Tag Archives: Anne Goodwin

School Days Reminiscences of Anne Goodwin

School Days, Reminiscences of Anne Goodwin

Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.

This week, I am pleased to introduce Anne Goodwin, short story writer, novelist, reviewer and blogger … to list just a few of her many accomplishments.  Anne and I have been friends almost since the beginning of my blogging days and she has featured in my posts several times in the past, including here, here and here.

Anne was not the first person I met when I began blogging, but she is the earliest to still be with me on my journey. Interestingly, we met on Twitter where a discussion about singing (or not) led to a blog post and then countless conversations on her blog and mine for more than five years. She also supported me as co-judge for two years running in the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Flash Fiction Contests.

I had the pleasure of meeting Anne in London in 2014 when I was visiting family. We met at the British Library and, during the course of the day, Anne revealed a secret – she had secured a contract for her first novel Sugar and Snails. She was already a published and award-winning writer of short stories, but now she could add novelist to her achievements. I was thrilled to be one of the first to know and I told her that I was pleased to have known her before she became famous.

Since then Anne has published a second novel Underneath and is working towards publication of a third. Her most recent book Becoming Someone is a collection of her short stories. Some of the stories I had previously read, and just as many or more I hadn’t. I had been a fan of Anne’s stories since first encountering them and was thrilled to have a collection in one volume, perfect for savouring morsel by morsel. I was even more delighted with the acknowledgement in the front of the collection ‘For Norah Colvin and Charli Mills’. What’s to not like?

I could continue to ‘sing’ Anne’s praises, but perhaps we should move onto her interview. Before we do, I’ll let Anne tell you a little of herself:

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in May 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a special interest in fictional therapists.

Anne Goodwin and her books

Welcome, Anne.

Now let’s talk school. First of all, where did you go to school, and what was the highest level of education you received?

I attended Catholic (state) schools in a small town in the north of England from the age of 5 to almost 18. I then went to university where I gained a BSc in Mathematics and Psychology and a PhD in Psychology, then an MSc in Clinical Psychology which was also a license to practice.

What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?

I suspect my career in Clinical Psychology was despite my schooling – or perhaps unconsciously I wanted to understand why it was so bizarre! (One of my short stories, “Kinky Norm”, which you can read for free, is based on a true story of the impact of repression on adolescent girls.)

What is your earliest memory of school?

It might not be my earliest memory, but I do recall a boy being caught by the teacher picking his nose. ‘Where do you put it?’ she asked, vis-à-vis the snot. ‘Nowhere,’ said the boy, which I thought an excellent answer. I couldn’t understand why she ridiculed him but, in those days, ridicule was the norm.

I also remember being so anxious that, if the teacher said an as in an apple, I heard it as Anne, and assumed some punishment was on its way. I suppose that was a product of the strictness of both school and home cultures, where it was deemed perfectly acceptable for an adult to hit a child. I think (memory being so fickle) I managed to avoid the worst of it by hypervigilance and obedience, which served me in good stead in a system that was less about genuine learning than doing as you were told.

What memories do you have of learning to read?

I couldn’t read on starting school, but quickly learnt, despite the classroom tension. I remember the primers (Janet and John) being ever so dull, but I didn’t mind too much as I soon moved on to better things.

What memories do you have of learning to write?

Learning to write was more frustrating, as described in a post on my blog. The teacher stood at the blackboard etching row upon row of noughts and crosses in coloured chalk. We sat at desks, copying the figures into our books with fat wax crayons. At home, colour meant drawing wherever the inspiration took me. When we progressed to proper letters, I couldn’t see why it was wrong to shape my ‘g’ and ‘a’ as they appeared in a printed book.

What do you remember about maths classes?

We didn’t embark on what I call mathematics (as opposed to arithmetic) until secondary school, with yummy simultaneous equations and those soon-to-be obsolete slide rules, of which I had two (and probably still have somewhere in the loft). Before that came the dreaded times tables, catechism with numbers, yet after hours of chanting (and a 1st class degree) I still can’t tell you what 7×8 makes, without stopping to work it out.

What did you like best about school?

School was a life sentence; I didn’t expect to enjoy it. But I always liked reading and writing, as long as we were free to choose the topic for ourselves. And Music and Movement, which was a radio programme that did what it says on the tin, and features in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails.

What else would you like to tell us about your school days?

