Name: Barbara Claypole White
Where are you from?
BCW: A little village in Bedfordshire, England called Turvey. It inspired much of the setting for my forthcoming novel, ECHOES OF FAMILY.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
BCW: Novel four, ECHOES OF FAMILY, has a publication date of September 27. I’m pretty excited about it, I think. (I get very nervous around book launch time.)
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
BCW: I’ve been writing my whole life, so there was never a conscious decision involved. As a child I used to make up stories and write poems. The first thing I had published was a poem in a national magazine when I was around ten or eleven. And somewhere in the teen years I decide I wanted to become a fashion journalist, so I kept entering an annual writing competition for teens in English Vogue.
After college I moved to London and worked as a fashion publicist, which involved lots of promotional writing, and I did some freelance journalism on the side. I started writing my first—terrible—novel as an unemployed newlywed. My husband is American, so after we married one of us had to relocate, and I was burning out with the pace of life in London. It took me a year to find full-time work, and during that year, I dabbled in fiction. There was no turning back after that. I spent the next twenty odd years teaching myself the craft and business of novel writing, and landed my first two-book deal right before my fiftieth birthday. Considering my childhood dream was to become a novelist, I guess that makes me a late bloomer.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
BCW: Most of our friends are famous academics who write serious books, so for years I stayed quiet about my hobby. But one night it tumbled out at a dinner party. I’d been doing evening classes in writing at the local arts center, and I felt empowered. It was a bit like outing myself with, “My name is Barbara, and I’m a writer.” I call it my AA moment. The bottom line: writers write. You don’t have to be published to be a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
BCW: The terrible first novel, A FASHIONABLE LIFE, was about the London fashion scene in the eighties. (Surprise, surprise.) But it was also about AIDS. From the beginning, I was drawn to dark issues.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
BCW: I’m darkly quirky, and I’m all about voice. This means that I break lots of writing rules because I write according to my characters’ verbal styles. Harry, for example, the 17-year-old star of THE PERFECT SON, has ADHD and Tourette’s. He has a sparky thought process and is hyper in the afternoons if he hasn’t had his Ritalin. This means he talks fast—not slowing down for commas—and thinks in fragments. Copy editors tend to like commas and complete sentences. This can be problematic. 😀
Fiona: How did you come up with the title for THE PERFECT SON?
BCW: I lose all my titles, which is fine because I come to love the ones we end up with. But when an editor says, “You need a new title,” it’s tough because you’ve grown used to the working title. I lost so many titles for THE PERFECT SON that at one point I just called it The Novel That Will Kill Me or BCW Novel Three. After I changed publishers, I went back to the working title, It’s All About Harry…until I got an email that said, “Marketing has concerns about the title.” My new editor suggested something with father or son, and I tossed out THE PERFECT SON, which was an instant hit. And then the next day I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and knew exactly how to make the title work in the story with one short sentence. I can’t believe it was so easy in the end.
Fiona: Is there a message in THE PERFECT SON that you want readers to grasp?
BCW: All of my novels are about finding hope in darkness and the idea that people who need each other find each other. The main theme for THE PERFECT SON is that facing your greatest fear can be the making of you. With the exception of one character, everyone in THE PERFECT SON ends up as a better person.
Fiona: How much of THE PERFECT SON is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
BCW: My stories are filled with my life, even though I’m making up stuff. Every novel has evolved from a dark moment or thought related to me or someone I love, and THE PERFECT SON was no exception.
When I was active in a local support group for parents of OCD kids, I watched every marriage in the group—except for mine and one other—fail. One evening another mother asked why my marriage had survived, and I started sketching out a couple whose marriage was in crisis due to the needs of their child. I’ve always wanted to write about Tourette’s, so that part fell into place. The final pieces of the puzzle came from two unrelated incidents: a guy collapsed on a plane three rows in front of me, and I had a routine medical procedure that went horribly wrong. After the second incident I ended up in the ICU, and the stress on my husband and son was appalling. I starting weaving the two events together and gave my heroine, Ella, a major heart attack on a plane and sat back to see how Felix and Harry, who are polar opposites, would cope. And they kept surprising me. Everything about THE PERFECT SON surprised me, including the ending. I’m a very organic writer, so I tend to follow my gut and my characters.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
BCW: Yes. I’m a full-time writer. Even when I was making less than the minimum wage, I treated fiction writing as my career.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
BCW: That’s a great question. I work incredibly hard, I’m an endless rewriter, and I never want to let my characters go. But once they’re out in the world, I wave them off and focus on my new characters. I write to deadline, and that deadline clock is always ticking…
If I had the chance, however, I wouldn’t change anything in THE PERFECT SON. Reading is subjective and you can’t worry about those people who are never going to like your work. I think of myself as an acquired taste—not everyone wants to read about dysfunctional families—but I need to feel I did the best job I could. I’m proud of all my books, but a tiny part of me would sort of, maybe, possibly like to rewrite my debut. I never felt I was done with that book, even though I spent ten years on it.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
BCW: ECHOES OF FAMILY, which is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, is the flip side of THE PERFECT SON. One of the themes of THE PERFECT SON is that you can’t escape genetics, but for ECHOES OF FAMILY, I created a family with no blood ties—a group of people who came together out of need. I think the definition of family is changing, and I wanted to explore that. I also wanted to write about a character who had done everything right to manage her mental illness, and still everything went horribly wrong.
ECHOES OF FAMLY also has a faster pace and less natural description than is typical of my work. Part of that came from the chaos that is Marianne Stokes, my bipolar heroine, but every story has its own rhythm.
It’s a novel about the true meaning of family, regret, secrets, wild teens, English village life, and the music industry. I think it’s my darkest novel and my quirkiest. There’s lots of off-beat humor…
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
BCW: Writing is my therapy and the way I process the world, but every stage is hard and bloody for me. I had endless problems with THE PERFECT SON, mainly related to the medical research, and for ECHOES OF FAMILY the hardest part was finding Marianne’s voice. A person with bipolar illness has intense mood swings, and Marianne literally takes herself off her meds at one point. She goes from asymptomatic, to a mixed state, to hypomanic and hypersexual, to manic, to psychotic, to sedated, to depressed, and back to asymptomatic. But throughout, she’s still Marianne. Her voice had to stay consistent.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
BCW: Read and write every day, and believe in your own writing voice.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
BCW: “She made a difference.” Fiction matters, and I get so many emails from people who say, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but…” Living in the trenches with mental illness can be intensely isolating. If my stories, which I call hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness, help chip away at stereotypes and stigma, and allow people to feel less alone, I’ll die happy.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
BCW: I read and garden, although not as much as I used to. Juggling the author life with family life consumes me.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
BCW: I go back to work after supper, so I rarely see any television. However, I do like to watch Criminal Minds or NCIS when I’m ironing, and I watch a movie with my husband once a week. He’s a total sweetheart, which means he normally lets me choose a thriller or a chick flick. (He likes sci-fi.)
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
BCW: Become a professional gardener—assuming my back was up for the job. 😀
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Amazon Authors Page UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barbara-Claypole-White/e/B00913DBCG/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
A Brit living in North Carolina, Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. The Unfinished Garden won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book; The In-Between Hour was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick; and The Perfect Son was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Fiction 2015. Her forth novel, Echoes of Family, has a publication date of September 27, 2016. For more information, or to connect with Barbara, visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com.