Back in 2015, it was a particular pleasure to welcome author Anne Goodwin as my guest – a lovely interview about her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, published by Inspired Quill. To my considerable shame, particularly when so many readers enjoyed the book, I never did manage to fit it into my reading list – but I did read and review her next, Underneath, which was certainly an unusual and thoroughly compelling read.
Anne is currently offering a free e-copy of Sugar and Snails to anyone who signs up as a subscriber to her newsletter – you’ll find the link HERE – and I thought there could be no better reason to share our interview again. Here’s the book’s updated description…
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.
So, let’s take another look at that interview…
Welcome to Being Anne! Would you like to start by introducing yourself?
Thank you for hosting me and good to meet another Anne! I’m a former clinical psychologist living in the middle of England, spending my time reading, writing and blogging, as well as walking in the Peak District, growing vegetables and singing a very poor soprano in an all-comers mixed-voice choir.
I’ve read so much about Sugar and Snails in the last few weeks, and it sounds quite wonderful – but not everyone spends quite as much time as I do reading about new books! Can you tell my readers a little more about it?
Moving between the grey skies of Northern England and the heat and bustle of Cairo, it’s the story of one woman’s unusual journey to self-acceptance. Encompassing themes of friendship, marginalisation, gender, self-harm and the near-universal yearning for transformation, the novel moves back and forth in time to gradually reveal the secret of Diana’s teenage decision and its implications for her adult well-being.
I had a look at some of your early reviews when I knew we’d be talking – nine 5 star Amazon reviews, three four star when I checked today. You must be so delighted by the positive response…
I am indeed! (And there’s another 5 star review since you looked, as well as two on Amazon.com.) Delighted and pleasantly surprised. Sugar and Snails had so many rejections along the path to publication, I had to assume it wouldn’t have wide appeal. But I’ve been moved by how much it has touched early readers and their enthusiastic response. Even those who had reservations about the structure, Diana’s prickly character or were squeamish about the blood in chapter 1 seemed to have enjoyed it. (Of course, now I’ve said that, I’ll probably get my first scathing review on the day this post is published!)
I noted a few reviewers’ comments. One said that it was “literary fiction, not women’s fiction”. Is that a distinction you’d agree with?
Oh, those genre labels! I’m never quite sure what they mean. But I wouldn’t be happy with the label “women’s fiction”, as that would exclude my male readers, and I think it’s more a novel about what it means to be a person than about being a woman. I do tend to veer towards the “literary fiction” label in both my reading and writing, less perhaps in relation to the use of language – as we can find good writing across all genres – but certainly in terms of emotional depth.
There were more – one said “an extraordinary story by an exceptional story teller”, and there was a comparison drawn with the writing of Claire Messud. Was that a comparison that pleased you?
Mostly. Although, to my shame, I haven’t yet read any of her novels, I was aware of her as a writer whose work is taken seriously. I also recall some controversy in relation to her novel The Woman Upstairs, because the female protagonist was unlikeable. My narrator, Diana, also presents as quite awkward initially. When the reader encounters something slightly jarring in a novel by from an unknown author, it can be difficult to tell whether that is down to the character or the writer’s lack of skill. I think the comparison could reassure some readers that it’s worth persisting with getting to know Diana, even if she’s frustrating at first. Yet, judging from the reviews so far, such reassurance seems largely unnecessary.
I know you’ve said that Sugar and Snails isn’t autobiographical, but to what extent was the book affected by your personal experience?
In order to get as close as I could to my character’s unusual biography, I drew on aspects of my own life and personality to help me get under her skin. While this was often in a fairly trivial way (e.g. to make it easier for myself, I placed her in the house where I used to live in Newcastle), I share her experience of taking nearly half a lifetime to make sense of a painful adolescence, and I guess Sugar and Snails is the nearest I’ll ever come to writing about that.
Tell me more about your publisher, Inspired Quill, and your route to publication…
Inspired Quill is an enthusiastic young team setting a new standard in ecological and people-friendly publishing. As a Social Enterprise, they endeavour to give something back to the community and I’m delighted that ten percent of the profits from sales of Sugar and Snails are being donated to an appropriate youth charity. It’s no secret that I submitted my manuscript elsewhere before I found them, and that I was wary initially, partly because they seemed too good to be true. But I’ve enjoyed working with them to produce a book I can be proud of.
I do know you’re not really a new writer at all, and that a large number of short stories helped you hone your craft before producing a first novel. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Although I’ve been writing all my life and seriously for about twelve years, I still feel like a novice, in some ways, because there’s always more to learn. One of the lovely things about writing is that anyone can have a go, but my advice to those wanting to traditionally publish a novel, especially “literary” fiction, is to give it time: it’s a much harder thing to do than you’d ever imagine.
What kind of reader would enjoy Sugar and Snails?
More kinds than I originally imagined! But generally those who like novels with secrets, troubled characters and learning about lives different to the norm.
When you find time to read, what do you enjoy?
I think it’s essential for writers to read, and I get through about 100 books a year, most of which I review on my blog. I like novels with credible characters, emotional depth and a fresh perspective on the human condition.
And what comes next? Are you already working on that difficult second novel?
I started writing a second novel in between drafts of Sugar and Snails. Underneath is about a man keeping a woman captive in the cellar of his house. For a while, I didn’t know which of the two novels would be published first, and initial feedback for Underneath was actually better than for Sugar and Snails. However, I’ve been so wrapped up in the publication of my first novel, I haven’t looked at Underneath for about a year, so who knows what I’ll think of it when I do!
Anne Goodwin is the author of two novels and a short story collection. Her 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. Throughout February, subscribers to her newsletter can read Sugar and Snails for free: you’ll find the link here (closes 28th February).