I almost left school at sixteen, and stayed on for A’ levels (university entrance) only because the career officer’s recommendation that I work in a bank (being good at maths, albeit not at numbers) seemed even less inspiring. I’m so glad I did! Out of uniform and in classes of no more than a dozen (education post 16 being a new venture for my school), I blossomed, especially in English. (Why didn’t I study that at university? Maybe because I associated reading with leisure, although the texts we picked apart in class were anything but.)

Anne Goodwin's school days

Given my capacity for compliance, I’m lucky I made the transition to critical analysis. Suddenly (although we’d probably been sliding dangerously towards it since the age of eleven), I was expected to have an opinion, to examine texts from different points of view. (Although not in maths, which provided a counterbalance, a safe space where the right answer remained stable over time.)

All credit to Pauline Blair, the teacher who joined the school at the start of our A’ level years. I think she found it a culture shock, and we were equally bewildered by her. She was posh! She claimed to be a feminist which, in my ignorance, I thought meant feminine, given that she ticked me off for slouching and sitting with my legs wide apart. She took us to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and sang (properly, the way I do now) on the long drive home. She’s the only teacher I’d like to meet again, to see what she made of us in that insular part of the world.

What are your thoughts about schools, then and now?

I think it’s great that so many kids these days enjoy school: despite repeated ministerial interference, teachers must be doing something right. It’s great that there’s no physical punishment but, with limited resources, more kids are excluded than in my day. It’s still impossible to tailor teaching to individual learning styles (I’d probably have struggled in a noisy aka lively classroom) and much more pressure (or maybe my school was atypical in being insufficiently clued up for the antediluvian equivalent of league tables) on exams.

How do you think school could be improved?

  1. Reinvest in SureStart (it was a UK New Labour thing for at-risk preschoolers) so that all kids have the skills they need for school.
  2. Scrap private schools’ charitable status and put the taxes raised into state education.
  3. Abolish all religious schools, and schools established to follow a particular fad.
  4. Provide every child with a light breakfast and a three-course vegan lunch (to avoid the expense of catering for different diets) for free. Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, and we desperately need to give the adults of tomorrow the skills to pursue a healthy diet. (So cooking and gardening lessons too.)
  5. Halve class sizes, and give teachers more support, including optional counselling / short-term therapy for anyone working with kids.
  6. Foreign language and music classes from the early(ish) years and (although I hated it) compulsory exercise through a diversity of sports. (Why should these life-long benefits be restricted to those whose parents can cough up the dosh?)
  7. Prevent (religious) parents from withdrawing their children from certain lessons, such as sex and relationships, including same-sex couples.

Idealistic? Too expensive? Not if we care about the future society we build.

thank you for your participation

Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Anne. It’s been wonderful to have you here again. I enjoyed learning about your school days and agree with so many of your recommendations for improving education. Now, if only we could get some of those with the ‘power’ to listen to us.

Find out more about Anne Goodwin:

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Blog: annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/

and her books:

Anne’s books: annegoodwin.weebly.com/about-my-books.html

YouTube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCLxWxjJlY4hxuP9bzah5F_g

Connect with her on social media:

Twitter: @Annecdotist

Books by Anne Goodwin

If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:

Charli Mills

Sally Cronin

Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.

Coming soon:

Geoff Le Pard

Hugh Roberts

Debby Gies

D. Avery

with more to follow.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.


Anne Goodwin author of Becoming Someone, an anthology of short stories

You know who you are: Becoming Someone

I am delighted to jump aboard Anne Goodwin’s blog tour promoting her newest book of short stories Becoming Someone. While I don’t usually participate in blog tours, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity as Anne and I have been friends almost since the beginning of my blogging days.

Anne was not the first person I met when I began blogging, but she is the earliest to still be with me on my journey. Interestingly, we met on Twitter where a discussion about singing (or not) led to a blog post and then countless conversations on her blog and mine over the past (almost) five years. I am extremely grateful for her encouragement and support as I discovered who I might become in the blogging world. Even when I’m not so sure*, Anne is always there to give me something to think about.

Back in those early days, just over four years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Anne in London when I was visiting family. Although it was quite a lengthy journey for her (not quite as far as from Australia but it wasn’t a day trip for me), Anne didn’t hesitate to meet up. We met at the British Library and, during the course of the day, Anne revealed a secret – she had secured a contract for her first novel Sugar and Snails. She was already an award-winning and published writer of short stories, but now she could add novelist to her achievements. I was so thrilled to be one of the first to be let into the secret and I told her that I was pleased to have known her before she became famous.

