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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry began as a radio play and then developed into the novel it is today after many years of writing and revising. But Perfect was written within a shorter space of time. How did your process differ in writing the two novels?
The truth is, I have been thinking about Perfect for even longer than The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The idea about the cost of perfection and an accident that changes everything, as well as the central characters, have all been loitering in my head for many years. I could always see Byron and Diana and I knew I needed to find out more about who they were and what happened to them. Sometimes I have even tried fitting them into other stories, but it never felt right because this is where they belong.
As with most things, the story has grown over time. New characters have stepped in. Things I couldn’t understand have become clearer. I have played with different versions until I found this one. It was only as I began to write it this time around, for instance, that it dawned on me that it wasn’t a contemporary story and neither was it an urban one. It was only this time, too, that I thought about splitting the story between two tenses and two periods in time.
Otherwise, the writing process was very similar with both books. I sat here every day and I wrote and rewrote and rewrote.
How much of the novel is based on real places and people?
The moor setting is fictitious. But – as with Harold Fry’s story – I stepped out of our house and drew on what I saw. I am lucky enough to live on the brow of a valley. I write about the things I see when I look out of my writing shed or walk through the fields. It’s the same with characters. I write about people I glimpse and then I imagine the rest. I think I tend to find people in my head that I want to explore and maybe all of them have an element or two of me in them. I don’t know. In researching the character of Jim, for instance, I spoke to a number of people about OCD and whilst it is not a condition I’ve experienced, it reminded me of other things I’ve felt that had similar beginnings or resonances. For me, writing is about finding the links between myself and the outside world. It’s a way of better understanding.
You have written that Harold Fry was inspired in part by your father. Was there someone or something specific that compelled you to write Perfect?
It is difficult for me to know why I choose to write certain stories. Often I don’t understand until many years later. But I do remember vividly when the first nugget of this story came to me. It was just over twelve years ago, after the birth of my third child, and I was driving my oldest daughter to school. My second daughter was telling me she was hungry, the baby was crying, and on the passenger seat beside me was the plate of cakes I had got up at dawn to make for the very competitive children’s bake stall. I was driving slowly. Traffic was heavy. I had barely slept for days. And then I had one of those moments when you lift out of yourself, when you see your life from a new perspective, and it occurred to me that if I made a mistake, if someone ran into the road, if anything unexpected happened, I did not have the energy, the space, the wherewithal, the presence of mind even, to deal with it. I was stretched as far as I could go. I began writing the story as soon as I got home.
It started out very slowly, and it took a bit of perserverance to stay with it, but in the end it was worth the effort.Published 5 days ago by Adri
This book is so depressing. I gave it one star for writing ability, and another for plotting ability. However, the plot twist at the end seemed manipulative, a cheap ploy. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Cheri
Interesting twist towards the end, but I found myself disinterested with most of the characters and the endless switching backwards and forwards - chapter after chapter. Read morePublished 1 month ago by James C. Rowlandson
... with an intricate plot. Strong yet delicately crafted characters.
An intimate knowing of psychology and deft handling of such human relationships. Read more
The book was well written and drew you into the story immediately. I felt it was a very real portrayal of life as many families experience it. Read morePublished 1 month ago by RoyAnn Cox
Young children idolize their parents. They might see brilliance, beauty, honesty or perfection where there is none. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Fictionophile
Clever exploration of how one small incident can snowball and affect a child's perception of reality .
Interesting insight into mental illness and its treatment. Read more
Whilst researching for an author profile of Rachel Joyce recently I discovered that the character of Byron, the protagonist of 'Perfect' has been in her thoughts for much longer... Read morePublished 2 months ago by LindyLouMac
Kept my interest from beginning to the end.
Love the charming writing style, endearing characters and sweet dramatic edginess. Intriguing.