Anne Goodwin will be launching her second novel, Underneath, on the 10th June at Nottingham Writers’ Studio from 7pm. Free entry with refreshments available. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari Prize.
When I launched my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, at the Writers’ Studio almost two years ago, my second novel, Underneath, was almost ready to submit to my publisher. That’s not because I’m a particularly quick writer but because, having started a second on the misplaced apprehension that the first was finished after its second draft, I’d been moving back and forth between the two over the previous five years, not knowing which would be published first or, indeed, whether either of them would make it.
So, unlike authors beginning a second novel following the publication of their first, I didn’t have the sensation of real readers looking over my shoulder. Furthermore, published by a tiny independent press, I’m not sufficiently visible to qualify for Second Novel Syndrome. Yet Cressida Downing’s post on the subject on the Writers and Artists website, resonated with me. Readers, she says,
‘…want what they liked in the first book to be in the second book, but they don’t want an identikit book, they’d like some different bits, but they couldn’t tell you what different bits.
If the second novel is too samey, the audience complains ‘this author only knows how to write one book.’ If the second novel goes in too much of a different direction, the audience sulk ‘this isn’t the sort of book I was expecting from this author.’
My debut, Sugar and Snails, a midlife coming-of-age story about a woman who’s kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was positioned as literary LGBT. My second, Underneath, a psychological suspense story about a man who seeks to manage a relationship breakdown in an unusual and alarming way, seems, on the surface, “too much in a different direction”. Perhaps only a quirky independent publisher, like Inspired Quill, would have accepted my second novel without major rebranding.
While surface differences might have enabled me to alternate between novels in the drafting stages without one story bleeding into the other, I’m more conscious of the overlap between them. Both are first person accounts from not entirely reliable narrators which move between past and present. Both narrators have secrets: Diana, in Sugar and Snails, strives to hide her past identity, while Steve, in Underneath, continues his everyday life while keeping a woman imprisoned in a cellar. Both address hidden vulnerabilities: Diana’s buried beneath a personal and professional reserve; Steve’s actively denied. Both my protagonists have felt misunderstood as children, with emotionally or physically absent fathers; both face the threat of relationship breakup as adults. Both characters have significant blind-spots that could be their undoing. Both my novels address social issues, in direct and indirect ways.
Comfortable with these similarities, I was rather shocked when I realised, rather late in the publication process, I’d begun both novels with the narrator descending a staircase. I always suspected fiction would expose my weirdness in unpredictable ways. Of course, I could dismiss this as a trivial coincidence (like setting my novels in cities beginning with the letter N: Newcastle for Sugar and Snails; Nottingham for Underneath), the consequence of characters living in houses more than one storey high. Or I could view the staircase symbolically, as a transitional space between different identities and states of mind: from hope to despair and back again for Diana; from lover to jailer, ordinary to disturbed and disturbing for Steve.
Sugar and Snails is about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be. Underneath explores the potentially disastrous consequences of attempting to plug that gap unthinkingly, Steve filling the space in the cellar while denying the empty space within himself. I hope that readers will find the right balance of sameness and difference in the space between my two novels. If you have space in your diary, do come along to the event space at the Writers’ Studio on June 10th to celebrate the launch of Underneath.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Underneath can be purchased at the book launch or you can buy the eBook or paperback online from Inspired Quill here.