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Blog tour: Greater than the sum of its parts? Assembling a first short story collection

This week I am delighted to welcome fellow writer Anne Goodwin to my blog. Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com
Twitter @Annecdotist.

Here Anne talks about putting her first collection of short stories together for publication.

Many years ago, when I was carving out a space to write fiction, a creative writing tutor recommended I begin putting a short story collection together. Despite knowing very little about publishing at the time, I was aware that short story anthologies are hard to sell in the UK. So I shrugged my shoulders and continued submitting my efforts to individual magazines.

By the time my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published in 2015, I had over sixty short stories in multi-author collections and/or print and internet magazines. I even had a couple in translation – Swedish and Hungarian if you’re wondering – which is yet to happen with either of my novels. But I didn’t consider putting together a collection until my publisher at Inspired Quill suggested it. What writer isn’t flattered to be asked to submit? I decided if Sara-Jayne Slack was prepared to invest time and money in an anthology, I ought to delve in.

It wasn’t until my second novel, Underneath, was published that I had the headspace to revisit my short fiction with an anthology in mind. By then I had around ninety stories – most already published, some still in draft and some doing the rounds – begun over a period of fifteen years. Each having emerged from a separate seed of inspiration, it was a new experience to go back and select a sample not only for their individual qualities but for how they’d fit together as a whole. Like arranging a vase with flowers from different seasons or furnishing a room with both contemporary pieces and antiques.

Or perhaps my stories weren’t so disparate. I knew I kept returning to familiar themes. Perhaps my collection would be like a colour-co-ordinated bouquet. But which colour – or theme – would incorporate the most alluring flowers?

In conjunction with my publisher, I settled on the theme of identity, being broad enough to encompass a range of interpretations around a coherent central idea. How do we become who we are and how that does that change across time and circumstance? How do we manage the gap between who we are and who we would like to be or who others feel we ought to be? How much control do we have over our identity and is it a role bestowed on us by others or something that arises from within? These kinds of questions are consistent with my background as a clinical psychologist. They’re also explored within my debut novel.

After drawing up a list of potential candidates, I set about self-editing. A major difference between this and preparing my novels for submission was that 70,000 words of short pieces contains many more characters and plots than a novel of similar length. What if I had repeated myself? Once the stories were in a single document it was relatively simple to eliminate duplicate character names, but echoes of imagery or phrasing are trickier to detect. Multiple reads and an eagle-eyed editor certainly help.

Following submission, my publisher asked for a statement of how each story fit the theme and a little more editing of some to make that fit tighter. This helped us both develop a stronger sense of what the collection is about and my personal concept of identity as a dynamic process that evolves in relationship with the self and with others. Around this point we also agreed that there was a gap in relation to religious identity (easily filled as I already had the completed stories touching on the topic) and that, although it’s inevitable that some stories would be stronger than others, one, despite perfectly encapsulating the theme, didn’t make the grade.
More detailed editing from my editor followed. The stories having gone through multiple edits already, a few courtesy of the editors of magazines, the collection required fewer alterations than my novels, and definitely fewer passages to cut. On the other hand, some elements of some stories needed a lot more back and forth until they hit the right note.

A satisfying short story depends on nuance; some of mine benefited from a few extra words to hone the resolution while still leaving sufficient space for the reader to draw her own conclusions.

One of the difficulties I encountered in writing my first novel was finding the right structure for the story I wanted to tell. When it came to the collection, while structure wasn’t a problem for the individual pieces, structuring the whole required some thought. In what order should the stories appear to make for the most satisfying read? With a novel, strategically placed crises keep the reader turning the page. But there’s no parallel for this in an anthology. To end one story, like a teasing chapter, on a cliffhanger doesn’t entice readers into the next tale with new characters and setting.

Having already agreed a title change from Being Someone to Becoming Someone to reflect identity as process, my publisher suggested arranging the stories to reflect increasing confidence of the main character in their sense of who they are. Thus the process of reading might follow the process of identity formation, such that the book itself becomes much more than the sum of its component parts. But when the stories weren’t written to illustrate this development, and when most stories contain a process within themselves, a challenge to achieve. Have we pulled it off? That’s for readers to judge.

