In this post I am very excited to introduce Anne Goodwin sharing tidbits from her debut novel Sugar and Snails, published just last week by Inspired Quill. It is already receiving rave reviews and I am happy to add my voice to those in praise of it.
Anne and I have been friends for the best part of two years. I can’t quite remember just how we met but I do remember it was on Twitter and that we hit it off almost immediately. I followed up one of our Twitter conversations with a post and we haven’t looked back. We have enjoyed many wonderful discussions on each of our blogs, and the blogs of others. With Anne’s background in psychology and mine in education there is considerable opportunity for a meeting, as well as divergence, of minds. I learn from her, I think, as much as she learns from me. Or should that be the other way round?
On her blog Annecdotal Anne shares reviews of novels she has read and her thoughts about and understanding of the writing process. I have read some of Anne’s recommendations, including “The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz, which stimulated a great discussion on my blog, including a first guest post by Anne.
Anne is also a fabulous teller of short stories with over sixty published either online or in print. I must confess I have not yet read all of Anne’s stories but have thoroughly enjoyed each I have read. I think she has a gift for a surprise ending, though she does not employ the technique in every story. Her style is easy to read with a natural flow of language. Her portrayal of characters shows a depth of understanding that may be attributed to her background in psychology, but the variety of settings and topics displays a much broader understanding of the human condition in different environments and from different cultural backgrounds.
It is my great pleasure to hand this post over to Anne.
Anne Goodwin: On friendship, fact and fiction
The year I turned fifty, I wanted to do something special, but a party really wasn’t my thing. Instead, I celebrated with a long distance walk: 190 miles across northern England from the west coast to the east. As the route begins only a few miles from where I grew up, I took the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of old school friends the evening before I set off.
About a dozen of us got together for a meal in the pub we used to frequent after school. I’d kept in sporadic touch with a few of the women over the years, but some I hadn’t seen since I was fifteen. Although there was some lively conversation, I spent a lot of the time sitting staring, overwhelmed by how I could detect within these middle-aged faces the teenagers they’d once been, and the pleasure of being back among them.
After hiking across three national parks, meeting up with various friends and family along the way, I reached my destination at Robin Hood’s Bay, exhausted and exuberant. Back home, with a couple of days free before returning to work, I began writing the novel that was to become Sugar and Snails.
Like many writers, I’m an introvert. I relish my time alone. I need to be able to withdraw into the privacy of my own mind to reboot. But friendship is important to me as well. Those two and a bit weeks of reconnecting with old friends served as a reminder of that, and also that, in the right form, sociability can revitalise me too. It felt so important I dedicated my novel to the coast-to-coasters and old school friends.
Yet it wasn’t until very recently that I realised that my novel was itself a celebration of friendship. Of course I’d given my main character friends but, in my head, I didn’t distinguish them from other people who drive the plot forward: a troubled student; her difficult boss; the social worker who found her a place at boarding school at fifteen. Maybe, because Diana herself doesn’t fully trust her friends, I wasn’t able to appreciate them either.
Two of her friends are crucial to the story and, although they never meet, they are brought together strongly in Diana’s mind early on. Attending a dinner party to mark the forty-fifth birthday of her best friend, Venus Najibullah, Diana is asked to pop upstairs to tell Venus’s daughter a bedtime story. In response to the seven-year-old’s insistence on a story about “when you were a little girl going on adventures”, Diana finds herself lost in the memories of Geraldine Finch “the girl who ruled my childhood”.
As with many childhood friendships, Diana recalls an intense connection with Geraldine as the pair absorbed themselves in dressing up for role-play games. But as they approached their teens, Geraldine proved fickle, neglecting her playmate in favour of other friends, unless there was something she wanted. The friendship ends abruptly in what appears to be a betrayal, followed by Diana’s departure for boarding school a few months later. But it would be premature to regard this strand of the novel as about the dark side of female friendship. From the vantage point of adulthood, Diana might come to view this childhood friendship differently, just as the reader might gain a different perspective on learning more about the character of Diana.
Meeting for the first time aged eighteen, Diana is somewhat intimidated by Venus until she discovers they have something in common:
On my first Sunday night at university, I was en route from the bathroom to my study-bedroom in the student halls, clutching a damp towel and my quilted wash-bag to my chest like a shield. My gaze levelled at my fluffy primrose slippers peeping out from under the hem of my stripy galabeyah as I shuffled along the corridor. I didn’t notice the other girl until I’d almost bashed into her: tall, with a cascade of ebony hair and skin the colour of butterscotch.
I made to move on, but the girl blocked my path, looking down her long nose at me from beneath heavy eyebrows: “You do realise that’s a man’s galabeyah you’re wearing?” Her voice was as haughty as the girls’ at Dorothea Beale, with an exotic lilt that brought to mind the rhythms of Cairo.
No doubt I blushed. At boarding school I’d kept it hidden in my trunk. But university promised another chance and, besides, who was going to be able to tell the difference between a traditional Arab shift and an ordinary nightgown? Who, apart from this arrogant girl who was scrutinising me like I was an exhibit in the Egyptian Museum?
I glanced down at the loose cotton gown I’d picked out with my dad at the Khan el Khalili three years before. “That’s what I like about it,” I told the girl. “A dress that’s meant for a man.”
A wide smile softened her features. “Fair enough, although I prefer a dash of frill myself.” It was only then that I recognised her floor-length lilac robe as another galabeyah, trimmed with lace around the neckline, with pearl buttons where mine fastened with bobbles of cord. “I’m Venus Najibullah, by the way. Come back to my room and I’ll make you a coffee and you can tell me how an English girl came by such a thing already.”
Yet, although they become close friends, and remain so for years, Diana can’t tell Venus the full story of her trip to Cairo, fearing rejection if she does. She’s become so accustomed to presenting a false self to the world, she genuinely wouldn’t know how to share the secret of her past. Over the course of the novel, she has to take a risk to discover whether she can trust Venus with a more authentic version of who she is.
When Norah first offered me a guest slot on her blog, I thought I’d write something more closely tied in to the theme of learning. Yet when she showed me the draft of her lovely introduction, I knew this was the right way to go. To both give and receive friendship is something best learnt through experience but, to do so, we have to be prepared to take the risk of being rebuffed.
Norah is a prime example of the wonderful new friends I’ve found through writing, and I’ve been especially touched by the support I’ve received from friends, old and new, online and off-line, as I publish my debut novel. Tonight I’ll be at the second of my book launch parties along with a few blog/Twitter friends I’ll be meeting in person for the first time. Norah can’t be there, but I’ll be conscious of her presence in spirit, as well as that of other dear friends from across the continents. A few of those “old school friends” to whom I have dedicated my novel will be there, however, closing the circle of friendship that is a central theme both of my novel and my journey to write it.
Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last week by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your thoughts. I am delighted to join in the excitement of your publication celebrations. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Sugar and Snails and am happy to recommend it to others.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.