Today I’m joined my Anne Goodwin whose latest novel, Underneath, was published on 25th May and she has written about the cellar which is an important setting in the book. You’ll find lots of information about Anne below but first here’s a bit about the book.
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?
Published internationally 25th May 2017 in e-book and paperback
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06X9VN6CD
Amazon USA https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9VN6CD/
Buy in paperback directly from the publisher
The house with a cellar and the dual meaning of Underneath
Having had an extremely positive experience of working with an editor to improve my first novel, Sugar and Snails, I was looking forward to seeing what Sara Slack would have to say about my second, Underneath. So I was somewhat nonplussed by early feedback that she couldn’t picture the cellar in which my narrator, Steve, keeps a woman captive for several months. How could I have failed to describe it clearly when I’d given it so much thought? How could I have muddled myself when I’d based it on a real cellar in a real house I’d visited many times?
When, after toying with constructing a cardboard model and some tinkering with the text, she remained unconvinced, I wondered if it would have been easier for Steve, like Rochester in Jane Eyre, to use an attic as a lock-up. But that wouldn’t do for a novel concerned not only with the practicalities of incarcerating a woman in an ordinary house but also with what lies at the bottom of the main character’s psyche. As Sanjida Kay, author of Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child has said, Underneath is a “dark and disturbing tale of a man who appears ordinary on the surface, but is deeply damaged”. An attic would be overly cerebral.
Eventually, we identified the source of the confusion. My Collins dictionary defines a cellar as “an underground room, or storey of a building, usually used for storage” but room does not mean the same as storey. As the novel’s opening should (now) make clear, the unfortunate woman is incarcerated in a room in the lower storey of the house. Sometimes knowing your setting well can lead to unwarranted assumptions. But it’s always preferable to befuddle your editor rather than your reader.
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.
The poignancy of Steve’s position is that he’s genuinely looking for the psychological home he never had. As a child, although he lived with his mother and sisters in a small, but adequate, house, he never felt he belonged. As an adult, he’s spent twenty years avoiding confronting his inner homelessness by roaming around the world. When he finally buys a house in England and persuades Liesel to move in with him, it looks as if everything is falling into place. In that respect, he reminds me of the teenage Silver in Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, who is delighted to move into an abandoned miner’s cottage, despite its state of dilapidation, because she thinks she’ll finally have her mother to herself (p207-8):
what I had always fantasised about: a house that was just mine and Ishtar’s, where we lived together, just the two of us. In a strange and completely unexpected way I had gotten what I’d always wanted … No most making around … No more overcrowded, noisy mealtimes, no more raucous late-night parties, no more tripping over other people’s things, no more crying baby
Although Liesel insists that she won’t be tied down, Steve tries to make his house a place she’ll want to stay. On the day he moves in, before she’s agreed to join him, he decides to give her the best room (p26):
I hovered on the upstairs landing, a lumpy duvet tucked under my arm, hesitating between the room at the front and the one at the back. Butting out into the bay window, the front bedroom was bigger, and the paintwork less jaded. If I reserved the better room for Liesel, it would serve as an extra incentive for her to move in.
I understood her need for freedom: I’d lived that way myself for years. Yet if a guy like me could get to the point where the house, the job, the partner spelt relief rather than oppression, Liesel could get there too. So long as I was bold and decisive in my intentions, everything would eventually slip into place.
A few months later, the couple are so close they spend an idyllic Christmas hiding away from the world in the cellar. They make love, eat and drink and share their secret desires entangled in each other’s limbs. But when Liesel decides to leave the relationship if Steve won’t agree to start a family, it triggers his disturbed side, the part he’s buried so deeply he didn’t know it was there. It’s not only that, growing up without a father, he’s terrified of the prospect for himself. It’s also that, underneath his easy-going exterior, he can’t bear to lose what he loves. That’s when he really comes to appreciate having a house with a cellar.
Like Steve, Anne Goodwin used to like to travel, but now she prefers to stay at home and do her travelling in her head. Like Liesel, she’s worked in mental health services, where her focus, as a clinical psychologist, was on helping people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size. Underneath is her second novel; her first, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Anne lives in the East Midlands and is a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio.