When Fleur Smithwick, one of the early endorsers of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, likened my central character, Diana, to the narrator of The Woman Upstairs, I was flattered. I knew that the author, Claire Messud, was well regarded by the literati and, although I hadn’t read it, the reviews suggested The Woman Upstairs was my kind of book. I also recalled some fireworks around the publicity, when (presumably male) reviewers and interviewers had queried the creation of an angry female character. Having finally read the novel, I followed this up to discover an article in the New Yorker on character likeability. Interesting as that article is, I’m shocked that it stems from an unchallenged assumption that readers will agree that Nora is unlikeable, not someone you’d want as a friend.
About the author and blogger ...
Anne Goodwin writes entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice. She has published three novels and a short story collection with Inspired Quill. Her debut, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Her new novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, is rooted in her work as a clinical psychologist in a long-stay psychiatric hospital.
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.
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.
Fiona Palmer is delighted when she bumps into her former English teacher, Henry Morgan, in the supermarket. Although she’s been happily married to Dave for the last two years, she readily embarks on an affair. This is her opportunity, she thinks, to cement the bond they’d developed when she was a precocious fifteen-year-old, to bring that special relationship onto an adult level. But can an out-of-school friendship between pupil and teacher ever be innocent? What’s wrong with Fiona that she’s ready to give up on her marriage so soon? And what has become of her teenage promise as a talented writer? Why, if she was supposedly so intelligent, has she settled for a humdrum job in telesales?
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!
Two twelve-year-olds from separate states are abducted and kept for six weeks in a cabin in the woods. The girls are strangely compliant, fearful of what might happen but excited to be plucked from their neglectful parents and dreary lives. Spelling-bee champion, Lois, and beauty-pageant veteran, Carly-May, crave adult attention, and are thrilled to find themselves chosen, competing and cooperating for the approval of their kidnapper, the mysterious Zed.
Decades later, they know they’re damaged by the experience, although unsure exactly how. Lois has become a university lecturer, specialising in nineteenth century English literature, with a secret side-line as a writer of popular fiction. Carly-May has reinvented herself as Chloe, an actor too pretty to be taken seriously, still hankering after a more intellectually challenging part.
Writing last week from the hospital bedside of her dear friend, Charli Mills invited Rough Writers to compose a 99-word story featuring a rose. I immediately thought of a scene from my forthcoming novel, Sugar and Snails, in which the main character, Diana, looks back on her childhood. There’s not much of a narrative arc in this episode, but I thought I’d share it anyway, slightly amended, although it works better in context where it gains an additional layer of meaning:
“Don’t think it’s all a bed of roses,” said my mother, handing me the potato peeler and nudging me towards the sink.
Since my sister had left home, I’d taken to helping out with cooking and cleaning. I didn’t mind, but I was embarrassed that my mother would think I was hankering after a future as a housewife. It seemed to me that a bed of roses summed up my mother’s life exactly: perfumed petals imprisoned within a tangle of thorns. I wanted to ramble beyond the pot of soil in which she’d planted me. I wanted to bloom.
entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice
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),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on my WIPs and published books.
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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)