Remarkable Author Gail Aldwin: Feisty, Sighophile, And Word Wangler

Image of author Gail Aldwin

Gail Aldwin writes novels, poems, and scripts. Her debut novel The String Games made her a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. She also wrote a children’s picture book, named Pandemonium. It has such an adorable cover!

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She loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals.

Her involvement before the pandemic at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second-largest refugee settlement in the world, shows her spirit of kindness and empathy.

 Gail Aldwin contacted me through my blog contact form asking for a review of This Much Huxley Knows. The concept of an adult novel seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old child intrigued me. The book was a pleasant surprise, and it delighted me that Gail agreed to this interview.

Hi Gail. Welcome, and thank you for your willingness to answer a few questions.

1. Name an underappreciated novel that you love.

The Backstreets of Purgatory is a favourite. Written by Helen Taylor and set in Glasgow, I adore the characters including the art student’s hero, Caravaggio, who takes a cameo role. As the blurb says: art, truth and madness come to blows in this darkly funny debut novel.

I’ve checked it out on Amazon. Tattoo’s, a psychologist girlfriend that treats you like a patient, and a stalker. All the required elements to keep you spellbound!

2. Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself? 

Following redundancy, my teaching career ended and I’ve since been on the path of a published writer. I can’t say it’s changed me – I loved teaching and I now enjoy the challenges of writing.

Being made redundant is sometimes a blessing in disguise. It frees up our time and gives us a chance to explore our passions, and often we can put our acquired skills to good use in new creative ways.

3. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Some readers may recognize the real setting of the fictional Nevern. I lived in New Malden, a suburb of London when my children were young. I so loved the time we spent at the park, in the swimming pool and shopping in town, that these locations found their way into the novel.

4. Please tell us more about 3-She, the group of women you are writing with. How did this all start, and what are the group’s plans for the future?

Maria Pruden, Sarah Scally and I joined forces on a scriptwriting course to develop a comedy called Killer Ladybugs. The story was based on Trump’s America first policies but applied to the loveliness of ladybirds suffering from an invasion of Harlequins (the killers of the title).

We had such fun writing this, we continued our collaboration until we had enough sketches for a comedy show which was staged at theatres and fringe festivals in our home county of Dorset. It is our ambition to take a sketch show to the Edinburgh Fringe one day.

Killer Ladybugs sounds like a blast. I hope 3-She will go from strength to strength, as humour is something we always need.

5. I really enjoyed your use of descriptive language in Huxley. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I hardly talked to adults outside my home when I was young. These days a child presenting as I did might be described as a selective mute. Although I gradually gained confidence in speaking, for a very long time I found silence had more power than words.

I can associate. As I child I was a loner with not many friends. But in my case, it was due to hearing loss. But the benefit for me was so much more time to read. Also, being comfortable with silence is a rare skill only a few people ever acquire!

6. You use different publishers for both your books: The String Games and This Much Huxley Knows. Why did you decide to switch publishers? Did you ever encounter any unethical behaviour during the publishing process of your books?

When I signed with Victorina Press for The String Games, I had a clause in the contract removed so I wasn’t obliged to offer them first refusal of subsequent novels. This left me free to find a home in America for This Much Huxley Knows. I haven’t experienced any unethical behaviour although expectations of authors signed to small presses in the UK and America are very different.

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7. This Much Huxley Knows has so far had only positive reviews. All 4 or 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads (with only one 3-star on Goodreads). Did you ever anticipate that Huxley will be such a success? How does it make you feel?

I had such fun writing Huxley that I hoped his story would resonate with readers. It’s an absolute delight to have my skills as a writer affirmed by positive reviews from book bloggers and readers. A good review is a huge boost.

Image of book cover for This Much Huxely Knows by Gail Aldwin and three reviews.

8. I love words. It is also what I’ve enjoyed most about Huxley – his way with words. Did you struggle to come up with his word creations? Did you follow a specific process?

To create a unique voice for Huxley, I decided he would corrupt words in an attempt to be funny and make friends. In the beginning, I’d take any two or three-syllable word and have a go at changing it into something a seven-year-old might find funny. By the end of the first draft, the manuscript was literally stuffed with corrupted words and it was clear I needed to lose a few. I found the corrupted words could be grouped in different ways and this helped with the weeding process.

It would be great if you could give readers a link to or even an annexure at the end of the book, of all the Huxley creations not used. I have enjoyed these word wanglings so much, I feel slightly cheated by losing out on some.

Corrupted words with an underlying truth

In Huxley’s world, even Brexit is funny. He calls it Breaks-it. If only he knew how accurate the corruption of this word would become.

Corruptions that illustrate incomprehension

The word libido is whispered by Huxley’s mum and her friends as they gossip. Of course, Huxley’s flapping ears tune into this word and he changes it into lip-bee-dough. This causes much confusion and suspicion when he shares the wangled word, unaware of the possible consequences.

‘Lip-bee-dough’ is one of my favourites. If you don’t know how Huxley’s mind works, his word creations can be quite confusing.

Corruptions that are humorous transcriptions

An example of this would be pneumonia changed to new-moan-ear. This really does illustrate the peculiarity of English spelling and how Huxley makes fun with language.

