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Talking with author Alison Alderton

 

Talking with author Alison Alderton


 

Hello Alison, it's lovely to talk to you.

Can you tell readers why did you decide to become an author?

I have always written, mainly for pleasure and been an avid letter writer since childhood but it became more serious when I met my now husband and he introduced me to the abandoned waterways in my home county of West Sussex. I already had a love for unusual architecture and history so when he showed me some abandoned locks on a derelict waterway I was immediately hooked. Witnessing my enthusiasm for the subject he suggested I thought about submitting features to boating and waterways magazines but this was not an easy market to break into. First and foremost a gap needed to be found, I was lucky and on finding a niche, stuck to it. Some personal setbacks later resulted in me having to give up my day job and my writing, which was really more of a hobby at that time, became my main focus – the rest, as they say, is history.

Given my love for the subject, it was inevitable, that sooner or later I would find myself a boat. When that happened, my husband and I, along with our rather boisterous Beagle, gave up our house and what many consider a ‘normal’ life to travel the waterways. By now, with my research into derelict and lost waterways well-known; moving into compiling navigable waterway guides about destinations further afield was a natural progression – soon experiencing and writing about the waterways became a way of life. None of us could foretell that what began on the abandoned canals of England would lead to Ireland then northern Europe and, more recently, Scandinavia. Over twenty years later, I am still travelling the waterways of the world and extremely proud to be recognised as one of the best-known writers and photographers in the field. I have been privileged to boat and live in many countries, the waterways have been good to me providing both solace for a troubled mind and a source of income, yet despite all my years of writing I do not really consider myself an ‘author’ and will not until my first book is published later this year (2018).

Who was the biggest influence in your life that led to your love of books? How did they influence you?

Without doubt the biggest influence in my life regarding a love of books is my mother. From an early age, my sister and I were taught to respect books and treat them as things of beauty. There was no bending back of the spine, turning pages from the bottom corners or marking where you were by turning down a corner – it sounds a little strict but it was not really, just good practice and something I thank her for each and every day. My mother, along with my sister and I, was one of the first in the queue when our village opened a public library back in the seventies. Every three weeks we would go along with her, exchange and select our books – it was a bit of a family outing. In the evenings she would read aloud or encourage us to read passages ourselves. I can still clearly remember her teaching me to read, to sound out the letters before trying to pronounce the word, she spent hours with me sat on her lap as I gingerly moved the ruler down the lines of Peter and Jane, ladybird books. My mum, now in her eighties, remains an avid reader and will often go through several books a week, before passing them on, usually to me and in perfect condition.

Describe your writing process.

My writing process for magazine features usually begins with the information recorded in my boat’s log book. This contains all the essential information, such as the engine hours and length of time a trip took, the weather conditions and overnight moorings, however, for special trips I also keep a day-by-day journal where I record the things which caught my eye. These could range from a rare bird or a castle ruin, to a lock which was particularly hard to open or a welcoming dog-friendly public house. From the information recorded in these two books I begin to write up my features adding other snippets of interesting information, thoughts and feelings. I pride myself in the research I do and enjoy discovering the not so obvious stories and connections relating to the waterway I am working on. This often means I am distracted with side-lines but often these provide other topics – they are my delightful diversions.

Writing a book was different – although my first book is intrinsically linked to the past magazine features because it is about spending twelve years of travelling and investigating waterways with my dog, a Beagle named Buster, it is a lot more personal. It is not a user’s guide, it is a memoir and travelogue, so writing about this was much deeper, more on a personal level. I had quite a collection of notes made over many years and of course lots of memories. He accompanied me on all my expeditions and therefore all the features have a ‘Buster’ related tale connected with them so they were used as the basis. It is quite amusing to think people have read the features but do not know how they came about or what naughty tricks my dog got up to on that day – now they will be able to.

Where is your favourite place to write? Why?

My favourite place to write is on my boat which is a replica Dutch barge named Lily. Being on the water is very relaxing which helps the words to flow and, unlike a house, I can move if I do not like the neighbours or the mooring is in a noisy location or if I just fancy a change of scenery. Many years ago, when I lived in a house and had a spectacular view across crop fields up to the South Downs in West Sussex, I was told by my creative writing tutor to turn my back on the view because it would detract my concentration. I find a good view, for me, has the opposite effect as it helps me to focus even if it is not the subject I am writing about; I guess we are all different and what works for me may not work for someone else?

Does your book follow the same general theme?

I have contributed to several books in the past, all of which are related to boating and waterways. My book differs however, as it is more of a memoir come travelogue, about my dog and what life was like with him. Boating with Buster – The life & times of a barge Beagle, which will be published later this year, is the first book of my own and is about how he pulled me through a dark period in my life and went on to show me life really is worth living and what beautiful places there are for us all to experience. In many ways, this is the story behind the majority of the magazine features, I have written

What is the hardest part of writing a book? Can you explain?

