Barbara Claypole White is a British-born author living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (just around the corner from me!). She’s published five fabulous novels to date, with more to come! My book club recently read her book, The Promise Between Us, which touches on issues of motherhood, OCD, mental illness, and the power of family connection.

I’m a writer who gravitates toward the darker side of human life, especially the brutal struggles of motherhood (watch for my book about the shaken baby syndrome), so I love White’s devotion to showing us how life really is, while also giving us a realistic glimmer of hope.

Here’s an in-depth look at the inspiration behind The Promise Between Us and White’s writing life.

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What was the inspiration for The Promise Between Us?

I had three story seeds. The first was a failed manuscript about a mother who abandons her baby in the midst of erratic behavior, and how the father tracks her down after their (now teen) daughter enters a mental health crisis that’s eerily familiar.

The second was my desire to go deeper into obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I wrote about in The Unfinished Garden. But I couldn’t find the right story. Then news broke of a teacher who had posted in a private support group about her struggles with the intrusive, unwanted, repetitive, horrific thoughts of pedophile OCD. Her comments were leaked to her employer, and she was fired. As the wife and mother of two amazing people who battle chronic OCD, I was gutted.

OCD is so misunderstood. An anxiety disorder focused on scrupulosity, it goes after whatever matters to you most, twisting that passion into unrelenting doubt and fear. For a teacher, that would be the unimaginable happening to one of her young charges, but OCD takes it further by
whispering, “What if the threat is you?”

I couldn’t force myself into the mind of someone with pedophile OCD, so I chose the next worse thing: postpartum OCD, which often manifests as disturbing images of harming your baby. To know more, pick up a copy of Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel. But do not read my novel if you struggle with anything similar. The prologue has triggered panic attacks in several people—including my husband.

That third seed? I fell in love with a piece of metal art and knew my heroine was a welder.

What kind of research did you do for this particular book? Were the characters loosely based on real people?

I’ve always loved oral history, which means I rely on interviews with people living the experiences I want to recreate. They talk, I listen, and I adapt their stories for my characters. But the characters’ personalities and coping mechanisms are unique. Book cover for The Promise Between Us with award details

For this novel, I interviewed people from the world of postpartum OCD, psychologists, actors, motorbike enthusiasts, teachers, staff at the art museum in Raleigh, etc. But the best part was shadowing local metal artists and learning how to weld.

What was your biggest challenge with writing this book? And your biggest victory?

I thought writing about OCD again would be easy, because it frames my world. I was wrong. Editing and launching the book left me emotionally exhausted, but when I was awarded a silver medal from the international Nautilus Awards for books that foster positive change in the world, I was beyond thrilled.

Of all the books you’ve written so far, which is your favorite and why?

Each novel represents a specific moment in my life, but The In-Between Hour has a special place in my heart. The family favorite, it’s my love letter to our corner of rural North Carolina, and the forest surrounding our house is a character.

Your books often focus on mental health issues. Do you have any advice for a writer trying to tackle a difficult or challenging topic?

Research the heck out of whatever you want to tackle, and treat it with respect and authenticity. Then put the research aside to build your characters. A diagnosis of mental illness, for example, is only one aspect of a person. That character is also a product of environment, education, socio-economic background, religious upbringing, etc.

To quote my son, “I am not my disorder.”

What are you currently working on right now?

I’ve completed two manuscripts in the last five years and both are currently with my agent. The Gin Club is a father-son story about middle-aged heroes, teenage bullies, and a drunk groundhog; The Inheritance of Mothers features a disgraced neuroscientist turned recovering heroin addict, her estranged teen daughter, a gaslighting narcissist, two spunky grandmas, and a crazed chihuahua. In other words, more off-the-wall BCW stories. A new idea is percolating, but nothing exists on paper—not yet.

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As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you use one of my links to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I use these earnings to help fund this blog.