Author Sophie Anderson talks to me about her amazing debut novel The Butterfly Garden and what inspired her to create this gripping book about parental love, motherhood and loss.
Tell me about your book The Butterfly Garden. How you came to define your writing style?
The Butterfly Garden is a book about every mother’s worst nightmare- losing a child. My first child was born days before Madeleine McCann disappeared and I watched the horrendous tragedy play out with my new-born baby in my arms and my hormones going nuts and it affected me on such a visceral level. And it continued to come back to haunt me in the years that followed as I found my path as a mother. Ten years later, I started The Butterfly Garden, a story about motherhood, grief and forgiveness. I like to read emotional women’s fiction, I generally rate the books that make me weep and so this was the sort of book I wanted to write. A book about normal people and how a moments lapse in their integrity can send their normal lives so dramatically off course. But ultimately it is a book about forgiveness and whether a mother can find it in her heart to forgive the son who she blamed for her daughter’s death. In terms of my writing style, I experimented with both first person and third person narratives and ended up using both! I liked the contrast and so weaved the voices of Maggie and Erin together as their stories evolved. And the setting was crucial, I was lucky enough to spend time in both Cornwall and Costa Rica whilst I was writing the novel, two coasts, worlds apart in both geography and culture but both blessed with the humbling and inspiring ocean.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?
I have always loved books and studied English Literature at university many moons ago. Then I went on to have a career in TV Production which was great fun but just didn’t scratch that creative itch to write. And so after the birth of my fourth child I decided to take some time out of work and enrolled on a creative writing course. I gave myself the four years until my daughter started school to give writing a go and was offered a two book deal with Bookouture just in the nick of time as she started reception in September last year!
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I wrote most of The Butterfly Garden in a shed at the bottom of my garden hiding from my kids! But I also enjoy writing in cafes, I find the background buzz comforting and inspiring – not that we have been allowed anywhere near a café for a long time but I am looking forward to getting back there. Bizarrely I find that the less time I have to write the more focused and fruitful I am. I wrote my first book with four children under the age of 10 and so had little time for procrastinating. I have since written my second in a matter of months in the last year at the same time as home-schooling the kids in lockdown and whilst it was stressful at times and involved lots of late nights and early mornings it certainly focused the mind on the task in hand!! If I am struggling with something I go for a walk and talk to myself out-loud, trying to work through whatever is blocking me and hoping I don’t come across other ramblers who think me insane!
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
That is really hard!! There are so many amazing writers out there that have been a huge inspiration to me throughout my life but if I had to name one it would be Elizabeth Stroud. I think I could learn so much from her. I am totally in awe of the way that she writes. Not a word is wasted, and yet her characters are so perfectly formed and have such extraordinary depth and complexity. I think Olive Kitteridge is one of the best anti-heroines of our time and could only dream of creating someone so brilliantly flawed and yet somehow lovable.
What books do you like to read and how do they shape your own work?
I like reading well written character lead books. I try to read everything on both the awards and best-sellers lists to see how they have done it! I find it hugely inspiring to see how other authors tell their stories and conjure up their worlds and characters. So much so that I have found myself subconsciously adopting the style of whatever book I am reading at the time and need to do some serious adjusting in later edits to stop my book becoming a total mash-up! Some of my recent sources of inspiration are: Where the Crawdads Sing and the extraordinary sense of place Delia Owens carried through the novel. Hamnet, I love everything Maggie O’Farrell writes but this one was off the dial, her ability to create a character with whom we could feel so much empathy despite being separated by hundreds of years, lots of weeping to be had there! I also loved Small Pleasures, the pacing was so gentle and yet so compelling, reading that book was like snuggling up under a blanket on a rainy day. And I was totally blown away by Sorrows and Bliss and the acerbic wit of her narrator and the way she dealt so masterfully with such delicate subject matters. If I have managed to pull off any iota of these things in my novel I would be delighted!
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I have recently finished my second book which is due to be published by Bookouture in February next year and I am pretty excited about it! It is a whole new story and set of characters but has some similar themes of family secrets to The Butterfly Garden and is set between Dorset and The Philippines!
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?
I have just seen that there is a new Sally Rooney book coming out in September Beautiful World, Where are You? which I am excited about, I loved Normal People and Conversations with Friends so can’t wait to see what she comes up with next. I am yet to read Lisa Taddeo’s Animal but I loved Three Women so looking forward to that too.
Huge thanks to Sophie for her amazing answers and for being so lovely- it’s been great to hear from you! You can find out more about her work on her website or check out her Amazon page to buy The Butterfly Garden.