Welcome to fellow Canadian and guest author Carolyn Clarke who finds chocolate an intrinsic aid to writing!
Carolyn Clarke is the founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over 40. And Then There’s Margaret is her first novel. She has been an ESL teacher for over sixteen years and has co-authored several articles and resources with Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education and her award-winning blog ESL Made Easy. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her partner, Tony, her two daughters and of course her bulldog, Sophie.
Congratulations on your debut novel, And Then There’s Margaret. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired your book?
And Then There Was Margaret was created from a conversation I had with friends at one of our monthly book club meetings. Over wine, of course. Several of them were sharing mother-in-law confessions, sins, and stories. I enjoyed listening to the ups and downs of this complex and challenging relationship because interestingly enough, I never got the chance to meet my mother-in-law before she passed. I think though we would’ve been good, good friends.
As my friends’ stories got funnier and then suddenly serious, my creative juices started flowing. I thought of what a great character “Margaret” would make since this force seems to be a universal one – MILs sure get a bad rap. When it came to the creation of Allison (Allie), she’s pretty much five of my closest friends rolled up into one relatable heroine that’s flawed, familiar, and cheeky.
- In addition to writing, you’re the founder of Henlit Central. How has this helped with your writing? Any lessons you have learned?
I started Henlit Central around the same time I started And Then There’s Margaret. Curating a blog helped a lot with my writing, especially the writing style for this particular genre – the ‘aging lover’ of chick lit. Besides the writing, Henlit Central allowed for a deeper understanding of the social media world. Writing a blog post takes time, yes, however, promoting that post so potential readers can find it takes up even more time. Learning the ins and outs of all of the various platforms that writers need to build a presence on, is important – almost necessary if you want to develop and grow your fan base – you gotta find your tribe, so to speak.
- You have a beautiful bulldog named Sophie. What have you learned from her?
Oh, Sophie. One of the loves of my life!
What have I learned? Well, like most dogs who always give their undivided attention is something I’ve been trying to do more of. When my husband and I are watching TV or distracted with our phones, Sophie will most often whine for something or come to us with her toys so we will pay attention to her.
I love how she reminds us to be present.
- Does your previous work as an ESL teacher inform your writing at all?
Yes, my years of teaching ESL has helped my writing this book in two ways;
By understanding what women from all walks of life and in all parts of this world want, need, like and dislike. We have more in common than not. And this has helped give me the confidence and motivation to write And Then There’s Margaret.
As an ESL teacher, I am/was always correcting grammar, teaching common expressions, vocabulary, styles of communicating (intonation and clarity) so it all came more naturally to me especially during the long and vigorous editing phase.
- How would you describe your writing style?
I would describe it as light-hearted with a touch of fun and wit. And because I prefer first-person written books with a lot of dialogue, I wanted to write what I’d want to read. I enjoy being part of the main character’s inner thoughts. In life, I’m a natural observer so most of what I am thinking doesn’t come out. Thankfully.
Like the increasing number of light-hearted dramedies that feature older & wiser, but still fun & cheeky protagonists, I also wanted the voice for And Then There’s Margaret to be relatable, genuine and accessible to readers.
- What line/passage/scene in your latest book And Then There’s Margaret stood out for you the most? Why?
One of my favorite scenes is in the chapter A Cold Day in July. Allie is having a conversation with her father-in-law, George. It was a tough scene to write as it was a tender and vulnerable moment for him. George reveals to Allie that he’s sick. I wanted readers to get to know George and just how much of a rock he was for Allie. I also wanted to add a touch of humor (which makes up a dramedy) to their serious conversation that involved devastating news. An important premise of the story was Allie coping with Margaret without having George in her life. He was a much-needed buffer between the two.
- Tell us what a typical writing routine looks like for you?
I’m not one to sneak off with a big desire to write. But rather if I have a deadline or some kind of accountability with a writing partner or editor, I’ll get into project mode. My creative muse mostly visits me in the evening.
- Where is your favorite spot to write? Why?
In my office at home. I like to have soothing Zen music (or 70’s hits – depending on the mood) and a calming vanilla candle in the background. And once I get comfortable and zoned in, I can go for hours.
- What would you say is one of your writing quirks or rituals?
For me, writing is like a form of meditation. Although I love sharing ideas, socializing, and learning from other writers, I prefer the “quiet” and alone time. I like (need) zero distractions from my family, unless of course it’s chocolate, any form of chocolate, being delivered to the door.
- Besides getting lost in your writing, what else do you love to do?
Sadly, I’m not much into sports or going back out into the world once I get home so binge-watching good series, surfing the net (mostly researching stuff, catching up with friends or world news) and taking care of all my house plants are some of the things I love to do.
- Any advice you’d like to give to aspiring writers today?
Yes! I have some although I can’t take any kind of credit. This was advice given to me.
Just write your book. And write what you’d want to read, not what the market wants. Because there’s a good chance that what you’ve written will be like be many others too.
Remember that the very first draft of your book is going to be plain awful. It’ll suck. And so might the second and third one. But you’ll need to start with something. It’ll eventually shape up into a book as you put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Here’s the big one. All the query rejections and constructive feedback from editors and reviewers will only make your writing (and your next book) better! So hang in there.
- For your loyal fans, is there anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?
I’ll see how And Then There’s Margaret does in the overly saturated book market. My hope is, that it’ll do well enough to keep me motivated and encouraged to continue with the next project – another standalone light-hearted and relatable book with a not so young protagonist. Think War of the Roses with Michael Douglas or The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston but with light-hearted ugliness and a happier ending.
And Then There’s Margaret is a
Perfect Book Club Pick!