Maureen White on The Butterfly Shell & Writing Advice

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult
The-Butterfly-Shell

By Maureen White

Getting a debut novel published is very exciting. However, it in no way makes you an expert on anything except survival maybe. So while I am in no position to give advice on writing, I have been reflecting on the advice that’s been given to me and wonder if I followed any of it in writing The Butterfly Shell.

I took a long time to write this book.  Maybe in part because I didn’t exactly follow the advice to write every day. Not that I doubt for a minute that this is good advice but am I the only one who has left the work for long stretches, as other (paid) work takes precedence and family matters change the direction of daily life in continually surprising ways? There are days I can barely organize dinner.

So it took a long time. I didn’t know that when I started, of course, but a bit like childbirth, no one can predict with accuracy how long labour will go on. Once the story takes over nothing is predictable and if you can relax your shoulders enough to accept that, it isn’t so bad. Once I put my book down for a year while my house was flooded and we had to move. And of course, I should have kept writing every day but maybe we are all different. Maybe for me it was right to put it down. And maybe the daydreaming about the story while doing the dishes should count as writing as well. I think writing every day is great advice, but I also think we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we can’t. Just write when you can. Even when it’s hard.

Of course, I also was given the marvellous advice to read, read, read – great advice because it is so easy to follow. Following it also has a possible side effect of deterring you from writing, but who cares? Reading is one of my favourite things to do, and I have no doubt that reading makes writing better. I read somewhere that if you are writing a certain genre you should avoid reading that genre until your book is finished. This sounds like crazy advice to me. What terrible thing might happen? You might steal from and be influenced by wonderful writers? I say go for it. I have been loving reading a wide variety of Young Adult fiction and there are extraordinary books being written and if I don’t allow myself to be intimidated by the sheer volume of them and wonder why I am even bothering, I find them inspiring and they actually edge me closer to following advice #1 of writing every day.

As regards genre – a writer I know gave me great advice when she said, “Don’t worry about what genre it is, just write your story.”

I didn’t start out to write a young adult novel but I did want to tell a young girl’s story and so I started. When it turned out that it was a book for kids, I was very pleased. I think children’s literature is important as we are feeding the imaginations of the next generation. But I also think it important to just write the story. Maybe it’s the reader’s job to decide who it is for.

When it comes to wondering what to write, I took great interest in something Alice Munroe said in an interview after winning the Nobel Prize.

She said: “I think any life can be interesting- I think any surrounds can be interesting.”

Most of Alice Munroe’s stories are set in small town Ontario, but it is her skill in being so specific with a sense of place that allows her work to resonate universally as well. I think place, however ordinary, is important, and I can’t imagine if I hadn’t spent time in beautiful Connemara how I could have placed Marie there at the beginning of The Butterfly Shell.  The other things – the characters, the events that happen in the book – all those are imagined but for me the place has to be real in my head.  I took comfort in Munroe’s words because it is the ordinary that I find interesting and I think worth examining.

I’m in the middle of the second book now.  No time to think about advice, I am ploughing on, and we’ll see what happens. But if anyone has any advice on how to make the second one easier, please let me know.

(c) Maureen White

About The Butterfly Shell

There are some things about me you should know.

1. I always wear my butterfly shell – even when I’m swimming or sleeping

2. I don’t cut myself anymore

3. I believe in ghosts.

I’d better start at the beginning. The beginning of First Year. Here goes …

Marie loves reading, hates Rachel and her gang, The Secret Six, and isn’t sure how she feels about Stella, who’s more than a little odd.

Between the mean girls tormenting her by day and a ghostly cry waking her at night, Marie’s first year at secondary school was far from what she had expected …

The story of a strange year and a very special shell.

The Butterfly Shell is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!

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