Anne Goodwin is a book blogger and author of over 60 published short stories. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, is scheduled for publication in May 2017.
Tell us about your writing background, have you always been a scribbler?
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.
You studied Mathematics and Psychology at university and then worked as a clinical psychologist. How have your studies and your working experience lent themselves to your writing?
I mentioned my half degree in mathematics in my book bio because my main character’s best friend and eventual confidante in Sugar and Snails is a mathematician, although her discipline became less relevant by the time I got to the final draft. My background as a professional psychologist has been an asset in creating credible characters and exploring vulnerability, as well as in the self-discipline of writing clearly and succinctly about emotional issues. But my experience of writing for publication in a structured and objective style might have made it harder to learn a different style of writing that is more appropriate to fiction.
What is your writing routine? Has it changed over time?
My routine is not to have a routine – I try, but don’t always manage, to dovetail what I do with my mental and physical state at the time – but there are some commonalities. I don’t like to start too early in the morning because my voice takes longer than the rest of me to wake up (I suffer from repetitive strain injury and use speech recognition software) or work too late into the evenings (because screens aren’t good for sleeping and that’s my reading time). I try to get a bit of exercise in the open air (gardening the summer and brisk walks in the winter), and relish the opportunities afforded by longer walks to mull over my words.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I’ve never yet had long periods of feeling blocked from writing, but I do go through phases when I’m less enthusiastic. Anything we love (and you have to love writing to go through the hurdles), we can also hate from time to time so I think having periods of not wanting to write is inevitable. Personally, I think it’s a wake-up call from our unconscious mind to take care of ourselves.
Tell us about your novel. Tell us about the background and what inspired this story?
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.
You write about LGBT issues – how well do you think these issues are being addressed right now in fiction?
My first novel fits the LGBT category, and I was delighted when it was first longlisted and then shortlisted for the Polari First Book Award. However, although I’m committed to creating diverse characters, it’s not my only, or main, writing theme. I think these themes are being addressed more by contemporary writers, but as I don’t personally identify as such, it’s not for me to say if they are covered enough. I know that some writers are anxious about delving into such territory for fear of getting it wrong, but I feel it’s important to reflect the diversity of the world around us.
How did you come to being published, tell us about your publisher?
I went through the usual ups and downs of submissions to agents and publishers until I came across the small press, Inspired Quill, via a writer with whom I’d connected on Twitter. They operate as a social enterprise, donating a percentage of the profits from my novel to the relevant youth charity, and actively consulting authors about all aspects of the publication process, including the cover design, which is somewhat rare in the publishing world. The downside is that they have neither the brand presence nor the resources to do much promotion. I have a post on Writers and Artists website advising others considering that route to learn about self-publishing; not to be afraid to ask questions of the publisher; negotiate a contract; and be realistic about the limitations of what the publisher can do.
How did you feel when you held your own book in your hands for the first time?
Wonderful! It would have been fabulous anyway, but my book has such a gorgeous cover, it’s like a work of art. And it’s even more wonderful holding that book for someone who is buying it and wants it signed!
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the final edits of my second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in a cellar, and trying to get to grips with the second draft of what I hope to be my third novel, Closure, about lives wasted through psychiatric incarceration. I’ve been getting distracted by ideas for short stories; sometimes I can resist but sometimes I have to write them out of my head. Then the most recent one had the audacity to suggest itself as a novel, so I’m a little unfocused right now.
What would you say to writers who are still working on their debut novel? Did you always believe you would be published?
I always hoped, but often doubted it would happen. To others following that path, I’d say firstly, if there’s something else you’d rather do, do that! Secondly, to bear in mind that, for most writers, it’s a long journey to that first published novel with a lot of disappointment along the way.
How important is social media in your writing life?
I’ve forged a few friendships through Twitter, learnt from others’ experiences of writing and publishing, found a few readers and reviewers, and sometimes been given an answer to something that was puzzling me. (Recently, I couldn’t think of the word piñata, but the answer came from more than one direction within minutes.) I also appreciate the blogs I follow and the feedback I get on mine. But it does eat time, and I do sometimes have to remind myself that fiction is my priority.
What do you like to read?
I read well over 100 books a year, mostly unpretentious contemporary literary fiction. As a book blogger, I love getting hold of the latest titles, sometimes prior to publication. I don’t tend to go in for humour, unless it’s very dark, one of my favourites being Alison Moore.
Where do you write?
I share a large study with my husband, but usually manage to shoo him out and have it to myself. I generally stand at my desk with my laptop raised to the right height on two box files, with a view over our front garden (which we call a meadow, I think the neighbours call it a load of weeds), and sit when my heels begin to ache!
Visit Anne’s blog to read further about some of the issues raised in this interview including the bereavement that led to her writing, dealing with repetitive strain disorder as a writer, going through periods of not wanting to write and the ups and downs of the submission process. Follow her on Twitter @Annecdotist
Sugar and Snails is available on Amazon to download here.
LadyNicci comment: I am fascinated by how Anne writes, from standing at her desk, to using voice recognition technology. When I completed the first draft of my novel the pain and numbness through my arms and wrists took weeks to dissipate – I wonder how many other writers carry on through the pain as the urge to write and complete our work takes over? I think Anne gives a very down to earth and realistic interview on what’s involved in being a serious writer. We all likely have a background story as to what inspired us to really go for it and take up the pen, and she doesn’t shy away from the reality of rejection and how it can take some time to find the right publication path for you. Have you been considering small independent publishing presses? The background to her first book is also fascinating – from the story that inspired it to not noticing what was on her passport. I love the sound of her second novel too. Being a clinical psychologist can’t but lend itself to writing I feel – all those characters and situations and stories to tell. Does it explain why I’m addicted to Dr. Phil as I try to analyse the people before me on screen? Probably not, but I’ll continue to watch anyway. Any excuse to procrastinate.
How I write is a blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.