Investigating The Widow’s Walk
Robert Barclay’s The Widow’s Walk is a time-travel romance which moves between present day and the 1840s. Garret, an architect, grows up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He buys a seaside property he’s loved since childhood. Along with the challenges of renovating his antebellum dream home, he soon discovers something unexpected—a ghost. Well, she’s not exactly that, but she is trapped between life and death. Constance fell from the widow’s walk one night as she watched in vain for sight of her husband’s ship, and she’s been in limbo ever since.
To find out more, I asked the author about his writing.
JW: I see from the HarperCollins website that writing is a second career. How did you come to it?
RB: I owned two auto dealerships in upstate New York, and upon selling them I moved to Florida and remarried. My new wife knew that I had always wanted to write a book and said I should give it a try. The result was a series of six epic fantasy novels, before I switched to the romantic genre that I so enjoy now.
JW: Now, a little about your creative process and The Widow’s Walk. Are there any personal or familial connections to the New England area that inspired you to choose this setting?
RB: My wife and I were attending a family wedding in that area, and my stepson had rented a home for us to stay in. I noticed that some of the houses had widow’s walks on the roofs, and I became intrigued about the concept of using such a structure in a love story. When I decided to set it in the 1840s and involve a whaler’s wife as one of the main characters, I learned that New Bedford was the greatest whaling port in the world at that time.
JW: When your hero, Garrett, begins to rehabilitate his 1840s dream house, I wondered if you actually had a specific house in mind.
RB: I did not have an actual house in mind when I began, even though it is a pivotal part of the narrative. Instead, I used the Internet to research houses of the antebellum period with widow’s walks, and I also researched floor plans of that era so that the interior of the house would also be laid out along realistic guidelines.
JW: When you have an idea for a novel, which comes first—the plot or the characters?
RB: The plot always comes first. I don’t really try to envision characters until I have a pretty good idea of where the plot is going, and then I tailor the characters to the needs of the book, rather than the other way around… That’s not to say that the plot is more important than the characters. But my feeling is that unless the plot is already realized, you’re shoehorning characters into situations that they might not otherwise fit… I do not use an outline, because I don’t like them… I want to come to the computer every day and find out what’s going to happen, rather than know what’s going to happen. I think it’s a far more creative process.
JW: Do you know the end of the story before you start?
RB: I try to know the end of the story before I begin, but that has not always been the case. Case in point is The Widow’s Walk. My editor and I discussed several possible endings before finalizing the book when I was already seven-eighths of the way through, and trying to wrap things up. I suppose it gives the writer a better feeling of confidence to know what the end is going to be, but I like to walk out there on the edge a little bit.
JW: In The Widow’s Walk you use the plot device of time travel. Are there any other time-travel based novels you could mention that inspired you to take this route?
RB: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series comes to mind, as does [Audrey Niffenegger’s] The Time Traveler’s Wife. But I think each author who dabbles in time travel tends to do it his or her own way.
JW: Have you ever used ghosts in any of your earlier novels, or was this a first outing into supernatural territory?
RB: I’ve never used ghosts in any of my previous novels per se, nor is Constance, the heroine, really a ghost. She’s actually corporeal and stuck between worlds, rather than someone who has died and returns as a ghost. The first novels I wrote were fantasies that involved magic, suspension of belief, etc., and that helped me greatly while searching for a proper ending.
JW: Did the time-travel device make writing this novel any easier?
RB: The time-travel element actually made it more difficult. It required research into such topics as the antebellum period, styles of dress of that period, the underground railroad, the whaling industry, dueling, and so on. Unless the details are factual, the story won’t ring true. The research needed for this book was fairly extensive. I knew very little about the whaling industry, or what a huge impact it had on the world at that time. Whale oil was king. It was used for everything from lighting and heating homes, to making children’s toys and the linings of women’s corsets. It was not a sustainable resource, of course, and had the slaughter continued the whales would have probably been hunted to extinction at that time. That is one of the themes that I tried to stress throughout.
The Widow’s Walk will be available from HarperCollins at the end of April.
About the contributor: Juliet Waldron has lived in many US states, in the UK and the West Indies. She earned a B. A. in English, but has worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Thirty years ago, after her sons left home, she dropped out of 9 to 5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time-travel experience for her readers. Her novel, Mozart’s Wife, won the 1st Independent e-book award. She’s a grandmother, a cat person, and a dedicated student of history and archeology.
Posted by Claire Morris