An Interview with E. L. Croucher, author of The Butterfly on Fire: Mind, Body and Soul
Tell us a little bit about the book to start with.
I describe it as a fantasy / fiction novel, because there is a clearly defined fantasy narrative, whilst the others are a modern-day, fiction narrative. It follows three lives through certain challenges, like most novels, but it all comes together in a twist that (hopefully) the reader won’t expect.
Now tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a 25 year old woman working in London. I grew up here, but also worked and studied in Japan for a while. I’m actually a Japanese translator by day, indie novelist by night. I started writing The Butterfly on Fire because I had something important to say, and I wanted to write about it. I am a part of the LGBT community, and so the main theme of the novel is about that, basically. At first I never even imagined I would finish a complete draft, but step by step I kept at it, and here I am.
So, is the book basically just about you?
Yes and no. Certain scenes and parts of the storyline are based on what has happened in my life. Even some characters are based on real people. But it is no way just an auto-biographical novel. Thanks also to my editor, it’s developed into its very own little world. Literally in the fantasy chapters. Each character has been developed to how I wanted them, so it’s not as simple as it being ‘about me’.
What made you think of the three narrative based structure?
Without giving too much away, it kind of developed itself. I had three ‘voices’ that I wanted to represent. Each one of those affiliates to a part of a person. One being the body, one about the mind and the fantasy chapters are the soul. It all just grew from there, really.
Who is your favourite character within the novel?
Really? Am I allowed to even choose as the author? Although, I can imagine most authors would choose their protagonist, but for me that would be slightly strange as it’s based on me. So in fact, I would go with the love interest of the fantasy chapters. Prince Hikaru. Hikaru means light in Japanese, so he’s a real stereotypical, male ‘hero’ character. What I’ve also tried to do though, is modernise the out-dated hero / heroine narrative, and play with what it means to be a ‘hero’ when your lover is a powerful, magical Queen.
Would you have done anything differently, now it’s all finished?
I think anyone would. But generally in life I try and live in the moment and not look back on what I could have done. Sure, some chapters are probably more exciting than others. Some characters could have been developed more. All I am confident in is that the novel tells the message that I want to tell extremely clearly. You wouldn’t be able to read it fully and not see what I’m trying to bring to the table. For me, that is the most important thing. I’m happy with that.
What was the most difficult part of creating the novel?
I think finishing the first draft is where most people give up. Once I had a full blown draft with chapters and everything I felt like half the battle was done. Going into editing with P Goulding was such an exciting step, and it made it all so much more real. It began to come alive with each chapter we went through together. It was so worth completing the first draft to get to that stage.
Who do you feel the book is meant for?
It’s an LGBT novel, so the community and all of its lovely people. As an extension to that, I think the parents and siblings of an LGBT person would be able to relate to it as well. To be honest, any person that loves an empowering story and a bit of a tear-jerker would love The Butterfly on Fire. That is parallel to a wonderfully different fantasy narrative that really bounces off of the modern fiction element. Anyone that likes LGBT stories and fantasy then, perhaps?
What other influences helped towards writing TBOF?
Japan was a huge one. There are elements of the Japanese culture and language scattered neatly throughout The Butterfly on Fire. Queen Fubuki does some of her spells in Japanese. The main characters of the modern-day, fictional narrative go for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Japan has been a powerful and consistent part of my life, so it would naturally be the same in a novel that I create.
Wiccanism is another one. I have always been a spiritual person, since I was young. I have tried to stay faithful to the lore and add a sense of realism to the fantasy side of things by having real Wiccan terminology and acts.
Lastly, I would be a liar if I said my previous boyfriends and fiancés didn’t play their part as well! Lol
How is the publishing process going so far?
So far it’s been a whirlwind of excitement! We are getting some fantastic reviews on our Amazon page, as people are starting to naturally finish the book now. It’s early days because its only been two months since self-publishing The Butterfly on Fire, but we are off to a great start! I couldn’t be happier!
Tell us in 10 words why you think people should read this novel?
It will change how you view a certain minority (hopefully).
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
The Butterfly on Fire is definitely linked, in some ways, to a draft I started a couple of years ago for what would have been called Serendipity. It was similar in its narrative structure; in that it followed the stories of a few different lives and linked them all up together at the end. I think what stopped me from completing that old draft was the fact that I was trying too hard and ended up making it all too complicated. That, and of course the fact that I hadn’t progressed through my own personal story, and therein didn’t have the same motivation at that point. Once I realised exactly what I wanted to write about and cleared up in my head what message I wanted to send out into the world, it all fell effortlessly into place. I used the older draft as a kind of reference, and some characters are in their in one way or another, but The Butterfly on Fire sort of grew its own pair of wings and really took off by itself (pun instead!).
