Anne Goodwin does not run a writing prompt challenge from her blog but her prolific and thoughtful book reviews do challenge her readers to think and to think about what books they might like to read next.
What part of the world do you live in and what should the rest of the world know about your place?
I live in a small town in near enough smack in the centre of England, not far from the birthplace of DH Lawrence and the supposed setting for Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
I’m a forty-minute drive from the Peak District National Park, and drew on one of my favourite walks for a scene of parent-child tension in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails. Nottingham is my nearest city and the main setting for second novel, Underneath. The region’s history of coal mining, and the legacy of the pit closures of the 1980s, inspired the final story in my collection, Becoming Someone.
What I hope will be my fourth book, and third novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, about a brother and sister separated for fifty years against the backdrop of the longstay psychiatric hospital closures, is set in Cumbria where I grew up.
Tell who you are, your blog(s) and other social media.
Given the theme of my short story collection is identity, I’d better sum myself up with an extract from the bio at the back of the book:
Alongside her identity as a writer, she’ll admit to being a sociable introvert; recovering psychologist; voracious reader; slug slayer; struggling soprano; and tramper of moors.
YouTube: Anne Goodwin’s YouTube channel
How did you come to be such a prolific reviewer of books? How do these books come to be read by you?
Although I read a lot, I hadn’t considered book blogging until I happened to win a prepublication copy of a novel on Twitter. Until then, I didn’t know that publishers would be willing to send books to ordinary people, not just for the review pages of newspapers and magazines. Childishly, I loved having books in my hands in advance of publication and still do.
In my first year of book blogging, I read about sixty books. Now it’s more than doubled. That’s partly because the books keep on coming, partly because I don’t have a social life and can read most evenings until my eyes begin to close!
Most of the books I review are novels and I receive the majority from the publishers for free. A few publishers contact me directly to ask if I’d be interested in a particular title, but mostly I request them myself after perusing the catalogues or seeing them promoted on Twitter or another blog.
If I have copies in time, I try to post my review in publication week, but I don’t always manage. That might be because I’ve overcommitted myself – a.k.a. being too greedy – or, because I’ve given myself the additional constraint of putting two reviews in one post, I haven’t yet found a suitable partner to pair it with.
Are you a reader who writes or a writer who reads?
Love your chicken-and-egg question but I doubt I’ll find as many inventive ways to answer it as you did in your witty poetry collection!
I’ve been an avid reader and writer since childhood, although there have been periods when writing has been side-lined, so I suppose I’m a reader first. While most readers don’t write, I find it hard to envisage a writer who doesn’t read. There’s so much we can learn from other writers and how can we ask people to read our words if we can’t make time for other people’s?
You are an accomplished and prolific writer of short stories, in addition to your novels, but I first met you at Carrot Ranch where we all write 99 word stories. Do you incorporate the exercise of that flash fiction writing into your work? Do you have an ideal word count for a short story, or a count that just seems to happen?
Initially sceptical about the possibility of writing a satisfying story in only 99 words, I’m now an addict. While I’ve developed some of those stories into longer pieces of flash fiction, most never travel farther than my blog and Charli’s online compilations. I’ve also used the prompts to rework scenes from my published and yet-to-be-published fiction; sometimes that leads to tighter writing in my longer works.
Nowadays, after lots of practice, I do have a sense of the likely length when I start playing with a story idea. A number of my stories are around 1800 words which is a reasonable length for belting out a first draft in a day or weekend. My stories have generally become shorter as I’ve honed my editing skills, although in the last few months I’ve written a couple – and have ideas for more – of around 4000 words.
I had hoped to get my short story publication count up to 100 this year, but I now think that’s unlikely. For those who are nerdish about numbers, or would like to sample my short fiction for free, you can monitor my progress on my website.
Do you have a character of yours from one of your stories who stands out for you as the most insistent or most memorable?
I don’t have children, but I imagine picking out my most memorable character would be like choosing a favourite child. But, from my collection, Becoming Someone, I’m rather fond of the mediaeval nun in “The Invention of Harmony” and the strong-minded widow in “The Witch’s Funeral”.
However, the character with a special place in my heart is Matty from my as-yet-unpublished novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home. Her story is tragic, having spent most of her life in a psychiatric hospital after a life event we wouldn’t bat an eyelid at today, but she’s very jolly, albeit extremely deluded. Her character is informed by people I knew in my previous incarnation as a clinical psychologist.
How has your reading and reviewing impacted you as a writer?
I get fresh insights into what works and what doesn’t with each book I read, and reviewing helps me to push a little further in articulating that for myself and others. On the other hand, writing reviews steals time from writing my own fiction, which might be why they’ve generally got shorter.
Identifying my favourite reads of the year sharpens my sense of what I’m aiming for, even if I never get there. Reading diverse (translations, BME authors, settings around the world) helps me extend my thinking about what a character can be.
I’ve also forged relationships with authors who have particularly appreciated my reviews of their books. On the other hand, given how much we writers rely on mutual support, I’m sometimes anxious about offending those whose books I haven’t particularly enjoyed. But I’m clear that a reviewer’s first responsibility is to her readers, not to the authors or to the publishers who might supply the books.
What is necessary to your writing process?
I function best in a quiet space whatever I’m doing, and I’m lucky to be able to achieve that most of the time. Walking helps me order my thoughts and, although I can touch type, I rely on the toddler in my laptop (a.k.a. voice activated software) to get my words on the screen.
What do you want for your blog?
My blog is about reading and writing seasoned with psychology and I don’t have big ambitions other than to keep going. While I’d like it to bring my books to more readers’ attention and/or influence readers’ priorities for other authors’ books, I see it primarily as a play space. Having come of age well before the advent of the internet, I’m still chuffed that I can publish my thoughts so easily. Whether anyone reads them is another matter, but it’s great when someone leaves a comment in my virtual visitor’s book!
If you could go back, what is one thing you would have done differently regarding your blog?
Being completely clueless when I started blogging, I’m amazed how well it’s turned out. Now I’m in touch with a community of other bloggers, I often wonder if I should have gone with WordPress (not that I knew about it when I began) as it does seem to make connecting easier.
Describe or list any publications of yours.
My debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. My second novel, Underneath, about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar, was published in 2017. My short story collection of 42 stories on the theme of identity, Becoming Someone, was published in November 2018. I also have approaching 90 stories published in print anthologies and online magazines.
Thank you for coming by Anne!