UK author Lisa Heathfield stops by the blog to talk about Carnegie Medal-nominee Paper Butterflies, which was released in the US on October 1.
Q&A with author Lisa Heathfield
First, tell us a little about yourself!
I live in Brighton, a beautiful city on the south coast of England, with my husband, our three sons, and our cats. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading and writing–I think I was born with a book in one hand and a pen in the other! I love swimming in the sea–even in the snow–and singing in my gospel choir.
How did you start writing?
I have always being scribbling away and knew that I wanted to write a book. A friend suggested that I write 500 words as a New Year’s resolution, so I stuck to that and before I knew it, I had a novel!
What inspired Paper Butterflies?
I was writing another book when June walked into my home and asked me to write her story instead. She was as clear to me as if she was a living, breathing person. And she was very persistent!
Eventually I told her that I’d write her first page (as a sort-of pact that I would one day write her story), but that I had to finish the book I was working on. June was quieter for a while, but she didn’t go away. I spoke to my editor about her and she said that this was the book I had to write. I picked up my pen straight after that phone-call and within four weeks the first draft of Paper Butterflies was finished.
How does the title relate to the novel?
June has a really difficult life and suffers unimaginable cruelty. Her only escape is the time she spends with Blister–a boy she meets in a field of run-down trailers. He loves origami, which is where the Paper part comes from. And June is like a butterfly–she transforms her life against the odds. In time she learns that she is beautiful and strong and though she feels trapped, there’s a chance for her to fly to freedom.
Paper Butterflies has been called “heartbreaking” and “the antithesis of cheerful summer romance.” Your debut novel, Seed, features a teenager who grew up in a cult. What drives you to write about such difficult subjects, and why do you think YA readers have responded so positively?
I used to love reading dark books as a teenager. I still do! And I absolutely loved writing Paper Butterflies–spending so much time with June, even though it did break me emotionally. I cried so much when I was writing it, not only for June, but for other people in her circumstances. There’s something fascinating and terrifying that behind a perfect-looking front door, horrors can be unfolding.
I suppose that Seed also has a similar theme. The place where the cult is based is beautiful on the surface, yet there’s an undercurrent of darkness just waiting beneath.
I think readers, both adults and teens, have responded so positively as my books are traumatic, but reading itself helps you experience difficult things from a place of relative safety. I also know that some people can unfortunately relate to the situations in my books–I’ve received harrowing messages from people who have suffered and can relate to June.
Ultimately, I think that people like the fact that Paper Butterflies isn’t just about heartbreak – there’s a lot of love and hope in there too!