The Debutante Ball Welcomes Barbara Claypole White

Barbara writes love stories about damaged people. She grew up in rural England, studied history at York University, and worked in the London fashion industry before falling in love with an American professor she met at JFK Airport. Today, they live in the North Carolina forest with a ridiculously large garden and their award-winning poet son.


Set in the forests of North Carolina and the woodland gardens of Southern England, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN is a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt.

And now, it is our pleasure to give you Barbara Claypole White, who shares a little of her inspiration with us!



OCD AND INSPIRATION by Barbara Claypole White

My inspiration comes from my obsessive-compulsive teenager. He’s a wordsmith, a gifted student, a talented musician, and the most compassionate person I know. He’s also the reason I found James Nealy, my obsessive-compulsive hero in The Unfinished Garden.

I worked on The Unfinished Garden for over a decade, and while the manuscript was evolving, I latched on to a maternal worry I couldn’t shake: What if, when my young son grew up, no one could see beyond his quirky behavior and crippling anxiety to love him as much as I did? Imagining him alone, isolated by OCD, led me to James.

OCD is an allergy to life that creates irrational fear in the absence of true threat. Navigating an ordinary day as an obsessive-compulsive demands extraordinary courage; fighting back demands the ability to reprogram thoughts. There are no short cuts with OCD. You want to wrestle that anxiety monster to the ground? You get down and dirty. In James’s case, quite literally. Dirt is his greatest fear.

But James is determined to change that by hiring Tilly Silverberg as a landscaper. He plans to watch her create beauty out of his terror, desensitize himself, and then mess around with a spade when no one’s looking.

Sounds simple, right? Wrong. To understand James’s struggle, pick a fear and amplify it to the point of debilitating anxiety. Now live with that fear every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. Sometimes it’s background static; sometimes it’s stereo surround sound. Sometimes people understand; more often, they don’t. Any member of my OCD support group will tell you OCD is a living, breathing nightmare that destroys families. It threatened to destroy mine.

When I signed with Harlequin MIRA, my son had been OCD-free for three years. When my book launched into the world, the OCD had returned. But the British war mentality flows in my son’s veins, and he found the strength to tackle his fears. Oh, and as for being alone? He has the cutest girlfriend and a best buddy who plans to be buried with him, which proves mothers agonize too much. He’s always said OCD doesn’t define him; in fact it’s fueled his creativity and his ability to empathize. I think OCD has become his inspiration.

But here’s my problem: popular culture often portrays obsessive-compulsives as crazy shut-ins or victims. Take Monk, for example, the brilliant obsessive-compulsive television detective. In one episode, school kids laugh at him. And then there’s my favorite television show, Criminal Minds. Has anyone else noticed how often the behavioral analysis team mentions obsessions or compulsions while profiling serial killers?

Which brings me back to James. He isn’t always successful at managing his OCD, but he’s brave enough to try. When Tilly needs him, he gets on a plane for her, despite his fear of flying (yoga breathing and self-medicating with bourbon help). He’s not a victim and he’s not a psycho. He’s a charismatic, successful guy who happens to be terrified of everything but snakes. Unlike Indiana Jones.

Find Barbara online:

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Find THE UNFINISHED GARDEN at Amazon at or at your local bookstore!

Thanks for being here, Barbara! Wishing you continued success with THE UNFINISHED GARDEN! We hope many more readers get to know Tillie and James!

Barbara has generously offered to send a signed copy of THE UNFINISHED GARDEN to one of our lucky commenters (U.S. and international mailing addresses)! For a chance to win THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, leave a comment below and tell us about your inspiration for writing, for life, or for just getting off the couch! 

11 Replies to “The Debutante Ball Welcomes Barbara Claypole White”

  1. Barbara, What a beautifully compelling explanation of OCD for those of us lucky enough not to have had it brush our lives.

    It’s easy to see that your son got some wonderful talent along with his trials. And that, my friend, makes a rich and challenging life, as well as a strong man.

    Isn’t that what we wish for our children?

    Thank you for the sweet post.

  2. Barbara, this was a beautiful and touching post. I am more than familiar with the trials of this illness and the challenges it presents to those affected. OCD may well be God’s way of saying we can’t have everything. What I also believe is that it is one of the side affects of many great thinkers, and incredibly talented and creative souls. Brilliance comes with a price for many artists. Your son has decided to channel his OCD into his art, to manage his life and not become a victim. How delightful that he is also handsome 🙂

  3. This book sounds like something I would absolutely love and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I’m a mental health counselor and have worked with folks struggling with OCD – kudos to you and your son for the courage to see all of the beautiful that surrounds that battle. I love that he won’t let it define him and insists on defining himself. : ) Also, as one of the Debs here at the Ball, I want to say thank you so much for being here today.

  4. I found one of the lessons in The Unfinished Garden to be that we all deal with our own shit. What it is, and how we handle it, are the only differences among us.

    You know I loved your book, Barbara. Thank you for joining us here at The Ball!! xoxo

  5. I think that the dugout ante is a great experience. When I was in high I signed up for it and then my mom took me out because she thought I wasn’t interested but I was I was really looking forward but she took me out without talking about it to me I just wish I could do it all over again. This is a great website.

  6. What a fantastic premise for a novel. I love that you’ve taken a debilitating and misunderstood condition and transformed it into the material for a hero. I love that you can see beyond the diagnosis to find courage and a protagonist’s heart in a person so many others might dismiss as “too different” to understand. I’m definitely getting a copy of this,and recommending it too!

  7. This sounds like a very great and personal book. I love hearing the stories behind what inspires authors to write the stories they do. Congrats on THE UNFINISHED GARDEN, Barbara – I look forward to reading it.

  8. Barbara, I cannot wait to tear into this book! Thank you so much for being our guest and adding so much to our discussion of inspiration here at the ball!

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