April 2014


Stephanie Butland is the author of novel Surrounded by Water. She has also written two books about her breast cancer experiences. She works as a speaker and trainer and lives in Northumberland, England, with her family. (Interview by Jade Craddock)

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  1. 1. How would you describe Surrounded by Water in one sentence?

    It's a story about grief and love and learning to move on.

  2. 2. Where did you get the inspiration for the novel?

    It was less inspiration and more evolution, to be honest! It started life as a comic novel about a committee trying to erect a fence near a lake where someone had drowned. An early reader suggested that the committee structure wasn't helping - anyone who has ever sat on a committee will be able to agree with that! - and once I removed that structure the novel leapt into life.

  3. 3. The letters from Elizabeth to Mike felt very real. How easy was it to get into Elizabeth’s headspace?

    I spent a lot of time figuring out exactly who the characters were. Once I had understood Elizabeth as someone who had invested more than most in her marriage, moving from Australia to be with her husband, the letters became very straightforward to write - they were probably the easiest part of the book. Elizabeth is someone who has had everything important to her snatched away. I may not have experienced that myself but I have feared it.

  4. 4. What was the hardest part about writing this story?

    Remembering what I had actually written down and what was still in my head! I had lots of notes from my editor about little things that were missing that I was sure were in the manuscript somewhere.... Invariably, they weren't.

  5. 5. What were your own personal feelings towards Mike?

    I like him but then again I like everyone in Throckton! No one is perfect. Mike gets himself in a mess and doesn't realise it until it's too late to get out. He has a good heart; maybe that's his fatal flaw.

  6. 6. What was the overriding sense when you’d finished the book?

    I was pleased and proud for about a day. Then after another day of walking round the house picking things up and putting them down again because I didn't know what to do with myself, I started to think about the next book!

  7. 7. Surrounded by Water offers something unique and different to women’s fiction - what do you think of women’s fiction today?

    I think of women's fiction the same way I feel about any book: if it's well written and easy to engage with then I will devour it. If it isn't I'll put it down and move onto the next thing. I have a fifty-page rule: if I don't care about the book after fifty pages, I start something else. Life's short.

  8. 8. Tell us about your journey to publication.

    Oddly enough it began when I was diagnosed with a breast cancer in 2008. I wrote a blog then drafted a book. I won the chance to have it read by an agent in an auction on Twitter, and soon I found I had representation. My first two books, 'How I said Bah! to cancer' and 'Thrive: the Bah! Guide to wellness after cancer' were published in 2011 and 2012. I decided to turn my hand to fiction and Transworld bought two books from me in early 2012.

  9. 9. What can we expect from your next books?

    Both books are set in Throckton. Book 2, There’s No Place Like You, is the story of Bettina, who comes to Throckton to set up a bakery. It turns out that she's running away from her past. She also runs into Rufus. Book 3, It Could Be True, returns to Kate and Elizabeth, five years on from the events of Surrounded by Water.

  10. 10. Does writing come naturally to you?

    I write at the rate of about a book a year. I suppose it does come naturally - writing is something that I have always enjoyed doing - but like any job there's a certain amount of just turning up and doing it whether you feel like it or not!

  11. 11. How have you found the transition to life as an author?

    It's a funny old life. It goes from being deeply solitary - just me and my post-its for days on end - to madly social, with speaking events and launches and signings and being the centre of attention. Oddly, as I've written that, I've realised there's a read-across to my other life as a specialist trainer of thinking skills and creativity - when I'm presenting, it's all people people people, but I also spend a lot of time on my own in hotel rooms and on trains and planes!

  12. 12. What kind of ideas/themes/characters appeal to you when picking a subject for a book?

    For me, everything springs from character, so I need to make sure that I've got fully formed people I can work with - interesting backgrounds, maybe a skeleton or two rattling around. Once I have that I add the other element of what makes a story -'something goes wrong' - and I'm off.

  13. 13. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

    Good question! I am a knitter and if I show anything I've knitted to a fellow-knitter they will turn it over and have a look at the back. It's not judgment, it's just instinct and the desire to understand how something is constructed. I've realised that writing needs to be just as tidy on the back as the front, ends woven in and seams as neat and invisible as possible. Because editors, agents, and ultimately readers will all turn your work over and have a look, and if there's anything shoddy or botched, they will spot it.

  14. 14. What does writing bring to your life?

    Satisfaction. Joy. Excitement. Fulfilment. And that creeping fear that any minute now a grown-up is going to come along and tell me to stop being so silly and get a proper job.

  15. 15. What one thing would you change about the publishing industry?

    The mighty faff that is international tax. I missed out on a work trip to Barcelona - a place that I've always wanted to go to - because my passport was - still is, in fact - with the US IRS (Internal Revenue Service). This problem isn't unique to publishing, of course, but getting a new set of tax forms filled out and authorised for every foreign rights sale is definitely my least favourite thing about the job.

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