I started this blog in 2013 to share my reflections on reading, writing and psychology, along with my journey to become a published novelist. I soon graduated to about twenty book reviews a month and a weekly 99-word story. Ten years later, I've transferred my writing / publication updates to my new website but will continue here with occasional reviews and flash fiction pieces, and maybe the odd personal post.
This time last year, I posted a review of How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, in which she shares her reflections on the novels that have shaped her life. Although I warmed to the way the author openheartedly shared her love of fiction, I did feel somewhat irritated by the limitations of these heroines’ heroism, so often linked to a romantic plotline. So, in honour of International Women’s Day 2015, let’s take a look at some fictional women who have been heroic in other ways.
So we’re at that time of the year again when a certain type of bloke stops giving his partner slaps and punches, and presents her with a bunch of painted carnations from the petrol station instead. Cynical, moi? After blogging this time last year about how a touch of romance can make a dark story a little lighter or render a speculative setting more credible, I thought I’d look back over my recent reviews for novels with the kind of literary coupling I’d enjoy. After all, there’s a romantic plotline in my forthcoming novel, Sugar and Snails, even if it does kick off with a couple at the point of breakup, and the only Valentine cards are those sent to an extremely embarrassed teen.
Please give a thought to World Toilet Day tomorrow! Last year, I was very excited about my post on the subject and tweeted it several times through the day. Alas, although a year on it’s accrued its share of hits and comments, I was unable to garner any interest among my followers on the actual day. I leave you to speculate on the possible reasons, but I don’t think it was due to losing out to more scintillating competition. My timeline was full of writers peddling their Amazon pages; okay, to be expected when one follows lots of indie authors, but hardly the zenith of creativity. Meanwhile, over on the #WorldToiletDay timeline, I was stumbling over erudite, amusing and moving posts, highlighting the centrality of “the great unmentionable” to public health and gender inequality. But you needn’t just take my word for it, have a look at these gems I’ve saved for you from last year:
On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis got into a debate with her best friend as to which Brontë heroine was best: Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre. The shock of finding herself persuaded by her friend’s argument sent her stumbling back to revisit the heroines of her thirty-odd years’ devotion to fiction. How to Be a Heroine, part memoir, part feminist literary critique, is the result.
When I ‘won’ a copy on Twitter, I thought I’d nailed this year’s blog post for International Women’s Day. Unlike last year, I wouldn’t have to do search around for my own fictional heroines. Samantha Ellis would do the job for me.
Although I shy away from non-fiction these days (The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz a rare and exceptional exception), I quickly became engrossed in the book. I warmed to the voice, and the meticulous attention to detail balanced with touches of self-mocking humour:
When Rhett sees that [Scarlett’s] hand is scarred, rough from work, sunburnt, freckled, the nails broken, palm calloused, thumb blistered, he spits, ‘These are not the hands of a lady.’ (The most direct result of reading Gone With The Wind again is that I have become more assiduous about using hand cream.) (p88)
Among the myriad bookie happenings today, Chuffed Buff Books is giving away e-book versions of the anthology You, Me and a Bit of We which includes my short story A House for the Wazungu. If you’ve been following my posts on pitching, writing in the second person plural and the ‘you’ narrator, all of which featured stories from this collection, but weren’t quite inspired enough to get your plastic out and order a copy, now’s your chance! Of course I’m biased, but I think you’ll find it worth the effort. Here are the links:
and happy reading! I think the free offer extends into 7 March to accommodate different time zones so, if you’re interested, I do hope you manage to pick this up on time.
Comments on the collection or what you’re doing for World Book Day are welcome and I’ll be back tomorrow with a longer post in readiness for International Women’s Day.
As Valentine's Day approaches and the adverts for flowers, chocolates, romantic getaways – and even adopt-a-veg – ping into my inbox, my thoughts drift to romance. Okay, I’m lying. In truth, my thoughts recoil from the frill and froth, the commodification of love. I can’t deny that Valentines can be a lot of fun at a certain stage of life or relationship, but grown-up love is too complex to wrap up once a year with a boxed card with a satin padded heart. Or maybe I’m too much of a cynic?
In my own writing, the dozen or so short stories about couples I’ve published would constitute an unlikely bunch of red roses. Similary, scanning my bookshelves for novels to mark the big day, nothing jumps out at me as pure romance. Pride and Prejudice earns its place as witty social history (or small-scale politics, or even horror, in its depiction of a world where women had no status independent of the men who held the purse strings); its modern counterpart Bridget Jones was consigned to the Oxfam shop before she could bore me with another instalment of her hopeless diet. I’m not against the boy-meets-girl story, but I want a novel to engage my head as well as my heart. So it’s no to romance as genre, and a big maybe to romance as plot.
Yet, looking closer, those romantic subplots keep drawing me in. Perhaps I’ve got a heart after all. Is there a type of novel that particularly benefits from having romance sewn into the weave?
Romance makes the darkness a little lighter
Many moons ago, when I still liked to travel, I took a long haul flight with Aeroflot that meant a stopover of several hours at Moscow airport. This was back in the days of the Iron Curtain but, apart from not being allowed out to explore, they treated us well, with a room to lie down in after a hearty breakfast. What I remember most, however, was having my stereotypes confirmed about life under communism: none of the staff who took care of us ever smiled.
Having been back to the city as a proper tourist and ventured beyond the airport and the superficiality of first impressions, I wouldn't say that was necessarily characteristic of the nation (at least not after a few vodkas). But, according to Lucy Mangan, Bitchy Resting Face is an international affliction. I think I suffer from the opposite, a tendency to look amazingly cheerful (except, perhaps, in my photos) when I'm dying inside.
