November 2014 Club
Surrounded by Water
Elizabeth and Mike appear to have the perfect marriage on the surface – they met in Australia and she moved to the small community of Throckton in the north of England to settle with him. They don’t have any children, but they do have a much loved dog, a small set of good friends, many holidays and jobs they’re content with.
Mike is a respected police officer with heroic tendencies, so when he drowns while rescuing a young girl from the local lake, Elizabeth and the rest of the town, assume that he had bravely sacrificed his own life to rescue a stranger.
But darker secrets lurk in the depths of their marriage that only emerge after Mike’s death.
Much of Stephanie Butland’s first novel takes the form of letters written by Elizabeth to her dead husband. Submerged and drowning in a sea of raw grief, Elizabeth sinks into a mire of depression that even her sister is unable to drag her up from.
Like Mike’s mother, she refuses to accept that Mike was less than perfect despite evidence to the contrary which gradually reveals itself throughout the novel and which suggests that she didn’t really know Mike at all.
The question which niggles the reader throughout is: Can we really, truly know a spouse?
For both colourways, although I could have chosen the pastel options scattered throughout the book, I wanted to convey the author’s portrayal of the depths of water paralleled with the depths of the mind.
The semi-solid colourway is triple-dyed darkest blue on the silky Selkino yarn base which suits the watery theme.
Bottom of the Pond
For the variegated colourway, I randomly dyed the dark blue with granite grey, purple and green to give subtle reflection-like colour transitions. The water in the lake is referred to as “grey-purple sullen water”
It’s my own interpretation of Elizabeth’s words when she says she is no longer able to think in words, but only in colours; “Blood red, filthy orange, mud and earth and winter water”. They could just about have worked on the yarn base, but perhaps would not have been as aesthetically pleasing.
The author, Stephanie Butland, is an avid knitter (there are hints in the book!) and kindly agreed to a little interview, exclusive to the club. If you haven’t yet read the book and want to get your hands on a signed, dedicated copy for £10 plus postage at cost, you can contact Stephanie at email@example.com.
How long have you been a writer and can you tell us a little about how you got into it?
Well, I think in my heart I've always been a writer. I loved and studied English, and I wrote a novel when I was in my early thirties. It wasn't very good and I got a bit disheartened, and at the same time my other career (as a trainer) took off. Then in 2008 when I was 37 and diagnosed with breast cancer, I started blogging, and I remembered just how much I love writing. It all went from there, really. I've written two memoirs about my dance with cancer and this is my first novel.
How did you come up with the idea for the story and did you have the entire plot worked out before you started writing?
I started with the idea of a comic novel about a committee. I had the beginnings of the plot worked out, and I wrote about 20,000 words before I realised that, if Elizabeth's letters were to be part of the book, then this wasn't going to be a comedy. (Interestingly, my publisher has decided that when 'Surrounded By Water' comes out in paperback it will be called 'Letters To My Husband'.) I tend to start with characters and a rough idea, then after about 30,000 words I try to make sense of what's there and turn it into a book.
Your portrayal of Elizabeth’s grief is so raw and heartfelt. Did you base the characters on any real life experience of grief?
Yes and no. I haven't experienced the loss of a partner in the way that Elizabeth has, but like anyone who loves, I do fear it.
What sort of hours do you work through the day? Are you an early riser? What's the best time of day for you to write?
I like to write in the morning. My alarm goes off at 6.30 and I write 1,000 words (my daily target) before breakfast. Anything after that is a bonus....
There's a long period before the writing, of thinking and researching and reading and talking to people, and that's pretty much a 24-hour-a-day obsession - you can find me by following the trail of post-it notes. And once I'm into the edit I often work a more 'standard' day - 8-4 seems to work, then it's knit o'clock!
How to you cope with the distractions of social media or do you turn them to your advantage?
I write in a studio in my garden and the wifi doesn't reach that far. If it ever does, my writing career is probably doomed! But I also find social media very helpful. Twitter and Facebook have named twins, provided surnames (as you know, having donated 'Orr' for my third novel!) found me marathon runners, midwives and doctors to advise on plot aspects, and distracted me when I hit the 'this will never ever turn itself into a book' moment.....
Can you tell us anything about your next novel?
With great pleasure. 'The Other Half Of My Heart' begins in the bakery in Throckton, the small town where 'Surrounded By Water'/ 'Letters To My Husband' is set. The bakery is run by Bettina, who is an independent businesswoman in her 30s who likes to keep herself to herself. She's having an arms-length romance with Rufus (who readers will remember from the first book) and pottering along quite happily until someone from her past shows up and reminds her what she once had, making her think about whether the decision she made in a time of crisis was really the best thing to do. It's going to be published in December 2015.