As someone who’s drawn to subtle stories with complex characters and hates being bludgeoned with being told what to think and feel, I shouldn’t be surprised that there are times when my expectations aren’t met by the book in my hands and I’m tempted to give up. Usually I try to unravel why it didn’t work for me, with the aim of both getting a stronger sense of what I like and don’t like, and what I can learn from this for my own writing. But sometimes I feel quite disorientated by my bafflement, by my lack of connection with the author’s words. If I’ve been unlucky – or chosen unwisely – and experienced a string of disconnections, I can feel quite low. The activity that has always been my refuge becomes a claustrum. It’s like being internally homeless or losing a good friend. (Or finding your compatriots have voted overwhelmingly for xenophobia, which still has me reeling almost a week on.)
I’m proud to be taking the reins this week at the Carrot Ranch, with a flash fiction prompt on showing someone around a property. My theme arose partly from the open weekend at North Lees Hall, which attracted over a thousand visitors across the two days. Although I got rather chilled standing in the doorway trying to steer a one-way system on the two sets of stairs, it was great fun. For those who couldn’t make it to Derbyshire, here’s a virtual tour of the house, both inside and out.
Did you notice the p-word in my opening sentence? Did it make you wince? If so, I hope I can persuade you that, not only is the adjective perfectly apt for the purpose, you should lay claim to it yourself.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating my identity as a novelist: how, on the one hand, it’s a simple statement of fact while, on the other, it represents an existential anxiety about what I’d be if I couldn’t describe myself in terms of something that sounds like a job. So these two novels exploring identity and make-believe, albeit with reference to film rather than fiction, have come along at exactly the right time.
Last year, I set out to read 60 books and read 96. This year, I set a target of 100 books, and read 120. This suggests I’m reading more each year and making more accurate predictions. Of course, it’s not a competition, even against myself, but I do like figures. And, daft as it seems, I do like producing an annual report!
After proving such a generous host on my own long-distance blog tour, I’m delighted to welcome Kate to Annecdotal as she launches her second novel. Here she describes how she links creative writing and emotional healing. Read on and enjoy!
I had been writing for over twenty years when the depression (which is a part of my make-up) overwhelmed me. Up until that point, I had been very focused on publication, writing feature articles and non-fiction copy for magazines, newsletters, annual reports and newspapers. I also had several unpublished novels.
When the emotional and psychological crash came, I stopped writing. Life became an endless succession of treacherous puzzles and traps which I somehow had to work my way round. Picking up a hairbrush became an enormous act of will, never mind picking up a pen and doing something worthwhile with it. I felt very bleak and hopeless. I became inarticulate. When I went into therapy I would cry but I could not speak coherently. After several sessions, my therapist, probably out of exasperation, said, ‘You’re a writer, write and we can look at that.’
When I posted my reflections from my Sunday walk last week, I failed to do justice to the writerly fruitfulness of that particular walk. Not only did I mull over getting lost, consistent with that week’s flash fiction prompt, I also began to formulate some ideas for a short story. Call me psychic – although the theme was more likely to have come from my recent post on Readers Writers Journal about the seduction of romance – but this story with a rare (for me) examination of love was the exact fit for Charli’s latest prompt, apart from being at least three times longer than the 99-word limit. But, tight for time, I’ve decided to use the opening as my contribution to this week’s compilation:
You saved me a seat in the lecture hall, knowing my bus was always late. You cheered louder than anyone when I got the prize for the highest marks in our year. You persuaded the corner shop to stock gluten-free croissants, so you could serve me breakfast in bed. You held me tight when the memories overwhelmed me, despite knowing no amount of holding could undo the past. You wore top hat and tails at our wedding, though more at home in jumpers and jeans. You did it all with perfect grace. You did it gladly, unthinkingly, for me.
The story I want to write in full is a bit darker, but the essence of being loved remains.
Out walking at the weekend, the latest post from Charli Mills was preying on my mind. She’s writing about feeling lost, and challenging us to write a 99-word story on the subject. I can do that, I think. Despite being trained in navigation, I often get lost out on the hills. But there’s another kind of lost that’s more than geographical; as a psychologist and writer, I’m interested in lost as a state of mind.
I set out on Sunday in territory less familiar than my usual stomping ground, only intermittently checking my progress against the map. Avoiding a crowd of noisy cattle, I plunged through shoulder-high bracken, soaking my trousers with the residue of the previous day’s rain. I headed for a path I thought I recognised only to realise, ten minutes later, the rest of the topography didn’t fit. But I pressed on, seesawing between anxiety and excitement. I love discovering new corners of the landscape, finding enormous satisfaction in the moment when the strange intersects with the known. But there’s an edge of concern that I’ll delve too far into unknown territory, that I won’t make it back to base in time.
