Q&A | SJ Butler

SJ ButlerSJ BUTLER LIVES IN EAST SUSSEX, UNITED KINGDOM. Her first published short story, ‘The Swimmer’, appeared in The Warwick Review and in Best British Short Stories 2011 (Salt Publishing, 2011). She has since had stories published in Paraxis, Litro and Untitled. As a member of the ReAuthoring project, she creates work for live literature events. She’s contributed ‘A Job Worth Doing’ to Still, a story with a sensual, almost meditative, mood.

Was it easy to select a photograph?
I didn’t think too hard when choosing – I went on instinct, but this picture appealed both because of the beauty of the wood and the freedom it gave me: anything can happen in a room with a table and a phone.

The Gentlemen's Members Room (Telephone)
The Gentlemen’s Members Room (Telephone)
 © 2012 Roelof Bakker

What is the thinking behind your story?
Thinking is possibly too strong a word for the process I went through when writing this – but I remember that the grain of the wood made me wonder about where the table started out. And I was affected by the theme of abandonment in the other photos in Roelof’s collection.

How do generate writing ideas?
I don’t really generate ideas consciously. They seem to surface on their own, and it’s my job to grab them before they float away again. A lot of the time my stories are inspired by a place, into which a character walks (or swims) and I watch to see what happens. I do that watching while I write so I usually don’t know the shape of the story until I’ve finished the first draft.

Do you enjoy the short story format?
I love writing short stories – as an obsessive perfectionist it’s the ideal form, as I hope every time that I can write the perfect story that works in every way. I’ve never done it, of course, but I’ll keep trying.

Bless the Countryside

Where are you based?
I live in a village in East Sussex, and have no idea what it would be like to be a writer anywhere else. I’m firmly rooted here and though I often write about other places, my sense of a landscape’s effect on a person is a strong influence on my writing. The photo of graffiti on a local railway bridge sums up what I feel about living here – it’s beautiful and quiet, but it’s not bucolic and I love the fact that the tag BTC stands for Bless The Countryside.

What made you want to become a writer?
I can’t remember – there was no blinding flash of light which made me leap for a notebook. It’s been a slow burn. Or I’m a late developer.

You’ve collaborated before?
Last year I worked with Steffi Pusch on a hand-printed illustrated edition of my short story, ‘The Swimmer’, for Old Stile Press. This time, the story existed already, and Steffi went out to take photos in response to it, so really my role was one of admiration and encouragement – and utter glee when we held the finished book in our hands.

What are doing at the moment?
I’ve just finished creating and performing a couple of stories live, which was terrifying but made me look afresh at my writing. Now I’m rewriting some stories I didn’t think were up to scratch by performing them to myself – it’s much less stressful than telling stories to a live audience, except that I keep interrupting myself with suggestions for improvements.