Corruptions that illustrate mishearing and repeating words

One example of this comes from a real-life utterance by a friend’s son which I incorporated into the novel. Huxley’s Mum uses sarcasm and Huxley knows when she’s doing it, announcing that she’s being star-cast-stick.

Corruptions that are playful

Instead of breaking words down into syllables at school to help with reading and spelling, Huxley refers to them as silly-balls. Now that’s just plain funny.

Cover of This Much Huxley knows by Gail Aldwin with a review from Julie Morris, A Little Book Problem.

9. What’s the most difficult thing about writing from the perspective of a seven-year-old? Did you find it hard to put yourself in Huxley’s shoes?

To enter the world of a young narrator is an act of imagination although in my case, I also drew upon personal experience. My twenty-five-year-old son was a boy once, so I mined memories of him to feed into Huxley.

For over two decades, I worked with children in schools and included anecdotes from those days. But, to capture the emotional experiences of a child, I drew upon my own memories of the high points and pitfalls of childhood. 

Engaging with my inner child was a starting point. Whenever I was upset as a young girl, I used to hide in the airing cupboard. To recreate that sense of being contained, I cleared out the cupboard under my stairs, (a long-overdue job) and re-experienced sitting in a quiet, dark place where feelings, thoughts and ideas mingled. Although I couldn’t tuck my chin on top of my knees and hug my legs as I once did, it was still possible to get a sense of a young child’s emotional experience of puzzling about relationships with friends and family. By this means, I was able to put myself into Huxley’s shoes and once I’d nailed the voice, the manuscript developed rapidly.

Readers, now you see what writers do to ensure they create genuine and authentic characters. Bless your favourite author with a review and make their day! 😃

10. I believe many readers have asked in their reviews if there will be another Huxley book. Are you planning on writing a sequel?

I would love to write another Huxley book but I have to finish my work-in-progress first. I imagine meeting Huxley again when he’s twelve and started at secondary school. The timeline means this would occur in September 2020 although I think the novel would begin in March 2021 to stop the narrative from getting too tied into lockdown.

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His mother is pregnant with a third child and Huxley is thoroughly embarrassed by this. As Kirsty works for an estate agent, she’s obliged to continue working at the office while Jed is left working from home and supervising home learning for Huxley and his younger sister. I’m sure I can squeeze some humour from the situation.

Oh, the irony! Is this really the same boy who was literally begging his mother for a sibling! I am sure many readers are looking forward to meeting the twelve-year-old Huxley. I sure am!

Interesting titbits:

Do you prefer:

1. Summer or winter? Summer

2. Coffee or tea? Tea, Earl Grey if possible

3. Dog or cat? Now you’re asking. I’m scared of dogs (long story) so it’ll have to be a cat.

4. Morning person or night owl? I’m up with the larks.

5. Beach Holiday or camping? Camping

6. Movie or book? If it’s a book made into a film, can I say both?

Sure you can. But order matters. I find if I read a book first before watching the movie, the movie always disappoints me. So many details get lost in a movie. But the other way around works just fine.

7. Meat lover or vegetarian? I love vegetarian food although I still eat meat.

8. Introvert or extrovert? Introvert

9. Travel locally or internationally? Both! I’m currently on sojourn in Cambridge and I’m planning a trip from Cape Town to Cairo in 2023.

10. Text message or call? Text (I find phone calls intrusive.)

Jip! You can choose when to reply to a text at your convenience. And often people don’t speak clearly on the phone, making it a challenge even for normal hearing people. 

One last question: Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers?

I’m currently working on a novel called Little Swot and it’s a departure from contemporary fiction. Using a dual timeline, this crime novel is initially told from the viewpoint of a menopausal and redundant journalist in 2010.

Stephanie decides to create a podcast that looks into the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Carolyn in 1978. Through the alternating structure of the two viewpoints, readers engage with Stephanie’s investigation and also connect with Carolyn’s experience of infatuation for a teacher and exploitation.

I love mysteries. I will keep an eye out for when you start promoting it on Twitter, and I hope I can review an ARC copy.

Gail Aldwin is already an experienced author. Her character Huxley, has climbed deep into many readers hearts. They will be happy to know that a sequel is in the works. She is also someone who believes in lending a helping hand as seen in how she volunteered in a refugee settlement in Uganda.

We wish you much luck with all your books and the 3-She group, and we are looking forward to your next book, Little Swot.

Hi! I am Susan

Welcome to my adventure

Why Read or Rot?

I have started reading at the age of four. I can remember how I often read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to sleep.

During my early school years, we visited the library once a week. I couldn’t pick out my new book fast enough! By the end of the period, I would have finished it already, leaving me with nothing to read for the rest of the week!

Growing up, Fridays was the highlight of my week. Dad would pack the whole family into the car, and off we go! You guessed right – to the library! We were a family of readers.

In my adult years, I’ve developed a variety of interests like technology, photography, gardening and even writing. But reading was and will always be a part of my life!

Reading for me is like breathing. If I cannot read, my soul will quietly rot away

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. D C Hubbard

    Lovely interview with Gail! Huxley sounds like a lot of fun. Must check it out!

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, This Much Huxley Knows is indeed a delightful book. I’m sure you will enjoy it very much!

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