Hi friends, grab a cup of hot chocolate or glass of your favorite beverage and gather around and enjoy this international story chat.
By the way, spelling and punctuation have not been changed and reflect the norms of the countries of the bloggers who participated. Thank you to my many friends at Carrot Ranch that participated in this #Story Chat. Thanks especially to D Avery for the awesome post with Kid and Pal at the Saddle Up Saloon introducing Story Chat.
If you follow the links in this post, each one will take you to specific posts on the participant’s blog, or in Anne’s case to guest posts. It takes a ton of time to visit each link, but you get a glimpse of the writing quality each blogger brings to the round table.
Sugar and Snails’ minor character, Thompson relives past mistakes.
In “A Postcard from the Past,” Ms. Thompson, a young social worker, called in to counsel Diana as a college student, hopes Diana’s life choices have turned out as well as hers. In spite of the spikey green writing on the postcard Diana sent her assuring Ms. Thompson that she had made friends in her new town, Ms. Thompson remains unsure of her own advice to the young woman. Some years later she rejects visiting the town Diana had lived in so that she wouldn’t accidentally run into her.
Let’s listen in as the story chat gets underway.
“What an interesting story.. Love it…”Lisa Bradshaw
“Anne, I enjoyed the dip back into Sugar and Snails and the profile of the social worker. She seems reluctant yet to meet up with Diana. Too bad because I see a sequel where we find out how it’s going with Diana and where these two meet again and finally talk and share the impact each had on the other.”D. Avery @shiftnshake
“I like the Story Chat format here Marsh. It’s always fun getting to know the backstory of a book’s character. I have Anne’s book and am looking forward to digging it out in my Kindle.”Dgkaye
Sequel or No Sequel?
Right from the start, followers of Anne’s books foresaw a sequel and throughout the evening, urged her to turn the story of Ms. Thompson into a stand alone novel. Her friends bombarded Anne with diverse questions about the writing process as well ones that arose from the exploration of the story at hand.
“Interesting idea, D. I have a sequel idea in my head (actually it’s located in one of my walks) but didn’t think of involving Ms T. Not sure I’ll get to write either. I think I’d need a much more detailed knowledge of the social work profession to write Ms Thompson’s story – although that hasn’t stopped me making one of the three main characters of my next novel a social worker! But then she’s working in a specialism that is very familiar to me.”Anne Goodwin
“If you were to write a chapter two, where would you start? The end or the beginning? Why do you suppose Ms. Thompson is so reluctant to meet Diana. Does she feel guilty? Did she ever get over her fear of going back to that city?”Marsha
“If I were to write it, I’d force her back there, mostly because I love that city – Newcastle – so much!”Anne Goodwin
Like Charli, I’d also like to know why the scene was cut from the book, but I have to admit that, at the moment, I don’t recall any conversations with Ms T in the novel. Perhaps I need a reminder. I can see that adding intrigue with another character may have distracted from Diana’s own story. Perhaps Ms T. needs her own story.”Norah
“It’s interesting too that you don’t remember her in Sugar and Snails, Norah, and I wonder if that’s because she doesn’t appear in the contemporary strand as she’s part of Diana’s past, but she’s named in the first chapter when Diana remembers her. I thought of it this way before, but maybe minor characters like her are meant to be almost invisible, because it isn’t really her story.Anne Goodwin
“Very good point, Anne. When I think about long-running series, that seems to be what happens – a minor character appears, then becomes a memory that everyone points to, or possibly even a main character, like Stuart in the Big Bang Theory.”Marsha
“Charli, I struggled with structure over several drafts and, as far as I can remember, this was from a point when I thought I could tell Diana’s story from multiple points of view. Then I started working with a mentor who, although she never completely got what I was trying to do, I think was right in persuading me to keep the very single voice. Although, who knows? Perhaps it could have worked. I’m thinking of Olive Kitteridge, which we’ve just been discussing on my blog.
