It’s a real pleasure to welcome back Anne Goodwin to Linda’s Book Bag today. There’s a very special event happening at the moment with one of Anne’s novels and I simply had to invite her back to tell me all about it.
Staying in with Anne Goodwin
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Anne, and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thanks, Linda, I’m delighted to be here again. You’ve generously hosted me twice before, with posts about how the narrators of my first two novels were shaped by childhood experiences and the dynamics of their families of origin.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, a midlife coming-of-age story about a woman who has hidden her past identity for thirty years, afraid she’ll lose everything if her secret gets out. It was published in 2015 but I’m sharing it this evening because it will be free throughout February. Anyone who’d like a copy can reserve it here.
How brilliant. We all love a free book. I know Sugar and Snails has been incredibly well received Anne. Tell us, what can we expect from an evening in with Sugar and Snails?
A bumpy journey with an uplifting ending. Sugar and Snails received advanced praise from a consultant psychiatrist, a trans campaigner and a Booker-prize-shortlisted author, among others. Readers have called it a “fascinating portrait of a struggle with unusual demons” that turns out to be “about much more than you realise”. It’s “a well written novel dealing with a difficult subject sensitively and with compassion” that “takes a close look at how secrets and lies can affect our entire life, down to the heart of who we are” and is “destined to open hearts and minds to an experience that’s rarely explored in the realms of fiction”.
I think it sounds brilliant Anne! I’ll definitely be heading here to reserve my free copy! What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?
I’ve brought my walking boots and a First Aid kit! Sorry my boots are rather muddy – I’ve left them by your back door – but walking is fundamental to my writing process, and I’ve included a scene in Sugar and Snails in which Diana, my main character, recalls a childhood walk with her father in the Peak District National Park.
I can see from the photo you’ve brought how walking is inspirational Anne, but why the first aid kit?
The First Aid kit is for Diana, and it’s not only blisters from ill-fitting boots I’m worried about. She’s self-harmed since childhood and, although she hadn’t cut herself for some time, it’s always a risk when she’s stressed. And she’s pretty stressed when the novel opens: she’d planned to give Simon (whom she’s been dating chastely for a few months) a night to remember, but he’s likely to remember it for all the wrong reasons. I don’t want her getting blood on your furniture.
Oo. Neither do I.
I’ve brought an extract too, so you can see what Diana is like:
The front door slams. I rise stiffly and stumble down the remaining stairs. Dragging my fingertips along the dado rail, I reach the kitchen and flick the light switch on the wall. I note the lustre of the sunshine-yellow cupboards and the chill of the tiles on my bare feet, but from a distance, as if I’m researching a stranger’s home.
I pull out drawers and rummage through the contents. I select my best knives and rank them by length along the worktop, the way a toddler might arrange her toys: breadknife; chef’s knife; carving knife; the whole gamut of blades, right down to the fruit and veg knife with the yellow handle, still smeared with dried threads of pumpkin from our supposed romantic meal. Pushing back my sleeve, I test each one against my forearm. None of them up to the job.
I fumble in the cupboard under the stairs for my torch and beam it around until it highlights an old shoebox stuffed with tools. The Stanley knife is a work of art in its simplicity, with its green plastic casing and satisfying heft in my hand. The blade seems sharp enough but it’s freckled with dirt-coloured paint. Taking a crossed-tip screwdriver, I unleash the blade and turn it over. The triangle of pristine steel peeping out from the sheath gives me an artisan’s sense of accomplishment.
My ears are abuzz with white noise as I push back the sleeve of my dressing gown to the crook of my arm. Flexing my wrist, the blood vessels reveal themselves below the surface like waterways on a map. The pads of my fingers trace a raised blue-green vein, from the middle of my forearm, through crossings of taut white scar tissue to the base of my thumb where it branches out with arteries and purple capillaries in a sanguineous river delta.
I locate a patch of clear skin amongst the tangle of old scars and apply the blade. At first there’s nothing more than a puckering at either side. As with sex, I’m sorely out of practice. I press harder, digging the tip of the knife so deep that by rights it should reach bone. Still nothing. Pressing harder still, a tiny red bauble bubbles at the tip of the blade.
Maintaining an even pressure, I scrape the knife along my arm. The bauble clones itself over and over, beads on a rosary that multiply and merge into a glistening red band. Dropping the knife, I bring my arm to my mouth: the vibrant colour, the taste of hot coins, the pain as sharp as vinegar spearing the fug of nothingness with the promise of peace. When Simon left, I was drowning. Now I’m floating on a sea of calm.
In the kitchen, I bind a folded tea towel round my forearm, gripping one end in my teeth to brace the knot. Secure as a swaddled baby, I mount the stairs to bed.
My word, that’s a powerful piece Anne. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and for staying in to tell me more about Sugar and Snails. While you’re lacing up your walking boots and heading off, I’ll tell readers more about Sugar and Snails and remind them about how to get a free copy of the book:
Sugar and Snails
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.
About Anne Goodwin
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. Subscribe here.