As one of those who nagged Geoff LePard to give his second novel a proper launch, I’m delighted to be a calling-off point on his blog tour. By a strange quirk of fate, I find myself opening proceedings on the very day I’m over on Terry Tyler’s Zodiac Files explaining how I lack the leadership qualities said to typify a Leo. Whatever the ironies of that, I’m honoured to be able to return the favour of when Geoff welcomed me to his blog last month with an introduction that made me laugh. I can’t match Geoff’s talent for comedy, but I can give another side to the story of our original meeting at an Arvon course six years ago.
Although the course was on second drafts, he and I were in the minority in having actually completed our first. Lugging my box-file of assorted papers down to the classroom/diningroom on the first morning, I found Geoff thumbing through a spiral-bound A5 book, I gormlessly asked if that was his novel, trying to keep the envy out of my voice. One of them, he quipped. I’m not sure how I coped with the discovery that he had four first drafts completed at that point, but I did get to read each of them in those early stages, so it’s wonderful to witness their gradual emergence into the world as bone fide books.
Given my own interest in fictional research, I was curious to learn more about Geoff’s experience of writing a thriller about the controversial issue of embryo research. I hope you enjoy his account as much as I do.
The year I turned fifty, I undertook a long-distance walk: 190 odd miles across northern England from the west coast to the east. Instead of trying to cajole a group of friends into joining me, I chose to do the whole thing alone, but arranging for various friends and family to accompany me for a day at a time. Sometimes I walked solo, sometimes with individuals or a small group of four or five, with my husband – not an aficionado of rambling – valiantly attempting to fill in the gaps. Although the planning process stretched my organisational capacities to the limit, the event itself was wonderful, despite blisters, inadequate navigation skills and the vagaries of the English weather. After two and a bit weeks hiking across three national parks, I reached my destination at Robin Hood’s Bay, exhausted and exuberant. Back home, with a couple of days free before returning to work, I began writing the novel that became Sugar and Snails.
It’s been another hectic week on the blog tour: sharing the novels that have helped me find a mind of my own with Urszula Humienik; examining how contemporary novels feature scientific research with Gargi Mehra; talking attachment with Safia Moore stemming from my character’s difficulty in “telling a story about when you were a little girl”; confessing and commiserating with Clare O’Dea regarding our shared difficulty in articulating what our novel’s about; to come to port on Friday with Lori Schafer to address the question of how much my novel might be autobiographical.
After my weekend in a virtual California, I’m heading northward today to join lead buckaroo, Charli Mills on her fabulous Carrot Ranch in Idaho. She’d already set my place at the table with this lovely introduction on her blog. I’m heading back to the UK for the rest of the week, stopping off first with novelist and psychologist Voula Grand, who was the first to feature in my series Psychologists Write, to explore a shared interest in transgenerational trauma, both on and off the page. Then it’s a second guest post (the first, on Day One of the tour, being on debuting as an older author) with my publishers, Inspired Quill, to reveal my responses to the thoughtful questions put to me by one of the team, Hannah Drury. With all this travelling I wonder if I’ll have time to tidy up before Thursday, when I’ll be showing everyone around my Writers’ Room, courtesy of novelist, former prison governor and Costa Short Story Award winner, Avril Joy. Friday, I’ll be hot-footing it to London to join novelist, blogging addict and reader of an early version of Sugar and Snails, Geoff LePard, for a post on how walking facilitates my writing with, hopefully, a few photographs of the walk that features in my novel. (Yikes, did he realise that’s the day he launches his second novel, My Father and Other Liars, or is his attention to me an excuse to avoid a launch party?)
For the first fortnight of the Sugar and Snails blog tour, I’ve been mostly confined to the UK. Apart from a visit to The Oak Wheel in California, I stayed, like the homebird I am, in my own country until pitching up at the end of last week in Australia. While Norah Colvin might live as far away from me as it’s possible to get, I knew I’d have a warm reception on her blog. Now she’s injected me with the travelling bug, I’m spending this whole week with blogging friends beyond my country’s borders, and greatly looking forward to the trip.