Becoming Someone published 23rd November, 2018 by Inspired Quill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-908600-77-6 / 9781908600776
eBook ISBN: 978-1-908600-78-3 / 9781908600783
Author page at Inspired Quill publishers http://www.inspired-quill.com/authors/anne-goodwin/

Facebook launch in support of Book Aid International https://www.facebook.com/events/285314412085573/

Drop in at your own convenience wherever you are in the world, I’ll be here to entertain you from morning coffee to pre-dinner drinks.
The more actively people participate, the more I’ll donate to Book Aid International.


Sugar and Snails promotion My debut novel is discounted to 99p or equivalent (Kindle version) throughout November viewbook at Sugar and Snails

Welcoming in the Winter Solstice

Only a few days to go before the wheel of the year moves round a notch and the days get imperceptibly longer again. I believe to each season – of the year, of life, of emotion – there is a meaning. Or if there isn’t really a meaning, we might as well find one. For me, winter is a moment of ‘hibernation’, going inwards, finding nourishment and inwardly resourcing. It goes without saying, I ignore most of the capitalist, commercial nonsense which goes on. But lighting a single candle to remind me that the light is coming back – will usually come back, even in the darkest moments – is worth a match.

Spring’s wild wanderings,
Summer’s succulent kisses,
Autumn’s easy caresses,
bring love to warm our Wintery days.

Unloosen
the potentials and ‘also’s
in every season of life.

New Year, New Resolutions

After last week’s rather down-beat post, I have decided to approach 2016 more creatively and give this blog a bit of a make-over. I will now be running five regular strands – in rotation, though not necessarily strict rotation.

Strand 1: How to write a (crime) novel
Having now written two and published two – The Art of the Imperfect (http://goo.gl/z7HFgz) & The Art of Survival (http://goo.gl/MfMBUj) – and working on my third, I may have some wisdom to impart, or maybe not. Only you, dear reader, will be able to say. I am inspired by those magazines which come in ‘parts’ promising to build up to a full scale model of the Mary Rose or a mosaic of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps I won’t be as ambitious.

Strand 2: Author interviews
I have some great ones lined up – thank you to all who have agreed already. If you want to be interviewed by me (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?) and you’ve had some writing published/produced in the last year or have something coming out this year, please get in touch.

Strand 3: A writer’s life
For those of you who would miss my morose musings, never fear, they will re-surface every once in a while.

Strand 4: Word play
I’m not entirely sure how this will work, but I will be playing about with words and form. First outing will be about Haiku.

Strand 5: Cultural break
A review or some ponderings on an art form other than the written word or on a cultural event, mostly around Scarborough & North Yorkshire but sometimes beyond. If you have any suggestions of where I should go (please keep them polite and clean) then let me know.

I feel enthused about my plans and hope you will enjoy the journey with me.

New Year & Old Scripts

Filled with new year resolution, I approached a well known crime writer and asked them if they Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinalwould read my novel, The Art of Survivalhttp://goo.gl/MfMBUj – to provide me with a publicity quote. Of course she said no, no time. At least she was polite and encouraging about it.

I knew she would refuse. Still I was disappointed. As I reflected on this disappointment, I realised I had fallen prey, once again, to some old scripts.

#Old script 1
If I try hard, I will succeed, ergo, if I don’t succeed, I’m not trying hard enough.
#Old script 2
It’s not about trying harder, it’s about being smarter, ergo, I am not smart.
#Old script 3
If you know what achievement looks like, you will succeed. I know what achievement looks like for me: being traditionally published by a publisher which cares; earning my living through my writing (with some teaching/workshops thrown in); having a novel in the bestseller list; having a novel adapted for TV. Not a lot to ask huh! But I am certain this success is not for me.

