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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.
Everything has a certain magic to it. The characters are marvelous. The narrative sneaks around and jumps on the reader from behind. Read morePublished 18 days ago by John L. Stacy
This was a most unlikely, rambling tale that made me feel miserable. The characters were all overly bizarre, like caricatures.Published 22 days ago by karen maher
The subject matter is a little sad and serious, but it does have several funny moments and is beautifully written !Published 28 days ago by DANIEL JAMISON
Perfect is a novel of unfulfilled potential. The storyline has promise however the plot is diluted by to many digressions that are surreal and never fully integrated into the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by penname
I kept waiting for it to get better too disjointed, definitely a disappointment:(Published 1 month ago by Paula Doty
The book started out pretty good but it went down hill from there. It was ok. I tried to hurry through the last quarter of the book just to get it finished.Published 1 month ago by Jchaul
Strong storytelling and character development. I wanted to know more about everybody. I will look for more books from this prize winning author.Published 1 month ago by Patty Jenkins
Eleven-year-old Byron Hemmings becomes anxious when his friend James tells him that two seconds are going to be added to the clock to compensate for the 1972 leap year. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Barbara Saffer