Monday, 15 May 2017

Talking with Lisa Heathfield; her writing process and 'Paper Butterflies'.

If you know me, or if you've just read this blog for the past year, a) thank you and b) you'll know which books I like. And you'll know that one of my absolute most favourite recent reads – and books in all the world – is 'Paper Butterflies', by Lisa Heathfield

This YA novel published by Egmont in 2016 tells the story of June, a teenage girl living in a very unhappy home. Only unhappy for her, though. She is abused, relentlessly, and has nobody to turn to for advice or even simply solace.
Then she finds Blister. 



The book made me burst into tears – literally, it felt like a vicious burst – several times throughout, and then by the end I was hiccuping while hysterically crying... but with a surprised smile on my face. I poured my feels out onto the blog right after finishing the final page. 
I then went on to read 'Seed', as all my friends had told me to many times before. I devoured it as greedily as I did 'Paper Butterflies'. Just like that, I had a new writing idol.


Yes, I am as big a fan of Lisa as I am of her books. At YALC 2016 I got to take part in her writing workshop, and let me tell you, it was intensely inspiring and really quite magical. I held up the queue for a while afterwards as she signed my book and I basically professed my love for her books and her writing style. Oops...!
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa recently, about 'Paper Butterflies' and about her writing process. Read on, and get ready to be as inspired by her as I have been!


  • Is there anything that can always incite inspiration – something that never fails to stir stories?

    The biggest inspiration for me is the books that I read. I do think a kind-of osmosis happens and the words sink into your imagination. I've never been without a book - ever since I was little I've read and read and read. People ask how I learnt to write and I always answer that books have been my teacher.


  • What would a typical day be like for you when writing?

    We have three sons, so every day starts with them. Once I've walked our youngest to school, I clear away the breakfast things and sit down at the kitchen table to write. I write longhand, so all I have to do is open my note-book, re-read the last paragraph and then I'm off. When I'm completely focused on a book, I spend the next few hours scribbling away, sometimes eating as I go, sometimes stopping for lunch to catch up on emails. I try to avoid looking at the internet as Twitter can devour time and I only have until 3pm when our boys are home.


  • Do you ever panic about deadlines or get stuck on certain scenes?

    I don't panic about deadlines, but I work very hard to meet them. I'm happy to keep working after our boys are in bed, if I need to. Mostly, I don't get stuck on certain scenes - I'm not a 'planner', but somehow the words and plot always manage to appear. My third book, Flight Of A Starling, was probably the hardest to write - it's a very sad book and I think I fought against that.


  • What kind of questions do you have to ask – what areas do you cover and explore – when creating a character?

    I never feel that I create characters - they just appear to me fully formed and I feel that I already know them. Sometimes, when I think that I want to know a character better, I take them somewhere like shopping with me - I'm completely aware that sounds mad! Other people can't see my characters, but they're with me walking down the aisle in the supermarket, chatting to me. Some characters never feel far from me - I still speak to June, from 'Paper Butterflies'. 

  • Where did June come from?

    June appeared to me one day when I was writing another book. She was determined that I'd write her story instead. I pacified her by saying that I'd write her first page, but then would have to carry on with the book I was writing. It worked for a bit, but her voice grew stronger. I realised it was connected to something I had seen on the television a few years ago (I can't say what, as it gives the twist away, but it had been powerful and shocking enough to stay with me). Eventually I told my editor about June and as soon as I did she told me I needed to write her story - I started that night and the first draft was finished within a month. 


  • Things escalated beyond belief – and at quite a pace – towards the end of 'Paper Butterflies'. Why was that all so sudden (while the rest of the book had been that much slower and more deliberate?)

    I feel that June's life was like a pressure-pot and soon it would all explode around her. I think the direction that the book takes is so shocking - for June as well as the reader - that the pace can't help but ramp up.


  • What advice do you give to first-time writers?

    My advice to first time writers is to write only because you love it - never to get published. It is a complete honour to have my books in print, but the process of the actual writing is still the same and it's still wonderful whatever stage of your journey. And another piece of advice is to turn off your mobile phone! Take time for silence and to observe people. You need to watch people and the life around you to be able to write about it.


  • 'Paper Butterflies' is about an abusive home. It's very hard-hitting - and I really felt the pain when reading it. What made you want to write about that kind of unpleasant situation? And do you feel it's important for teens to read about it? 

    It was never a conscious decision to write about abuse - it was there, as part of June's story. But yes, I think it's incredibly important for teens to read about. Abuse thrives on secrecy. It needs to be written about, read about and talked about, so that it's blasted into the open and has nowhere to hide. June begs for just one person to ask the right questions, to start the conversation which will give her the courage to admit what is happening. If my book makes just one teacher, one friend aware of the signs of abuse or if it helps a teenager reach out for help, then it can only be a good thing.


  • Finally, major congratulations for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize nomination back in March. No question here, just wanted to say it!

    Thank you!! I am beyond pleased about it - especially as it gets June's story more widely read.
    And thank you for having me on your blog!

    (Thank you so much for these questions - I don't often get ones about the writing process, so it's lovely to answer them!)



Lisa's new novel 'Flight of a Starling' will be published by Egmont in June.
You can now buy 'Seed' and 'Paper Butterflies' for £6.39 each on A Great Read!
Be warned: you will fall in love with Lisa's writing. I sure did.



2 comments

  1. What a fascinating read - thanks, Grace. I'm also a huge fan of Paper Butterflies and had the same questions as you. That build-up at the end is quite phenomenal! And Lisa Heathfield sounds lovely. I hope I can meet her at YALC 2017.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading, Harriet. I could talk about Paper Butterflies all day, I swear! And trust me, you definitely want to meet Lisa at YALC. Her brilliance and kindness shines and shimmers as she speaks! x

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