Claire Adam Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Claire Adam
photo: Tricia Keracher-Summerfield

Claire Adam

An interview with Claire Adam

An interview with Claire Adam about her debut novel Golden Child, which is set in Trinidad and follows the lives of a family as they navigate impossible choices about scarcity, loyalty, and love.

What was the impetus for this particular story to be your first in novel form?

The impetus for this story was the father, Clyde. Before I really started work on this novel, Clyde had already taken up residence in my mind as a fully formed character. I knew the dilemmas he would face and what the eventual outcome would be. But I had to discover how events unfolded, figure out exactly who else was involved. I've always seen him as an intensely lonely man with a tendency to isolate himself because he considers it the only safe way to exist in the world--or at least in Trinidad, which is the world in which he lives. He's not always a likable character.

You would think that I would have had the power to make him more likable, or to have him make decisions that people would find easy to live with, but I didn't feel like I had much power over Clyde. Sometimes it felt like Clyde was looking up at me from within his world, shaking his fist and telling me, "Don't you dare!" Don't you dare change me, he meant. If anything, I felt as if I was using my authorial power to protect him from the world's judgment.

The more I explored Clyde's life, and his sons' lives, the more I discovered the people who were connected to them, people in the extended family, in the neighborhood, at school and so on. More characters kept appearing, each with their own struggles, personalities and histories. There was a point when I nearly despaired because it just became so big and unmanageable. But I kept coming back to Clyde, and eventually I found a way through it that seemed to make sense.

Golden Child is, arguably, a complicated reflection on masculinity. Was that intentional?

Not really. I didn't intend for it to be as male-dominated as it is; I'm not quite sure how that happened. I certainly wasn't thinking about masculinity being a theme when I wrote it. But it's true that the main characters are all men, or boys growing into men, and that each of them is under pressure of some kind; and it's also clear that the society they live in has pretty traditional expectations of men and women. Clyde doesn't share his problems with anyone, not even with his wife, Joy; he thinks things over in his own time, in his own way, which frustrates Joy, but once he's made up his mind, there's no going back. Peter, the more academic twin, is under a different kind of pressure--to do well at school, to live up to his family's expectations for him, and to make their sacrifices for him worthwhile. He also responds to this by locking himself away, taking a kind of tunnel vision in his devotion to his work. Paul, the other twin, isn't as bright as Peter and he knows it; he feels that he's loved less because of it. His strategy is just to try to learn how to survive on his own.

Most of the violence in Golden Child is woven into the lives of your characters. What was it like exploring that part of the story?

I'm not someone who gravitates toward violent movies or books, so I'm a bit surprised that I've ended up writing this book that contains elements of violence. But I felt it was important to reflect the precarious place these characters live in. It's not a place where, if a burglar breaks into your house, you call the police and five minutes later a police car arrives with its sirens blaring and order is quickly restored. People routinely employ private security companies because they have no faith in the police. It's basically every man for himself, and violence is inevitable.

I was pretty restrained with the violence portrayed in the book; I certainly worked hard to make sure it wasn't gratuitous. It would have been easy to overplay the crime, but it would have given the impression that Trinidad is some kind of war zone, which it's not. Many people live happily, or are wealthy even by international standards, yet this exists side by side with universally shocking crime.

The chapters written from Paul's point of view are particularly beautiful. What was it like writing him?

It took me a while to figure Paul out. He was the second twin to be born and had some problems at birth. It's not clear whether or not something's actually wrong with him, but the doubt overshadows his childhood and causes his father to favor Peter. He and Clyde don't get on very well, I knew that from the start. But I was trying to figure out the reasons. Whenever I tried to bring Paul to mind, he was just murky and shapeless. I thought of maybe structuring the novel to remove the chapters written from his point of view, but I felt like that was a cheat. Eventually, I could see him clearly in particular scenes--sitting by the river or walking along the roadside at night--and then it was easy to write him.

What other stories do you hope to tell?

I see stories everywhere, so that's a relief--I don't feel like I'm in danger of drying up after one book. I'd like to say that I've learned something from the work I've done so far and that I feel more confident about what I'm doing now, but actually I don't know if that's true! While I was writing Golden Child, I couldn't read because I found it distracting to have other writers' words in my head. But since finishing this book, I've been catching up on my reading. It's been great, because it's much easier and more pleasurable than writing, but it's also given me many new things to think about. It feels a bit like being in a state of chaos, but things are beginning to take shape. We'll see.

This interview by Rebecca Carter was first published in Shelf Awareness and is reproduced with permission.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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