I didn’t want to be a writer when I was growing up. I was too busy playing cowboys, falling out of trees and dreaming of a life of adventure. I loved to read but writing books didn’t sound much fun - I only started writing fiction in my 40s, when I found out that creating stories is a whole new kind of adventure.

Sarah Jane Butler image credit Keith Lovegrove

Sarah Jane Butler image credit Keith Lovegrove

I like to write about things that scare me or make me anxious. Writing is how I push against the skin of my world, testing what I know and how I feel. Stepping into my characters’ lives demands answers of me that I don’t know I have until I’m faced with their questions. It’s endlessly interesting and exciting.

I’ve almost drowned twice. The first time was terrifying because I was swept out to sea and I felt more utterly alone than I ever have, before or since. Years later my husband and I were plunged into a weirpool in mid-winter in our wooden canoe, and I was dragged down to the bottom of the river. Emerging into sunlight, frost on the trees and ice on the field, alive under a clear blue sky, made it one of the best, most exhilarating days of my life.

Though Starling is full of my love of the wild world, I grew up in a family that knew almost nothing about nature. I’ve taught myself from scratch and if you can’t find me at home, look for me in the veg patch or out in the woods and fields. That’s where I find space to think, it’s always fascinating, and I feel safe there. In that, Starling and I are alike.

Unlike Starling, I live slowly because I’ve had ME since my early 30s. I can have limited energy and my brain is be utterly fogged up when I’m most affected. It’s one reason it took me almost ten years to write Starling.

The worst and best job I’ve done was cleaning public toilets. Men’s toilets can be utterly gross, no doubt about it. But I’ve rarely felt such comradeship in a workplace. I’ve also been a bookseller, a computer programmer, an editor, a teacher of brick-making and a butcher’s assistant. For most of my life, though, I’ve been a copywriter, writing for charities and businesses.

I used to keep my passport and a map of Europe in the glove compartment of my car. I lived in France as a student and discovered the liberation of being completely untied from home, friends and family. It was before email and mobile phones so I really was cut off - and I loved it.

But I chose to come home and almost all my life have lived close to the place I grew up. Perhaps that tension is one reason I wrote Starling: what would it be like to uproot myself all over again?

Starling released 29th September 2022
Starling released 29th September 2022

Starling can trap a rabbit, cook a meal from a hedge and hear a bailiff coming from a mile off. All she has ever known is a nomadic existence, travelling in a converted van with Mar, her strong-willed mother.

But Mar has cut them off from their community, and this winter they’re stuck in deep mud in a wood, with no fuel, no money and no friends. One morning, without explanation, Mar leaves and doesn’t come back.

Utterly alone, Starling must learn to survive without her mother and build a life on her own terms. An offer to stay with an old friend draws her into a more conventional way of living – but can rootless Starling ever find a place where she truly belongs?

Published: 29/09/2022 ISBN: 9781914148170 RRP: £14.99 Format: Hardback

‘Starling is a love letter to the natural world, a celebration of the threads that bind us to the land and to each other’ — Peggy Riley, author of Amity & Sorrow

About the Author: Sarah grew up on the edge of Southborough Common in Kent. She studied languages at university and spent time living in France and Spain. Her short stories (some published under the name SJ Butler) have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, and her story ‘The Swimmer’ was included in Best British Short Stories 2011. She has twice won the 26 Project Writer’s Award, most recently in 2021 for her poem ‘Flow’, and has performed her work in pubs, a festival tent and a disused light vessel. Starling is her debut novel. As well as writing fiction, she is a copywriter and communications consultant. She lives in Sussex with her husband, and has two children.

Tagged in