There have been several processes which I would consider difficult, the whole presentation of a book manuscript is very different to the magazine features I am used to – it was almost like having to learn a complete new writing process so not the easiest of tasks. I guess the hardest part of writing a book was, for me, adapting my style of writing – it is very different writing a book compared to a magazine feature. From being short, sharp and to the point on factual matters, my writing had to adapt and flow in order to express myself more deeply. If you will excuse the pun, my personal life is a bit of a closed book so finding the confidence to open up about some of my personal life to an invisible audience was at times hard. I think, and hope, I have succeeded in that without giving away all my life’s secrets but I guess only time will tell?

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

Writing about a topic which I am passionate about, the waterways of the world, makes the process easy. The natural world is a beautiful place and describing it through the senses is something, which I find flows easily for me.

Do you have a favourite book you have had published?

Being my first and so far only book I have to pick Boating with Buster – The life and times of a barge Beagle but to give you a more interesting answer, as far as books I have contributed to, I think I would choose IWAI and the Waterways of Ireland by Brian Cassells. This was published in 2014 to celebrate the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland 60th anniversary and, in which I contributed a chapter about the changing seasons at Dunrovin, the historic property and grounds which once belonged to the association’s founder. It is a descriptive observation, offering readers a sense of place and, I believe, one of my best pieces of writing.

Would you say any other author has been the inspiration behind your work?

I love prose and descriptive writing. A friend introduced me to the written works of Laurie Lee after I explained to her I had seen the film Cider with Rosie and been disappointed. She had a copy of his trilogy of memoirs and the following day returned with it, thrust the book into my hands stating that I should forget what I had watched and read the book instead – I was blown away by it. Being a photographer, I have an eye for what is special. I can scan a view and instantly pick out sections of it which are pleasing, I feel I am blessed with a gift for that. To stand and soak in a view and then take a photograph or write about it is a major part of the process for me, however, I feel it was reading Laurie Lee’s words which opened my eyes to combining both – a photographic mind with descriptive words. Over the years this has become a bit of a trademark with me, people tend to remember my descriptive sentences and passages – I have been told it is what I do best?

Are you working on a new book at present?

No, not at the present – I would like to see how Boating with Buster is received before thinking about another book. There are, however, a lot of notes and ideas building up so although I have found the book writing process totally exhausting, there may be something in the future. As long as my waterway travels continue, the magazine features will and with a new puppy as a companion, behind each one there will be more stories of first experiences, mishaps and adventures no doubt worthy of sharing with others so we will see?

Website: http://www.alisonalderton.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lilyandthebargebeagles/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lilyandthebargebeagles/

Boating with Buster – the life and times of a barge Beagle will be available Autumn 2018 from:

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/travel/boating-with-buster/

Many thanks for Taking the Time to Talk.


 
Comments (10)
 

Wendy Tucker - 06/06/2018

So enjoyed reading this interview. Alison you are so committed and passionate about all you do. This is a great insight into your life and how you have arrived at this point.


Daniel Waters - 05/06/2018

This a lovely article and gives a good back ground behind Alison the writer and her journey into the Waterways of Europe. I wish her every best with the Book about a dog I had the privilege to meet while he was on Irish Waters. Daniel


Fiona Beck - 02/06/2018

I am so incredibly proud of all you have achieved Alison. You love of writing has been with you for years - I always looked forward to receiving your letters when we were little girls writing back and forth to each other! Reading through this interview has actually given me a greater insight into who you are, which has actually been really nice. I can’t wait to receive my own copy of your book to read through and cherish. Be so proud of yourself Ali my dear friend. Congratulations on everything you have achieved and done.


Sue Harris - 29/05/2018

Congratulations Alison, really enjoyed reading your interview. Looking forward to seeing your book. Always remember the day Buster came to visit when he was very young and following his adventures have been a real pleasure.


Nasima - 23/05/2018

Congratulations to you Alison on your book soon to be released. I enjoyed reading this interview to get a better insight!


June & Len Fitch - 19/05/2018

Having followed Alison's many articles in Waterways Magazines, & knowing she was writing her 1st book: we enjoyed reading this interview. We wish her well for the publishing. We greatly look forward to reading "Boating with Buster" once released. Well done


Ronald Mackay - 18/05/2018

My hearty congratulations to you, Alison! Well done! Ron


una - 17/05/2018

Looking forward to reading your book. Never knew Buster the Beagle but your Beagle Maxi has always been a favorite playmate to our Beagle. Knowing how these dogs like to sniff and explore I can imagine the many stories you have while traveling the waterways.


Roger Harrington - 17/05/2018

After a long and arduous journey, finally Boating with Buster will be published. I know how hard my wife, Alison has worked to make this happen despite several set-backs. I'm immensly proud of her and wish her every success with her truly inspiring book. I should know as I've probably read it through more times than anyone else and although emotionally attached to the subject, I still find it hard to read the last chapter without a lump forming in my throught. It really is a detailed, funny sometimes heart breaking book to read and will appeal to both the seasoned boater and dog owners everywhere. Well done Ali - Roger


Alison Alderton - 17/05/2018

Thank you for featuring me in taking-the-time-to-talk. I feel deeply honoured and extremely proud to be part of The English Informer and delighted that Towpath Talk and the Mortons Media Group have agreed for my past Irish waterways features to be reproduced here for a new audience. I hope everyone enjoys reading them as much as I did creating them. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all who have offered friendship, help and support on my waterway journeys across Europe.


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