Now Anne’s second novel Underneath is also published and a third (and maybe fourth) is in progress. I had been a fan of Anne’s short stories before either of her novels were published, so am now delighted that she has collected some of her stories together into an anthology Becoming Someone to be launched with a huge Launch Party on Facebook tomorrow 23 November 2018. Everyone is welcome so make sure you drop in to say “Hi” and pick up your copy of her book. (I believe she is offering virtually anything you wish to eat or drink.)

But perhaps I shouldn’t ramble on too long with my memories and instead let Anne introduce herself to you through her official bio.

Anne Goodwin author

Anne Goodwin, author of Becoming Someone, a collection of short stories

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Alongside her identity as a writer, she’ll admit to being a sociable introvert; recovering psychologist; voracious reader; slug slayer; struggling soprano; and tramper of moors.

Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin

Becoming Someone blurb

cover of Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin

What shapes the way we see ourselves?

An administrator is forced into early retirement; a busy doctor needs a break. A girl discovers her sexuality; an older man explores a new direction for his. An estate agent seeks adventure beyond marriage; a photojournalist retreats from an overwhelming world. A woman reduces her carbon footprint; a woman embarks on a transatlantic affair. A widow refuses to let her past trauma become public property; another marks her husband’s passing in style.

Thought-provoking, playful and poignant, these 42 short stories address identity from different angles, examining the characters’ sense of self at various points in their lives. What does it mean to be a partner, parent, child, sibling, friend? How important is work, culture, race, religion, nationality, class? Does our body, sexuality, gender or age determine who we are?

Is identity a given or can we choose the someone we become?

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776

eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783

Amazon author page viewauthor.at/AnneGoodwin

Author page at Inspired Quill publishers http://www.inspired-quill.com/authors/anne-goodwin/

Note: Important Addendum from Anne

If anyone was considering buying a digital version of Becoming Someone, I wanted to alert you to the fact that there’s been a technical hitch with the link to the e-book on Amazon. We hope this will be fixed soon but, in the meantime, it’s available it at the same price through the publishers here:

Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

Becoming Someone Facebook launch

Becoming Someone Facebook launch https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

An online party to celebrate the publication of my first short story anthology, Becoming Someone.

Drop in at your own convenience wherever you are in the world, I’ll be here to entertain you from morning coffee to pre-dinner drinks.

The more actively people participate, the more I’ll donate to Book Aid International.

To find out more about Anne and her books

visit her website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

connect with her on Twitter @Annecdotist

or check out these other posts on her blog tour:

Becoming Someone blog tour

Special Offer

Sugar and Snails special offer

Through November, in celebration of the publication of Becoming Someone, Anne has a special promotion of her debut novel Sugar and Snails.  It is discounted to 99p or equivalent (Kindle version) until the end of the month. viewbook.at/SugarandSnails

Becoming Someone: Teaser

As well as on our own blogs, Anne and I have kept in touch at the Carrot Ranch where we participate in the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills. Anne was also kind enough to support me in judging the recent fractured fairy tale contest held as part of the Carrot Ranch Flash  Fiction Rodeo. (Note: The results of that contest will be published at the Carrot Ranch on 7 December.)

Knowing how much I enjoy fractured fairy tales, Anne has kindly allowed me to share an extract from her fractured fairy tale Reflecting Queenie which features in her anthology Becoming Someone. I wonder if you’ll be able to recognise which fairy tale Anne has fractured. If not, then you might just have to read the whole story in her book.😊

Reflecting Queenie teaser for Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin

Reflecting Queenie

Queenie would not have wanted me there, but she could hardly expect Dad to attend her trial alone. So I sat beside him in the public gallery as he held himself as still as his Parkinson’s would permit, while the prosecution ripped her personality apart. It was a straightforward case of jealousy, they said, and only Queenie seemed surprised when the jury returned a guilty verdict.

Up until that point, she’d kept herself aloof, not quite focused on anyone, or anything. Now she raised her head towards the gallery and found me. Her fear and confusion beat against my skin, fighting to penetrate my mind. I stayed firm and let it all bounce back to her, as if I were a bat, and she the ball.

I was not quite three when my mother decided I had special powers. As she told me later, it was the only explanation for the way I seemed to anticipate her every move. She’d be thinking about making an apple pie and before she’d opened her mouth I’d be wrestling the baking bowl out of the cupboard. She’d be wondering how her Gran was getting on and, before she knew it, I’d be pushing a pad of Basildon Bond into her hand.

“How did you know?” she’d ask again and again and, since I hadn’t the words to tell her, she concluded I was telepathic.

