On the Brink of Life Changes: An Interview with Carolyn Clarke

I first crossed paths with author Carolyn Clarke when I found her website, HenLit Central, which is both informative and entertaining for readers and authors alike. When I learned that her own book would be published, I knew I wanted to feature her in this series.  Her debut novel, And Then There’s Margaret, is slated for release on July 21, and so far, the reviews are positive! ChickLit Cafe wrote of the book: “Rife with witty banter . . . [the novel] feels like a much beloved night out with friends,” and Readers Favorite said, “With plenty of action and no small amount of humor, this is a great story to while away a few hours on a rainy day or on the beach.” Readers themselves are calling the book “believable,” “relatable,” and “entertaining.” In addition to writing fiction and running HenLit Central, Carolyn is the co-author of multiple articles and resources with Macmillan Education and Cambridge University Press as well as on her award-winning blog, ESL Made Easy. To celebrate the publication of And Then There’s Margaret, Carolyn has put together a prize pack that includes my own Rewrite the Stars. There’s still time to enter the giveaway, and you can read all about it here. With everything that Carolyn has on her agenda these days, I’m thrilled she had the time to speak to me and respond with thoughtful answers.

Christina: Congratulations on the upcoming publication of And Then There’s Margaret. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the novel?

Carolyn: Yes, absolutely! About six years ago, I was with friends who were sharing mother-in-law confessions, sins, and stories. Sadly, I had nothing to share since I never had the chance to meet mine (but I know we would’ve been good friends), however I enjoyed listening to the ups and downs of this complex relationship—many MILs get a bad rap, which seems to be universal.

I was inspired though. My personal interest in understanding and observing human behaviour got my creative juices flowing. I thought it would make for a great story, or at least something I’d like to read, where a middle-aged woman who was not only dealing with the stresses of life and a twenty-two-year-old marriage but also with the threat of a grieving mother-in-law becoming a permanent fixture in the home—and of course writing a story that’d appeal to women readers looking for a light-hearted and humorous read.

Christina: The book revolves around the relationship between Allison and her mother-in-law, Margaret. That daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship can be so complicated and complex. How did you navigate the waters? What did you draw on to make sure the relationship came across as authentic?

Carolyn: It definitely is a complicated relationship. And a delicate one too. I had to make sure not to make Margaret out to be too much of a caricature. When I began writing, I wanted to make sure Allie wasn’t perfect either.

In the story, Allie is stressed about aging and her marriage—after all, she’s human just like the rest of us at this age. I also checked out some of the online forums for the common gripes that mother-in-laws seem to be the cause of including rearranging furniture and interfering with family.

Since my intention was to write a dramedy, I had to get the dialogue and the encounters of a mother-in-law meddling in the day-to-day right—and of course authentic and not too over the top. In the end, I made sure to include a scene where Allie and Margaret finally begin to understand the source of their conflict and the reasons for their behaviour toward each other over the years—it was a slow process in getting there, but after all, it depicts real life, doesn’t it?

Christina: The book description says that your novel is for “fans of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette or Camille Pagan’s Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties.” When you sat down to begin the book, did you have these fantastic authors and books in mind? Any other books you’d compare yours to?

Carolyn: In both of these commercial novels about a woman on the brink of a life change and personal growth, I loved the voice—witty, snarky and fun. I’m also a fan of books written by women and for women (and an older one at that) and those written in first person. The first-person narration always makes me feel like I’m along on the ride with the main character. My hope is that Allie and Margaret’s journey in And Then There’s Margaret will appeal to those readers who love Camille Pagan and Maria Semple’s books—and any others that fall in that similar vein.

Christina: I love to hear about debut authors’ journeys to publication. Can you tell us a little about yours?

Carolyn: Well, the long road which is partly behind me wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. It’s been nearly six years now since I began.

As an ESL teacher and author of several professional publications, the mechanics of writing and the rules behind it wasn’t the hardest thing on this road. However, after many years of non-fiction writing, it was no surprise that part of me wanted to try fictional writing that’s fun. So, I took a creative writing course to help get me started (I had the project in mind) and while working full time and with all the other things in between, it took six years from start to finish. After rounds and rounds of editing, I was ready to jump into the query trenches to find an agent/publisher who would be interested in my book.

After several rejections and several more rounds of editing, my book soon found a home with a small U.S. publisher. But the work didn’t stop there. It’s been a year of helping and working side by side with the publisher in cover design, marketing, and promotion for the launch on July 21, 2022. Exciting? Yes!

Christina: In addition to writing, you’re “founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over 40,” which is a fantastic site. What inspired you to start HenLit Central? What do you hope to achieve with it?

Carolyn: Well, thank you for the kudos! I started HenLit Central around the same time I started And Then There’s Margaret. And boy, am I ever glad I did the research on how to become an author—because one of the things I learned early in the pre-stages of writing was that aspiring authors need to be on social media or at least have some kind of presence out there. Even the big “five” publishers want their authors to help with spreading the word about their work.

Another reason for the blog was because there’s an entire genre that’s underrepresented in the literary world—and it’s us, middle-aged women looking for books that are mature, relatable, and fun. I love to do interviews with the authors of these books and help to promote them too!

Christina: You mentioned that you’re an ESL teacher. Does your work inform your writing at all? What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from your students?

Carolyn: Yes, my years of teaching ESL (online, in-person, 1:1 and group) has helped in two ways.

1. By understanding what women from all walks of life and in all parts of this world want, need, like and dislike. Knowing that we have more in common than not has helped give me the confidence and motivation to write this book.

2. 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 natural to me when I started writing this book.

Christina: We must talk about your bulldog, Sophie. She’s five years old now. Have you had her since she was a puppy? How spoiled is she? What have you learned from her? Any other pets in your future?

Carolyn: Oh, my favorite question! Sophie is five years old now. And yes, we’ve had her since she was a puppy. In fact, my husband and girls decided a puppy would be a wonderful birthday present to help celebrate entering the ‘quintastic’ years and of course the pending empty nest syndrome.

What have I learned? Well, like any dog who runs to the door the moment they hear it open and to give their undivided attention is something I’ve been trying to do more of. When my husband and I are both on the bed, watching TV or distracted with our phones, Sophie will get right in between us, trying to get us to stop so we’ll pay attention to her.

I love how she reminds me to take the time to stop and smell the roses—to take the time to properly greet my family when they come through the door—to acknowledge them and take the time to find out about their day.

Other pets in the future? My heart is full with Sophie. So no, no other pets for now.

Carolyn can be found in multiple places!

Website: https://henlitcentral.com/
Instagram: @carolynclarkeauthor
Twitter: @CarolynRClarke
Facebook: @CarolynClarkeAuthor

Thanks to Carolyn for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.

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