Q & A with Carolyn Clarke

Well, this is an honor! So happy to share with you Hannah Hargrave’s (my amazing publicist) interview with me.


How did you get your ideas for the plot and characters in And Then There’s Margaret?

Margaret, the antagonist force against her daughter-in-law, Allison, was created from a conversation I had with friends. At a book club actually, a group of them were sharing mother-in-law confessions, sins, and stories. I enjoyed listening to the ups and downs of this incredibly complex and challenging relationship because interestingly enough, I never got the chance to meet my mother-in-law. She passed many years ago, but I know, based on what I’ve learned about her, that we would’ve been good friends. 

As the stories got funnier, I thought of what a great character “Margaret” would make since this force seems to be a universal one. 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 and familiar.

The idea of the plot was easy – a ‘man against man’ dramedy and domesticating it into a tale about navigating middle-age, a twenty-two-year marriage and a bossy, self-absorbed and exceptionally stubborn mother-in-law. 

You’ve previously written non-fiction resources for Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education. What was the greatest writing challenge that And Then There’s Margaret presented? 

Switching from writing non-fiction resources for teachers to creative and lively storytelling writing was the biggest challenge. Then came the challenge of writing natural and effective dialogue. And of course making sure each of the characters, especially Allie and Margaret, had a particular speech pattern which would reflect their own unique and sometimes quirky personalities. However, one of the easiest things for me was not having too many writing rules like you do have in non-fiction. In fiction writing, you can let the story and characters evolve, taking you along for the ride. 

How would you describe your writing style? 

I would describe it as light-hearted with a touch of wittiness. And because I prefer books with a lot of dialogue and written in first person, I want 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. Thank Goodness!

For And Then There’s Margaret, I wanted readers to join Allie in the rollercoaster ride of dealing with the challenges of a twenty-two-year-old marriage, her burgeoning midlife crisis, and her grieving mother-in-law, Margaret, moving in. Like the increasing number of light-hearted dramas 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.

How long did it take you to write And Then There’s Margaret?   

It was a long road. With working full time and with all the other things in between, it took six years from start to finish (with tons of editing) and then another year of being in the query trenches.  

Soon after my book found a home with a small U.S. publisher, I found myself on another road – there’s lots to do in terms of marketing and promotion before a book’s release date. And after that, who knows.

Do you have a writing ritual?

I don’t usually find myself sneaking off 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, so if I am writing, I tend to get more done after dinner dishes are put away right up to bedtime (midnight). 

Where is the best place to write?

At a desk with full lumbar support, soothing zen music and a calming vanilla candle. And once I get comfortable and zoned in, I can usually go for hours. 

What is your favorite scene in And Then There’s Margaret and why?

One of my favorite scenes is in the chapter A Cold Day in July. Allie’s having a conversation with George in her kitchen. It was a tender moment when George reveals to Allie that he’s sick. It was a tough scene to write as I wanted readers to get to know George and just how much of a rock he was for Allie and at the same time adding in a touch of humor 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 anymore. He was a much needed buffer between the two.

Who would play the main characters in a film adaptation of your book?

At one time, I had Kathryn Hahn in mind to play Allie. Then it was Toni Collette on my script board. Both of these incredibly talented actors I think could pull off the snark and wit, yet become a sympathetic character for readers to want to wrap their arms around her.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Rochelle Weinstein’s new book, When We Let Go. Besides my “go to” books about family drama that have a “beach” read feel, I’ve got four on my list this summer I hope to read while “hammocking in” or “escaping to” the cottage country. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I’d like to “read” some of the movies/series I’ve enjoyed on screen featuring older protagonists struggling with real life challenges such as The French Exit and Still Alice.

What is the book you wish you’d written?

Olive Kitteridge! I LOVED this limited series that followed the stern and undeniably depressed yet witty character, Olive Kittridge, a retired schoolteacher who loathes life it seems and the changes going on around her, including the people in her town.

This HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins is a must see if you like family dramas that focus on the human condition. Told beautifully, I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Strout’s follow up book, Again, Olive that came out in 2019.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?

Besides gardening and binge watching good series, I’d definitely need to feed my creative side so I might be back to sketching and house renderings – I love perspective drawing – that’s the urban planner in me (my first career). It’s a solitude activity that feels like a form of meditation and that can give me a sense of control – and once done, I like to step back and take in the finished or evolving work.

Thank you, Hannah! I actually enjoyed being in the driver’s seat!

You Should Write a Book With Camille Pagán Even Better Co
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