– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m not on a blogtour, but doing my own interview with Gail Aldwin, author of ‘This Much Huxley Knows’, to promote her book!
Before I let you read my Q&As, I’ll first post some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
Gail Aldwin is a novelist, poet and scriptwriter. Her debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Her most recent novel This Much Huxley Knows uses a seven-year-old narrator to show the world through an innocent lens.
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
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m Gail Aldwin, a Dorset writer recently returned from sojourn in Cambridge and off to Cornwall in November. (Writing is a portable profession!) I’ve been writing for publication since redundancy from my job as a teacher. It’s been a long road but I’m pleased to have short fiction, poetry and two novels published. The most recent release is This Much Huxley Knows a contemporary novel which uses a young narrator to shine a light on the follies of adults. When at home, I write in a room overlooking water meadows.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I was a non-reading child. By the age of eleven I could decode a text but I never saw books as a source of interest and pleasure. When I was seventeen and commuting into London for work, I started reading for enjoyment. The first novel I borrowed from my older sister was Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Although I have big gaps in my reading history, I’ve tried to make up for lost time. Currently, I read lots of books by debut novelists and aim to support other writers by purchasing and reviewing their books.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
One of my favourite novels is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I’d love to learn the tricks in writing a book which offers a sensory reading experience.
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
As part of my research for This Much Huxley Knows, I read many novels with child narrators. A recommended novel is Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English. I wonder what eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku, a new arrival from Ghana would have to say. I’m sure he’d tell me more about the gang culture on a south London housing estate. He’s got a good sense of humour, so I hope he’ll come up with a joke or two to make us laugh.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
Since lockdown, I’ve joined Writers’ Hour every weekday morning at eight o’clock. The Zoom call is hosted by the London Writers’ Salon where a warm welcome, a concentrated writing time and a check out is offered. During lockdown it really helped to separate the weekdays from the weekends and I’ve continued to attend regularly for the kickstart it gives my writing day.
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
Ideas are like dandelion seeds floating in the air – I reach out and grab one. The whole process of writing is absorbing: from the terror of putting thoughts onto a blank page to the satisfaction of redrafting and editing. I draw from life experiences in my work but apply what’s happened to fictional characters so the outcome is usually very different.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
My debut novel The String Games was written as part of a PhD and this involved using the novel to experiment with different ideas, techniques and strategies linked to the research. As a result, the novel went through about fifty drafts. Since then, I’ve plotted each novel to the nth degree to avoid going down fictional dead ends. My recently published contemporary novel for adults This Much Huxley Knows went through loads of drafts but certainly not as many as fifty!
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
Be generous with your time by supporting other writers. Share details of competitions, open submission windows, residencies etc. Celebrate every small step along the way for yourself and other writers. By following these tips, you’ll build stamina for the journey to publication.
What are your future plans as an author?
My work in progress is called Extra Lessons. It’s a dual timeline novel initially told from the viewpoint of a menopausal, redundant journalist in 2010. Stephanie decides to create a podcast which 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. This is a new venture for me, into the realms of crime fiction.
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
The playground at St Michael’s School is a car park tonight. Mum drives into a space and I wait for Dad to open my door. It’s Saturday and this means my teacher won’t be around. Mrs Ward says I’m a nuisance when I’m only trying to have a laugh. I think new-sense is clever, so it doesn’t matter if she calls me that any more.
Families are getting together to make money for our school – there’s never enough to go round. We’re having an auction to sort this out. Grown-ups promise to do something, then it’s sold to the person that gives the most money. My mum and Ben’s mum did a lot of talking about the auction. With her new camera, Paula’s going to take a photo of a family to go in a fancy frame. Mum is doing better by giving away two bottles of her homemade elderflower juice. Yippee! The orange stuff from the supermarket is much nicer. It comes in a bottle the shape of a telescope.
At last, Dad lets me out and I race over to Paula’s car. It’s called a Beetle but I’ve never seen insects that big. Ha-ha-ha. I press my nose against the window to look inside. My breath leaves a cloud.
‘Come away, Huxley,’ says Mum. ‘You’ll set off the alarm.’
I rub my sleeve over the glass to clear away the marks then rush to catch up. She holds my hand and I swing-swing-swing our arms high in the air.
‘Steady on.’ Mum’s a jiggling skeleton. It’s part of our game.
We don’t usually walk through the main door because I’m meant to stand on the line in the playground ready for going into class. I always want to be at the front and I get there by pushing and shoving. If Mrs Ward sees, she sends me to the back and then the bigger children in the next class make fun of me. My teacher never watches when picking-on starts so I have to put up with it. It’s not easy being in Year Two.
We dump our coats on a table in the hall and I spot Ben by the climbing bars that are pushed flat against the wall. As usual, he’s wearing his Malden Town football shirt. I hang around near Mum for a bit and watch what he’s doing. With one foot on the bar nearest the floor, it looks as if Ben’s going to leap to the top. Spider-Man can do it but not Ben. He gives up his chance and comes over to me.
‘Let’s go into our classroom,’ whispers Ben.
‘To mess around.’
This is not allowed although the idea is exciting. Mrs Ward has rules we’ve heard one hundred times before. I pinch my throat to turn my voice the same as hers. ‘No touching the things on my table!’
‘Or mucking up the books!’ Ben joins in.
We sound like her and I can’t stop smiling.
‘Let’s poke about.’ Ben’s eyes go slanty as he whizzes them round the hall to check it’s safe to sneak off. Mum and Paula are chatting – they won’t see we’re gone. This is our chance!
‘You first,’ I say.
