In conversation with... Stephanie Butland

Hi Stephanie! I have recently read Lost for Words, which was published in 2017, and I would love to know more about its behind-the-scenes! First of all, can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: It’s the story of Loveday, a young woman hiding away from life by working in a second-hand bookshop. When she finds an abandoned poetry book in the street, she begins a chain of events that leads to her confronting her past. 

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I had a strong sense of Loveday’s character and background, and I knew it was going to be about second-hand books and the messages that they bring. Apart from those elements, I figured it out as I went along. 

Are there any autobiographical elements woven into the fictional lives of your characters?

A: Yes and no. I don’t make the decision to write from my own life, but my own experience is certainly a filter: my preoccupations and perceptions definitely find their way into my books. Plus, I’m always looking for interesting things in the world, which often find their way into my books - Lost for Words partly came about because I found an old postcard in a second-hand book, and wondered what it would be like if you found something relevant to your own life hidden amongst the pages of a book you had bought by chance. 

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Loveday?

A: Oh, good question! There’s a British actress called Jessica Barden who I think would be excellent. Or maybe Ellie Kendrick. 

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: I loved writing the scenes that take place at the poetry nights. I learned to be a performance poet when writing this book, and I really enjoyed bringing the power of the spoken word to the page! 

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Oh, lots of things! A couple of poems were cut, and one of the elements was resolved a different way in an earlier version. I’m a great believer in Elmore Leonard’s writing advice to ‘try to leave out the parts that the reader will skip’, so my edits are quite ruthless. If it doesn’t serve the story, it goes! 

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae was published in April 2018 - it’s the story of Ailsa, who has life-saving heart surgery after a lifetime of illness, and has to learn to live an ordinary life. It has tango dancing and Romeo and Juliet, and is set in Edinburgh during the run-up to the Fringe Festival. 

And in July 2019 The Woman in the Photograph is published. It’s the story of a feminist photographer, nearing the end of her life, and being honoured with an exhibition of her work - which means she has to break her silence about the long-ago death of a friend. It’s set amongst real events of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and I’m immensely proud of it.

I’m currently working on a story inspired by fairytales and forests. 

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Overstory by Richard Powers, which is stunningly good, and fairytales, for research!

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I really enjoy chatting to readers, particularly on Twitter and Instagram. And so long as I don’t have my phone on my desk when I’m writing, it isn’t a problem! As with any part of life, you can always find ways to procrastinate if you want to. I suppose 20 years ago writers had VERY clean kitchen cupboards!

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Read. Read everything - books you think you’ll love and books you think you’ll hate, new books, old books, books for children, books in translation. Work out why you love the books you love and take that to your desk. And then write. Don’t expect to write well - no-one writes a beautiful, perfect book from a standing start. But if you write 250 words every day soon you’ll have something that you can work on and improve. Writing is craft, and working on it is absorbing and rewarding, if you can focus on the words and the story, and ignore the world while you do so. 

Thank you for your time!

A: A pleasure!

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