Fiction Memoir and Identity Guest Post with Author Anne Goodwin

Today, I am delighted to once again welcome author Anne Goodwin to the Summerhouse. Since her last visit, Anne has published two novels and a small story collection. Her background as a former professional psychologist brings a depth to her novels I find fascinating. Specifically, the exploration of identity.

My drive in writing memoir feeds my compulsion to seek and find. The constant call to that elusive, “what lies beneath”. The approach differs greatly between memoir and fiction. Or does it? Memoirists write true stories about real people, primarilly oneself. But how much of “self” do novelists put into their fictional characters. If any?

To mark the launch of her debut novel, Sugar and Snails five years ago (yes, five!), Anne addressed this subject in her thought-provoking guest post. I am excited to repost it here, along with exciting news of her free e-book offer below.

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.

And now for that promised offer!

Shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize, Sugar and Snails is a powerful
and inspiring read. Throughout February, Anne is offering it free to subscribers of her newsletter.

Click here to sign up and get your free e-book copy of Sugar and Snails.


At fifteen, she made a life-changing decision.
Thirty years on, it’s time to make another.

When Diana escaped her misfit childhood, she thought she’d chosen the easier path. But the past lingers on, etched beneath her skin, and life won’t be worth living if her secret gets out.

As an adult, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, the city that transformed her life. She’ll lose Simon if she doesn’t join him. She’ll lose herself if she does.

Sugar and Snails charts Diana’s unusual journey, revealing the scars from her fight to be true to herself. A triumphant mid-life coming-of-age story about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.


Connect with Anne:



Twitter @Annecdotist.

Link tree

Amazon author page:

YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel


Thank you for your visit, Anne. I continue to enjoy our lively discussions and always a pleasure hosting you at the Summerhouse.

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer with work published in print magazines, anthologies and online. As a young British mum of three, she emigrated to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England's West Country, a full-time carer within her family. Her current WIP after completing her memoir is a psychological thriller.
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48 Responses to Fiction Memoir and Identity Guest Post with Author Anne Goodwin

  1. Hi Sherri, this must be an interesting book if it makes people look at the author in a different way. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hi Sherri. How have you been? I kind of lost in touch with you because I’m not active on Facebook. How is your family?
    Thank you for sharing this post and Ann’s book. I think fiction writers draw from their experience in actual events or observations to certain degree. Occasionally I came across someone writing a fictional biography for many reasons. Good too see you here. 💖

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading, Miriam. I think online we lose touch and then pick up again. I’ve been wondering about you this past year as I have been singing with the self-isolation choir. I know you love the Messiah, which is starting for the second time soon. Maybe we’ll reconnect there?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Miriam, great to see you. I am hit and miss on FB and here. I got my book edits done on the developmental side and got them back in January. I wasn’t able to get to the copy edits until recently due to helping Mum through her stroke recovery, but am working on them now. Hopefully will soon be back to submitting again. Doing the best we can considering we’re all still under full national lockdown in the UK, third one now. Very restrictive and not helped by the cold weather. But…the vaccination rollout is in full swing and we have some measure of hope on the horizon. Yes, the old write what you know addage. Someone did suggest to me I might want to think about fictionalizing my memoir. I can understand why some take that route. Thanks for reading, hope all is well with you and your family ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m glad to hear you’ve made some progress on your book, Sherri! Do you have to do a lot of self editing after the developmental edit? I’m writing my memoir on the cancer journey. I had journals, emails, notes… to help me. I’m half way done writing the first draft and will submit the first chapter to my writing critique group for next week’s Zoom meeting. This group is very good to do down to the suggestion of the flow of the writing and even word choices. It will be pretty good when done, so I don’t think I need developmental editing services. I may send it out for the final edit.

        I wrote my first children’s book, professionally edited, and the illustration is almost done. He is very slow, taking several months to do 20 pages of illustration, but he is good, so I’ll be happy when it’s done.

        We and my daughter’s family are doing well and safe. ❤ ❤

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Miriam, and thanks for your encouragement. I thought my memoir wasa ready a year ago when I submitted it to agents and didn’t think I needed a developmental edit. How wrong I was. I got some feedback which was encouraging, but realised I hadn’t got it quite right. Almost…but not there. However, by then, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and was afraid that if I started tweaking it yet again, I would break it. So close yet so far…Last May I hit real crisis point with it (and of course by then was also in lockdown due to Covid and hit hard by all our cancelled family plans and celebrations, including my husband’s 60th). But…unexpectedly, I got the chance to work with a developmental editor via a contest I had entered. He agreed that I didn’t have to rewrite the whole thing to fix my problem, but it would be intense and highly focused and a lot more work to get it to where I now realised it needed to go. Unfortunately I had a major set back when I broke my ankle and got a blood clot, but I finally got to work in August and got it to him by November. I was totally wrung out by the time I finished, but it was the first time I could go through it literally word by word consistently from start to finish and hyper-focused. Exhausting and exhilerating at the same time! All the stress of the pandemic didn’t help as carer for my youngest and also helping Mum when she had had her stroke (she lives with us) meant I couldn’t get to his returned copy edits until recently, so now I am at last attempting going at them with gusto. I am determined if nothing else to get my memoir properly finished at last! I am glad I have an editor to work with because I don’t have a writing critique group and I really do need someone to help me through the process. I am so grateful for the chance to find him as I truly was growing quite despairing of ever finishing my memoir. So that’s where I’m at. And I am so glad you have the support you have and also how exciting for your first children’s book! Writing and publishing is a long game, it seems! Good to hear you and your family are all safe and well, Miriam. Thanks for the chat….always a pleasure and I do so much appreciate your visits to the Summerhouse. My blog visits are sparse at the moment, doing my best to keep it going while I balance my edits and family life and navigate life as we very slowly emerge from our third national lockdown. I saw a friend yesterday for a walk. It was the first time I’ve seen anyone outside our four walls (other than a quick wave to a neighbour) in seven months. It will be another three months at the earliest before I can see my boys again. But the sun is shining today, daffodils are blooming and the vaccination rollout is going full steam ahead. So there is hope… Take care, Miriam, and have a lovely weekend 🙂 ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • I understand the process you’re gone through with your memoir, Sherri. If I didn’t have a critique group, I would have gone to a developmental editor. I know at least one blogger/author who does that with her books. When I presented my first chapter to my group, they found it boring and said I didn’t have any readers interested in whatever story I was going to tell. It was very discouraging. I said that chapter was only leading to my story. They said my first chapter should be on the theme.
            I had to rewrite or reorder the chapters to focus on the theme. But the info in the first chapter is important to me so I’ll bring it back bit by bit as flash back.
            The person who made the most critical feedback apologized with a long email to me. I told him what he said was what I needed to hear.

            This lockdown is hard for the global community/family.

            We got the first vaccine. I brought the tickets to see our grandkids after the second dose.

            Thank you for sharing about your process, Sherri. Do you know Brigid Gallagher? She said it took her four years to write her memoir. ❤ 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Miriam, I hear you. You have a great critique group, though I know how discouraged you must have felt at first. That is exactly what I spent my developmental edit on, reording and rewriting my first three chapters and finding the structure I really needed to add in flashbacks as the story goes on. This is no easy task, as we both well know, for it can totally change the rest of the book. That is why it has taken me so long, getting it right without sending it all into a terrible, jumbled mess from which there would be no escape…I get chills thinking of it. How very kind of that person to email you back, though he helped you in the long run. It is very hard to hear it at first blow though. Especially when it’s your personal true story. Thank you for sharing this with me, Miriam, I really appreciate it. It helps knowing someone else writing a memoir and going through this process. It really helps talking about it. I do know Brigid, but didn’t know about her timeframe.
              To the vaccines, yes, we have hope! I got my first one today, hubby in a couple of days. We are so much looking foward to spending time with the kids once restrictions ease and we’ve had our 2nd by May/June. My goal, then, to the last of my edits finished by then too!
              Take care, Miriam, and have a lovely weekend. It’s been great chatting with you, I feel really encouraged, bless you 🙂 ❤


  3. MikeM says:

    A facinating read thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Chel Owens says:

    Fascinating. For what it’s worth, I feel an author must connect to her characters in some form in order to write believable, authentic people. Maybe some authors are able to do so by association, but I suspect many need to write parts of themselves in.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks a bunch for sharing this again, Sherri, especially when I know you’re so busy with your own writing. Any news about your book?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Norah says:

    So good to revisit this post of Anne’s, Sherri. I enjoy your discussions (beyond this post too) of memoir and fiction. How much of themselves authors write into their books is an interesting question. I think, as Anne’s says, the underlying themes rather than the surface events are probably what matters. Otherwise, there’d be a whole lot of horror writers writing from ‘the inside’.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. purpleslob says:

    2 novels?? And a short story? Whoa!! She’s good! I do good just to get out 2 blog posts a week! lol Thx for sharing her, Sherri! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Pingback: Flawed Flowers – PurpleSlobinRecovery2.0

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