New Writer on the Page: Charlie-Anne Butterworth

Originally from Dagenham, Charlie-Anne Butterworth is studying Creative Writing at Roehampton University. Now in her third and final year, Charlie won a place in 'The Unseen' anthology (Fincham Press, Dec 2017) and won 'The Editor's Choice' Award.

HJ: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what led you to studying Creative Writing at Roehampton.

CAB: I'm Charlie-Anne Butterworth, a twenty-year-old speculative and science fiction writer Dagenham. I'd heard good things about Roehampton's Creative Writing course and it wasn't too far from home, so I went for it.

HJ: Has writing always been something you wanted to pursue?

CAB: Always always always. I've always been picking up books wherever I could: charity shops, boot sales, the literal ground. Me and mum didn't have a lot but it made me resourceful and creative, so escapism through reading and making up my own stories was a big deal for me. I did have a puzzle box when I was really young, where you had to put 5 pieces together to form a little story. The pieces had these different categories: protagonists, vehicles, antagonists, settings and actions. Once I jammed all of the pieces together to make a like a snake because I'd made all of the possible five piece combinations. Then I started making my own pieces and I guess I haven't stopped making stories since.

HJ: What was it like performing your work for the first time on stage?

CAB: I was absolutely terrified. I'd never been to a soirée or anything fancy like that before and I was really pushing my comfort zone. I wore this silky dress and high heels that I couldn't walk in! In hindsight I definitely grew from the experience though. It's a good thing to have on your belt, I really felt like a proper writer. And y'know, the Editor's Choice Award was an added bonus - free notebook!

HJ: What was the piece about and what inspired you to write it?

CAB: My piece 'Rachel' is the short story I wrote for my Writing Short Stories module in second year. It's a lite sci-fi about a sheriff who want to leave her tiny desert town, run away from her responsibilities. But, of course, a monster-related hiccup gets in her way. I wrote the piece whilst I was living in a dank, mouldy room flat and was desperate to write something set faraway to distract me from that fact: the Nevada desert. Being a British girl who’s never been to the States, it was the obvious choice haha. But I will get there someday, I swear. I'm fascinated by the open space and all of those stars you can see in the night sky. Not like the five you see when you look up at night in London. So I started reading Proulx, researching Area 51 and started to explore.

HJ: Have you always been more of a fiction writer or a poet or been drawn to any other medium?

Fiction goes all the way to my core. I think we all wrote some angsty poetry growing up, I'm certainly not an exception, and I'm not a bad poet. But prose has always connected with me more, it clicks. I do also enjoy screenwriting though, and I'd love to adapt some of my prose into short films.

HJ: Who are your favourite writers and what is it you like about them?

CAB: Neil Gaiman. Everybody loves Neil Gaiman. He’s such a sweet guy!

HJ: And married to Amanda Palmer!

CAB: They are both the coolest! Life goals!

HJ: I always listen to ‘In My Mind’ when I’m not feeling happy. It just helps lift me out of it. Anyway, who else?

Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood and Poppy Z Brite. Female writers are everything to me. I almost always use female protagonists, it adds layers to a character immediately. It's my way of chipping away at the inequity in the industry. I've already had my fair share of discrimination because of my gender and my accent - imagine if we judged all writers by how they speak! There's an enormous strength in their work, it's no nonsense and doesn't hold back on the social commentary. I really hope I can bring all of that to the next generation of novelists and go further, keep pushing boundaries.

Don DeLillo too, I love his prose. It is simple but beautiful. I would love to write like that. I’m not a big fan of pretentious writing. I like it to be simple, direct, and accessible for everyone and all readers, but still have it being sophisticated, which is a balance I really want to learn. I studied a lot of his work. Stephen King too, your big boys basically.

HJ: Is it the science fiction and fantasy genre you’ve always been driven too?

CAB: Yeah, I’ve always loved watching Star Wars and all that rubbish hah!

HJ: [Laughter] it wasn’t rubbish! I was brought up playing with Darth Vader and Barbie dolls! What is it about Star Wars particularly you like?

CAB: I don’t know, there is quite a bit of nostalgia, as I am a little bit younger and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

HJ: So what is it about sci-fi that draws you too it? This it that escapism again? Of going somewhere you don’t know?

CAB: Yeah I like the idea of drawing ideas from existing scientific methods and possibilities, then writing about them. I really just like that idea of having an impact on the world. Even if it is fiction. But to read a book and be inspired by it, it could affect the whole world.

HJ: So of course right now you are doing your Novel Writing module, what would you say has been your favourite module during your degree course?