Another thing to say is that this piece is much edited from the fragment I found from the earlier draft – it’s tighter and more of a story. In fact, I had fun discovering another strand to the character.”Anne Goodwin
Getting Back to the Short Story
The thread running through the stand alone story was one of Ms. Thompson’s feelings about herself, how she felt about her conduct as a social worker and Diana’s impact on her life.
What was with the parents anyway? They puzzled me. The father a jerk, but the mother – an ostrich?Marsha
“I think they found Diana too confusing and didn’t have the skills to rise to the challenge.
Norah, regarding Ms Thompson’s transformation, I think she tells you at the end – divorce, cutting her hair, getting into a relationship with Françoise – but maybe you didn’t take it in because you were expecting something as dramatic as Diana’s?”Anne Goodwin
Perhaps you’re right. Maybe I was expecting something a little more dramatic. Aspects of Ms T’s transformation are more commonplace now. And I agree. Perhaps I was more intent on Diana’s story than on the minor characters who moved it along.Norah
“It sounds like Mrs. T did not have a big impact on Diana’s life, but Diana had a big impact on her life. Reading between the lines, I think it is possible for a reader that did not read the story to guess the secrets of both characters. I thought I had read this book, but it did not sound familiar, so now I need to go back and read the book and refresh my memory.”Marsha
“Marsha, in the novel, I think she did have a big impact on Diana’s life, as she told her to put the past behind her without providing any real help to do so. But she didn’t have any impact on her life-changing decision.”Anne Goodwin
“Nobody has tackled Ms. Thompson’s fear of seeing Diana. We know she wasn’t pleased with how the case went and in her part in resolving it, but why didn’t she step up to the plate sooner and admit that she made a mistake., if she made one? I understand that type of cover-up behavior when she was young, but the post card showed that she hadn’t totally lost touch. She must not have written back, and she could have done that at least without admitting how badly she felt.”Marsha
I think Ms. Thompson felt guilty and embarrassed for how she handled (or didn’t handle) the case way back when. And maybe even chagrined in the face of Diana’s courage and resolve when she had lesser issues to confront within herself. Maybe. It doesn’t matter for this story, the questions are best left for readers to mull and not know. And, they will be answered in the sequel, “Ms. Thompson Steps Out”.D. Avery @shiftnshake
Ha, love your title!
Yes, your ideas re Ms T’s motivation make sense. Maybe also resentful deep down that Diana wouldn’t open up to her. Also, how did her supervisor advise her to handle the case? She was inexperienced but there would’ve been someone with more knowledge behind her. I have a sense it was just all too overwhelming.”Anne Goodwin
“So what you’re saying is that she empathized with the character but didn’t really know how to help her. As a young teacher, I did not have the skills I needed to meet all my student’s needs. There comes a time in both Diane and Ms. Thompson’s lives when they realize that no one is born experts at our jobs.
I think it might have been too much for the supervisor at the time when norms were maybe just beginning to shift. Maybe the supervisor was not able to shift with the times. Maybe he was trying to fix Diana making her into someone who fit his norms. Maybe that was part of Ms. T’s discomfort.”Marsha
“As both a recovering social worker (and someone who has taken to mining my past occasionally in my writing), I’m always confronted with whether the way I am remembering things is actually what happened or a polished/re-shaped version of how I felt or acted at the time. I sense that Ms T (and Ms G) may be struggling with the same question. Your thoughts, Anne?”Doug Jacquier
Great to have your recovering social worker perspective on this, Doug. (And indeed on the novel it’s based on, if you had the time to read it. I wonder what you’d think of Ms T’s actions when you know what Diana is going through.)
Yes, our memories are less accurate than we imagine (there’s research on how really vivid memories can be false), although that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind writing this (and I might come back to it when I’ve thought some more).
“So what you are thinking, Doug, is that Mrs. T may not have done such a bad job with Diana at all, but only remembers it badly?”Marsha
“Oh, that’s an interesting perspective, Marsha. She might be being over critical of her past self.”Anne Goodwin
“It’s interesting that Ms T doesn’t know if she helped Diana. But if Diana sent a postcard after their professional relationship had ended, she must have found something in their relationship that she wanted to acknowledge.
