Author Spotlight – Anne Goodwin

Today, in the last of my Author Spotlights before my summer break for August, I welcome Anne Goodwin to ‘My Writing Life.’ Anne and I met on Twitter and have come to know each other fairly well over the last couple of years so I am especially glad to be able to focus the spotlight today on her debut novel, ‘Sugar and Snails’ published just last week by Inspired Quill.

sugar-and-snails cover

Sugar and Snails – Anne Goodwin

The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin

At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound. To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Excerpt from Chapter 6

“I’m sorry, Di.” Venus closed the dishwasher with a thud. “Of course you’d be furious when I tried to set you up with Simon. In fact, the signs were there from the day we met.”

I almost preferred her being cross with me. At least I knew where I stood. “I haven’t the foggiest what you’re on about.”

Venus turned on the tap above the sink with her elbow. “Of course I’m a tad disappointed you didn’t come out and tell me already.”

Sweaty palms and a sinking feeling in my stomach: symptoms of the fight-flight response reporting for duty. I counted five paces to the outside door. I could grab my bike and be home in under an hour.

“Come on, Di, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Venus plunged her hands under the gushing tap. “It’s obvious you’re gay.”

The idea was so preposterous, I had to laugh. “What?”

“Homosexual. Lesbian. What do you want me to call it?”

Ever since I was tiny, I’d hated to be categorised. Long before being introduced to labelling theory, I’d understood the tyranny of if you’re this you can’t be that: “What on earth gave you that idea?”

Venus rubbed her hands on a chequered tea towel and flung it into the washing machine. “One, the passionate friendship with – what was her name? – Geraldine, never mentioned, even in passing. Two, the football. Three, the fact that you haven’t been out with a man in nigh on twenty years…”

“Mu-um.” We both jumped as Josh poked his head round the kitchen door. “We’re waiting for dessert.”

Icy mist wafted from the freezer as Venus reached inside for a tub of ice cream. “Take that. We’ll be along in a minute.” As soon as the boy moved out of sight, she edged closer to me. “In fact it’s quite common for folk to repress their true sexuality. Of course, you’re brought up to think there’s only one way. If you don’t fit the norm, it takes a humungous amount of courage to admit it. You could waste your entire life contorting yourself into a mould that’s not for you. But, Di, isn’t it time to admit that it’s making you unhappy?” She turned away, embarrassed perhaps by her rambling homily, and unloaded a stack of gaudy painted ceramic bowls from the pine dresser. “You let him go without fixing up another date already?”

Two minutes earlier she was convinced I was gay. It was all very well for her. A married woman didn’t have to worry about making a fool of herself if she invited a man in for coffee. “It’s not easy, you know. Not at my age.”

*****

Please read on to find out more about why Anne set part of her novel in Cairo.

At a key point in my novel, Sugar and Snails, I needed to send my main character abroad for something that was unavailable in Britain. My research suggested Casablanca was the place, but I’d never been to Casablanca. I had been to Cairo, however, and while I didn’t think North African capitals beginning with C were interchangeable, I crossed my fingers and sent the Dodsworth family there.

Like my character, I’d been intrigued by the ancient Egyptian cult of the immortal since childhood. After seeing the Tutankhamen exhibition in Edinburgh, I was resolved to go to the Valley of the Kings and see the tombs where the treasures had been found. I saved up my annual leave, packed my rucksack and set off alone to travel around Egypt for a month.

Although I took plenty of photographs, and even kept a diary of my impressions, I never envisaged this as a research trip. My visit was twenty years prior to beginning my novel. Would my memories be enough?

There were further complications. I’d seen Cairo in the late 1980s, but my characters had to be there in the early 1970s. How different would the city be fifteen years apart? Furthermore, in 1973, as an early peer reviewer, Safia Moore, was to remind me, Egypt was at war with Israel. Although short lived, with military action limited to the Sinai, even moving the action forward a year (as I did) might reduce the novel’s credibility.

I put these anxieties aside as I absorbed myself in the writing. The story unfolded through three points of view: mother, father and troublesome child. Most of the Cairo scenes were written from the father’s perspective: a mixture of my own experience, internet searches and flights of imagination that suited his character. I saddled him with the bureaucratic frustrations of transferring money from home to an Egyptian bank. I had him jolted from sleep by the call of the muezzin and pestered by street urchins for baksheesh. I made him sweat in his bri-nylon shirts. For light relief, I led him into a cool café to drink mint tea from a glass without a handle and breathe smoke through a traditional water-pipe. I took the family for a celebratory dinner at Felfela’s, a famous Cairo restaurant popular with tourists and locals alike. Leonard’s Cairo became extremely vivid to me, and tremendous fun to write.

And then I edited out most of his scenes. In my final rewrite, I scrapped the parents’ strand of the novel and told the story solely from Diana’s point of view, moving back and forth between the present and her childhood memories. Although they still went to Cairo as a family, the bank, the restaurant and the smoky café all had to go. I was left with an office scene that could have been anywhere; another in the bazaar, shopping for souvenirs and a floor-length galabeyah, the traditional Arabic dress; and a pre-dawn excursion to Giza to watch the sun rise over the pyramids, which, although much discussed, was sacrificed on the final edit.

Yet I don’t see those cut scenes as wasted. Writing them helped me connect with the Cairo of the novel. Of course, it’s up to the reader to decide whether there’s enough left to convince them the trip to Cairo was real.

As to the question of whether my too-long-ago yet too late visit was sufficient research, there’s a view that there’s no need to go to a place at all to create a convincing setting. As David Nicholls said in an article in the Guardian, “research is as much about reassuring the author as persuading the reader”. As for the Yom Kippur war, I had it come up in a conversation that moved the plot along and hopefully doesn’t read as clunky.

In dedicating my novel to the coast-to-coasters and old school friends (the subject of my post on Norah Colvin’s blog later this week), I wasn’t conscious of any connection with people I’d met in Cairo. But on my visit there I enjoyed the generous hospitality of a former schoolmate who had married a Cairene as well as forging a new friendship with a woman from London I met waiting for the bus to the Sinai. It’s in celebration of similar friendships that I’m having two launch parties for Sugar and Snails. Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t run to holding a third in Cairo.

Have you ever visited Cairo? Have you ever made use of a setting you don’t completely remember?

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**Note from Julie: Interestingly, I have also written a guest post about the importance of setting on Susanna Bavin’s blog this week.**

 

4504662About Anne

Anne Goodwin grew up in Cumbria and studied Mathematics and Psychology at Newcastle University around the same time as the narrator of Sugar and Snails. She loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and has been scribbling stories ever since she could hold a pencil.

During her 25-year career as an NHS clinical psychologist her focus was on helping other people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size.

Anne juggles her sentences while walking in the Peak District, only to lose them battling the slugs in her vegetable plot. As a break from finding her own words, she is an avid reader and barely-competent soprano in an all-comers choir

Catch up with Anne on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist. You might also like to follow Anne on the rest of her blog tour.

blog tour week2

 

 

17 thoughts on “Author Spotlight – Anne Goodwin

  1. How lovely to meet up with Anne here on your blog, Julie. I must pop over to Susanna’s blog and read what you have to say about settings too.
    It is interesting that so much of what was written was cut from the novel. I wonder if it could be re-worked into other writing. But, as Anne says, it was not “wasted” as it helped her, the writer, create the setting solidly for herself. I think it is probably important for the author to have a very strong picture of both setting and characters. If either of these are weak then the plot probably won’t flow as it should and the story-line will be unbelievable.
    Fortunately, and I can say this as I have read Anne’s book, none of these weaknesses are anywhere evident in Sugar and Snails. 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment, Norah. It was just pure coincidence that I happened to write a post about setting at the same time as Anne was writing one for my blog but clearly it is something we, as writers, have to think about very carefully. I am very much looking forward to reading Anne’s book myself during the summer 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your endorsement, Norah. Emma Darwin, a novelist and creative writing tutor and extremely wise blogger, talks about writing as being necessarily and inherently wasteful. I actually do still find that difficult (perhaps because I’m someone who doesn’t like to throw away leftovers) but she’s absolutely right. Leaving in chunks just because you (the writer) likes then does readers a disservice, and I was very happy to cut 10,000 words from my novel in the final editing process. It’s something I’m discussing further in my post on Thursday on Our Book Reviews.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You wasted 10,000 words!!!! Maybe you needed to write them first, to be able to refine them later. Perhaps they guided your understanding and helped you reach clarity. Maybe their purpose was for you; not for the reader. She says hopefully, thinking 10,000 words must be almost a novel in itself. I think, when I first started writing for Charli’s 99 word flash fiction stories, you told me how “few” of them I would need to write in order to write a novel. It never seemed few to me!
        Congratulations once again on your publication.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve just ‘wasted’ about four times that, Norah in my second book. The thing is, I knew I hadn’t got the story right and so, I painstakingly went through it, taking out what I didn’t like and then starting again with about half what I originally had. It was painful but worth it now that I’ve finished the first draft and I’m happy with it. Nothing is ever wasted – they do guide your understanding and help you reach clarity and from what I have read, other writers find this happens to them as well.It’s all part of the process 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Julie. i do understand that. It’s all part of the research, learning and development phase. Crucial in those phases but no longer necessary in the finished product. 🙂 Thinking about it that way means that it’s time and effort well spent.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “there’s a view that there’s no need to go to a place at all to create a convincing setting. As David Nicholls said in an article in the Guardian, “research is as much about reassuring the author as persuading the reader”.
    I found this view very reassuring as in my next book I shall have to exploit this.
    The post was interesting and incite full. Thanks to both Julie and Anne.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Interview with Anne Goodwin @annecdotist – Author of ‘Sugar and Snails’ | Lit World Interviews

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