Chairs are on the tables and it’s creepy in the empty classroom. I head for the nature display to have a look at Zac’s squashed toad. He said it was run over by a car and told everyone it was a great find. Mrs Ward didn’t know what was in the bag until the paper split. Surprise made her jump out of her chair and the toad’s leg fell off when it landed on the floor. After that, it wasn’t such a great find but Mrs Ward still made space for it on a special stand. I pick up a felt pen that’s lying about and dig it into the place where the toad’s eye should be.
‘Give me a go,’ says Ben.
He presses in another pen to turn the toad into a Dalek from Dr Who. Me and Ben shout exterminate until we’ve got no breath left. Next minute, our school caretaker comes in. He shoos us back to the hall with the big crowd of parents. I barge through skirts and trousers and forget to say excuse me but Mum doesn’t notice. She gives me a fifty-pence piece to spend at the children’s table. I slip it in my pocket so I won’t lose it.
On the stage, Zac’s mum talks into a microphone that gives a horrible squeak. I stuff a finger in each ear to block out the noise. With the holes plugged up, voices go blah-blah-blah. I shake my head like I’ve gone bonkers. By yanking my hands free, Mum breaks the game. She drops down to bring us eyeball to eyeball. Listening to her serious voice, I stare at the powder on her eyelids that’s smudged and golden. She paints it on with her mouth open same as a fish. I let a snigger slip out.
‘If you can’t behave nicely,’ says Mum, ‘I’ll take you home.’
‘I will be sent-a-ball.’ Smiling stretches my cheeks.
‘That’s hard to believe when you don’t even say the word properly.’
‘But saying sensible is not a joke.’
Mum lets her eyes go up to the ceiling and back.
My dad is getting beer from the serving hatch. That’s where we wait for our school meal but there’s no sausage and mash tonight. I join the queue at the children’s table. When I get to the front, I shoot my coin across and it nearly flies off the other side. A big girl slams her arm down to stop it. She slides a cup of orange towards me. I have a swig but it’s not worth a whole fifty pence.
Ben’s family and my family stand together when the charity auction starts. Everyone goes quiet. I can tell what’s going to happen because I watch daytime TV with Mrs Vartan. She’s our neighbour and looks after me sometimes. To bid at an auction you put your hand up and shout out a number. At school, we have to talk quietly although parents break the rule. The fun is only for grown-ups. It’s boring being left out but I clap at the right time. I try to be the loudest clapper and it makes my hands sting.
‘Thank you.’ Zac’s mum’s voice is loud and strange when she uses the microphone. Her face is bright pink as if she’s been under a heater. ‘Next, we’ve a special lot from our very own Miss Lucy Choi.’
I don’t understand why Zac’s mum says Miss Choi belongs to her. Everyone knows she’s the teaching assistant in my class. I’m allowed to call her Lucy because she’s Mum’s friend. Strange thing is, I forget and call her Lucy at school and Miss Choi at home! Sometimes the wrong name comes out by accident, sometimes I do it on purpose. Zac’s mum reads out loud from the clipboard but I’m interested in watching Dad. He glugs back the last of his beer and then waves his arm in the air.
‘This one’s mine,’ he shouts.
‘Calm down.’ Mum speaks in an extra loud whisper. ‘It’s only a birthday cake.’
Zac’s mum beckons Miss Choi onto the stage. She shakes her head because she doesn’t want to go but Zac’s mum gives her a hand. One big step and Miss Choi’s up there with the others. Her legs are pencils in her black jeans. Ben’s Nanny Phil says everyone from Miss Choi’s country looks the same. When she says stuff like that Paula tells Nanny Phil to shush or she’ll get a reputation. To be funny, I say rip-you-station … although some people never get my jokes.
‘Such enthusiasm for this fantastic offer of a homemade birthday cake in a Barbie or rocket shape,’ says Zac’s mum.
‘Cracker of a lot, Lucy,’ shouts Dad. ‘I’ll give you twenty quid.’
‘What are you up to?’ Mum is staring at Dad.
‘Can’t let you get away with that.’ This time it’s Tony talking. ‘I’ll top you to thirty.’
‘Give it a rest,’ says Paula.
Dad takes a new can of beer from his jacket pocket. Froth spurts as he opens it, so he licks away the mess.
‘Excellent.’ Zac’s mum’s voice bounces around the hall. ‘Any more bids?’
‘Forty pounds,’ shouts Dad.
I can’t understand why Dad wants a cake. My birthday was in September and I had a bouncy castle and a castle cake that came in a huge box. I don’t think much of rocket cakes and Barbies are for girls. But Dad is having fun because he nudges Tony and says, ‘Beat that’.
The dads are mucking around and I can’t be bothered to wait for Tony’s bid. I’m wondering about my next birthday. When I’m eight, I want a pirate party. Dad can wear an eye patch and Mum’s hair is long enough to be Jack Sparrow. My hair goes over my ears to keep them warm.
All of a sudden, Dad’s hand is up in the air again. ‘Great stuff, Lucy,’ he says. ‘Make it sixty.’
Zac’s mum’s eyes are ping-pong balls. ‘How generous.’
Miss Choi folds her arms and shuffles from side to side.
‘Any further bids?’ Zac’s mum is staring at Tony.
‘Why not,’ he says. ‘I’ll go to seventy.’
Paula shakes her head, making her golden hair whip about her shoulders. Then she looks at the floor, like there’s something very interesting on the wooden blocks.
‘Eighty,’ says Dad.
Mum is straight and stiff as a ladder.
‘Marvellous,’ says Zac’s mum. ‘Our highest bid of the evening. Any more takers?’
‘I’m out.’ Tony’s smile turns his cheeks into folds. ‘It’s all yours, Jed.’
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Gail Aldwin.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds
P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!