When someone is accustomed to bullying and gossip and has never before known a supportive, non-judgemental presence, that alone will make a difference. Especially to someone inclined (or forced) to keep things to themselves.
We aren’t told what the crisis was that Ms T was brought in to deal with and, to some extent, this mystery keeps us reading until it becomes irrelevant. Diana wanted to protect her parents so, other than being inadequate in terms of support, they don’t seem to be part of the immediate problem that brought in Ms T.
‘Twenty years after closing the case, she’d have felt awkward bumping into the girl.’ Doesn’t speak to me of a fear of meeting her, only embarrassment. If Ms T has undergone a noticeable transformation she might perhaps feel embarrassed because earlier honesty on her part could have helped Diana to be more forthcoming with her problems. I am sure we’ve all known situations where we wished we could have done more to help, but hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing – as is experience. This makes the character believable, and the story one we can relate to.
The only suggestion I might put forward is that if Ms T had actually made a mistake or omitted something radical – other than having done, in her own opinion, little to help – might it have further engaged the reader in wondering whether they supported or condemned Ms T.
(I have yet to read the book, so I will be interested to see if I recognise Diana in it.)”Cathy Cade
“Thanks for your thoughtful reflections, Cathy.
I wonder if Diana felt she got anything from Ms Thompson (which is explored more in the novel) and was simply being a good girl in sending the postcard. But it does imply a willingness to connect.
Yeah, I thought Ms Thompson was more embarrassed than afraid but you make a really good point about the magnitude of her guilt. It would definitely be a stronger story if she has actually been negligent, rather than well-intentioned but inadequate.
You’ve made me realise that although I’ve tried to write this as Ms Thompson’s story, because I’ve spent so much time with Diana, I still see Diana as the main character (as she is in the novel, but shouldn’t be in this story).”Anne Goodwin
Similarities Between Teaching and Social Work
“As a former teacher, there are multiple bits in this story that relate to me. So …. were you a teacher, Anne?”Frank @ Beach Walk Reflections
“In what way, Frank? No, I wasn’t a teacher, I was a clinical psychologist … and there’s one of those in the novel but again not managing to be as helpful as Diana needs.”Anne Goodwin
“Interesting. I asked because the situations you described were very applicable to what I’ve experienced. Must be some parallels. How much of your professional experience is in your writing?”Frank @ Beach Walk Reflections
Indirectly, a lot, but this didn’t come from there. My next novel is loosely based on my experiences of working in a long stay psychiatric hospital (before they closed them down).
I think the assumptions we make in any profession are hard to replicate from the outside.Anne Goodwin
The clearing out of piles and files is retired teacheresque; and that student you don’t forget, the one that educates you or haunts you or even inspires you? Maybe that is what Frank is thinking.”D. Avery @shiftnshake
“Good point, D. But I can see that a psychologist or psychiatrist would have the same issues. I don’t think they are as likely to retire, though. My neighbor is still working and she’s in her 80s. A teacher, on the other hand, does not keep files on their students – usually. The district would have those. Teachers are not private clinicians . Their files would consist of curriculum, books, journals, maybe, but mostly not on the children, but on how the lessons went.”Marsha
“Yes, I agree, mountains of paperwork in most professions, whether or not there are files on individual client/students / patients. I think psychologists and psychiatrists working in the public health system – which would be the norm in the UK – would retire around the same age as teachers do.
Practitioners in private practice might choose to work longer, partly because they’d have more choice and flexibility around working hours and clientele. But, yes, in statutory services the files are not the property of the professional but belong to the institution. So Ms Thompson has been very naughty in hanging on to that file.
This was actually explained in the original text I developed this story from, but I decided to cut it out. This was in the original:
At the back of her desk drawer she came across a couple of old case files dating back to the Seventies. The cases had never been closed, although they’d long been inactive. They’d accompanied her through half a dozen office moves, which was somewhat irregular, she had to admit. Nowadays client files were housed in a secure storeroom but these few had somehow slipped through the system, languishing in an anonymous limbo for almost thirty years. Without a recent contact the clients couldn’t now be registered on the computer and without a computer code the files could not be securely stored.”
