I have the privilege of interviewing author, Anne Goodwin about her debut novel ‘Sugar and Snails’, of which I did a review here on LitWorldInterviews.
To cut a long story short, Anne thought it would be good idea for someone who is associated with psychology to review her book, and I couldn’t be happier to do so. Of course, after reading ‘Sugar and Snails’, I do have a few questions for Anne.
So here goes:
An interview with ‘Sugar and Snails’ author, Anne Goodwin
Anne, what an incredibly thought-provoking book. I guess readers will want to know how you come to conceive the idea/theme for ‘Sugar and Snails’?
Thank you, Florence. I’m not totally sure where the idea came from – I think these things can lurk in our subconscious for quite some time – but there seem to have been three strands, which I have written about in more detail elsewhere: taking almost half a lifetime to figure out my own difficult adolescence; an awareness that many competent professionals have hidden vulnerabilities; and the discovery, part way through a long overseas trip, that an administrative error had led to my travelling on a passport that had registered me as male.
Your bio states you worked as a clinical psychologist in the UK for some 25 years. What was your area of practice or expertise as a clinical psychologist? When and how did you come to study psychology? And with mathematics?
I specialised in working with adults with severe and enduring mental health problems, often psychosis (Diana’s methodology for researching adolescent decision-making actually comes from a study of psychosis). Many of those I worked with were in residential care, which sparked my interest in organisational dynamics, so I did some additional training in psychoanalytic approaches to organisational consultancy.
I went to university straight from school at eighteen without a clear sense of what I wanted to study. In Britain, you’re expected to specialise early on, but I hadn’t had much guidance. I began studying languages but, being rather shy, I struggled with the spoken side, but eventually found the right place for me in the combination of psychology and mathematics. I liked the fact that in the former “the answer” is always provisional, while in mathematics, if you follow the logical process, you get to the correct solution. I loved reviving these subjects for ‘Sugar and Snails’, making Diana a psychologist and her best friend, Venus, a mathematician.
While maths is conceptual, it is easy to assume there is ‘the’ answer. Perhaps that is where its similarities lay with psychology – we must remember the factors and variables involved in the psychological makeup of a person. It is indeed fascinating to compare the different approaches Venus and Diana have to problem solving, to life in general.
How has your work experience assisted in writing ‘Sugar and Snails’?
As a basic level, it gave me an insight into Diana’s job as well as her, somewhat disastrous, experience of the health service. Yet, when I first answered this question in a Q&A, I didn’t fully appreciate quite how much my professional background has helped. But, having returned to this question after the one on research (below), I realise that the capacity to empathise with lives very different to one’s own is second nature to anyone who has worked therapeutically, as it is to the experienced writer of fiction. Although I was nervous that insiders might doubt my character’s authenticity, my work experience gave me the confidence to give it a go.
I can appreciate this. You certainly haven’t inundated the book with psychological profiling of each of the characters. And to think I wasn’t the first to ask this of you? 🙂 Here is Anne’s interview with Carys Bray on Blogger.
Next, how much research did you have to do for ‘Sugar and Snails’? What did you research?
I probably didn’t do half as much as I ought to have done! There’s a “secret” page on my website that lists my main background reading on attachment, gender and adolescence, although some of this I would have read anyway. I had to check out some legal and medical detail regarding Diana’s situation, but mostly I proceeded on the basis of imagination and intuition. Then I was lucky to have experts-by-experience among my prepublication readers who I hope would have flagged had I got anything drastically wrong.
Well, I’d better check out that secret page 🙂
Are the locations in the book real places, and if so, which are familiar to you and why?
The contemporary strand is set in the city of Newcastle, where I went to university and lived for twenty years; I might have used poetic licence, but the backdrop to Diana’s adult life is very real. The small town where she grew up was imagined, but the country walk she recalls taking with her father is one I’ve trod frequently.
Check out Anne’s interview with Geoff le Pard regarding the country walk.
And why Egypt? Do I sense a certain personal ‘love affair’ with Egypt?
