I’m honoured to be taking part in the blog tour for Stephanie Butland’s second book, Thrive. I read Stephanie’s first book – How I said Bah! To Cancer – recently, after a family member was diagnosed, and it’s just wonderful: practical, comforting, encouraging and warm. But I didn’t ask Stephanie about cancer, I asked her about writing and books.
My writing day varies according to whether I’m writing or editing. When I’m writing, I like to write 1000-1500 words in the morning, then let what I’ve written ‘cook’ for the rest of the day while I do other things – research, emails, tomorrow’s blog post. (Knitting, walking on the beach, going out for lunch….) Next morning, I will go back over those 1500 words, then add the next lot. If I’m editing it’s a much more intensive process – I will probably have 3 sessions a day, and do the edit fairly quickly, and ignore as much of the rest of my life as I can.
Writing can be a lonely occupation – how do you cope with the solitary nature of being an writer?
I embrace it. I write in the studio at the bottom of the garden, and I think as I make the very small walk from house to studio something shifts in me as I know that what I’m walking towards is space and time to write. Anyone who has ever tried to write while helping with homework at a dining table will know what a luxury that is!
Have you ever experienced writers’ block and, if so, how did you get past it?
Not really. I’ve got a bit stuck on manuscripts once or twice, and what I’ve done then is gone back to an earlier draft to see whether I’ve taken a wrong turn in the latest one. That’s always been enough to kick start things.
How is being a writer different from what you imagined?
It’s much more collaborative. I’m working with two brilliant editors (one for my fiction, one for my non-fiction) and every time I implement suggestions from either of them I see my work get so much better. And I had no idea of how much goes on between submitting a manuscript and having a book in your hand.
Have you got any abandoned manuscripts no one will ever see?
There’s a first novel on floppy discs somewhere, that I wrote about 10 years ago. An agent at the time said ‘I’d quite like to see your next thing’ which is, I think, a reasonable assessment of it: if it had been a school essay it would have come back with ‘shows promise, must try harder’ written across it.
Holding the first book in my hands. For me, that was the point at which I was really a writer.
If you had to live within the confines of one book, and only interact with its characters (but you would still be yourself), which book would you choose?
This is a fantastic question and I am a little bit sad that it isn’t a real option! I think it would have to be ‘Sense And Sensibility’. Elinor Dashwood is one of my favourite characters in fiction and I think she and I would get on really well. I’d have access to a big library, and would be able to sew and read and spend whole days buying ribbons for a bonnet. I would have a slightly contradictory reputation as an expert needlewoman and outrageous flirt. And, when Marianne died of some reckless thing or other, Alan Rickman would fall in love with me. (I’d be living in the Ang Lee version).
Which three books would you take to a desert island?
This, on the other hand, is an EVIL question and I’m going to cheat. The complete works of Jane Austen, the complete works of John Updike (a Jane Austen for 20th century America), the complete book of all poetry EVER.
Hmmm. Kate Winslet, probably. If she had forgiven me for pushing her off a cliff in Sense and Sensibility.