Friday 19 May 2017

A Conversation with Stephanie Butland

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Stephanie Butland is a novelist who fell in love with performance poetry when researching her novel LOST FOR WORDS. Her first two books were about her dance with cancer. She then turned to fiction. Her novels are Letters To My Husband, The Other Half Of My Heart, and Lost For Words. Stephanie lives in Northumberland. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively.

Lost for Words is a powerful piece of original fiction: smart, compelling, irresistible, with the emotional intensity of Nathan Filer's Shock of The Fall and all the charm of The Little Paris Bookshop.

Spiky, sardonic, and reclusive Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves the most tattooed on her skin. But there are secrets that Loveday will never share ...

Fifteen years ago, in one unspeakable, violent moment, Loveday lost all she knew and loved. Now, she finds refuge in the enchanting little book emporium where she works.

But something shifts for Loveday when a performance poet comes in to the shop, looking for something he lost. Between them, there's a spark . . .

Not long after Nathan's arrival, mysterious packages begin arriving for Loveday. Each one contains a seemingly unremarkable book. But each book stirs unsettling memories for her - some bittersweet, some too painful to bear.

It seems someone knows.

Someone is trying to send Loveday a message, and she can't hide any longer.

'Loveday is so spiky and likeable. I so loved Archie, Nathan and the book shop and the unfolding mystery'  -  Carys Bray, author of A Song For Issy Bradley and The Museum of You

It's time for Loveday to take charge of how her story unfolds. She must decide who around her she can truly trust and find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong. And if she does, she might just find her way home…

We'd like to thank Stephanie for taking part in A Conversation With...and look forward to this moving and poignant novel. We'd also like to wish her all the very best with her writing for the future and particularly the sequel to this as Katie Fforde said, 'Quirky, clever and unputdownable.' book.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

It took a while! I always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 that I found something meaningful to write about. A blog led to a book led to a second book, and then I turned to fiction. Lost For Words is my third published novel (there may be others in drawers).

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I’m a storyteller, and the stories I tell are meaningful and interesting to me. I think readers have a nose for authenticity and if I was writing anything that my heart wasn’t in, they would know. And as someone once said (I’m going to say Mark Twain, because it’s usually Mark Twain) - ‘if you want to send a message, send a telegram’.

It’s hard to say what I like most, because there’s an element of enjoyment in all writing (even trawling through the final copy edits - if only because it means I’m nearly there!). But, if I had to choose one thing, it’s sitting down in my studio, with nothing to do for the next three hours but write. That’s the best bit. It’s not necessarily easy, but nothing worth doing is.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I empathise with all of my characters - that’s how I work. I need to understand where they are coming from, what drives them and why they do what they do - even if I don’t like what they are doing. To me, as a reader, interesting writing is writing that makes me change my allegiance with characters, or both agree with them and dislike them.

In Lost For Words, Rob is not a likeable guy, but I do feel for him: I’m not a huge fan of Melodie either. Without wanting to be spoilerish, there are characters from Loveday’s past who I dislike. But empathy? Yes, I have that for all of them, in spades.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

Characters (like people) are, I think, a product of background and experience. I can impose their experience, but I still need to understand their background, and the context in which their experience occurs. I find people from those backgrounds or who have had those experiences; I talk to them; I ask them about my preconceptions and assumptions; sometimes I ask them to read a draft and tell me if I’ve got it right.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I love my little writing studio and it’s the place where I’m happiest. Sometimes I find myself writing in hotel rooms or airports and if I could whizz myself to my studio and work there for a couple of hours, I’d be a happy writer indeed.

Or, if that’s cheating, I’d say Gladstone’s Library in Wales. It has everything a writer needs: quiet, the lovely smell of books, warm, nourishing food, like-minded people, and a sort of concentrated wisdom in the air that always seems to make me cleverer than I really am.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

I think, somewhere in the ether around every book I have written, there hang the ghosts of the books that might have been - writing, for me, is a whittling-down of possibility until I find the story that most wants to be told. But I also think it would be fun to write the parallel-universe books. I don’t think anyone else would be remotely interested, though!

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

- Read. Read widely and voraciously. Read things you think you won’t like. Ask booksellers which books they’ve loved, and read those books.

Write. Write a lot. Write to the end of things, even if the ending is terrible: anyone can start a story - the writer’s art is in having the patience and perseverance to make something work. That’s where you learn.

Be honest. Is what you’re writing the best that it can be? If not, keep working on it. Don’t send it off to anyone until you’ve made it the best that you can make it. And then be open to the idea that others can show you how to make it better still.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m about to start on my editor’s notes for the follow-up to Lost For Words. It doesn’t have a title yet. (Or rather, it is working its way through many titles. This is completely normal for my books.) Expect to see it out in the world in the first half of 2018.

I’m also gently, tentatively exploring the world of my next novel. I’m reading books about photography, and mulling a concept that doesn’t have a story attached to it yet.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Lorna Doone! I admired her bravery and steadfastness. And the fact that (spoiler alert) she got her happy ending. 

Thank you to Zaffre for the review copy.

You can Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @under_blue_sky

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