It’s a particular pleasure today to welcome Anne Goodwin as my guest – her latest book, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home was published by Inspired Quill on 29th May, and is now available both as an ebook and in paperback through a range of retailers.
Anne’s last visit was way back in 2015, with a lovely interview about her debut novel, Sugar and Snails (you can read it again here). I sadly never did manage to fit that one into my reading list – but I did read and review her next, Underneath, which was certainly an unusual and thoroughly compelling read (you’ll find my review again here). So let’s take a closer look at her latest…
In the dying days of the old asylums, three paths intersect.
Henry was only a boy when he waved goodbye to his glamorous grown-up sister; approaching sixty, his life is still on hold as he awaits her return.
As a high-society hostess renowned for her recitals, Matty’s burden weighs heavily upon her, but she bears it with fortitude and grace.
Janice, a young social worker, wants to set the world to rights, but she needs to tackle challenges closer to home.
A brother and sister separated by decades of deceit. Will truth prevail over bigotry, or will the buried secret keep family apart?
In this, her third novel, Anne Goodwin has drawn on the language and landscapes of her native Cumbria and on the culture of long-stay psychiatric hospitals where she began her clinical psychology career.
Find out more on Matilda Windsor’s webpage.
With apologies, no review this time – I just couldn’t find space on my reading list, however much I wanted to – but let me hand over to Anne, who plans to ask us How do you take your tea?, and share an intriguing extract…
Many years ago, when I still loved to travel, I went to Nepal with a friend. We trekked from hillside village to hillside village, the straps of our heavy backpacks digging into our shoulders, staying in simple tea houses overnight. There we learnt the Nepali for “Two cups of black tea without milk or sugar, please”, not realising that adapting the standard recipe for the whims of fussy Westerners caused an extra challenge for a cook reliant on a basic wood-burning stove.
When my friend returned to work in England, I spent another four months in India and Bangladesh. I came to relish the traditional South Asian chai, boiled with milk and sugar, spiced with cardamom and cinnamon, and a malted-milk biscuit on the side.
I returned to Nepal a few years later to trek in the Annapurna foothills. The farther we hiked from the valley towns, the more rudimentary the accommodation and more interesting the cultures. Near Muktinath, at an altitude of over 3500 metres, some monks invited us to join them for tea. I’d heard of Tibetan butter tea, but hadn’t tasted it. One sip confirmed I couldn’t drink a whole cup. Fortunately, my companion had a stronger stomach. We discreetly swapped cups when he’d emptied his.
Now I prefer herbal teas, or weak Lapsang souchong or Earl Grey. But I haven’t forgotten the tea I’ve drunk on my travels, not only on the Indian subcontinent but also in China, and Japanese teahouses in California. In Egypt I developed a taste for mint and hibiscus tisane. I appreciate I have a choice.
Almost everyone drank tea in the long-stay psychiatric hospitals, where I worked, when I wasn’t travelling. But, while staff could make a cuppa how and when they wanted, patients were served tea at set times with milk and sugar already added to the pot. It made life easier for overworked nurses. Sadly, through apathy or through illness, the patients had lost the capacity to complain.
Yet the culture was changing when I took up post in a hospital in the mid-1980s. The asylums were scheduled for closure, with patients no longer segregated from society but cared for in the community.
My new novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, fictionalises the deinstitutionalisation process. I’d love you to read it, but it comes with a warning: I’ve counted forty-eight references to tea!
In this scene, the staff attempt to teach a group of patients about choice. Their preferences having been ignored for decades, even how they take their tea is a complex issue.
The extract that follows is from the point of view of Matty, a seventy-year-old woman who has been shut away since the age of twenty. She believes she is the mistress of a country house; the staff are her servants and the other patients her guests. She calls social worker Janice ‘the circus girl’, occupational therapist Heather ‘the schoolmistress’ and fellow-patient Effie, who carries a baby doll around with her, ‘the shrimp-woman’.
Can you distinguish delusion from reality in her account?
Matty owes her repertoire of parlour games to her mother, who was partial to Snakes and Ladders, gin rummy and whist, while the boy enjoyed Beggar My Neighbour, Snap and draughts. Nowadays, with the butler’s assistance, she hosts general knowledge quizzes for the guests, but a game based on tea is an intriguing innovation. She would have taken it for a gypsy ritual save that the circus girl’s accomplice is as exotic as a schoolmistress, in an extremely dour skirt and blouse.
“Effie, can you ask Billy if he fancies tea or coffee?”
Naturally, the schoolmistress gets no sense from the shrimp-woman, who directs her reply at the baby. “We have tea at three o’clock.”
“So you do, Effie. But this afternoon we agreed to try something different. We’re exploring individual preferences and tastes. So, could you ask Billy if he would like coffee or tea?”
“I’ll have a coffee if it’s going.”
“That’s lovely, Billy. We’ll get you a coffee once we’ve found out about everyone else. But did anyone notice Billy answered Effie’s question before she asked it? Let’s see if you can ask each other …”
“Of course,” says Matty. “Happy Families.”
“Not exactly,” says the circus girl.
“Because there aren’t any cards,” says the man with illustrated arms.
“It’s like social skills,” the shrimp-woman tells her baby.
“It is indeed like social skills. In fact, it is a social skill, isn’t it, when we ask another person what they prefer?”
The boy would adore this game. Matty wishes he were here to explain it.
“So, Billy, could you ask Matty whether she’d rather have tea or coffee?” continues the schoolmistress.
“Matty, do you want tea or coffee?”
“Fabulous, Billy. Can you ask again, making it clear you’re interested?”
“Not really. Anyroad, she drinks tea.”
“It’s great you’ve noticed what she has generally, Billy. How can you find out what she’d like this afternoon?”
“My baby drinks milk,” says the shrimp-woman.
“Okay. Billy would like coffee and Matty would like tea. Is there anything else we should ask?”
“Have we got a bottle for the baby?”
“Are there any biscuits?”
Everyone turns to the tea trolley, parked between the fish tank and the television. Miracles do happen when that chatterbox is muted.
“As we’re learning the ropes, should Janice and I ask what everyone wants?”
“What a good idea,” says the circus girl. “Shall I start? Heather, would you like tea or coffee?”
“Hey, that’s for us. You have coffee in your offices.”
“That’s true, Billy. But in this group we’ll all have a hot drink together.”
Oh, deary me! The fellow is incensed. Although uncouth, he is a guest. But she cannot reproach the circus girl and her associate as she would a scullery maid or gardener. How would her mother make peace between them? Matty gets a sniff of smoky tea. “My mother takes Lapsang souchong with a lemon slice.”
Anne, thank you – and I must tell you how much I enjoyed attending your on-line book launch (and it can be watched again on Inspired Quill’s YouTube channel). Wishing Matilda Windsor every success as she goes out into the world…
About the author
Anne Goodwin grew up in the non-touristy part of Cumbria, where this novel is set. When she went to university ninety miles away, no-one could understand her accent. After nine years of studying, her first post on qualifying as a clinical psychologist was in a long-stay psychiatric hospital in the process of closing.
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. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.