My research suggested Diana could have gone to Casablanca but, never having been there, I crossed my fingers and used a setting in another part of North Africa. While I enjoyed revisiting my memories of a month-long visit twenty years before, many of the Cairean scenes were cut from the final version, so I’m pleased my affection for the place still comes through.
Find out here the scenes of Cairo which were cut from the book A photograph Anne shares.
I am intrigued by the nature of Diana’s relationship with Geraldine which isn’t exactly explained. Is it intentional? If not, what is it?
Mmm, I’m intrigued by your being intrigued, although another reviewer did comment she didn’t quite “get” it. I think their early childhood relationship is quite intense, as such friendships often are, with Geraldine initially the more “knowing” of the two, using the relationship to explore her own sexual and gender identity. When, at secondary school, she becomes more conscious of social norms, she distances herself from the “oddball”, but still enjoys having power over another child who’ll do anything for her. When they meet again as adults, Geraldine has moved on in a way that Diana hasn’t. I find that quite poignant.
It is indeed poignant, especially when I see how Geraldine is now leading a ‘normal’ internal life while Diana’s somewhat stuck. Yet the book also highlights to me how the world would see them in such a different light.
When did you begin writing ‘Sugar and Snails’? Describe the writing journey from beginning to getting it published – as well as getting the book to us, the readers.
I started it in 2008, filled with confidence after completing a long-distance walk, but it took many drafts to get it right, partly because I didn’t realise what a complex task I’d set myself, followed by two years to find and sign with a publisher (and, yes, I’m still waiting for a couple of agents who enthusiastically asked for the full manuscript to get back to me). So seven years from inception to publication, which felt inordinately long when I was in the thick of it, less so now I’m through to the other side.
When did you get the writing bug? Describe the circumstances which led you to first put pen to paper as a writer?
I’ve written all my life but lacked the courage, early on, to consider myself a writer. Busy with my studies and career, fiction took a backseat until a complicated bereavement about twelve years ago forced me to take stock. I reduced my hours at work to have a day for writing and have never looked back.
Now this is an example to follow – at least one day a week 🙂
I note the contribution from book sales to Gendered Intelligence. What is your relationship with this organisation? Why do you support Gendered Intelligence?
As a social enterprise, Inspired Quill is committed to improving community well-being. Although a new venture, their pledge to give ten percent of profits from book sales to selected charities is part of that. Gendered Intelligence is the perfect fit for Sugar and Snails because Diana would have been saved a lot of grief had she been able to draw on the kind of support they offer young people who are gender variant today.
What message, if any, would you wish ‘Sugar and Snails’ to convey regarding the important issues of gender and sexuality?
Be open to diverse ways of being human in yourself and others; I truly believe it will make the world a better place. But I think fear of difference is also part of being human and acknowledging our discomfort can be a step towards transforming it into empathy rather than hate. Fiction can help with this process by offering a safe space in which to be curious about difference.
Let’s end on a lighter note. Describe your writing spot and how it came about.
My writing space has extended over the years and I now have the luxury of not just an entire desk to myself, but a room I’m only intermittently obliged to share with my husband. We have a rather large house and I dread to think of what I’ll do with all my books if we ever downsize.
What is your beverage of choice when writing? You may be as specific as you wish.
Because I use voice-activated software, I need to drink a lot to protect my throat. I tend to drink a variety of herbal teas throughout the day, often just a sprig of sage, lemon balm, mint, fennel or rosemary from the garden doused in boiling water. I also like very weak lapsang souchong with a slice of lime. You must be thirsty yourself after all these questions. Could I offer you a cup?
Most certainly. I drink green tea for its clear crisp flavour. It’s a psychological trigger for me to relax, usually at the end of the day. I need a strong coffee to wake me up in the morning.
Thank you, Anne for your time and sharing your writing with us. I have thoroughtly enjoyed reading ‘Sugar and Snails’ . Wishing you the best in your writing endeavours, and a positive outcome as you wait to hear from publishers.
My review of Anne’s book ‘Sugar and Snails’ is here.
Anne’s book ‘Sugar and Snails’ can be purchased here:
Now there is no good reason not to go get a copy. It’s a worthwhile read!
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