“That really makes the story interesting. What a naughty lady! And she really didn’t want anyone to discover what she had done, I think. I think she had an enormous amount of guilt about the entire affair.”Marsha
In my head, it wasn’t so extreme. More apathy and a sense of unfinished business. But your angle is more interesting!
I do have a story in my head that’s similar to this but with different characters, where a former student – now famous – comes back to visit the school. The teacher/safeguarding officer has let her down badly, partly due to her own issues. So it looks like this is a theme for me.”Anne Goodwin
Teachers sometimes become friends with their former students. Do you think this might have been a similar situation given the post card. Was Diana maybe reaching out to Ms. Thompson?Marsha
Maybe, although friendship between professionals and former clients is considered dodgy because of the built-in power imbalance, so not somewhere I’d be happy to go.
Ah, but did she have an address to write back to? I’m wondering now how she set about closing the case with Diana. There must have been some kind of goodbye. Before or after the postcard? I’d assumed before, but maybe not.Anne Goodwin
Good point. And by this time she was busy in her practice and did not have time to be a sleuth.Marsha
“Marsha, going back to your comment about teachers, I think an awful lot is asked of teachers, without giving them the skills and resources to deal with them. A lot of kids come to school with complex needs way beyond learning.
When I did a course on organisational consultancy we analysed the burden on a headteacher at a primary school in an area of high levels of social deprivation. The consultancy – carried out by someone at the top of his field – led to the head taking sick leave, a better result than him dying of a heart attack! Overall extremely moving.”Anne Goodwin
“You are right. Teachers are on the front line. They see the cases before social workers and psychologists get called in, if they get called in.”Marsha
Encouragement about Editing and Rewrites
After trying to write a best-seller and getting stuck on the editing process, I got a little carried away asking about Anne’s experience going from drafts to a published novel. Her advice reassured me somewhat.
“Rewrites are hard when you’re starting out. I had some extremely positive feedback on my first draft of S&S, but it went steeply downhill from there. It was tough. I think I went through 5 drafts before the one that was published.Anne Goodwin
“Editing discouraged me a bit too much. Do the five drafts include your own edits? I had 2 editors and a number of Beta readers. It still ended up being rough, but it changed completely from the very beginning to the end of the writing process. Each Beta reader had a slice of the puzzle.”Marsha
A mixture of both. The first feedback was from a professional editor, acting in an advisory capacity, but others thought differently further down the line.Anne Goodwin
“Works very well with the recent Carrot Ranch column! I loved the build. EAT YOUR HEART OUT, JK ROWLING!”H.R.R. Gorman Gorman’s Column
Advice for the Author
Participants in story chat suggested how Anne Goodwin might go about writing her sequel.
I wonder if two minor characters could meet? Who else did Ms. Thompson touch anyone else in Diana’s story? Francois might be able to step in and help move Ms. Thompson along in the sequel leaving Diana’s story in the back where it belongs.
Maybe having some conversation between Ms. T and Francoise about how grumpy she’d been and try to delve into why or explore her unresolved guilt would be a good place to start, Anne. Or better yet, a call from someone else – the supervisor possibly who also felt guilty and was dying and wanted to get it off his chest before he passed.Marsha
I like how your mind is working: the supervisor possibly who also felt guilty and was dying and wanted to get it off his chest! Ideas sparking ideas.Anne Goodwin
“You could give her a dog…”D. Avery @shiftnshake
“Who is getting the dog? What kind? A pig-dog maybe?”Marsha
“Oh yeah. Marmaduke.D. Avery @shiftnshake
Ms. Thompson needs a dog. Even a poodle perhaps.”
“A French poodle, since that’s where she’s retiring.”Anne Goodwin
And with that, everyone had a good laugh, finished their drinks and headed back home.
Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Story Chat as much as I have. Please feel free to leave comments. You never know when you, too, will be quoted!