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Take Five: Barbara O’Neal and The Lost Girls of Devon



Barbara O’Neal is a long time contributor to Writer Unboxed. She is the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and #1 Amazon bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids, The Art of Inheriting Secrets, and The Lost Recipe for Happiness. She lives in Colorado Springs with her partner, a British endurance athlete who vows he’ll never lose his accent.

“A woman’s strange disappearance brings together four strong women who struggle with their relationships, despite their need for one another. Fans of Sarah Addison Allen will appreciate the emphasis on nature and these women’s unique gifts in this latest by the author of When We Believed in Mermaids.” —Library Journal

We’re excited to have Barbara O’Neal [1] on board today to answer questions about her latest novel, The Lost Girls of Devon [2], releasing July 14th.

Thank you, Barbara!

Q1: What’s the premise of your new book?

The Lost Girls of Devon is a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets.
It’s been years since Zoe Fairchild has been to the small Devon village of her birth, but the wounds she suffered there still ache. When she learns that her old friend and grandmother’s caretaker has gone missing, Zoe and her fifteen-year-old daughter return to England to help.
Zoe dreads seeing her estranged mother, who left when Zoe was seven to travel the world. As the four generations of women reunite, the emotional pain of the past is awakened. And to complicate matters further, Zoe must also confront the ex-boyfriend she betrayed many years before.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

The story is about mothers and how our mothers influence us, chart our journeys for the good and for the worst. A mother runs away and her daughter is overprotective of her child. But it’s also about redemption, forgiveness, and growing into the person you are meant to be. That’s not always easy for women, especially when they become mothers.

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?

Each woman in the story has a challenge to grapple with. As a group, they’re trying to solve betrayals and secrets, but each one also has a personal struggle she must solve. Zoe’s biggest challenge is forgiveness–why should she forgive the mother who left her when she was seven years old, but also–how can she forgive herself for ruining a beautiful relationship she had with her long-time love? Poppy must come to terms with her actions and the devastation they caused. Lily, Zoe’s grandmother, is 90 and beginning to understand she has dementia. And finally, 15-year-old Isabel has to figure out how to live with a terrible betrayal and humiliation.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

So many. The story is told through rotating viewpoints from all the women, and it was a challenge to find the deepest voice of each character so that she sounds completely herself. I do love first-person viewpoints, and I wanted to dig into how much a story changes according to who tells it, so it was worth the hard work.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?

One very special part of the writing of this book was going to Devon to do the research. My partner has a brother in Somerset, just outside of Glastonbury (which you will see matters to the development of one character) and a sister in South Devon, which is where the book is set. We traveled all over the coast, visiting villages and hamlets, with a guide from Unique Devon Tours, and had three days of exquisite pleasure. We ate in pubs and drank ale (me) and cider (Neal), and walked the beaches. In his sister’s village, a cricket match popped up one afternoon, and we carried apple-ginger cake, still warm, down the lanes to the field for the players. A day to remember always–and I think some of that spirit wove its way into the story.

About [3]

Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between Therese Walsh [4] and Kathleen Bolton [5] in 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~50 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. In 2014, the first Writer Unboxed UnConference (part UNtraditional conference, part intensive craft event, part networking affair) [6] was held in Salem, MA. Learn more about our 2019 event, ESCAPE TO WuNDERLAND, on Eventbrite. [7] In 2016, the Writer Unboxed team published a book with Writer's Digest. AUTHOR IN PROGRESS: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published [8] has been well-received by readers who seek help in overcoming the hurdles faced at every step of the novel-writing process--from setting goals, researching, and drafting to giving and receiving critiques, polishing prose, and seeking publication. James Scott Bell has said of the guide, "Nourishment for the writer's soul and motivation for the writer's heart." You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter [9], and join our thriving Facebook community [10].