I was four when my baby brother fractured our blissful duet. It didn’t matter then if she was thinking about baking or writing a letter, his slightest whimper drew her to him. “What is it?” she crooned. “Are you hungry? Do you want your nappy changing?”

Her sing-song voice embarrassed me. She sounded wrong in the head. As if she were unable to distinguish between a scream of hunger and a summons to clean him up.

Weeks passed before I realised she genuinely couldn’t tell the difference. That her ears received each cry in my brother’s repertoire in an identical way. I realised that if I didn’t call out “He’s hungry” or “He’s lonely” the moment the baby started to grizzle, we’d never have baked any pies or written any letters again.

My mother would look at me in wonder as the baby latched on to her nipple or gurgled in her arms. “How did you know?”

Without a spell at nursery to acclimatise me to other children, school entered my life with a bang. If I’d thought my baby brother was noisy, it was nothing compared to the playground racket. At first I kept to the edge, intimidated by the terrible uniformity of the other children. I leant against the fence and watched, while I worked out how to survive the confusion, how to remember which blonde-haired blue-eyed little girl was Judith and which was Mandy. Which of my classmates liked Smarties and which preferred Fruit Pastilles. Who walked to school and who travelled by bus.

When the first of the children jabbed me on the chest, I was prepared. “What’s my name?” she demanded.

I told her.

She giggled. “How did you know?”

Another sauntered up. “When’s my birthday?”

Again, I told her.

“How did you know?”

After that, I was never alone in the playground. The other children could always find a use for my attentiveness. I’d skip along with a gaggle of girls hanging onto my arms. In the early years I suppose it made them feel secure that someone could tell them who they were. Later, their requirements became more sophisticated. Will I get to star in the Nativity play? Does Pamela really like me or is she pretending so she can play on my bike? I answered as best I could. I took their questions inside me and reported what I felt. You’re not right for Mary but you’ll make a great shepherd. Yes, Pamela likes you but she likes your new bike even more.

Although in demand, I never took my position for granted. There was always the chance that one day I’d say something inconvenient and be pushed back against the fence. When the teacher wrote on my report, Myra is a popular girl, I knew it was provisional. I knew deep down I was no different from the kids who were left to themselves because, when people looked at them, they didn’t like what they saw. So I made sure that when my classmates looked at me all they could see was themselves.

When my report described me as good at art, I knew I’d convinced even the grownups there was no more to me than their own reflection. True, my sketches of my friends were well observed. But when I drew myself I could only manage a black outline, an empty space within.

Becoming Someone Facebook launch

*I was one of ten. When my mother wanted me to do something for her, she would often rattle off half a dozen names before she could think of mine. In fact, she couldn’t always bring my name to mind and would sometimes say, “Well, you know who you are.” It has been a long-standing family joke. But, I’m not sure if she was right. I’m not sure if I know who I am, or whether I just know who I am becoming; hopefully becoming someone who is better each day than the one before. I just know I am going to love Anne’s stories, won’t you?

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Sugar and Snails: On friendship, fact and fiction

sugar-and-snails cover

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 author photo

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.

blog tour week2


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

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.


Examining praise: Stephen Grosz – the third instalment!

Guest post by Anne Goodwin (Annethology)

Earlier this year, after reading 7 Reasons Why Lovers of Fiction Should Read The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz on Anne Goodwin’s writing blog, I decided the book sounded too good to resist and promptly listened to it as an audiobook on my commute to and from work.

I was delighted with Anne’s recommendation, and like her, found the book compelling reading and thought provoking. So much so that I wrote a post about it: A book worth reading: Stephen Grosz “The Examined Life”.

However the chapter that captured my attention and challenged my thinking more than any other was the one about praise. I also blogged about this: Seeking praise: Stephen Grosz revisited.

My post about praise got Anne Goodwin thinking further about this issue and she was able to delve into it more deeply with her background in psychology. She has very generously written this guest post to share her thoughts.

Thanks Anne – over to you:

Although I was enchanted by The Examined Life from the first page, I glossed over the chapter on praise. Reading primarily for the parallels between these therapeutic case studies and reading and writing fiction, I didn’t stop to analyse my reaction, to acknowledge I was challenged by the suggestion that praise could be detrimental. Perhaps I dismissed this chapter as a reaction to the rarefied atmosphere of that cosy part of North London that is the hub of British psychoanalysis. In my neck of the woods, as reflected in my flash fiction piece, Peace-and-Quiet Pancake, I’m more concerned about a shortage of praise and encouragement than an excess.

