Echoes of Family
Lake Union Publishing
Barbara Claypole White
Audio Interview With the Author
Audio Length: 15 minutes
Award-winning writer Barbara Claypole White returns this fall with her fourth novel, ECHOES OF FAMILY (Lake Union Publishing; September 27, 2016) , a moving story about mental illness, secrets, and the healing power of a haunting past.
In a conversation with Authorlink, White talks about her struggles with writing the new novel, what inspired her to tell the story, and about overcoming the disappointment of a failed publishing contract to find a new publisher and ultimate success.
The author grew up in rural England with dreams of being a novelist, dreams she never lost sight of even as she earned a degree in history, worked as a publicist for the London fashion industry, and—after marrying an American professor—moved across the pond to settle eventually in Chapel Hill, NC. As she juggled her new life with full-time motherhood, she worked at her writing.
Then, when her young son was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Claypole White discovered her true inspiration and began writing hopeful family dramas with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her career flourished and she published three novels to great success and praise. Her debut, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill 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 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Fiction 2015.
Claypole White’s writing strikes a chord with readers, reviewers, and booksellers alike.
Protagonist Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past. In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.
“With Marianne, I deliberately set out to create a character who has done everything right to manage her disease—made smart decisions about meds, sleep, stress, and alcohol—and still something goes horribly wrong,” explains Claypole White. “Messed-up brain chemistry is a potentially fatal illness that demands lifelong vigilance. It’s no different than heart disease or diabetes, but despite recent efforts, a broken mind is still not viewed in the same way as a broken body. The stigma persists, and people continue to suffer in silence and isolation.”
ECHOES OF FAMILY is a portrait of a complicated and misunderstood disease, the resilience of the human spirit, and the power that comes from making peace with the past.
“Claypole White’s gift is her ability to put us into the troubled minds of her characters so we not only understand them, but fall in love with them as well.”
—Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of Pretending to Dance
“Music, England, love, loss and nature all collide in this beautiful exploration of how the echoes of our past can sometimes drown out the present.”
—Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of Hidden and Smoke
About the Author
Barbara Claypole White lives with her husband in North Carolina and you can visit her at www.BarbaraClaypoleWhite.com.
ECHOES OF FAMILY by Barbara Claypole White
The Story Behind ECHOES OF FAMILY
By Barbara Claypole White
Marianne Stokes, the manic-depressive heroine of Echoes of Family, is a different kind of protagonist for me. Wildly impulsive and chaotic, she’s emotion amplified—the opposite of my previous lead characters who are emotionally shutdown by their private wars against invisible disabilities. She also owns a successful recording studio and runs a nonprofit that empowers girls to “Make noise and be heard.” That battle cry resonates with me because everything I write is driven by my desire to shout, “There is no shame in a diagnosis of mental illness!”
From the beginning, Marianne drove Echoes of Family to a faster rhythm and pace than I was used to. Even the story seed came in an unexpected form. Typically my manuscripts evolve out of dark what-if moments related to my own life, but Echoes of Family began as an imagined scene set in my childhood church in rural England.
A woman in sunglasses sat in the back pew, staring at the altar while the church ladies arranged wedding flowers. She didn’t talk; she didn’t move. Concerned, one of the flower ladies fetched the vicar, who was whacking weeds in the rectory garden (wearing ripped jeans and a U2 T-shirt). The vicar recognized the stranger immediately and said, “Marianne, what’s brought you back after all these years?” She replied, “I’ve come home to die.”
I knew Marianne wasn’t physically sick, and I knew she’d run away from her family in North Carolina to protect them, but I didn’t understand why. Later I figured out she’d fled after being involved in a tragic car crash that echoed a fatal wreck thirty years earlier. The original accident, on the outskirts of the village, had triggered a public psychotic break and prompted her to leave England, never to return.
