Q & A with Barbara Claypole White
UK-born Barbara Claypole White is the author of the bestselling novel THE PERFECT SON. Her debut, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and her follow-up, THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, was chosen by SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. Inspired by her poet/musician son’s courageous battles against obsessive-compulsive disorder, she writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Thank you for joining, Barbara. We’re thrilled to have you.
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up?
In the English village of Turvey. It’s in Bedfordshire, which is sort of the Illinois of England, but once you cross the River Ouse at the edge of the village, you quickly enter Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire—two of the most beautiful counties in Southern England.
What were you like as a kid? A teen?
I was painfully shy, and it didn’t help that I wore a spinal brace in my teens. I had close friends, but I always enjoyed my own company. I loved reading and writing, poetry, history, and art. I was a homebody and a dreamer…
When did you move to the States?
After I married The Prof in 1988.
Discombobulated. I love that word!
Chocolate. Is there any other answer to that question?
Favorite flower in your garden?
My abutilon little imp, which soldiers on through the cold snaps despite not being hardly in our planting zone.
Not sure I have one. I used to be able out drink anyone with gin. Not anymore though…
Do you always finish writing a book you’ve started or will you put one away you don’t like? Don’t worry, we won’t tell. J
I’ve ditched quite a few, but normally in the proposal stages. I’ve only finished one manuscript that I completely put away. (Thank God, because it was awful.)
Book on your nightstand right now?
Interesting question because I have six piles of books around my nightstand right now. Plus my Kindle. But I’m currently reading INNOCENT DAMAGE by Robert K. Lewis. I love dark, damaged characters, and his hero, Mark Mallen, is one of the best.
Which writers inspire you?
Jodi Picoult, Marian Keyes, and Denyse Devlin/Woods.
All three of your books feature mental illness in a way that is relatable and compelling even to those of us not touched by mental illness in our day-to-day lives. Do you set out intentionally to write stories that feature this struggle?
Yup. It’s my thing. :)
[From the moment Barbara’s then-young son was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, fascination with mental illness framed her life. She ditched her first novel and began writing Dogwood Days, which turned into The Unfinished Garden. She also joined a nonfiction project for parents of children with invisible disabilities, Easy to Love But Hard to Raise, and blogged regularly at Easy to Love about the highs and loves of living with OCD. (Her son is now an award-winning poet and musician attending college in the Midwest.) Barbara focused on depression and dementia in The In-Between Hour and personality disorders and neurological disorders in The Perfect Son. She’s currently researching manic-depression for novel number four.]
What does your writing process look like? How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s a nightmare, because I’m a very messy writer. I like to pretend I have a process, but I’m not sure I do. I research a lot; I rewrite a lot; at some point I have a finished story that I have to hand over to my editor. THE PERFECT SON took eleven months from first story seed to the moment I turned it in. In an ideal world I would prefer twelve.
Which was your hardest book to write and why?
Definitely THE PERFECT SON. I created these three characters I loved, threw a torpedo into their world, and had no idea what happened next. Nothing was simple. I hit endless research problems, I wrote one whole draft with the wrong ending, and it was as if the very nature of the book kept shifting. I lost all perspective very early on, and more titles than anyone should ever have to loose. But I’m super proud of it now that it’s done and out there, doing its thing.
If you were to ever collaborate with other writers who would be on your dream team?
I have such a horrible process that I think I would drive another writer mad. Collaboration isn’t really in the works for me. Of course, I would love to write a story with Charlotte Bronte, but I’d have to be dead to do that.
Which actors do you see playing lead characters Felix, Ella, and Harry in the film version of THE PERFECT SON?
Well … Ella looks like Annie Lennox, Harry looks like a young Brad Pitt with long hair, and Felix is sort of Colin Firth. Not exactly an answer, but does that help?!
Crumpet or Muffin? Crumpet, if it’s the real thing (i.e. English).
Wine or Beer? No gin? I’m shocked. It would have to be wine, then. Red. [Note from MM: Of course not gin! Too easy. J)
Beach or Backyard? Tough one. I can’t have both? Beach for holiday, backyard for every day sanity.
Rain or Garden hose? RAIN!
Night owl or Early bird? Early bird. You don’t want to interact with me past 9:00 p.m. It’s not pretty.
Thank you, Barbara, for stopping by. We are thrilled to welcome you into the WWWB family. It’s been fantastic watching THE PERFECT SON soar! We are so happy for you.
“a riveting and passionate emotional journey that proves the transforming power that love can have on life and family.” - Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times Bestselling author of The Hurricane Sisters
"What a moving, funny, beautifully told story! You will ache for Felix and Harry, with their big, quirky brains and their good hearts, as they grapple with the threat of loss and struggle, for the first time, to truly know and trust one another."
- Marisa de Los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me and The Precious One.
“With empathy and heartbreaking clarity, Barbara Claypole White explores a family on the precipice of collapse... The Perfect Son offers insight, compassion and hope.” - Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughters