dinner with Bob Geldof, I’d be very pleased to attend.

Thanks again for talking to us and we are looking forward to the future for you!


Join us for Gail’s launch on Wednesday 27 March, 7-9pm, at Books Beyond Words in Dorchester. Tickets and info available here.

You can find Gail on her website and on Twitter.