Like any author I have always loved to read, but unlike many children I never went for the escapism of fantasy. Even as a young girl I wanted to read about real lives and real trauma, the darker the better! And still today it is the books that make me weep that I tend to rate and remember. In fact, my mother recently asked me if I was trying to tell her something as all the novels I was passing on were about dysfunctional family relationships – specifically between mother and daughter! I hope I reassured her by saying that I was lucky to have had a happy and uncomplicated childhood, but that it made me all the more interested in those who don’t. It is the skeletons in the cupboard, the webs of deceit and contention often simmering beneath the surface of the normal seeming families, like my own, that make for wonderfully compelling fodder to read and write about.
I studied English Literature at University and whilst my contemporaries were stuck in science labs or lecture halls I spent most of my days in bed with a book. It was heaven! I never dared to dream about writing for a living back then and instead was wooed by the glamour of TV Production when I graduated. But whilst life on location was great fun it just didn’t scratch that creative itch. Nor unsurprisingly did motherhood, though it scratched many others. And so after my fourth child I enrolled on a creative writing course. It was terrifying, on day one we were asked what piece of writing we were most proud of and there wasn’t a single thing that came to mind, I had to make something up! But within a few hours of the first session that itch was finally being scratched and within a few weeks my first novel The Butterfly Garden began to evolve.
There were three things I knew I wanted to write about and my challenge was configuring a story which would envelope them all. Motherhood was the first, having dominated my life for over a decade. My journey had begun with the birth of my first child just days before Madeleine McCann disappeared. I had haemorrhaged after giving birth and still reeling from my near-death experience I watched the horrendous tragedy play out as I cradled my baby in my arms. And my reaction was so primal, so visceral, so new. It was every mother’s worst nightmare, and one that came back to haunt me again and again in the years that followed, when I too was tempted to leave my children unguarded in exchange for a moment’s reprieve. But was always reminded by that dark story that had since become a media phenomenon, that a moment’s lapse is all it takes.
And the second was blame. Inspired by one of my favourite books Atonement by Ian McEwan, in which a child’s naïve misunderstanding of a situation has catastrophic consequences for so many. I wanted to explore the concept of blame and whether you can attribute it to a child who is still ultimately the responsibility of their parent. And to test the limits of a mother’s love and what happens when it comes into conflict with another child who she is also genetically programmed to protect.
And the setting of Cornwall and Costa Rica was the third. I love to travel and have always been drawn towards books set in weird and wonderful locations. The sense of place in a book is vital to its integrity for me, it is like one of the characters in the story and needs to be crafted and nurtured as such. I was lucky enough to spend time in both Cornwall and Costa Rica whilst writing The Butterfly Garden. And it is no coincidence that they are both relatively thin strips of land flanked by long beautiful coastlines. There is something incredibly humbling and inspiring about large expanses of water. Whether it is a tropical beach in Costa Rica with its turquoise waters and screeching rainforest or the wild thrashing sea on a winters day in Cornwall, you feel utterly at the mercy of the elements when standing on the edge of the ocean.
I live near the sea but cannot see it from my desk unfortunately, though there is a view of my garden and green hills beyond and I find being immersed in nature helps with the creative process. This was not always the case however, I started writing my novel in a windowless, freezing and mildewed shed at the bottom of the garden, where I had to escape in order to steal fleeting moments of peace away from my one year old. And it took me nearly four years to write, juggling young kids and my writing course, still learning the craft as I went along.
Now I no longer have to retreat to the shed as the kids are all at school and I can write in the warmth of my own house. And I have recently written my second novel in a matter of months rather than years. Working with the pressure of a tight deadline and the threat of lockdown and home-schooling at any given moment being a brilliantly motivating combination! And every day I have to pinch myself that my book is actually going to be published and I can say with a straight face that I am an author and my dream really has come true!
(c) Sophie Anderson
About The Butterfly Garden:
I blamed my son for the death of my daughter…
When twenty-five-year-old Erin flees London for Cornwall and takes a job at Hookes End, a huge house clinging precariously to the Cornish cliffs, all she knows about it are the stories people tell. The owner, reclusive novelist and butterfly enthusiast Maggie, has kept the curtains of her dusty house drawn for many years. But now she is dying, and Erin, seeing the shadows that cross Maggie’s face, wants to help in any way she can.
Years ago, Maggie’s only son Lucas ran away to the other side of the world and the searing heat of the Costa Rican jungle. Maggie is desperate to see Lucas again – there is something she needs him to know.
Erin wants to help Maggie find peace. But when she travels to the warm white sands and tropical butterfly gardens of Costa Rica to find Lucas, it becomes very clear that he is hiding something too.
As Erin unravels the webs of deceit entangling mother and son, she learns about the terrible tragedy that changed their lives forever: the night when a little girl in a fairy nightdress went missing. But with Maggie’s time fast running out, is it too late for them to find the forgiveness they need to move on?
A heart-wrenching page-turner about a family ripped apart by guilt and lies. Set against the storms of the Cornish coast and the silvery sands of Costa Rica, The Butterfly Garden is a story of love, loss and letting go. Fans of Jojo Moyes, Harriet Evans and Lucinda Riley will be gripped.
Order your copy online here.