One of the best things about the on-line writing community is making friends with other writers, and then getting to ask them all sorts of things about their books and writing processes. I’m not quite sure how I stumbled upon Kate Frost’s blog last year, but we really hit it off during chats in the blog comments and a shared journey through WIPpet Wednesdays. So I’m thrilled to have her on the blog today to answer all my questions about her debut novel The Butterfly Storm.
With an MA in creative writing under her belt, Kate teaches lifewriting for the undergraduate Creative Writing course at Bath Spa University. She’s also published articles and short stories in Scriptor, QWF, Bullet Magazine, Peninsular, New Welsh Review and The London Magazine. For those are you who are a bit star-struck (not me at all) – she’s appeared in Vanity Fair with Reece Witherspoon, King Arthur with Ray Winston and The Duchess with Keira Knightly. Her husband Nik’s family hails from Greece (which accounts for the very authentic Greek scenes in The Butterfly Storm) and she has a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Frodo (great name huh!).
The Butterfly Storm, Kate’s first novel is a beautiful story about love, family, belonging and place:
Four years ago life for Sophie Keech was perfect. A new start in Greece with Alekos, her boyfriend of just six weeks, removes Sophie from a mundane 9-5 job, takes her away from the difficult relationship she has with her mum, and gives her the opportunity and belief that she is finally doing something positive and exciting with her life.
But a lot can change in four years. An engagement, a domineering mother-in-law to be and the reality of life in Greece not being quite what Sophie imagined puts a strain on her relationship with Alekos.
When an accident forces Sophie back to the UK to look after her estranged mum, she has time to reevaluate her life, her idea of family, where she wants to be and, most importantly, who she loves.
I read The Butterfly Storm one cold wintery weekend curled up in front of the fire, and I have to say the experience was like visiting with old friends – comfortable, captivating and hard to leave. Kate writes beautifully, her use of language and ability to set the scene means the story draws you in from the outset. Sophie chooses a new life for herself, full of promise and potential and yet through the course of the story she has to face many areas of her life that have failed or are failing to meet up with her expectations.
One of the many things I liked about The Butterfly Storm, despite the fact that Sophie and I are quite different – was that the themes are relevant to things that are close to my heart. What should we expect from love? Is love enough, especially when you factor in wider family obligations and expectations? And why is it that so often it’s hard to say what you really mean, especially to those you love the most? The Butterfly Storm captures Sophie’s crossroad moment perfectly and takes you on the journey with her.
And, like I said, I get to ask Kate all about it!
Kate, how did Sophie’s story begin? Was there one idea, or scene that captured your imagination at the outset?
Sophie’s story began with an image I had of a woman looking out across fields towards Mt. Olympus just before she was swept up in the celebrations of a party. The party ended up being for Despina’s (Sophie’s mother-in-law to be) 60th birthday and it was originally the first chapter, although it’s now chapter seven. That party scene featured everything that appealed to me about Greece: the food, the dancing, the sense of family, music and laughter. Except despite all of this Sophie’s not happy and it’s at this point that her life really begins to unravel.
That is a captivating image, and a real turning point in the story for Sophie too! The heart of The Butterfly Storm is about love and family; relationships, expectations, belonging, and (mis)communication – something I think we can all relate to. How did your family respond to the story? Did anyone ‘see themselves’ (rightly or wrongly) in particular characters?
So far it’s only been my mum and my husband’s aunt in Greece that have read the finished novel and they’ve both responded very well! Even though, like Sophie, I fell in love with and married a Greek, how we met and the relationship we both have with our families is very different to the ones Sophie and Alekos have. My mum didn’t see herself in any of the characters (and rightly so) but she did find it strange recognising some of the places that feature in the book. The view from Leila’s house in Norfolk for example is the view from my grandparents’ farmhouse, although the house is completely different and the village of Marshton is fictional.