CAB: So far it is Novel Writing, because it has taught me all about the things I didn’t know and need to think about. It is a lot, but now I feel like I can do this, I have the map to actual sit down and write a novel. It is just the sitting down and doing it now! So finally after the three year journey, I feel like I’ve finally getting there, having worked up from flash fiction to short stories and now finally getting to the juicy bits.

HJ: You’ve ascended to Noveldom! Do you have any writing rituals as such, things you have to put in place so you feel like you can write? Or are you very much a ‘sit down and let’s get on with it’ kind of person? Tea, vodka, that kind of thing?

CAB: I tend to do the rituals and then never get the writing done, then write at the most random moments when I’m not thinking about it. I’ll be awake at 3 a.m. and I’ll be like ‘I feel like writing about ten pages’ and then I’ll just wiz it out. When I make a coffee and just sit down, I’m like ‘Uuuuh’. I’m still a bit erratic in that. I’m trying to get a system and is working a little bit, but I’m still a bit of a crazy woman and not at all reliable in my timetable. But it gets done! It may be five in the morning but it gets done!

HJ: And do those tend to be preconceived ideas or are they random things?

CAB: Usually I’ll see a line in a song or an article, and I’ll really want to write about it. It will all start clicking into place and I’ll look at more stuff online, then I can write a story once I have the bones of a little narrative.

HJ: And do you find with what you write that it takes seven drafts or do you get it quite spot on that first time and then it’s just refining it.

CAB: I’m a perfectionist, so I do struggle writing the first draft and not editing it as I write it. I probably do several drafts, probably not as much as I should! But I find it really hard to finish the first draft and go on to the next bit or just leave it, I’ll be like ‘oh that bit needs to be changed, now that bit needs to be changed’. I am a pain basically!

HJ: Was your story the first thing you have had published?

CAB: Yes it was the first thing.

HJ: And how do that feel?

CAB: It felt really good. When I got the copy of the book it felt really, really nice. Just to see your little name in the paper, it felt really surreal, especially after you’ve been writing for three years and spent all this money and time. It is three years of your life, a degree, and you finally feel like you did it.

HJ: So you are now in your third year, what is next?

CAB: I want to do a Masters but I want to do a gap year, as I want a break from studying. I do want to work on my writing, get a job and save up for my Masters, because I want to do it in Edinburgh and get out of London for a while. I want to live in Edinburgh forever! It has all the culture of London with the serenity of being by the seaside, it’s just the perfect mix for me. Hopefully in my gap year I’ll finish my book, if not before that and try to get it published. I’m half-way through the novel at the moment and I am excited to try to get it out there. I am a perfectionist, so it has to be perfect, so who knows when it’ll actually be done. I’d like to get more stuff published and out there.

HJ: What’s the most terrifying thing for you once that novel, or any piece of work, is done?

CAB: That no one is going to publish it. I’ve been working so hard and reading all the novel writing books in the library, because I want it to be perfect.

HJ: Is the novel also science fiction?

CAB: It is speculative fiction. It is very Margaret Atwood ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

HJ: Can I ask what it is about? Or is it a bit early to be asking those kind of questions, as it is still being written?

CAB: It’s about a modern day woman, who is having to navigate and struggle with depression, while a string of mass suicides start happening across the world. I thought if I could write about that I could write about anything. It is an exploration of those ideas.

HJ: Do you think it’s going to be a brick of a book or a little one?

CAB: I hope it isn’t a brick! I think it will be a middle, about four-hundred pages. I say that and it will end up being a thousand pages.

HJ: How have you found the workshop aspect of class and working in groups, giving feedback etc?

CAB: It’s been really nice. It took a while to find people who knew what your style was and didn’t edit...not the wrong things...but looked at what you needed to change. I have a really good core group of people I trust and who I will keep in touch with for years, because they give good advice. I didn’t like the workshops at first, because I was really shy and bad confidence. But now I know what I want, I know what I’m doing and I have these people I can trust to read it.

HJ: Does the process of writing, whether it is 3 a.m. in the morning or in a class, do you find it generally excites you or exhausts you?

CAB: Both! It starts getting exhausting when you get stuck on something and you can’t find a way out of it. Sometimes I’ll find I can’t write dialogue and I’ll get stuck on this one conversation forever. Then I’ll be like ‘wait dialogue is easy so why am I getting hung up on this?’ It’s just about working through and pushing through the lack of confidence, which is the exhausting part. The excitement of once you’ve got it all down, there is nothing that I like more. There is nothing like that small window of time when you’ve got it all down.