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.
OFFER CLOSES 28 FEBRUARY
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:
Link tree https://linktr.ee/annecdotist
Amazon author page: viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin
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.