Adieu 2020, you won’t be missed! Although we won’t be fully done with you until we’ve all been vaccinated (and for we poor Remoaners, until we rejoin the EU). Nevertheless, our internal clocks insist it’s stocktaking season: the time to review our successes and failures, to measure ourselves against January’s goals. Starkly unblinkered this year, we gaze back at what seems the Age of Innocence, adjusting our aspirations for 2021. But however we’ve fared, since the pandemic makes staying alive an achievement, we can congratulate ourselves on arriving here.
Amid the lows and lows, I’ve made some progress with my reading, writing and promotion, with some positives that wouldn’t have happened without lockdown. Let’s have a closer look!
As night arrives ever earlier across the northern hemisphere, and Europe returns to lockdown, there could hardly be a better time to curl up with a book. If you have a UK address, you can enter a competition to win a signed copy of one of my novels and five other novels I’ve read and enjoyed.
A few things I’ve learnt through my first foray into self-publishing with a short story e-book freebie
Annecdotal is marking refugee week with two new translations: a novella and novel by authors with direct experience of being a refugee. The first is an innovative collaboration between current residents of the Palestinian camp in Shatila and a London-based publisher; the second is by and about a Bosnian Muslim exiled to Croatia who later arrived in Scandinavia as a refugee.
After reading The Things We Thought We Knew shortly before its publication back in June, I decided to hang back for another novel on psychosomatic illness or acquired disability with which to pair my review. But picking up The Burning Girl more recently, I was struck by the commonalities between these two novels, not only in the obvious sense of a girl in her late teens looking back on an intense friendship, but in the depth of disturbance resulting from its loss. As happened when I coupled two novels on male infidelity, discovering the similarities enhanced my appreciation of both. While neither pairing uncovered themes of particular personal relevance for me (which can enhance my enjoyment), the fact that they matter sufficiently for more than one author persuades me that other readers might find more to savour. Do let me know if that applies to you!
Happy publication day to me! I must admit it doesn’t feel the huge leap it did the first time round, but I’m still excited, albeit not breathlessly so. There’s a quieter satisfaction in having more than one of my own novels on the shelf, making the transition from writer to author to novelist. This post is to thank those who’ve helped me on my way. While writing is a solitary activity, no writer is an island. Our achievements arise through hard work, good luck and not a little help from our friends.
I hadn’t been reviewing for very long, when I was invited to contribute to the book recommendation site, Shiny New Books. Honoured as I was, I didn’t feel ready back then, but kept it in mind. After Victoria posted a lovely early review of Sugar and Snails on the site and hosted my guest post on writing about secrets, I resolved to keep an eye out for suitable books to review. I’m pleased to announce that my reviews of The Social Brain and Playthings were accepted for the latest edition so if you’re satisfied with the easy answer to my question you can go straight to the reviews by clicking on the images. But if you’d like to discover another connection, then read on.
I recently shared an extract from my next novel, Underneath, in which a little boy is dancing with his mother to Cliff Richard’s Living Doll. The words are taken all too literally by the child who becomes the man who keeps a woman imprisoned in a cellar but I knew, from the very first draft of this novel, to be wary of quoting song lyrics. Yet, in the version I sent my publisher, I’d retained six words that furnished a neat link between past and present, while demonstrating the narrator’s disturbed and disturbing state of mind. But as publishing becomes a (still fairly distant) reality, I thought I’d better get some advice from the Society of Authors on copyright law. Based on what I was told – and this is only my interpretation – I’ve decided to paraphrase instead of quoting: I don’t want to risk having lawyers on my back; nor do I want to renege on my own personal vow never to pay to be published (it’s the author’s, not the publisher’s, responsibility to seek out and pay for permissions).
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!
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.
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!
A couple of years ago, I published a post on the four criteria that make one a writer. Although I can appreciate the differing perspectives offered in the comments, I’m still happy with my description of a writer as someone who edits their work; understands the “rules” (although doesn’t necessarily follow them); has served their time; and has attracted readers beyond their immediate friends and family. Conveniently, this definition of a writer enabled me to claim the title for myself.
I didn’t really consider the word “author”, and certainly not as a stand-alone title (as opposed to “author of” such-and-such a work), until I joined The Society of Authors last summer. Even then, it was because I needed advice on my publishing contract rather than to club together with other “authors” – such an old-fashioned term, I thought, that ought to be abandoned in the way that “artists” have now rebranded themselves as “painters”. That changed when, last month, I attended an event on working with the media, led by the award-winning former BBC TV reporter, Alistair Macdonald.
Transferred from blogger to blogger like a virus, the blog hops and awards go round and round. If they enter your circle without touching you, you start deluding yourself you’re immune. Then you get clobbered by several simultaneously; it’s enough to keep you in bed. Some discover creative ways of declining but, like those childhood illnesses that confer adult immunity, there’s a lot to be said for getting them out of the way when you can.
Of course I’m flattered by the nominations, but there’s no denying that responding eats into your writing time. So, as I did a couple of months ago with my backlog of blog awards, I’ve decided to condense the four blog hop doo-dahs into a single post.
