Stephanie Butland – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stephanie Butland to the blog. Stephanie is the author of Letters to My Husband and her latest novel The Other Half of My Heart was published by Black Swan on 22 October 2015. Stephanie kindly answered some of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Other Half of my Heart.

Bettina May runs the bakery in Throckton. She makes beautiful bread, and works hard, and cares for her ageing mother. She has a tentative relationship with someone readers of ‘Letters to My Husband’ will recognise. She’s settled into a gentle anonymity and she’s hoping that her life will continue calmly. But then someone who recognises her from her teenage years comes to Throckton, and everything has to change. 

2. What inspired the book?

I liked the idea of creating a heroine who was none of the things a heroine is supposed to be. Bettina is quiet and solemn, restrained and reflective. She might even be a little bit dull. She’s not very confident. I wanted to write a story about someone like that; I was (am) interested in the everyday people who have startling stories when you get to know them a little. 

3. Your first novel was Letters to My Husband. What surprised you the most about the publishing process and what lessons did you learn from writing and publishing Letters to My Husband that helped when writing The Other Half of my Heart?

Having had some non-fiction (How I Said Bah! to cancer’ and ‘Thrive: the Bah! guide to wellness after cancer’) published, the first surprise was how fiction is treated as a much bigger deal. I’m still not sure how I feel about that! 

When I wrote The Other Half Of My Heart, Letters To My Husband had been edited, though not published, so I think what I took into the second novel was that I had no-where to hide – anywhere my writing got a bit lazy or I didn’t properly explain a process would be picked up on! So I think the second manuscript benefitted from that. I tried harder, earlier. 

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I don’t really have a plan but I do have a character, a situation and a direction. So typically I’ll write maybe 20,000 words, think about what I’ve written, research the story that i suspect I’m going to write, then enter a more structured period of writing a thousand words a day until I’ve got somewhere close to the end. Then quite often I find the novel has evolved again from what I thought it would be, so I might do some more research, and go back to the beginning with what I’ve learned, rewriting with the now-known end in mind. 

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? Which authors do you turn to when you have time to read for pleasure?

For fun I knit, crochet, sew and bake – including baking my own bread (thanks to the research for this novel). I live in Northumberland, which is a beautiful place, and I love to walk on the beaches and in the countryside. Full disclosure, though: I’m a serious shopper too! And i love the theatre and cinema. 

As far as reading for pleasure goes, well, my favourites big names are (in no special order) John Updike, Jane Austen, Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood. Novels I’ve enjoyed lately are ‘Bitter Greens’ by Kate Forsyth, ‘Longbourn’ by Jo Baker, ‘Vigilante’ by Shelley Harris and ‘The Table Of Less Valued Knights’ by Marie Phillips. I’ll read anything (except horror). But I’ll also give up on it after 50 pages if it hasn’t got me interested! 

6. Having been through the creative process of writing and publishing a novel what have you learnt that you wish you’d known before you started?

That the best thing about writing is writing. Being published is brilliant, and seeing your own books made real is absurdly thrilling – but the thing i really cherish about the whole process is sitting down and finding the words to precisely express what I want to say. And i had that from the start. Everyone who writes, published or unpublished, has it. We should all remember to treasure it. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Well, no-one has asked me about my favourite bread yet, which I thought they would have done. When I was researching The Other Half Of My Heart I discovered that any bread that comes out of a French boulangerie oven not looking the way it ought to is called Pain Batard. I didn’t manage to work that into the plot but I thought it was hilarious! 

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

About the book

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““It smelled bittersweetly of sourdough, and there was the trace of hot, fresh bread in the air. She took a deep breath and unlocked the door”

Fifteen years ago Bettina May’s life’s veered off course in one disastrous night. Still reeling from the shock of losing everything she thought was hers, Bettina opens a bakery in a village and throws herself into the comfort of bread-making.

She spends her days kneading dough and measuring ingredients. She meets someone. She begins to heal.

Until someone who knows what happens that night walks into Bettina’s bakery. In the pause of a heartbeat, fifteen years disappear and Bettina remembers a time she thought was lost for ever . . .

Can she ever go back?”

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