I had the pleasure of meeting Gail the way we all seemed to meet this past eighteen months: through social media. Although to be fair, she lives across the pond from me, so chances were, social media was the only way we were going to connect.
Gail is a novelist, a poet, and a screenwriter, and I was immediately hooked. I had to know more.
Join me today in celebration of the release of Gail’s novel, This Much Huxley Knows, as we discuss her new book, her three writing passions, and which is her favorite.
BC: Which of these do you love the most: novel writing, poetry, or screenwriting?
GA: My heart is in novel writing. It’s the biggest undertaking and perhaps the most rewarding.
BC: Which is easiest?
GA: I don’t find any of them easy – all forms of writing have their own challenges – although scriptwriting collaboratively is a lot of fun. I work with two other women writers as part of 3-She, and we don’t stop laughing the whole time.
BC: That sounds lovely. I had the pleasure of reading This Much Huxley Knows and adored it! What inspired you to write this particular book?
GA: In my debut coming-of-age novel, The String Games, the catalyst for the story involves the disappearance of four-year-old Josh, who goes missing during a family holiday in France. It was because I enjoyed this child character that I decided to explore writing with a young narrator.
When I read early chapters of This Much Huxley Knows to my writing group, they were skeptical that I’d be able to sustain a child’s voice for the length of a novel. This proved to be a motivating factor – tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll always want to give it a try.
BC: Me, too! No wonder we clicked. And where did you find the adorable Huxley?
GA: My twenty-five-year-old son was a young boy once, so I mined my memories of him to feed into Huxley. My daughter’s experiences and incidents from my own childhood also informed the character. For twenty years, I worked with children in schools and included anecdotes from those days. So Huxley is a composite, and I’m very glad you find him adorable.
BC: Your second book is so different than your first, The String Games. What made you decide to go in an entirely different direction, and did you worry about jumping genres?
GA: The String Games was an emotionally draining novel to write. I needed to separate myself from the drama of a lost child and explore something lighter. Although there are strong underlying themes in This Much Huxley Knows, it was largely a happy and upbeat project. One of the challenges of swapping genres lies in taking your established audience with you. Will readers of a psychological drama enjoy a contemporary uplifting novel? Time will tell. But, I enjoy the challenge of writing across genres. To invest all my creative energy into one area would be a huge commitment. I don’t want to risk overlooking other projects that bring their own rewards.
BC: I think that’s very wise and that you are very brave. I’ve had ‘don’t mix genres’ so ingrained in me; I’m not sure I will take the chance. It might just depend, as you said, on whether I’m willing to overlook other projects. So, bravo to you! How long have you been writing?
GA: It all started with letter writing when I lived overseas in my twenties. Family and friends were fascinated with my tales from Australia and Papua New Guinea, and they encouraged me to write short stories. I built upon this at university when I returned to the UK. Afterward, I became a teacher and then had my own children, which sucked up most of my creative energy. As they grew more independent, I returned to writing. I’ve been writing for publication since 2010.
BC: Tell me about your poetry. I’d love it if you sent a poem that I could include in your interview.
GA: With the experience of writing across genres, I tend to know which ideas can be worked into long fiction, how to develop a narrative arc for short fiction, and the momentary pleasures that suit poetry. Here’s an example of poetry that was published in a recent anthology:
sepals like stretched starfish arms
force velvet petals with bluish tips
to lap each other. the rose
strains to show what’s left
of her once vigorous splendour.
lily, on the other hand, is late to party
her veined cocoon splits.
serrated edges reveal
a pink and pearled shell
where stamen dance.
BC: This is lovely! Thank you so much! How in the world do you do all these things?
GA: Smaller projects take a back seat when I’m working on a new novel. But if an idea strikes, I do like to develop it. Because of the many networks I’m involved with, I’m sometimes asked to submit new poetry and short fiction for publication. Seeing work in print is always a joy.
BC: What’s a typical writing day like for you?
GA: Part way through the pandemic, I started joining Writers’ Hour. This is a Zoom call hosted by the London Writers’ Salon and offered four times a day. I join the 8 am hour in the UK, where hundreds of writers gather for a period of uninterrupted writing. This gives me a kick start to focus on my work in progress. Little Swot is a dual timeline crime novel set in 2010 with redundant, menopausal journalist Stephanie Brett who investigates the earlier disappearance of a teenage, west country girl in a cold case podcast. Through the 1978 storyline, Carolyn Forster tells her own story of infatuation and exploitation. Once I’ve made progress there, I focus on other projects. Most days, I stick to office hours and have the weekends off.
BC: Tell me something about you that I won’t find on the Internet.
GA: I have a fear of egg yolks.
BC: Hmmm. We just might need to continue this conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Gail; I look forward to your next book, Little Swot.
About Gail Aldwin:
Novelist, poet and scriptwriter Gail’s debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second-largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.
About This Much Huxley Knows
I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.
Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?
Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship, and what it means to trust.
‘Read this and feel young again’ – Joe Siple, author of The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
‘Moving and ultimately upbeat’ – Christopher Wakling, author of What I Did
‘A joyous novel with the wonderfully exuberant character of Huxley’ – Sara Gethin, author of Not Thomas
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