Sara Barnard: An Exclusive Interview on Goodbye, Perfect

Sara Barnard: An Exclusive Interview on Goodbye, Perfect

Your books have received a lot of praise for the way they poignantly explore the power and complexities of female friendship, and we couldn’t agree more – what draws you to write about teenage, female friendships?

I think they’re often overlooked in fiction for young people, even though they’re arguably the definitive relationship in your teen years. Boy/girlfriends come and go, but friendships made in your teenage years can last a whole lifetime. It’s also the age where you’re starting to find out who you are and making your own decisions. Who your friends are at that time can have a profound effect on who you become. Who wouldn’t want to write about that?!

You approach the controversial topic of student-teacher relationships with honesty and without romanticising it – did you have to do much research into student-teacher Relationships?

Most of my research was around the logistics of how people could “disappear” in our world of surveillance! I had maps open all the time, planning routes and things like that. For the student-teacher relationship, I read up on real-life cases and how the people involved talked about it at the time and after, with a particular focus on media coverage, including comments under articles and conversations on message-boards to get a sense of how the public generally respond to these kinds of events.

We love the title Goodbye, Perfect, what is the inspiration behind it?

Thank you! It took a while to find the right title for this book – I went through a lot of different attempts that didn’t feel quite right. Everything fell into place when I found this title though. A major theme of the book is deconstructing ideas of perfect, as well as the literal departure of the apparently “perfect” Bonnie, so it worked on multiple levels, which I always like!

Why did you decide to tell the story from Eden’s perspective rather than Bonnie’s?

I wanted to tell the story of the other people affected by a big scandal, rather than the person it’s actually happening to. I wasn’t trying to write a story about a student-teacher relationship at all; it’s about everyone else. The story belongs to Eden completely.

Do you have a favourite character from the book?

I have a particular fondness for Valerie!

Would you say you were more like Bonnie or Eden when you were a teenager?

Neither! I was never wild like Eden, but I also wasn’t striving for perfection like Bonnie. My parents didn’t really put any academic pressure on me and I was quite lazy, often leaving homework to the last minute. I was the kind of good kid who coasted, rather than worked hard.

Why did you choose to include newspaper clippings and text messages throughout the Book?

I wanted to show how much the media affects the public perception of an event and the people involved, while also giving details about the investigation that Eden doesn’t know. The text messages are the primary way Eden and Bonnie communicate – because it’s 2018! – so it felt very natural to include them.

What was your favourite scene to write?

Later on in the book, Eden ends up on a road trip of sorts with her older adoptive sister, Valerie, and her boyfriend, Connor. There’s a series of snapshots of their conversations, set out as a script, and I really loved those. I could have written so many of them!

Your characters are very relatable and you capture the struggles of being a teenager with a perceptive realness – how do you go about putting yourself in the shoes of a teenager when you write your novels?

I think if I consciously tried to do that I’d fail completely. I never think about having to sound like a teenager; I just think of my characters as real people at a particular age. Everything springs from there.

What do you think are the biggest challenges teenagers face today?

I think there’s a huge amount of pressure on young people in the school environment, plus the social pressures of our 24/7 digital world. The combination of those two things sounds like a nightmare, so it’s no wonder there’s a growing mental health problem among teenagers. They’re being constantly bombarded by messages and opinions from all angles at all times. It must be exhausting.

Is there a message you hope readers will take away from Goodbye, Perfect?

That they are more than their label, or labels. In school I think it’s quite common to be labelled and to feel suffocated by it. It’s such an intense environment and it’s hard to shake off an image of yourself that other people have, even if they formed it when you were twelve. I’d hope that readers will realise they aren’t defined by a label they have and, crucially, that neither is anyone else.