I’m delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Anne Goodwin’s book, Sugar and Snails, and I have a guest post to share.
What would you sacrifice to secure your secrets?
As a child, did you have a diary that locked with a tiny key? I loved mine, but I’m struck now by the paradox of securing my secrets with so flimsy a lock.
Most of us have secrets, sides of ourselves we don’t readily share. Some are trivial. Others cut to the heart of who we are.
Diana, the protagonist of my novel, Sugar and Snails, has constructed her entire adult life around her secret. It’s like a nail hammered into a tree trunk: the bark has grown over it, but the wound, although invisible, remains.
We draw on different versions of ourselves to suit the different contexts in which we operate: at work, at home, at play. Nevertheless, if we’re lucky, we have a sense of continuity at our core.
For some, however, the gap between what they know about themselves and what they feel able to show is so wide, it’s as if they’re wearing a suit of armour. That’s certainly true of Diana. She’s developed a persona that protects her privacy. But at considerable cost.
At first glance, she’s successful, with her own house and a decent job. Yet her life’s restricted: she never travels; daren’t try for promotion; and has been celibate for twenty years. Plus, she’s plagued by the fear of discovery.
To ease myself into her mindset and lifestyle, I lent Diana aspects of my identity. I gave her my bicycle. I gave her my house. I gave her more of the irritating parts of my personality than I’ll admit.
When I couldn’t imagine her in my office in a psychiatric hospital, I gave her a job I might have done, in a (renamed) building familiar from my student days. I divided the two subjects I studied as an undergraduate at Newcastle University between Diana and her best friend.
I loved my degree course: combining mathematics, a subject where problems have only one correct solution, with psychology, where the accepted wisdom is constantly in flux. I loved switching between an abstract and orderly subject and one that messes with the muddle of the human condition. I also loved being the only student graduating with that combination that year.
I enjoyed revisiting those academic interests for this novel and subverting the stereotypes of both. Diana is a psychology lecturer estranged from her own psyche; Venus, her best friend, is a world away from the shy and shambling mathematician.
It would have been fun to make the woman with the hidden past specialise in the psychology of secrets, but I also wanted the novel to delve deeper into the physical and psychological challenges of adolescence. So I made Diana an expert in adolescent ambivalence who needs to revisit her own momentous teenage decision in middle age.
Readers can revisit that tumultuous period alongside her, first to learn her secret, then to see whether she’ll find the courage to share it with her friends. And there’s no need to plough through tedious teenage diaries; the flashbacks to childhood reveal her struggle to become the woman she needs to be.
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.
My review can be found here.
Anne Goodwin writes entertaining fiction about identity, mental health and social justice. She is the author of three novels and a short story collection published by small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her new novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, is inspired by her previous incarnation as a clinical psychologist in a long-stay psychiatric hospital. Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.