I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post from Anne Goodwin today. Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill. It is available to buy here in the UK and here in the US.
Anne’s second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for May 2017.
About Sugar and Snails
The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin …
At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound.
To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance … until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.
Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.
Shaped by the past: the events that make us in life and fiction
A Guest Post by Anne Goodwin
(Anne has included lots of interesting links for you to explore too)
One of several areas of common ground between novelists and therapists is the belief that we are shaped by our experiences. For novelists, that means giving our characters a convincing back story; for therapists, it entails exploring how the client’s upbringing impacts on how they view the world and themselves. But individual novelists, as is the case for individual therapists, will differ in the emphasis they give this and the extent to which they believe we’re moulded by our pasts. As a debut novelist, and former clinical psychologist with experience of both sides of therapy, it’s a topic that intrigues me in my reading and writing.
From Cinderella to The Ugly Duckling, stories of transformation, of rising above disadvantaged beginnings, speak to something deep within us all. Yet for many of us, our pleasure in those narratives is tinged with an anxiety that our shadow selves will come back to haunt us. This is one of the themes of my debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Having been advised as an adolescent to put the past behind her, Diana Dodsworth has avoided intimate relationships for fear of her secret leaking out. Romance aside, it’s her relationship with herself which is most stunted, and her inability to reconcile the person she is with the person she feels she should be results in the episode of self-harm with which the novel begins.
There are as many ways in which the past can affect us as there are people, but it helps me to think of them as three types. Firstly, our earliest experiences as infants form our assumptions about how relationships work. If our parents and other carers respond to our distress signals promptly and lovingly, we grow up confident of our place in the world. If, however, they respond erratically or punitively, we grow up anxious and insecure. Because these formative experiences occur before we can forge verbal memories, we are often unaware that we’ve been disadvantaged in this way, unless or until some other crisis drives us to seek help. There is a clue, however, in our earliest memories. In Sugar and Snails, Diana’s childhood memory of unselfconsciously dancing is overshadowed by a fear of her mother’s disapproval, suggesting a character who’s a stranger to compassion either from others or from herself. This makes her sometimes, as an adult, awkward and prickly in her interactions with others.
The events and the choices that change the course of our lives are the second way in which our pasts affect the present. These no-going-back points serve to anchor the plot in fiction and ratchet up the tension. Some of these are a cause for celebration – marriage, a new job, the birth of a child – while others are downright tragic or more of a mixed bag. The momentous life-changing decision Diana makes in adolescence is much wanted but, being made in haste, she hasn’t properly planned for the consequences and the adults around her don’t furnish much support. It was partly a major disjunction in my own early life that drove me to explore this theme.
The third category is loss, a feature of many novels and, since we, and those we love, will all die some time, every life. But even the highlights include an element of loss; for example, the loss of freedom that a new baby brings. So heavily focused on getting what she thought she wanted as a teenager, Diana never properly acknowledged what she’d lost. While she would see that as sensibly getting on with things, the psychologist in me perceives her failure to mourn as keeping her stuck in the past.
If we are shaped by our pasts, can we ever move forward? I believe we can but, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, we need to accept its influence first and grieve for what we’ve missed. Many of us, like Diana, think that we can escape the legacy of our problematic pasts by dismissing them, by trying to live as if they hadn’t happened. Or, we acknowledge the events but deny the pain, making reckless choices as if to triumph over our own frailty. We try to live the life we feel we should have had, rather than the life we’ve been given. Often, however, rather than making us strong, the false self we create renders us more vulnerable.
An insecure start in life, a radical change of trajectory in adolescence with unacknowledged loss, can Diana ever reconcile herself to her past? If she can bear to let her guard down long enough to experience the support of her friends, if she can trust the new man in her life to treat her kindly, if she can draw on her contacts in her work as an academic psychologist, she might just make it. But, of course, you’re going to have to read the book to find out!