Q and As for The Butterfly Room
1. Much of the story is set in Southwold, Suffolk. Do you have a personal connection to the town, or is there something else that inspired you to write about it?
I’ve always loved Southwold and spent summers there with my children, crabbing just like Posy does with Clementine. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with its iconic beach huts along the shore, and it has a fascinating history. During my research, I listened to recorded interviews with people who had lived there during World War Two, and I wanted to explore how such an idyllic place had been affected by war.
2. Admiral House is almost a character of its own in the story. Is it based on a house that you’ve been to?
It is an amalgamation of all of my favourite houses I’ve seen in my life – really, I was living vicariously through Posy! The Folly in particular is such an interesting aspect of British country estates, such a whimsical bit of architecture, the perfect fairy-tale tower for young Posy to be drawn to.
3. We follow Posy from childhood to retirement – which phase of her life did you most enjoy writing about?
I loved writing all the phases of her life – I began by writing about Posy at the age of sixty-nine, then went back to her childhood years. As she grows older, I tried to keep hold of her child-like innocence and fascination with the natural world, as well as her hero-worship of her father. Perhaps the Posy ‘voice’ that came to me most naturally was that of eight-year-old Posy: far too precocious for her age, bewildered by the actions of the adults around her, and drawn to beauty and warmth.
4. Freddie and Posy’s love spans decades. Do you believe there is such a thing as ‘the One’ for every person?
I definitely believe in true love, although I think there is more than ‘One’ for each of us – and timing is everything, of course. You can meet ‘the One’ and it could be the completely wrong time of your life. In Posy’s case, meeting Freddie at a later age was serendipitous – and it was also at a time in her life when she could cope with discovering the truth about what tore them apart to begin with.
5. Gardening and Posy’s work at Kew are central threads of the story. Are you a keen gardener yourself or is there another reason why you decided to include these themes?
I adore gardens – they are a quintessential part of British life, and I have previously written about the great English gardens of Beatrix Potter and Vita Sackville-West in ‘The Shadow Sister’. However, I must admit, my thumb isn’t as green as I would like it to be, and I am very grateful to all those who helped me in my gardening research!
Botanical illustrations have always fascinated me not only for their preciseness but also for their beauty and artistry. I’ve visited Kew Gardens often as a child and as an adult, and all the scientific work that occurs behind the scenes is often overlooked. The staff at Kew are dedicated to cataloguing the flora of the world, preserving it for future generations and to sharing knowledge. It was the perfect place for Posy to work.
6. Both Tammy and Sebastian begin the book as outsiders, but then become a part of the Montague family. What does ‘family’ mean to you and how did that influence your writing in ‘The Butterfly Room’?
Nowadays, we are over the idea that so-called ‘nuclear families’ are the only true families – ‘patch-work’ families have become the new normal. I have written about unusual family structures before, most notably in the Seven Sisters series, where an elusive millionaire adopts six baby girls from all over the world to create a loving family. To me, families are not bound by blood, but by love.
7. Amy deals with some severe domestic abuse. How did you approach writing these scenes?
These scenes were very difficult for me to write because I loved Amy as a character and I didn’t want her to come to any harm. I approached the scene with the full knowledge that domestic abuse affects 1 in 4 women in the UK, and also 1 in 6 men, and that many more victims are too afraid to speak up. Amy’s journey to becoming confident enough to leave an abusive relationship depended not only on her own resolve, but on the help of the people around her.
8. Family secrets are at the heart of the book. Do you think keeping secrets in order to protect someone is good, or do you think the truth should be revealed no matter what?
It is very difficult to attach morality to something so dependent on context. In life, things are never fully ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the universe is simply too complex for that. In ‘The Butterfly Room’ it is interesting to think about how different Posy’s life would have been if she had known the truth from the very beginning, and as an author, playing these games of ‘what-if’ are at the heart of plotting out a book. In real life however, would I prefer it if people kept the truth from me to protect me? Perhaps I would. Would you?
9. Was the writing process of ‘The Butterfly Room’ different to your other books?
‘The Butterfly Room’ began its life as a manuscript I wrote almost ten years ago called ‘Red Admiral’.
I decided to revisit it after finishing ‘The Moon Sister’ in 2018. At first I thought it would be a ‘light’ summer project – something to take my mind off the more challenging Seven Sisters series. However, as ‘The Butterfly Room’ developed, I found myself rewriting the entire manuscript, adding and deleting characters and plotlines. Since writing the initial manuscript, I realized I had grown a great deal as an author, and many of the characters gained more depth and complexity.
10. What would you like most for readers to take away from ‘The Butterfly Room’?
That love can come at any point in your life, and that your home isn’t a place, it is your family and the people you care about.
11. Are you working on anything else at the moment and can we expect more standalone novels in the future?
For the moment, I am focusing completely on the Seven Sisters series and have just finished Book 6, ‘The Sun Sister’, which is all about the youngest sister, Electra. She is very different to Tiggy in ‘The Moon Sister’. For this book, I carried out extensive research in Kenya into the infamous ‘Happy Valley’ set and the proud Maasai tribe. Electra is a supermodel in New York and seems to have everything, yet beneath the veneer, her tenuous control over her state of mind is rocked by the death of her father, Pa Salt. Through her grandmother, Electra learns about Celia Huntley-Washington, a young woman from New York, who arrives in Kenya in 1939 when the world is at the brink of war.