Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be today's stop on the Sugar and Snails Birthday Blog Tour
And here's the author Anne Goodwin to tell us all about Sugar and Snails
Welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Anne ~ How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, but took it up seriously about thirteen years ago when a bereavement forced me to take stock of my life, especially the balance between my employment as a clinical psychologist and my more personal ambitions. It felt quite scary reducing my hours to dedicate some time to an endeavour I’d always felt rather embarrassed about, with no way of knowing whether the effort I was putting in would reap results. I was lucky to find an online short story writing course to support those tentative first steps and, although it’s been a rough ride at times, I’ve never regretted taking that leap into the unknown.
What inspired you to write Sugar and Snails and what can you tell us about the story that won’t give too much away?
Sugar and Snails emerged from a strange interaction between my response to a newspaper report about a distinguished academic who died of anorexia without anyone in her immediate circle being aware of her difficulties; questions about gender fluidity, including the chance discovery that I’d been travelling for weeks on a passport with the letter M in the box for sex; and my attempts to reconcile myself to my own traumatic adolescence. In a nutshell, it’s a midlife coming-of-age story about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for her entire adult life. While Diana’s background is an unusual one, readers can easily relate to the challenge of bridging the gap between who we are and who we would like to be. We all have some parts of ourselves we’re not happy with and would rather others didn’t see.
Are you a plotter...or ...a start writing and see where it takes you sort of writer?
Although I’ve often posed this question myself in the debut novelist Q&A’s on my website, it doesn’t help much when it comes to formulating a response in relation to my own writing! Since I really don’t know what it would mean to properly plan a novel, I suppose I must be a pantser, although that doesn’t fit so well with my control-freakery personality. However, I do find that the best way for me to prepare to embark on a fiction project is to play around with the ideas in my head for as long as I can. At some point, the thoughts will be so overwhelming that I have to get them out somehow, but I definitely feel there’s a loss of flexibility (despite multiple revisions and rewrites) once the words are on the screen. I enjoy seeing where the story will take me, and my characters, but if I don’t have some idea of the ending by about a third of the way through, it’s unlikely to work (which is why I have a lot of unfinished projects). However, as happened with Sugar and Snails that ending might well change over time. Once I have a first draft, I can look at what I’ve got to see where I can ratchet up the tension and tighten up the plot. For a big project, like a novel, I tend to produce an outline to remind me what I’ve got as I go along, so you could say I’m a retrospective plotter.
What were the challenges you faced whilst writing this novel?
Out of dozens, some of which I’ve probably repressed, I’ve picked three to share with you:
1. I wanted readers to have the pleasure of discovering Diana’s secret as the story progressed without inducing too much irritation at information being withheld. I had a rule of never deliberately misleading, and I particularly enjoyed planting clues along the way, but it was hard to strike the right balance. While I also felt that her reticence was consistent with her character, some of her more curmudgeonly features were edited out in order to make her more sympathetic.
2. I also needed to convey information about her particular identity which the average reader would not have known. I think I found ways of doing this which worked within the story, but I do have a morbid fear of the “information dump” or clunky dialogue in which characters discuss something they already know.
3. I originally wrote the novel from three points of view, which was condensed into one in the final draft. While some scenes from the perspectives of her parents could be cut without spoiling the story, the experience of her father, Leonard, as a prisoner of war, impacts on the kind of person Diana has become. Since Leonard was no longer in a position to tell his own story, I had to find another way of showing this to readers.
When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?
I’m very lucky in that I took early retirement a few years ago so my time is (mostly) my own. I don’t have a set routine, but generally do my writing in the daytime. The downside, of course, is that I have fewer excuses for failing to complete projects than I had when I was working.
I’m also lucky to have a desk in a pleasant room with a view over our front garden. Because I rely on speech recognition software to do my writing I do need a quiet space, so I don’t have the flexibility of some writers to work in cafes, for example.
But I also consider myself to be “doing my writing” in my head when I’m out on country walks so, in that sense, the Peak District where I volunteer as a Ranger also qualifies as one of my favourite writing places.
Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?
My second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman imprisoned in a cellar, is written and edited heading for publication in May next year. But that isn’t because I’ve been particularly quick at getting it written. Two years after I began Sugar and Snails I thought it was finished, so sent it out for a critique while starting another. When the feedback showed me I still had a long way to go, I moved back and forth between the two novels, spending several weeks or months revising one before putting it aside in favour of the other. I never quite knew which would be published first, or if either would be published at all, so I’m pleased how things have worked out.
I’ve also been plugging away slowly on the second draft of what I hope to be my third novel, which, like Sugar and Snails is about secrets, with the focus this time on lives wasted through psychiatric incarceration. I’ve taken my inspiration from my first job as a qualified clinical psychologist as part of a team tasked with resettling long term psychiatric patients to the community.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and longlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 60 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
In honour of its first birthday, Sugar and Snails is available in Kindle format at only £0.99 / $0.99 until 31 July 2016.
My thoughts about Sugar and Snails...
Sugar and Snails is an altogether different look at the way destiny shapes our lives. Diana Dodsworth is a shy and introverted forty-something, she guards her privacy well, and trusts few people. She keeps her friends at arm’s length, and finds no reason to confide in them, nor does she want people to know anything more about her other than what she is willing to disclose. However, when circumstances force her to look again at her life, Diana has to learn to have self-belief, even if it means giving up some of her well-guarded secrets.
The author, with a keen eye for detail, tackles some difficult issues, but with perceptive sensitivity she keeps a firm grasp on the main thread of the story, and as Diana's interesting past emerges, so a thoughtful and poignant story starts to be revealed.
I don't feel that I can share anything more about the emotive themes which run through Sugar and Snails as that would be to reveal more than was wise, so all I will say is that I found the story quite different from what I expected, but different in a good way. It's a very thought provoking read and makes you ponder the question ‘what is identity’ and concludes with the thought that, who we are, should be who we are’ regardless of the circumstances, or otherwise, of our birth.
This is a thought provoking debut novel and I hope that this talented author continues to give us more of the same in future novels.
Jaffa was especially pleased to meet up with Marmaduke, a discerning cat after his own heart.
Best read with...Jam sandwiches and hot, sweet tea.
Huge thanks to Anne for sharing her book with me and for her kind invitation to be part of her Birthday Blog Tour. The tour runs 18th - 29th July, so do visit the other blog hosts for more exciting content.