I had quite a few questions after reading Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield so here’s a VERY spoiler-filled Q&A. If you want to read my review of Paper Butterflies first, you can find it here: https://jassyfizzle.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/book-review-paper-butterflies/
1. What inspired you to write Paper Butterflies?
I watched a documentary by Trevor McDonald a couple of years ago from a prison in America – the longest serving female prisoner had a story very similar to June’s and it really stuck with me.
2. Is it set in America and if so, why?
It had to be set in America rather then England because they still have the death penalty – so yes, it’s set in Texas.
3. Did you find it hard to write about June’s abuse so convincingly?
I found the whole story difficult to write as June was so real to me and it was awful seeing her treated like that. The most heartbreaking bit for me to write, though, was when she said goodbye to Blister. I was a bit inconsolable then!
4. Did you have to research the type of abuse that June received?
Much of June’s abuse finds its roots in things I’ve heard, or seen on tele over the years. Kathleen forcing June to drink and not letting her use the loo comes from a friend of mine who was bullied at school for supposedly smelling of wee. The cruelty of those friends has stayed with her forever. I think the dog food came from when a friend of mine bit someone in primary school and the teacher made her sit under the table because she was behaving like a dog. In the first few drafts, the ice cubes forced down June’s throat was a frozen spoon – this was lifted from a horrific tale of abuse I’d read about in the papers a few years ago.
5. Did you always plan to write in a before and after style?
Yes, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ was there from the beginning – the big difference being that initially the ‘twist’ was out in the open, so the ‘after’ sections made it very clear what had happened. It was challenging to re-write them so that they gave nothing away.
6. Was it an emotionally challenging book to write?
Yes, it was a very emotionally draining book to write – it really took it out of me! Not only because I was so wrapped up in June’s story, but also because of the research I had to do for the latter part of the book. I wrote the first draft in just under a month – it totally took me over.
7. Was the ending in the book always the ending you had in mind or did you play around with any alternatives?
The ending changed many times! In the first draft, June died. But my agent phoned me one day and said she was losing sleep with worry that we just couldn’t make that happen. Then I re-wrote it with June getting free, but it was too ‘Hollywood’. The ending as it is now is the right option, I think. And it really does happen – people can get a stay of execution right up until the last second. It’s also true that people with less money really don’t get the representation needed to help clear their name. Innocent people have been put to death – some of them very young.
Blister’s note took me AGES to write. It was so difficult to get right!
Huge thanks to Lisa for answering my questions!