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
As above, I am someone who needs to let the idea percolate and I cannot write without motivation. Some of the readers of this debut novel have asked “when is book two coming out? I need to know what happens!?” Unfortunately, I just have no idea. I know I will write a sequel, but until the ideas and the emotions start to flow in the right directions, I don’t feel as comfortable writing. I think a large part of that comes from my protagonist and main characters channelling my inner voice, depending on what different aspect of that character matches my personality.
I admire those who can just start writing without years of pretext, and hope to one day be able to do the same!
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
I wrote a large proportion of The Butterfly on Fire at my ex-boyfriend’s house, so I can imagine how problematic it would be to not be able to write anywhere else! Ouch! Sunday mornings would be filled with cups of tea, comedy programmes in the background and the sound of my keyboard clattering away.
The other main location that I found inspiration (and time) to write was on my two hour commute to and from work. That train and bus journey was great for getting out the thoughts and feelings that I had gathered through the day into the book.
Yes, as mentioned above my medium of writing was my small laptop. But that’s not to say I didn’t have tons and tons of paper notes, drawings and hand-drawn maps! In fact, by the time I started editing the novel with P Goulding I had to carry around a full blown A4 folder with all my notes as well.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
In my case I was particularly lucky. I started The Butterfly on Fire whilst I was working at a legal translation company in central London. Within that company there was a proofreading department, and so I approached the lovely P Goulding with my novel when it was about three quarters of the way done. I asked her to give it a read, and if she liked it then would she mind editing it? She ended up becoming a virtual business partner! We then worked together to send specific sections to certain people; friends and friends of friends, when it was ready to be read by the world. One of the main goals we had was to send specific parts to random people (that don’t know me or my story) to see at what point they “worked out” the main part of the narrative. It was great to get feedback from a range of people, as it really brought the book to life. Overall, having a true friend help me edit The Butterfly on Fire will be one of my fondest memories in this entire process.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
My heart is truly torn with this question. On the one hand, I am a millennial. We breathe technology, and I cannot deny the convenience of having a book I want to read on any device, instantly. It’s just so easy! Life should be easy, right?
But then again, nothing beats the smell of a good book. As an indie writer who is self-published, it is a huge honour to have a physical copy of my very own novel. Every time I see it, I just smile! Technology will overtake and outdate many things, but I think the paperback will be on this planet for as long as the human race is.
So I will have to answer this very carefully! I do buy ebooks, and enjoy the ease of reading on my commute. However, nothing will ever get me to digitalise that old copy of Harry Potter that I use to sleep with under my pillow when I was a child.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and do you have a favourite author who sticks in your mind from:
- childhood? J. K. Rowling
- adolescence? Cate Tiernan
- young adult? George R. R. Martin
- adult? Still George R. R. Martin (It’s a long series!)
Judging from the above I guess you could surmise that I too only buy fantasy novels. As much as that’s not my intention, the evidence says otherwise! I guess for me, a large part of why I love reading and writer is the escapology. More specifically the ability to be something other than myself and almost pretend to “be” the character I’m reading about. I would be Hermione Granger, or I would be Daenerys Targaryen.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. The more I think about it, the more I hate it! What do you do?
Again, as a millennial, social media is a necessary evil that we are all brought up with. I admire those people who actively choose against things like Facebook. It must be annoying every time someone asks for your Facebook details!
For me, I have a website, and use Facebook, Instagram (@thebutterflyonfire) and Twitter (@TBOFmbs) to try and promote it. I’m now also on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35127753-the-butterfly-on-fire), but I’m keeping that in its own bubble for now. I manage them myself and do what I can to keep the pages alive. As a self-published author it’s fully up to me to market the novel, so I have to use social media for that. Whilst this can take a lot of time, I like that I get to keep control of the marketing of this book by doing it myself; as it’s such a personal story that I wouldn’t want to give the work over to someone else.
I spend a good two to three hours a day on checking notifications, coming up with new content and sharing the process of my novel out into the world. Sometimes I spend money on advertising and sometimes I just use word of mouth to get the novel out there as well.
I hope that my social networking is helping towards getting The Butterfly on Fire known in the world, and if not then I need to re-think what to do going forward!
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
I personally try to answer every question in the state of mind and emotions that I’m feeling at that time. I’m a true believer in the notion that everything happens for a reason. So, things that happen may change how we feel, and I see within myself very frequently that I feel differently about things as I get older. This is all coming from the 25 year old me though, and as time goes on I may just rely on the copy and paste buttons when I have toddlers running around and dinner to cook!