I love the butterfly imagery in the book and the title, The Butterfly Storm. Could you tell us a little about how these came about and coloured the story.
Chapter one, which was one of the original chapters and the one that features the storm brewing over Mt. Olympus and the butterflies dancing in its wake, actually wrote itself. I don’t remember planning that scene although what happens subsequently between Sophie and Alekos was intended. The idea of those butterflies caught by the wind and the impending storm was not only an interesting and beautiful image but it seemed like the perfect title and so The Butterfly Storm, my first and only title stuck. Much like life there’s a beauty and fragility to butterflies and I wanted them to feature at different points in the story and so they become symbols of what Sophie wants, what they remind her of and ultimately a catalyst for her making one of the most important decisions of her life when she sees the butterfly image on her mum’s skirt.
The beauty and fragility really shows through in the story too! The Butterfly Storm was written as part of your MA in creative writing, what do you think was the biggest benefit of writing that context?
Without a doubt the intensity of writing a large chunk of the novel and it being workshopped by a supportive group of fellow writers led by a published author, Tricia Wastvedt, on a weekly basis was the biggest benefit. The criticism was constructive and the praise was honest and the whole workshopping process of cutting, rewriting and reworking enabled me to judge my own writing better and be more confident in my abilities. The MA also helped me to see what my weaknesses were and work on them.
It took 9 years to publish The Butterfly Storm – and it was quite a journey. After following the traditional route and having positive feedback about the story (nothwithstanding their views on profitability) – what was it that made you decided to self-publish? And did The Butterfly Storm undergo any major changes during that time?
I decided to self-publish because I finally came to the realisation that despite the rejections from the agents and the publisher I had a decent novel and it was absolutely useless it being confined to the depths of my computer. I want people to read it. Self-publishing is a very reputable option nowadays and one that has given lots of authors the opportunity to share their books, and readers the chance to read books that a few years ago may never have seen the light of day.
The one major change that The Butterfly Storm went through was on the advice of an editor at a publishers who suggested cutting the flashback chapters that were originally threaded throughout the book and telling the story in chronological order starting at the point that Sophie first leaves the UK for a new life in Greece. This suggestion was one that made complete sense but one that required a complete rewrite. Chapters were discarded and new ones were written but the result was a far stronger novel. It may have taken nine years for The Butterfly Storm to be published but it wasn’t wasted time as I learnt so much and definitely improved as a writer during those years.
You’ve said one of the hardest things to do with the process was to do the rewrites on the advice of professional editors. Can you give us some advice on how to prepare for the editing process – and come through it in one piece?
Yes, don’t panic! It can seem like a huge job, particularly when major changes such as the ones I made to The Butterfly Storm are involved. The way I approached it was to break the novel down chapter by chapter and make a plan of what chapters were to be cut, what needed to be rewritten, how many new chapters were required and what order they all needed to go in. My biggest piece of advice to do with the editing process is to leave the novel alone for as long as you can possibly bear – I’m talking months rather than weeks (and definitely not days) – because when you do look at it again you’ll be able to do so with a fresh pair of eyes. The longer you go without reading or tinkering with it the more objective you can be when it comes to editing it. I actually like editing and think it can be one of the most rewarding parts of writing a novel when you finally see the book coming together.
I’m so glad you did believe in The Butterfly Storm and completed your journey to publication because the finished product is quite beautiful. If you could give a word of encouragement to other writers based on what you’ve learned, what would it be?
To persevere. When you get knocked down, which is unfortunately inevitable as it comes with the territory of writing, pick yourself back up, turn on your computer and let those fingers work their magic. Writing is not easy but it is also so incredibly rewarding when someone tells you that they loved your novel.
Thanks so much Kate, that’s great advice and I’m hugely encouraged by your example! I would thoroughly recommend The Butterfly Storm and suggest you all rush off to to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk to get your own copy. Click here to visit Kate’s blog, and follow her on twitter @Kactus77.