I was thrilled to be invited onto the blog tour for this book, even more so when I was given copy of the guest post to accompany my introduction.
I strongly urge you to check out some of the other stops on the tour, as Anne has written individual, interesting and reflective pieces for each, which are well worth reading.
‘UNDERNEATH‘ – The Premise..
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‘ – The Opening Lines..
As I descend the concrete staircase, I can’t see my feet for the cardboard box I’m cradling in my arms. Nudging the banister with my elbow for balance, I duck to avoid the underbelly of the main staircase and catch a whiff of chocolate sponge filtered through the fragrance of your freshly laundered clothes.
The stairs shunt left and left again. I count the last three steps beneath my breath. A short walk down the corridor and I’m setting down the provisions on the chequerboard lino alongside the panelled door.
I put my eye to the peephole and flick the switch on the wall. Inside the room, the ceiling light beams on the grass-green carpet dotted with daisies and on the three hundred and sixty degree mural in fiery sunrise hues. It picks out the lidded bucket in the far corner and, directly opposite the door, the double mattress marooned in a sea of discarded food packaging and dirty underwear. It traces the curve of your back where you lie beneath the duvet.
Hi! I’m ANNE GOODWIN
During my career as an NHS clinical psychologist, my focus was on helping other people tell their negelected stories to themselves, although now that my short fiction publication count has overtaken my age, my ambition going forward is to write and publish enough novels to equal my shoe size.
I live in the East Midlands and I am a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.
I juggle my sentences whilst walking in the Peak District, only to lose them while battling the slugs in my vegetable plot.
As a break from finding my own words, I am also an avid reader and would describe myself as a barely competent soprano in an all-comers choir.
I write to tame and organise the thoughts that bubble in my head. I write for the part of me that’s inconsolable and don’t have the hands or the talent for painting, pottery or the piano. I write because it’s proven more effective than screaming to communicate my personal truths. I write because publication provides the perfect payback for a painful childhood and because I’m addicted to alliteration, a glutton for grammar and ruled by the rule of three. I continue writing to discover where my imagination will take me; because if I stopped, I’d no longer be me.
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“COMPASSION FOR THE CRIMINAL, CONDEMNATION OF THE CRIME“
At some point between drafts of my recently published second novel, Underneath, my husband, who had heard a lot about it but not yet read a word, asked if it ended happily. My response was noncommittal but, in the ensuing discussion, it became clear that he and I had different concepts of what might constitute a happy ending in a novel in which a man keeps a woman captive in a cellar. My husband was on the side of justice; I was thinking in terms of my character getting what he wanted.
No, I haven’t lost my moral compass. I know that what Steve, the narrator and protagonist of my novel, does is very wrong. But, having inhabited his mind for so long, I couldn’t help seeing things from his point of view. In Steve’s deluded mind, his actions are perfectly rational. He hasn’t set out to become a criminal. While I can’t condone his actions, I’ve had to give him the space to do so himself.
Of course, as their creator, I see things from the points of view of the other characters alongside Steve. And although the reader experiences events through his eyes, the reactions and comments of other characters contribute to a broader perspective. It’s up to the reader to decide who to believe.
Advice on creating an immoral character suggests that writers be nonjudgemental and empathic, and perceive their character’s behaviour as the outcome of various unfortunate events rather than a random act. To give much detail about how Steve became a jailer would spoil the story, but there’s a clue in the title itself. Although his difficult start in life cannot excuse his behaviour, he’s been disadvantaged from the beginning with a mother unable to give him her full attention because she was grieving for her husband, his father, who died before he was born. Despite his reasonable success in life, with a house, a job and a girlfriend, underneath lies a part of him that’s still the vulnerable little boy.
Of course, not everyone who is neglected in early childhood grows up to commit a criminal offence. Like all of us, Steve is a mixture of constructive and destructive impulses that, through a particular set of circumstances, slide closer towards wrong than right. He’s not an out and out brute; his girlfriend, Liesel, wouldn’t have moved in with him if he was. And I don’t think I could have lived with Steve in my head if he’d had no redeeming features.
When Liesel threatens to leave him, Steve gets anxious. Like most people who are split off from their own vulnerability, fear motivates him to reassert control. He didn’t deliberately buy a house with a cellar in order to keep someone captive there but, given the opportunity, he puts it to use. Once he becomes a jailer he feels as trapped as his prisoner. And, of course, he is: if he lets her go she’ll run to the police.
Saddled, as he sees it, with another human being to care for – with perhaps similar feelings of ambivalence that his mother must have felt about him when he was born – Steve’s life becomes even more of a challenge. How can he carry on his ordinary life with such a dreadful secret at the bottom of the stairs? How can he maintain his sense of self as a decent person when he’s holding a woman against her will? The effort of managing the contradictions would be enough to drive anyone out of their mind. However I’m hoping my readers will be better equipped to juggle the conflicting feelings of compassion for the person and condemnation of the crime.
Concluding where I began, with the quality of my novel’s ending, I prefer not to ask whether it’s happy or unhappy, but whether it’s satisfactory from the reader’s point of view. Is it true to the events that have preceded it? Does it tie up enough loose ends? I’ve certainly tried to create a satisfying ending, but whether I’ve succeeded is for readers to judge.