JH: Tell us in one or two sentences what your book is about.
LSH: It’s about a man and his attempt to overcome problems that have prevented him from following his calling as an artist.
JH: How did you decide on a middle-aged male protagonist who’s drowning in a mid-life crisis and not really marriage material?
LSH: I wanted to tell an uplifting story, and I needed a character who could be loveable and who the reader could root for. Despite his failings, Barnaby is charmingly naïve, I think. His journey toward recovery and an unlikely romance would not take a straight path, and that, I thought, would provide the basis for a good story.
JH: I absolutely loved Waterbury Winter. It’s already one of my favorite books this year. Barnaby Brown reminds me of Ove in Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, another favorite novel. Had you read it? Have others made the comparison to Ove, and if so, what do you think of that?
LSH: What an honor, to have my book compared to Fredrik Backman’s. Thank you! I did read A Man Called Ove, and others have made the comparison. However, I’d say Waterbury Winter is lighter in tone. After all, Barnaby is not always contemplating how he might kill himself.
JH: Your book is set in Waterbury, Connecticut yet you live in Washington state. Why did you choose a place so far away for your setting?
LSH: I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, for ten years. Like many people who don’t live in Waterbury, I had only passed through there on my way to somewhere else. But I remembered seeing the old industrial buildings and knew there must be history behind them. The town had clearly seen better times, and that made it the perfect background for my sad-sack protagonist.
JH: Your first novel, Estelle, about the French painter Edgar Degas’s five-month stay in New Orleans, was historical. Why did you decide to write a contemporary novel?
LSH: To be honest, I wanted to write something out of my head, something that didn’t take a lot of research. As writers of historical fiction know, getting the details right takes careful preparation. Apart from researching the history of Waterbury—which, by the way, turned out to be fascinating—I didn’t have to consult many resource materials.
JH: Like your first novel, Waterbury Winter features an artist as a main character. A lot of readers probably don’t know that you’re an accomplished artist. You’ve written what you know, as the saying goes. With the main characters in each of your novels—Edgar Degas, a real person, and Barnaby Brown, completely fictional—both had “lost” themselves and their art. What role did art play in their character development, and what did you want to say about the role of art in our world?
LSH: I have long thought that artists have an irresistible urge to create. Unlike some people who can choose a career, true artists feel they have failed if they don’t produce art. That doesn’t mean they always have the confidence or inspiration to do so. Degas in real life, especially during his time in New Orleans, seriously considered giving up painting. In fact, some critics say that it wasn’t until A Cotton Office in New Orleans, the masterpiece he created there at thirty-eight years old, that he earned recognition. My fictional character Barnaby, who achieved success as an artist as a young man, felt he had lost an important part of himself when he reached forty-five and had stopped painting. That attitude, along with other setbacks, contributed to his drinking and depression.
I believe that art is essential. It may come from a place of sadness or joy on the part of the artist, but that usually doesn’t matter to the viewer. What’s important is how it resonates and reflects truths about our world.
JH: Kirkus Reviews said your novel is a “reflective, witty, and fun story that elegantly crosses genres and addresses intriguing themes.” I agree with that wholeheartedly. What would you say are the themes of your book?
LSH: The struggle of artists. The importance of friendship and keeping promises. The restorative value of art.
JH: One of my favorite characters is Barnaby’s pet parrot, Popsicle (love the name!). The interplay between Popsicle and Barnaby was so witty, and poignant because he’s basically Barnaby’s only friend. Why did you decide to include a parrot as a character?
LSH: Popsicle is based on a parrot my family had. He amused us all with his expressions and obvious intelligence. For example, he only said “good stuff” when we gave him chicken, his favorite food. He said “bye-bye” only when he saw us reach for coats when leaving. I thought having the parrot to the story would add interest and humor, besides allowing the nurturing side of Barnaby’s personality to emerge.
JH: What’s in store for you next as a writer?
LSH: I have written two novels set in the United States. I grew up in England. I’d like to write a story set there next time.
Jody Hadlock is the author of The Lives of Diamond Bessie. Her website is www.jodyhadlock.com.
Linda Stewart Henley is the author of Estelle: A Novel. Among other honors, it won Silver in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Historical Fiction and was a finalist for The Eric Hoffer Book Awards as well as for the 2021 Nancy Pearl Award. She lives in Anacortes, Washington, with her husband. Waterbury Winter is her second novel. Find her online at www.lindastewarthenleyauthor.com and www.facebook.com/lindastewarthenley