There is a myth, coming from #old script 1 & 2 above, that success is there for the taking for everyone. If this were true, then writers who have succeeded (in my terms) would not appear on TV/radio chat shows. They would not be a rarity, an oddity, newsworthy. The ledge of success is narrow and everyone who gets there has needed a leg-up and luck.

I have spent the day working on my third novel, The Art of Breathing, which I intend to indie publish later this year if I don’t find a traditional publisher for it. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to be writing; shaping the characters, teasing out the plot, creating the world which I want to share with readers. I know this is where I get the most satisfaction and (ergo) where I should focus. And I will, once I’ve booted out those old, unhelpful scripts.

As a writer, what’s the most unhelpful script you are holding onto and what would you like to replace it with?

Unlovable Characters and The Writing Year

It seems I may have created a marmite character in my crime series, The Art of the Imperfect (http://goo.gl/z7HFgz) and The Art of Survival (http://goo.gl/MfMBUj). Apparently, Hannah, bless Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinalher, evokes strong emotions in my readers.

I know I have not written cosy crime; my stories are challenging and my characters, at times, are difficult to be with. But isn’t this so with most modern crime writing? Does Ian Rankin get told, ‘Couldn’t you cheer Rebus up a bit?’ as I was told by an agent’s reader regarding my creation Hannah? I doubt it and I am wondering if there is some gender politics at play here. Because I am a woman, am I supposed to only deliver cuddly, comfy characters? And are women characters not supposed to be down-beat and tricky to love?

I remember similar controversy swirling around Lionel Shriver’s mother character in We Need to Talk About Kevin. (A fab book in my opinion, let’s have none of this ‘a mother’s love for her children is always overwhelming and inevitable’ nonsense.) The debacle didn’t do Shriver any harm, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about the disagreement Hannah is generating.

As 2015 slithers to its inevitable end and 2016 looms, I thought I might take a tentative look back at my writing year. As I do so, I have to admit to feeling pretty pleased.

At the end of 2014, I published The Art of the Imperfect, so during the first part of this year I was promoting it both in social and traditional media (including an interview on Radio York on the 19th of January). I have found, however, that the best way to sell books is to get out and meet potential readers. This year I have done nine events, talks or signings to groups, in cafes, in book shops and in libraries. I have had some lovely reviews on Amazon and also on blogs.

The Art of the Imperfect was long-listed for the Crime Writers Association debut dagger. I didn’t think I had any expectations for my first novel’s sales, but I obviously did because I was initially disappointed. However, I can now publicly announce I am pleased with how things have gone. I sold or gave away (to reviewers and the like) around 270 copies. When I did a promotion on Kindle, 230 people downloaded it. I also did a giveaway on Goodreads, where people throw their names into a digital hat for the chance of free copies. Over 900 people entered and, of the three names which were drawn out, two were from the US.

Earlier this year I also did a ‘blog tour’ with 24 fellow writers from around the globe. It was organised by me and a wonderful woman I met on-line, Kate M Colby from Kansas. We put a shout-out for participants, set the questions all of us were to answer and then Kate C co-ordinated a rota whereby we each posted on each other’s blogs and reblogged/promoted the posts of others.

It was fun to do and more importantly brought me in contact with some fascinating people who have also assisted me in my endeavours this year. In fact, the launch of The Art of Survival last month felt much more supported and championed because of the social media contacts I have gathered throughout this year.

And I finally have concrete proof that social media works. A tweet brought a man I didn’t know to my signing at WH Smith and a facebook post brought a woman I didn’t know to my talk at Filey. Both bought books.

Talking of the publication of my second novel, this took some work too. With the aid of my first readers, Jane, Sue and Ruth, and of a professional copy editor and proofreader, thank you Charlotte and David, I got the manuscript ready. I then had to format it differently three times, once for a print run with a local printer, once for Createspace (paperback on Amazon) and once for Kindle Direct Publishing. I am developing techie skills I never wanted to have, but I am content with the results.