I was initially disappointed when Norah mentioned on Twitter that, with over thirty chapters to choose from, she’d decided to blog about the chapter on praise. Yet her wonderful post showed me what I’d missed in my initial (defensive) reading and inspired me to go back to the book and ponder the depths of wisdom within those four and a half pages for myself.

“Stephen Grosz calls into question where our ideas of good practice originate.”

In suggesting we rethink what’s best for our children, Stephen Grosz calls into question where our ideas of good practice originate. We tend to respond to the mistakes of our forebears by striving to do the opposite, so those of us who suffered from a dearth of praise ourselves might be inclined to lavish praise on the next generation. Yet we can become so fixated on turning our backs on the approaches we know from experience to be unhelpful, we’re blinded to the potential pitfalls of the alternative path. Cutting back on praise feels treacherous, like siding with the harsh disciplinarians of days gone by. Stephen Grosz points us towards a third way.

“Behavioural strategies are invaluable for introducing the necessary structures and routines in which children can prosper and learn.”

Behavioural psychology shows that targeted rewards, either tangible, or intangible like praise, increase the frequency of desired behaviours. Rewards are actually most effective when they’re doled out intermittently, which might be one argument (although not the author’s) for soft-pedalling on the praise. Behavioural strategies are invaluable for introducing the necessary structures and routines in which children can prosper and learn. However, they can also result in the over-controlled and compliant child, one who is well versed in pleasing adults but struggles to think for him or herself.

“Stephen Grosz suggests that parents and educators can become as addicted to praise as these children.”

Stephen Grosz suggests that parents and educators can become as addicted to praise as these children. The mother who continually tells her child she is good might be vicariously praising herself. Underlying this might be a lack of confidence in her own parenting skills and a difficulty accepting her child as a separate person, with potentially different values and preferences. This is unlikely to enhance the child’s confidence and self-esteem.

“He also cautions us to be wary of praising children for what they are rather than for what they do.”

He also cautions us to be wary of praising children for what they are rather than for what they do. He cites a study in which, consistent with attribution theory, children praised for their effort rather than their intelligence, developed a more positive approach to problem solving. We can always put in more effort, but if we believe success is down to stable and unchangeable factors we might be less resilient in the face of the failure we will all, however talented, meet at some point in our lives.

“a third position where the adult is benignly attentive to the child and curious about what he/she is doing.”

What the author recommends is not a return to a pedagogy of threat and punishment, but a third position where the adult is benignly attentive to the child and curious about what he/she is doing. The child who believes that an adult is genuinely interested in their ideas, thoughts and feelings, is likely to develop a strong sense of agency and self-worth. While this might seem a radical approach, it’s not dissimilar to the behaviour of a tuned-in mother who watches over and mirrors her baby’s moves. It’s also the stance taken by the psychoanalytically orientated psychotherapist.

This is familiar ground for me, but I didn’t recognise it on an initial reading. Having already decided I loved the book from hearing snippets on the radio, I was reading it for what I could praise. I hope it wasn’t empty praise, but I was unwilling to engage with parts that were hard to swallow. On the second reading, my stance flipped to critical, almost punitive, focusing more on what was missing from the chapter than what was actually there. Now this process of putting my thoughts into words has brought me towards the position of curiosity and attentiveness I wish I’d had first time round. Whilst other readers might be less defensive, it does make me wonder, if it’s a struggle to reach this position in relation to a text, how difficult might it be to apply this learning in the real world and on a larger scale?

“While parents, politicians and educationalists might all claim to value individual expression and personal growth, this has to be weighed against an equally strong pressure for the achievement of standardised performance goals.”

On a sociopolitical level, we might resist this understanding because of conflicting views as to what education is for. While parents, politicians and educationalists might all claim to value individual expression and personal growth, this has to be weighed against an equally strong pressure for the achievement of standardised performance goals.

On the individual level, as Stephen Grosz says in his final paragraph, being present with others is hard work. Therapists have their own therapy in addition to training and supervision; parents striving to do a similar job with only their experience of their own parenting to draw on could struggle to find the position of attentiveness beyond both praise and chastisement.

“Children who have never been praised, even for attributes outside their control, might have no concept of their own ability to impact on their environment.”

Furthermore, for the child entering school knowing only neglect and criticism, a teacher’s benign curiosity could be experienced as threatening, just as the neutrality of therapist can provoke anxiety in his or her client. Children who have never been praised, even for attributes outside their control, might have no concept of their own ability to impact on their environment. Does the busy classroom teacher have the resources to be truly present with them in the way they require?