As additional scenes played out, three supporting characters chattered in my head constantly. Each of them was trying to make peace with the past; each of them had a story to tell. Music legend Darius Montgomery, Marianne’s third husband, had left LA to search for authenticity when he discovered Marianne and her work with gifted teens. They fell in love during an AA meeting, before Darius was outed (he isn’t an addict; he was drawn to the comfort of the group). Marianne’s almost-daughter and chief sound engineer, Jade Jones, was a teen runaway who ended up on Marianne’s doorstep with a broken secondhand fiddle. Gabriel Bonham, the English vicar who takes Marianne in, no questions asked, has every reason—plus a few extra—to hate her. Her childhood sweetheart, he also survived the original wreck. His brother did not. Together, this unlikely and untraditional family pulled me back to my English village, reimagined in the novel as Newton Rushford.
Marianne’s attempt to return to the past to make sense of the present echoes my own unbreakable connection to the place where I was born and raised. But Marianne didn’t just return to Newton Rushford; she returned to the village cemetery, which has always been one of my favorite places. Half-hidden behind majestic yew trees, surrounded by bleating sheep and laughter from the school playground, it’s where my father, brother, and grandmother are buried. And it never fails to bring me peace. I knew that the village cemetery was the key to unlocking Marianne’s secrets in both the past and present. You can take the girl out of the village, marry her off to an American professor (or a music legend) and dump her in North Carolina, but you can’t take the village out of the girl.
Newton Rushford became an extension of Marianne’s non-traditional family and a canvas on which she could re-enact her struggles with mental illness—the relentless battle for acceptance and control, the simple need for love and community. Ordinary events in the village soon revealed the best and the worst of family life: selfless kindness, unfounded judgment, and petty cruelty. But when Newton Rushford’s infamous wild child needed help, people closed ranks around her. As Gabriel says, “The village protects its own.”
With Marianne, I deliberately set out to create a character who has done everything right to manage her disease—made smart decisions about meds, sleep, stress, and alcohol—and still something goes horribly wrong. Messed-up brain chemistry is a potentially fatal illness that demands lifelong vigilance. It’s no different than heart disease or diabetes, but despite recent efforts, a broken mind is still not viewed in the same way as a broken body. The stigma persists, and people continue to suffer in silence and isolation.
A three-time suicide survivor who was misdiagnosed and mistreated for years—at one point she likens herself to a medical dartboard—Marianne is the first character I’ve created who screams out my frustration. There’s a reason her epiphany hits as she’s staring at the village war memorial; there’s a reason the denouement of Echoes of Family is all about anger, not loss. To Marianne, I say, “Preach it girlfriend, because in our efforts to be heard, we can never make too much noise.”
Praise for ECHOES OF FAMILY
“Marianne, the feisty protagonist in Echoes of Family, loses her mooring when an accident triggers memories of her troubled past. Lost and broken—and grappling with the demons of bipolar disorder—she has to find a way to lay that past to rest to embrace her future. As the people who love her struggle to put her back together, Marianne knows it’s her own strength and courage she needs to rely on. Marianne and her family are typical of the noble yet flawed people Claypole White is so skilled at creating.”
– Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of Pretending to Dance
“Echoes of Family is a masterfully written novel that is both difficult to put down, and difficult to forget after the final page. In this powerful novel, Claypole White weaves that narrative that draws the reader into a personal relationship with the characters and has you rooting for them, in spite of their many flaws. This book kept my attention until all secrets were revealed in its dramatic conclusion. I look forward to many more from Claypole White.”
“Barbara Claypole White has done it again—created a quirky cast of characters and then taken us along as they go on a journey through madness and out the other side. Music, England, love, loss and nature all collide in this beautiful exploration of how the echoes of our past can sometimes drown out the present. Matthew Quick fans will feel right at home.”
“Echoes of Family is an emotional storytelling at its best, crafted, as always, with Barbara Claypole White’s signature wit and charm. Filled with riveting characters and the poignant unraveling of long buried secrets, White’s latest is both lovely and gritty, heartrending and heartwarming; a story about tragedy, resilience, and the one thing that ultimately holds us all together—family.”
“An extraordinary novel about one woman’s journey coping with mental illness. With poignancy and humor, Echoes of Family tells the story of a family’s struggle when a beloved wife and mother slowly unravels as she faces the demons of her past to forge a road to her future. Complex characters, hope, redemption and the never-ending power of love are at the heart of this must-read novel. A perfect choice for book clubs.”
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