Today, I’m delighted and honoured to welcome author Anne Goodwin to the Summerhouse.
I first met Anne over a year ago when I took the plunge – or should I say, the saddle – and rode over to Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch to take a stab at writing 99 Word Flash Fiction.
In that time, Anne has gone on to publish her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, and her journey to publication and kind encouragement has truly inspired me to keep walking (best time for inspiration we both agree) and writing my memoir.
A small few of us memoirists write flash alongside fiction writers at the Ranch, giving rise to some lively, mutually enlightening and fun discussions, with Anne contributing a fascinating psychological perspective which she touches on here.
And on that note, I’ll shut up and hand the reins over to Anne:
Putting the personal into fiction … and taking it out again
A friend emails to say she’s about halfway through my novel, and enjoying it very much. Her husband has read it before her, and he enjoyed it too. But I can’t help chuckling when she says he’s warned her she’ll look at me differently when she’s finished. I know exactly what she means and, like most jokes, it carries more than a grain of truth.
My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is about a middle-aged woman with an unusual secret, one she’s hung onto for thirty years in fear of friends and colleagues looking at her differently if it ever got out. It’s made her cagey, awkward and prickly; although she has a reasonable life with her own house and a decent job, she’s always holding back. Diana’s story isn’t my story, but I identify with a lot of her struggles.
I write from a love of words and story, as well as a desire to give my own experiences shape. I write because I grew up with a story that somehow couldn’t be told, yet I’ve no desire to produce a memoir. I didn’t give much thought to this until I began interacting with memoirists in the blogosphere. I’ve chewed over the question of what makes the difference, why some of us translate our lives into fiction, while others go for memoir. I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer.
I suppose I’m driven less to tell my personal story than to transform it into a story that can be told. Maybe memoirists feel a similar motivation; it’s not for me to say. But while I recognise that my fiction is very personal, and can identify parallels in my own life, the foundation is always a story: the interaction between character and plot.
In Sugar and Snails, I’ve created a character with an unusual biography, a woman with a life very different to mine. But in order to enable myself to fully inhabit her mentality, I’ve written her story as if it were mine. She’s me and not me or the me that, in different circumstances, I might have been.
Yet I’m not entirely sure what people mean when they ask the question, Is it autobiographical? (Or in my case, look at me differently, but don’t dare ask.) I think they’re wondering about the surface issues, the facts of the case, the details that I’m inclined to make up. As a former professional psychologist, and as a writer of literary fiction, I’m more interested in the themes we might discover below the surface, the emotional truth of the novel, so to speak.
Some of the underlying themes of Sugar and Snails are very close to my heart. One of the reasons I’m thanking my therapist is for the help she’s given me both in making sense of my own past and in drawing the line between my fictional alter ego and myself. Yet, three months on from publication, I’m intrigued by how little curiosity there’s been around the possible connections, not just from those who don’t know me so well wondering if I share my character’s secret, but from those who’ve known me for years drawing the deeper parallels.
Of course, there could be whispering in dark corners of which I’m unaware, but I think not. The lack of questioning might stem from the fact that many readers can identify with the underlying themes of my novel, they don’t need to pin them on me. After all, who hasn’t ever felt uncomfortable in their own skin? Ever felt like the ugly duckling and wished you could be transformed into a swan? Traumatic adolescence anyone? Something about you you’d much rather others didn’t know? These themes pop up again and again in life, in novels, and in memoir. Maybe I should stop worrying about why we choose one form of words over the other and focus on readying my next novel to be scrutinised, or not, for the bits that come from the deepest part of me.
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.
Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for May 2017. A former clinical psychologist, she is also the author of over 60 published short stories, a book blogger and speaker on fictional therapists and on transfiction. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
Thank you so much Anne for taking the time to visit the Summerhouse today and for contributing your wonderfully engaging and thought-provoking guest post. I have your book ready and waiting to read on my Kindle (as with most of us, my TBR list is ever-growing, but I will read every book!) and I wish you every success with your second novel, which, like Sugar and Snails, looks to be an absolute corker.