The celebrated composer Harry Fox-Talbot, or Fox to his friends, is grieving for his wife, Edie, a singer who rose to prominence cheering the troops during the Second World War. He’s lost interest in music until, quite by chance, his grandson, Robin, discovers the piano. The four-year-old turns out to be a musical prodigy and, by nurturing his development, Fox gradually re-engages with life.
As I rarely, if ever, watch sport, I was surprised how involved I got in the London Olympics. How could I not be moved by such a display of determination and athleticism? But it was the Paralympics I enjoyed the most (despite the slightly inferior TV coverage). Alongside the awe at the athletes’ prowess, were the stories, implicit or explicit, of adversity overcome. On top of that, the games afforded a rare opportunity to look properly at disabled bodies and, with the somewhat complex rating system, to be curious about them without fear of causing offence.
I was quick off the mark with the latest Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge. But, although I was pleased with my toilet dance, I thought it didn’t do justice to the versatility of dance in fiction. So, given that Charli has given us an extra week to submit our stories, and impressed with those I’ve read already, I thought I’d give it another go.
If you could learn to dance from fiction, I’d be able to do the jitterbug after reading Clare Morrall’s novel, After the Bombing. I’m not sure what kind of dancing they did in 1860s Indiana, but the female soldier, Ash, is full of admiration for her husband’s prowess in Laird Hunt’s Neverhome. In my novel, Sugar and Snails, my narrator dressed up in a borrowed tutu and danced without inhibition as a toddler, but sadly never felt as comfortable in her body again. This flash is for her:
Keep at it! You’ll get there in the end if you try hard enough. How often did I come across such words as I struggled to find a publisher for my novel? And, now I’m published, am I going to regurgitate the mantra to others on the way up? No, I’m not, because – do you know what? – it’s bollocks. While writing a good book, and investing time and money to make it better, and treating each rejection as a trigger to try again, no doubt improve our chances, there’s no magic formula. Success doesn’t happen without an element of luck.
They mean well, those published writers who perpetuate the mythology. After all, the great unpublished are hounding them for scraps of encouraging advice. Looking back on their own rocky road to publication, all they see is hard graft and talent. If that got them through, why wouldn’t others achieve the same result? But history is a story told from the point of view of the victors. The voices of those who worked equally hard without the golden ticket go unheard, save a few brave exceptions. Although his emphasis is marketing, Dan Blank proves himself an ally of the disaffected, picturing success as a function of writing talent, author platform and luck.
One of the things I was careful to check before signing up with my publisher, was the proposed retail price of my book. I’d come across other small presses where the paperbacks were the price of a hardback from one of the Big Five. While I appreciate that small print runs contribute to the higher unit costs for the independent publisher, most readers wouldn’t understand. Why should they pick up a paperback from an unknown author and publisher when they could get a discounted hardback from a household name and half a dozen fancy bookmarks for the same price? How could I entice friends and family to support my launch if they had a sneaking suspicion they were being ripped off?
So I was delighted when debut novel, Sugar and Snails, came out priced at the lower end of the scale. With its beautiful cover and quality printing, people queued for signed copies, a few buying an extra one or two for friends. They were happy, I was happy, my publisher was happy – until I spoke to some booksellers.
Many of us are fascinated by where we came from: the parents and places that made us who we are. While it seems we need to leave home, either physically or geographically, to become ourselves, at some point we’re drawn back to reconcile ourselves to the gap between the reality of our personal origins and the myths we’ve been sold or created. Ambivalence about home is such a core feature of my own reading and writing, it’s a struggle to condense it into the ninety-nine words Charli Mills has requested this week on the theme of returning to a place of origin. Join me on a tour of my literary bookshelves while I contemplate my own take on the prompt.
Mired in marketing my novel, less of a shrinking violet perhaps, but still paddling in the shallows, I was pleased when the latest post from the Carrot Ranch appeared in my inbox this morning declaring that Charli Mills also has marketing in mind. “Marketing takes time,” she says. “You’re too damn right,” says I. But when the alternative is readers failing to find my novel, I accept I have little choice. Because when they find it, and let me know they’ve not only read it but loved it, I still get a buzz.
Today’s highlights have been a tweet from a reader who found my novel via a tweet of this photo by Rebecca Root and a yes from one of the quirkiest independent bookshops around these parts in response to my email nudging them to stock my book. Small gains, but they matter. As Charli says, “Being a marketer is like being a watchmaker. The gears do work, but you have to get it all aligned one piece at a time.” At the moment, I don’t even know what the pieces are, but I’m doing what I can to at least give them a chance of lining up.
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 I mentioned on my recent post on Random Musings, I sometimes coordinate my blog posts with one of the international commemorative days dotted through the calendar. But, with a blog about reading and writing, seasoned with psychology, I do wonder about the legitimacy of made-up stories in amongst the true accounts of heroic attempts to tackle the issue of the day. Yet I’m convinced fiction has its place. By providing a safe space in which we can explore attitudes and motivations from which we might shy away in real life, fiction can help make sense of potentially overwhelming aspects of the human condition. So, for my first post for World Suicide Prevention Day, I’m exploring the portrayal of suicide in fiction. But if you’re looking for the facts and figures on suicide, or more direct strategies of prevention, click on the image for more information. While you’ll find a long list of fictional suicides on Wikipedia, I’m limiting myself to novels I’ve reviewed.
Sarah is seventeen in 1255 when she chooses to be enclosed in a cell, seven paces by nine, at the side of the village church. Fleeing the grief of losing her mother and her younger sister in childbirth, and the unwelcome attentions of the lord of the manor, she renounces the world and all its dangers and disappointments to a living death dedicated to God. With guidance from The Rule, a book copied without flourishes by her reluctant confessor, Father Ranaulf, she’s also responsible for the moral welfare of her two servant women and, indirectly through her prayers, the well-being of the village, proud to have an anchoress in their midst, even if they cannot see her.
It takes great skill to compose an engaging narrative about a woman who never leaves her room, but Sarah is an intriguing character. We wonder about her motivation for being there, the impact of her incarceration on her body and mind and, when we discover along with her that one of the previous inhabitants of her cell left in disgrace, whether she will stay. And, much as Sarah would prefer to renounce the world, she cannot be completely isolated, as she hears the church services through a slit in the adjoining wall and the rhythms of village life on the other side, and as women from the village come to solicit her prayers.
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.
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.
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I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
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Anne Goodwin's books on Goodreads
Sugar and Snails
ratings: 52 (avg rating 4.21)
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GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Issue 4
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The Best of Fiction on the Web
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Read Shall I show you what it’s like out there? my latest short story hot off the press.
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