Frequent readers of this blog will know I have known Stephanie Butland ever since we were introduced by author Mari Hannah a couple of years ago. Stephanie has written a couple of non-fiction books about her ‘dance with cancer’ but ‘Surrounded by Water’ is her debut novel.
You capture the sense of life in a small village very well (it’s realistic, including good and bad), is that something you have experience of?
Yes! I grew up in Amble in Northumberland where you have a real sense of the connections and networks between people. But I also lived in Wimbledon for 20 years and found a very similar feel there. Communities create themselves everywhere: school gates, work canteens, coffee shops.
The relationships between the characters in the book are very interesting, do you have a favourite and least favourite character?
Ooh, that’s a tricky question! I love, love, love Elizabeth’s sister Mel, who is sparky and sarcastic and really would rather be back in her native Australia. Blake, who is steady and strong, made me feel safe whenever I was writing about him. But to me, everyone has their merits – even the ones who behave very badly.
I like Blake a lot too. Reading the book was a really emotional experience, was writing it difficult?
Not difficult, but absorbing. When I was writing the very emotional sections of the book I could think of almost nothing else, and I had frightening, dark dreams.
Tell me more about these dreams, please.
I think I was having the classic dreams associated with the emotions I was writing about. When I was writing about grief I was dreaming of being stuck in dark places or wandering through tunnels trying to find a way out. When I was writing about secrets I had being-found-out dreams: on stage not knowing my lines, doing an exam not having revised. One night I dreamed I was drowning. That was very scary indeed.
What’s the best thing about having your debut novel published?
Do I have to pick one?! The feeling of A Dream Come True. Seeing it in book shops. Strangers tweeting me about missing their stops on trains because they’re so deeply in the story.
Oh yes. The fear that people won’t ‘get’ the book, but mostly, the fear that people won’t read it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Don’t aspire, do. If you write 500 words a day you’ll have a novel in 6 months. It might not be a good novel, yet, but it’s something to work on. And read. Read widely, read passionately, read the things you know you’ll like and the things you think that you won’t. Words, words, words – that’s my advice!
Thanks to Stephanie – and her lovely publishers at Transworld, I have a signed copy of ‘Surrounded by Water’ to give away to one lucky reader. Leave a comment on this post and the lucky winner will be drawn at random on Monday, 28th April 2014.