Lisa Reiter nominated me for the “my writing process” blog hop way back in June (hence the Sweet Williams on my desk). This involves answering four questions about the what, why and how of one’s writing and passing on the baton to another three writers whose work you admire. Easy: but I still hadn’t paid my dues when, almost three months on, Tricia Orr invited me to be her nominee for the same blog hop. Meanwhile, another mutation raised its head, focusing on the single question of “why I write” in greater depth, which came my way via Ruchira. Finally, a brand-new blog hop from #writingwithoutworkshops, again concentrating on the importance of why (via the tag #importantbook) infected me by one of my Liebster nominees, Juliet O’Callaghan. Let’s hope I can do justice to these lovely ladies’ confidence in me by providing some answers that aren’t as rambling as this introduction.
Following the super comments on a recent post, I’m still musing on the process of creating a story; not so much the nuts and bolts of tension, plot and character, but the medley of ideas that drives us to construct a tale. The weekly prompts I’m following, or choosing not to, for flash fiction and bite-sized memoir are bringing this into sharper focus. Normally, I don’t have to dig for ideas and it’s more a matter of waiting for the urge to grab me; now, the set topic gives these unconscious processes a less dominant role. Sometimes the constraint is an aid to creativity, sometimes not, but Wednesday’s challenge on the theme of surprise sparked my interest straightaway. While it was still a struggle to shoehorn my idea into those 99 words – and I’d very much welcome your feedback on how I’ve done it, especially as I’m considering extending it into a longer flash – I had no hesitation in choosing my subject. See what you think, and then I’ll tell you about the background influences of which I’m aware.
Tyres crunching on gravel snapped Mum out of her doze. “Oh, my!”
The grand house loomed ahead. “Do you recognise it?” said my sister.
I parked by the porticoed entrance. Beyond banks of rhododendrons, the lake shimmered. My sister hopped out and opened Mum’s door. “Bet you’re itching to explore.”
Mum stayed put.
“How about tea first?”
Mum didn’t budge.
My sister took her wrinkled hand. “It’s where you were evacuated, remember?” Mum’s tales of wartime escapades were embedded in our childhoods. “It’s a hotel now.” This mini-break, the perfect birthday treat.
Mum was almost retching. “No, please, no.”
Don’t you love connecting through the internet? It’s great fun peering into other people’s shop windows and, if we’re really lucky, being invited inside. I get quite excited about the way we feed off each other’s ideas (with appropriate credits, of course) and can visit places we wouldn’t otherwise go. I’m just back from a virtual flight to Australia to pontificate on Norah Colvin’s blog. My post, exploring the psychoanalyst’s Stephen Grosz’s thoughts on praise, blossomed out of <140-character interactions with Norah on Twitter. Why not climb aboard your own magic carpet¹ to have a look at what our creative dialogue has spawned? Thanks to Norah for the invitation and the lovely way she has presented my post.
I didn’t have to travel quite so far when I did my other g**st² blog post at This Itch of Writing. The theme of that was writer’s block, with a bit of psychoanalytic theory thrown in, and, if you’ve avoided my plugs so far, you’d better have a look now!
Since Annecdotal’s inception, I’d wondered about playing host to other writers, but my attempts to persuade friends who weren’t already blogging didn’t work out. But it’s time to cast the net a bit wider and think about recruiting other voices to vary the tone. There’s so much knowledge and talent around, it’s hard to know where to start, but I want to keep the focus on reading and writing. Let’s see how it goes.
What’s your experience of fruitful connections in the blogosphere? If you’ve played host on your own blog or been invited to appear on another, do you have any tips for the novice?
My next post will (probably) be on writing is the second person – do come back this weekend to share your thoughts on the ‘you’ narrator.
¹ Apologies for the whimsy, I’m dancing back and forth between this post and one I’m drafting for International Women’s Day next month, where Scheherazade gets an honourable mention.
² If you’re wondering why I’m nervous about the g**st word, I read somewhere that Google was very snotty about it. It might be a myth, but don’t want to mess up those SEO’s.
So, it's the time of year when the newspapers, half the staff on holiday and the other half nursing hangovers, fob us off with reviews of the year which are nothing more than a rehash of the articles they can most easily lay their hands on, much in the way a cook conjures up a curry from the leftover turkey. Now, I've got more respect for my readers, yet – blame the sherry and figgy pudding, if not the reruns of sentimental Hollywood films – I feel a similar urge to regale you with a look back at my reading and writing and blogging year.
I hope you'll find the generosity to indulge me and perhaps return the favour in the comments box below. And, because it's the time of year for tantalising puzzles, there's a connection between the numbers marked with an asterisk.
I'm not given to risk-taking, especially not on something as scary as the net where trolls can monitor your every move, so I thought long and hard before starting my blog. Mostly what I thought was: No, that's not for me. Quick, draw the curtains, you never know who might be peering in.
Then, all of a sudden, I had a new computer and a brand-new blog. Learning my way round both Windows 8 and Weebly at the same time, perhaps I should be grateful that it was the computer and not me that went into meltdown (miraculously only a couple of days shy of the end of the no-quibbles return period). Aside from the first post, which seems a bit pointless, but I'm leaving up as part of my ten-step programme for combatting shame (not that ten steps are anywhere near sufficient), I'm glad I've done it, but I'm still not sure what it's for. There's a part of me still thinks it's quite mad – but that might be the same part that thinks that any project not set up with the explicit purpose of pleasing my mother is mad, I'm not sure how seriously to take it.
Yet I’m seriously addicted and, I think, in a good way, so read on if you want to know the three reasons why I got into blogging and kept going.
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 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.
Your comments are welcome any time any where.
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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)