Thanks, Norah, for challenging me to revisit this chapter and for the invitation to rework my comment into a guest post. For those who’ve had the patience to stay present this far, I look forward to your reactions.

Thank you Anne for the insight and challenge you have offered with much for us to think about.

I reiterate Anne’s invitation for you, the reader, to share your thoughts on this topic, and suggest you head on over to Anne Goodwin’s writing blog (Annethology) for a great assortment of interesting fare.

Mouthing the words – the golem effect

Singing is a wonderful gift. To be able to entertain oneself and others with no instrument other than one’s voice must give enormous pleasure.

But I can only imagine the joy it must bring, for I am no singer.

When I was at school and we were all lined up and squished in on the stairs performing for parents in our end-of-year concerts, I was told to mouth the words.

Unlike the recommendation in the song written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street and made famous by the Carpenters “Sing a Song

“Don´t worry that it´s not good enough for anyone else to hear.
Just sing.
Sing a song.”

I was told to not sing, for it was not good enough for anyone else to hear. I accepted the verdict without question, as was expected of us at school, and mouthed the words.

Of course, my school days were long over before Joe wrote his wonderful song, and maybe no one since then has been subjected to the same humiliation.

Over the years various family members and friends have tried to be encouraging but their words have seemed hollow, for I “knew” the truth to be otherwise. One family member even told me that, when I “sang” nursery rhymes, I sounded just like Patsy Biscoe. But that’s not true. Patsy has a beautiful voice. You can listen to her here.

Sometimes it is difficult to not sing along for music is so inviting, often almost demanding that one join in.

In an early childhood classroom, music is a very important part of the day; and as an early childhood teacher, I incorporate music and singing into the program, always at the beginning and end of the day, and many times in between. I have blogged about this before here and here.

Fortunately for me, and the students, music is so readily available on CD or the internet, that finding songs for the children to sing along with is no longer a problem.  I apologise here to all the students who have had to suffer my joining in and “singing” along with them though, when I couldn’t resist the temptation. I must admit that none of them ever complained when I joined in. But I have no idea what they went home and told their parents either!

I believe strongly in the power of positive encouragement to improve children’s self-esteem, confidence, willingness to have a go, and learning outcomes.

I also know that a negative attitude encourages children to have a negative attitude towards themselves and their abilities, decreases self-esteem, erodes confidence and creates anxiety and a fear of trying new things or of having a go.

According to Wikipedia

“The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform. The effect is named after the greek myth of Pygmalion.

A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance. The Pygmalion effect and the golem effect are forms of self-fulfilling prophecy. People will take the belief they have of themselves (negative in this case) and attribute traits of the belief with themselves and their work. This will lead them to perform closer to these expectations that they set for themselves. Within sociology, the effect is often cited with regard to education and social class.”

Surprisingly I had never thought of this in relation to my singing disability, until recently.

Engaged in a Twitter discussion with Anne Goodwin (@Annecdotist) and Caroline Lodge (@lodge_c) I mentioned that I listen to audiobooks on my drive to work. Anne replied that she listens to music on long journeys, trying to “fix choral music in my head”.

I replied, innocently enough, I thought:


To which they both responded with the type of “encouragement” I had heard many times before “Give it a go. Everyone can sing.”

So I told them about being told to mouth the words, and I was both surprised and challenged by their responses:




I had never thought of my singing disability as a learned disability. I had always thought of it being a physiology issue and, later, perhaps a hearing issue.

I am not very good at mimicking vocal (other than speech) sounds, or at identifying which note, of two given notes, is the higher or lower. I did enrol in a brain training program which included aural exercises involving recognition of higher or lower pitch. While I did make some improvement, my scores weren’t high (I could tell that high/low difference).

The comments of Anne and Caroline made me think about this:

What came first: the singing disability or the disability teaching?

Could I have learned, if given the opportunity, to sing a least a few bars in tune? Could I still be taught?

It has sometimes crossed my mind that singing lessons could be an interesting experiment.

Anne and Caroline are both encouraging, and Caroline commented:


I do love music and perhaps, one day, I will go for it and find out the truth about my singing ability.

Perhaps I will learn to sing and fulfill the dream “to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”.

But for now, the experiment will have to wait, I have other things to learn.

What do you think?

Do you consider yourself a singer?

Can everyone learn to sing?

Is it a human right?

Could my singing ability really be a “golem effect”?

What disability have you learned, if any?

As a parent or teacher, how do you ensure your children do not suffer from a learned disability?

You can read more from Anne or Caroline by clicking on their names.