Today The Big Break welcomes debut author Paula Leyden who wrote the beautiful book 'The Butterfly Heart' which I reviewed yesterday. Click here to read the review.
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
Thank you Vivienne for inviting me, I really appreciate it. Perhaps one day I can reciprocate by interviewing you about your own book...
What did you do for a living before writing became your chosen career?
All sorts of things! I taught in Secondary schools, worked for a Rape Crisis Centre, was employed in Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, ran a human rights awareness campaign once we achieved democracy in South Africa, made submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, ran a small catering business and bred horses (which I still do).
How long did it take you to write your debut novel ‘The Butterfly Heart’?
The Butterfly Heart took me about six months to write. A lot longer to think about though.
The book is set in Zambia, where I read that you grew up. How many of your own personal experiences have you drawn upon to write this book?
I drew on a lot of my own experiences and memories of Zambia while I was writing. It is a country I have a deep affection for and hope that my book reflects that. However the book is in no way
autobiographical, it is just drawing on things like stories my dad used to tell us, memories of the people and places in Zambia, knowledge of twins through my own children and images and ideas that run through my mind. From your own description of where you’d like to live, ‘hot and sunny’, I’d say Zambia would suit you well.
Is ‘The Butterfly Heart’ your first finished manuscript, or are there others lurking in the dark?
I finished writing one book before this one, it is called All Fall Down but has not yet found a publishing home. Since then I have written a few more, two others for children (one of which is coming out next year) and two for adults. Hopefully they will all find a home one day. But if they don’t I will still have been enriched by writing them.
How long did it take you to find an agent?
I was very lucky in getting an introduction to my wonderful agent Sophie Hicks, through Siobhán Parkinson (our own Children’s Laureate). I was then even luckier in that Sophie liked my writing (I had not written Butterfly Heart then, she initially saw All Fall Down) and she took me onto the books of Ed Victor. So in my case the search did not take too long. I feel extremely privileged to be with Sophie as she is, as I say in the acknowledgements in my book, a Wonder Woman amongst agents!
How many rejection letters did you get before it was accepted?
Walker Books was among the first two publishers that Sophie approached with The Butterfly Heart and they accepted it. And in fact the other one did as well, but too late. I do have a supply of
rejection letters on my first book - but I treasure them as they are all very positive about my writing. Maybe it was to soften the blow of the rejection, but I don’t mind.
How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?
My editing process starts at home - it had been read by my children as well as by my partner and they all had suggestions. My partner, Tom O’Neill, is a writer (author of Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn MacCumhaill) and his comments and suggestions have been invaluable.
I would also always run things by Sophie as a book is in progress, and bounce ideas off her, but when it came to the final editing of this book that process mainly took place within Walker Books and I’d have to say it was a very good experience. I worked with Emma Lidbury in Walker and she is an extremely able and insightful editor, there is no doubt in my mind that she improved the book. She has a sharp eye.
What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
A chain reaction would best describe it - disbelief, followed by euphoria followed by momentary fear .... my book? Out there in the wide world? Help! But that passed and the delight has remained to this day. I still look upon it with wonder.
How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?
After the initial agreement it took about two years.
What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
There was the editing process, the cover design process, the pitching it to the sales team, the blurb – and all the bits in between! The designer was wonderful and the process on all levels within Walker was very cooperative. It is never an easy process as any writer will tell you; you hand over what you think is a perfect creation and then the tweaking begins.
How did you keep yourself occupied as you waited for publication day?
I suppose I was writing the next one, as the book deal with Walker was for two books, still minding family and horses and at different times writing other stuff. Living life, just keeping on keeping on.
How did you celebrate on publication day?
On the day it was published, 3rd March this year, I spent most of the day in the wonderful Loughboy Library in Kilkenny talking to groups of ten to twelve year olds about the book. What better way to celebrate? We also celebrated as a family – and had a book launch a week later which was brilliant.
I have written a sequel to The Butterfly Heart and that is with Walker Books now. I have also just finished a novella set on Death Row in South Africa in the eighties. Wrote it in the form of a novella as the content is pretty intense – I do not think you could (or should) sustain that level of intensity or sadness for an average length novel.
Do you write full time now?
Not always as disciplined as I should be but it is my main occupation. I do other work as well but writing is my focus.
Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
I write best early in the morning, so (when I am being disciplined) I would drop the children at school and come back home to write. Once I am settled into writing and know where I am going with it I work quite fast. But the problem perhaps with being the kind of writer who does not plan or plot meticulously is that I take myself down side streets when I write. Some of these are very productive and end up as books on their own. Others are dead ends.
What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
Everybody is different but the one piece of advice that I would give is: write. It is only through writing, writing more and then writing some more that you ever reach a point where you know where you are. Also (OK this is a second piece) be honest with yourself because it will show. Do not try to imitate, or fit into a particular genre that happens to be popular, or try to write something that does not fit with who you are. It will not ring true.
Thank you Paula for a fantastic interview. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel to The Butterfly Heart.
The Butterfly Heart is available to buy from all major book shops right now.
To find out more about Paula Leyden and her forthcoming books, please visit her at her website here.