I’m starting today in Poland in the Monday Inspirations slot courtesy of former art therapist, writer and fellow broccoli addict, Urszula Humienik, to talk about the books that have inspired me. Tuesday finds me in Pune, India (one of the two calling-off points in this week’s tour I’ve visited in real life) to explore fictional research with Gargi Mehra, software engineer by day, prolific short-story writer by night. On Wednesday I’m off to Ras Al Kaimah (Arabic for Top of the Tent) in the United Arab Emirates to talk attachment with Safia Moore. Recent winner of the Bath Short Story Award, Safia posted a beautiful review of Sugar and Snails on her blog last week AND flew over from her native Belfast on Friday to join the launch party at Jesmond library. On Thursday, I’m visiting another expatriate Irishwoman, journalist turned fictioneer, Clare O’Dea, now a Swiss national, resident in Fribourg, to discuss not knowing what my novel’s about, a follow-up to her own popular post on the topic. Friday takes me back to California with writer of serious prose and humorous erotica, Lori Schafer, where I’m pondering the autobiographical element of fiction with the author of the prize-winning memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. If all that doesn’t show that the blogging community is truly international, I don’t know what would!
If I was breathless last Monday, announcing Week 1 of the Sugar and Snails blog tour, I must be on the verge of a swoon this week as I begin another round of visits. The first week has gone brilliantly (you can catch up with those first five posts via the links on my blog tour page), so how could I not be excited about the second? I start today under Julie Stock’s Author Spotlight, with a piece about setting part of my novel in Cairo. As a writer of contemporary romance from around the world, Julie has a particular interest in the challenges of setting fiction in real places, the subject of her own post on Susanna Bavin’s blog this week. Tomorrow, Helena Fairfax is interviewing me about where my own life is set, among other things. Helen lives in an interesting place herself, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and former mill town, Saltaire, which you can discover more about in her fascinating post. Then I’m off to chat with my namesake, Shaz Goodwin on Jera’s Jamboree. With her day job as a school Inclusion Lead, I was interested in her interest in novels that tackle a social barrier, as Sugar and Snails most definitely does. On Thursday, I’m on Our Book Reviews discussing the various transformations of my novel from its initial inception as a story of masculinity across three generations. This post arose out of a Twitter conversation after Mary, one half of Our Book Reviews, read and reviewed an advance copy. Obviously, I was delighted to be invited back. Finally, Friday sees me in Australia, quite fittingly discussing the theme of friendship in the novel and in its realisation (extending the theme of my previous post on gratitude) with one of my dearest blogging friends, Norah Colvin. As Norah has already hosted me once before, I know the tour bus will be safe to leave there over the weekend until I get behind the wheel again on Monday.
I’m generally not in favour of “update” posts, but I can’t ignore the perspective shift since I posted five days ago. As of last Thursday, I’m a published novelist, and enjoying it immensely. With each review (six to my knowledge so far), with each supportive tweet at #SugarandSnails, I’m claiming more of my authorial authority. I’m even infiltrating the more traditional media, with a feature on Sugar and Snails in the Lincolnshire Echo and a nerve-wracking but not too dreadful outing on BBC Radio Nottingham (my bit is at about 2.15 p.m. and the link expires in about three weeks). The highlight of the last few days was, of course, my Nottingham launch party, which I’ll be sharing more about in due course. But in the meantime, there’s this lovely and unexpected post on the event from The Mole, the other half of Our Book Reviews.
It’s publication week for Sugar and Snails and I’m breathless with excitement. The buzz is building with two reviews already (from Victoria Best and from Stephanie Burton) and some lovely tweets from early readers at #SugarandSnails. Now, thanks mainly to the generous response to my request for hosts, I’ve made two excursions to other blogs (firstly, to Shiny New Books to share my thoughts on writing about secrets, the false self and insecure identities; secondly to Isabel Costello’s literary sofa to discuss the pleasures of small-press publication), and my case is packed ready to depart on the blog tour proper.
I’m sitting on Isabel Costello’s literary sofa today, sharing my experience of being published by a small independent press. So who better to keep my seat warm while I’m away than Teika Bellamy, writer, artist, publisher and founder of another small press, Mother’s Milk Books? Over to you, Teika.
When I became a mother to my firstborn eight years ago, I found it to be a joyful, yet overwhelming time. I was inundated with conflicting advice from health professionals and received very few words of support. I can still clearly remember the sharp reply I received when I asked a nurse for a glass of water: ‘You’ve got a new baby now. You’d better get up and start looking after yourself.’ So I struggled out of bed with my newborn and, weak due to the post-partum haemorrhage and perineal tearing I’d just suffered with, I shuffled down the corridor and somehow managed to extract a cup’s worth of water out of the water cooler. (A difficult task when it requires two hands, you’re holding a baby and it feels like your groin might fall out of your body at any moment!)
What can be more excruciating than contacting your favourite reviewers and writers in advance of publication to beg them, not only to read, but to like, a proof version your forthcoming novel, and declare so publicly for all the world to see? Well, quite a lot, as it happens, but please indulge a first-time novelist’s egocentrism, if you can, for the duration of this post!
finding truth through fiction
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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