I have continued to offer workshops and supervision exploring the cross-over between creative writing and therapeutic practice. I had some lovely comments from participants. ‘A rich and multi-layered experience, which opened up many possibilities for me,’ Janet. ‘I recommend highly Kate Evans’s workshops. She is an engaging and creative tutor, who brings out the best in you,’ Laura.

cherviotsIn September, I walked St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne with my sister, a fantastic experience in itself. I was also accepted as guest on the Mslexia blog between October and December to investigate the intersection between walking and writing. The results are here: https://mslexia.co.uk/author/kateevans/

Then in December, a chapter I submitted a while back, finally appeared in Poetic Inquiry II – Seeing, Caring, Understanding, edited by Kathleen T Galvin & Monica Prendergast, published by Sense Publishers. Keeping the toe nail I dip into academic writing wet!

During this year I have moaned about the lack of media coverage given to emerging writers (ie me!) Recently I looked at my own reading list and realised I was falling into the same ‘if it’s not traditionally published it’s no good’ trap. So I put a shout-out on facebook and gathered a list of indie published books to read and review. I started with Kate M Colby’s The Cogsmith’s Daughter (http://goo.gl/Ig4VOb) and then went onto Jaq Hazell’s I Came to Find a Girl (http://goo.gl/Q0ylky). Both excellent reads/discoveries, so I am continuing my adventure into the Indies in the new year.

I am back to writing The Art of Breathing, the third in my crime series, which I hope to publish Autumn 2016. My first draft has already been critiqued by fellow writers, Felix, Lesley and boots(different) Kate. I love the writing and crafting and know I am very lucky to have this possibility of focusing on what is my passion. I never did win the CWA debut dagger, so here is a bit of my acceptance speech: Thank you to my friends and fellow writers who have kept faith with me. Thank you to the readers of this blog and to anyone who has bought my novels and written a review. I really am very, very grateful. Wishing everyone a creative and peaceful 2016.

What’s your writing achievement for 2015?

Writing our shared humanity

Art of Survival Coverfront onlyfinalAfter six weeks focusing on the launch of my latest crime novel, The Art of Survival, http://goo.gl/MfMBUj I am back to the working on the third in the series, The Art of Breathing. One of the advantages of writing a series is that I already know the point-of-view characters pretty well, and reader and writer can get to know them in greater depth with each outing.

I had already written the stories of these characters several times before I embarked on this series. They had popped up in one or other of the five unpublished novels which I have written since I was in my late teens. However, the one I was most shy of pushing onto the public stage was Detective Sergeant Theo Akande. After all, what does a white, middle-class fifty year old woman know about the experience of a black, thirty-something man? I could add in the mix the difference in our stated sexuality, though I do believe that this is (perhaps?) more fluid than aspects of race, gender and age (perhaps not?).

A main character in a novel has to have a developed back-story. There were many, many narratives which would lead to Theo’s black skin, I needed to know which one authentically belonged to him. The one thing I was certain about Theo was his sense of security and stability. I was clear this had to come from his parents and background. Having family connections to South Wales, I knew about the rooted Cape Verde community in Cardiff. As I read more about it, I decided Theo’s mother would come from there.

Theo’s father would come from Nigeria, a notion born from the story of a friend I had at university and from the biography of writer, Jackie Kay. Still there was a sketchiness to this. I read the novels of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and have recently begun Nigeria, a new history of a turbulent century, by Richard Bourne. As I paint in detail for Theo’s father’s story, Theo himself takes on greater substance and exciting new possibilities open up.

I am utterly committed to creating characters with depth and complexity. Theo is as real to mewriter at work june 15 001 as the others in my novels. Sometimes I’ll have conversations with him (as I do with the others) to test out what I know about him and to find out new information. Yet, I have less confidence presenting him to others and wait to be slammed down for attempting to do so.

I hope if/when this happens, I will be able to channel some of Theo’s assurance and hold onto my belief that what connects us as humans is greater than what divides us.

How do you, as a writer, build character? What, as a reader, do you consider good characterisation?