While the BFR video is tremendous fun, I'm not sure it does much for those afflicted with a genuine disorder, one that unfortunately doesn't generate a lot of laughs. Moebius syndrome is a rare neurological disorder, present at birth in which children are unable to move their faces and being unable to smile is perhaps the least of their problems. I've explored this in my story My Beautiful Smile, first published by Gold Dust and now given another outing. Feel free to read it with what ever facial expression you fancy, but I hope it leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and true gratitude for the ability - if you have it - to smile. And, if you can, wear purple today to mark Moebius Awareness Day.
What’s left of the Christmas narrative once you’ve given up on Santa and the divinity of the Baby Jesus, when you don’t eat turkey and there’s no magic left in buying gifts for friends and family already drowning in possessions? Well, quite a lot as it happens because, stripped of the tackiness and tinsel, Christmas is a celebration of our interdependence and connectedness. So (especially after the previous post about the need for writers to shrug off our parents) I couldn’t let the occasion go by without posting my virtual Christmas card and thanking readers old and new for your support of the blog over its fledging year.
Of course, relationships are at the heart of fiction – at least the kind I like – all year round. Having spent the last few days arranging my published short stories into themed categories (obviously avoiding more pressing tasks), I’m struck by how many are about family, parent-child and couple relationships. And many of those I didn’t list under those headings still touch on how we rub along together, for better or worse.
My favourite Christmas stories have a hint of the supernatural, although their morality is firmly grounded in the harsh realities of the societies we humans have created for ourselves. The movie (originally a short story), It’s a Wonderful Life, where a guardian angel convinces a suicidal James Stewart his life has been a force for good, still brings a tear to my eye. It’s a kind of reverse A Christmas Carol, where it’s the visions of his coldness, greed and loneliness that persuade Scrooge that human relationships are worth more to him than his mountains of money.
If the Christmas narrative oozes redemption and inherent goodness, where do the cynics get their seasonal kicks? Who writes for those who don’t believe in happy endings, whose families are dysfunctional beyond repair? My favourite anti-Christmas story is Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, the antidote to the schmaltzy home-for-Christmas movie. Determined to gather her adult children around her for ‘one last Christmas’, Enid is unaware how distant her version of the cosy family is from theirs.
Christmas hasn’t served as much of an inspiration for my own writing, although I do have a holiday-hideaway scene in my work-in-progress novel Underneath, and I’ve found it useful in longer works as a marker of the passage of time. I’m also quite chuffed, in a business-as-usual way, that one of my short stories, The Seven Dudley Sibs, is actually published on Christmas day. Of the two seasonal stories I have published, I’ve got one for those who go for feel-good and one for the bah-humbugs: in The Front Legs of the Pantomime Horse, Jo finds the local pantomime a lot more rewarding than she expected; in The Wilsons Go Shopping, an ordinary supermarket shop reminds the family how much they’ve lost.
How does Christmas impact on your own writing? Which type of Christmas narrative do you prefer? And, whatever your take on Christmas, hope yours is everything you'd like it to be.
I hope you don’t mind me asking, but have you been to the toilet today? No,
I’m not interested in the condition of your bowels, or whether you put the seat down or washed your hands afterwards, but did you thank the toilet for the service it provided?
No, this isn't another post about pseudo-hallucinations, it’s rather that I’d hate for you to miss out on the World Toilet Day celebrations. Because I’m assuming that, like me, you have a lot to be thankful for in that regard.
I’m thankful that, unlike a third of women worldwide, I don’t have to wander the
streets in the dead of night in search of somewhere safe to empty my bladder.
I’m grateful that my school had toilet and washing facilities, so that I didn’t have to stay at home and jeopardise my education when I began to menstruate.
That I’m not one of the 1.1 billion people around the world who has to shit outside.
I might still grumble when it’s my turn to push the toilet brush down the U bend, but I’m glad that my lifestyle is more akin to Sheena’s than Esme’s in my flash fiction story, Bathroom Suite. That, not only do I have a functioning toilet in my house, I’ve got a spare one for when the main one is busy, and they both sit in rooms that are attractive on the eye. But I hope I’m not as blinkered as Sheena, that I’m doing my humble bit to support those working to bring safe sanitation to all.
For more information on these matters, click on either of the logos. Or listen to this extract from Woman’s Hour, for a reminder of the history of the flushing toilet we’re so lucky to have in the West. Oh, and if you prefer, you can read my story in Hungarian.
Or take the challenge and guess the location of these fabulous toilet facilities – or perhaps you can better it with a favourite of your own. Whatever your toilet-related responses, I promise I won't neglect to say thank you.
A mailshot from ace charity Womankind asks supporters to hold a fundraising book group with inspiring stories about women to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Once you start to think about it, there are almost too many options, but I’d plump for Roxane Cross, the lyric soprano whose beautiful voice holds it all together for both kidnappers and captives in Ann Patchett’s Orange prize-winning novel, Bel Canto.
I wasn’t planning to post until my mother’s day alternative annethology on Sunday, but the mailshot made me question the heroines in my own fiction. And got me feeling a little guilty. It’s not that I make them sit at home knitting their husbands’ socks (and no shame in that if it’s well-written) but they aren’t dashing into burning buildings to rescue sleeping babes from their beds. To be fair, my male characters aren’t particularly heroic either. That’s just not how I write. But I’m a feminist. Shouldn't my heroines reflect that position?
entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice
Anne Goodwin's books on Goodreads
Sugar and Snails
ratings: 52 (avg rating 4.21)
ratings: 60 (avg rating 3.17)
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.56)
GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Issue 4
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.44)
The Best of Fiction on the Web
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.67)
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 three fiction books.
LATEST POSTS HERE
I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on my WIPs and published books.
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