When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I knew when I was very young, four or five years old! I loved observing the world around me and recording it, and thinking up stories and poems of my own. Writing has always been at the heart of me; I honestly can’t remember a time without it.
Who were the authors that influenced you as a youth, and in what ways?
Early on, I found so much pleasure in the adventure stories of J.R.R. Tolkien (still do) and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Tolkien taught me a lot about the power of having a boundless imagination and of building worlds thoroughly, right down to the languages. Dickinson taught me about the importance of rhythm and rhyme, and about precise ways of capturing the natural world. I always longed for works by writers from mixed ethnic backgrounds like my own, but I didn’t come across those until years later (my school library didn’t have them).
How did it feel when you got to hold your very first advanced copy of your book?
Surreal. I’d been working on those poems for six or seven years, and they were finally out of my head and on the page for everyone to see. Part of me was thrilled, and part of me wanted to squirrel them away again where nobody could read them! I’ve felt the same about every subsequent book.
What was the inspiration behind your book(s)?
Aphelion was written between Canada and England while I was living between countries, looking at the physical and emotional distances of the immigrant experience. It explored the many homes we carry with us and the ones we lose along the way.
Wells was a long poem that I wrote as a gift to my grandmother as she disappeared into senile dementia. It was a way of regifting her the words, people, stories that she was losing.
Seldom Seen Road told, in poetry, the stories of the prairies my husband and I travelled through one summer when we drove across Canada. Along the way, we learned many buried or forgotten pieces of history from people of multiple backgrounds, and these stories formed the roots of the poems in the collection.
A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail was a non-fiction account of the building of our off-grid organic farm in northern Alberta, and an exploration of the costs of large-scale agriculture that doesn’t seek to improve the earth in the long run.
Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard was a non-fiction travelogue about a voyage I took on a barquentine ship at the Arctic Circle, chronicling the changing Arctic and connecting that back to the climate change I was witnessing on our northern farm in the boreal forest of Alberta.
Revery: A Year of Bees is my current book, and it explores the history of beekeeping in Alberta, as well as bees as a path to healing from trauma, and bees as representative of climate grief. It’ll be out in 2020.
What was your publishing journey like?
It’s been long and nuanced, and I’ve been very grateful to work with several wonderful editors and publishers along the way. I’ve learned a great deal about tightening my craft, and I’ve learned the deep worth of editors who can see to the heart of a book and nudge it in the right direction so that it really achieves what you as the writer want it to. Sometimes, a good editor can see in writers what the writers can’t quite see in themselves.
What advice do you have for aspiring young novelists?
Well, to all young writers – three things.
First, keep at it. Success is lovely but fickle, and failure is guaranteed. We’ll all fall down at times in our writing, but the measure of us as writers is in how we get up and keep going. Don’t let your head be turned from the work by anything, if that work is important to you.
Second, read. You can’t be a good writer without being a voracious reader. Read widely and challenge yourself to dip into genres you might not be sure you like, as well as the ones that light you up. Learn as you go.
And third, find community. Writing is solitary, but community is everything. Cultivate your literary friendships as you do your own work: with care and attention.
If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?
It would be amazing to be able to fly!
Where is your favorite travel destination?
I love going home to the UK and Ireland. I was born in England and have family and good friends in England, Ireland, and Scotland, so returning to those places and landscapes means a great deal to me.
When you’re not writing, what are your favorite hobbies?
I run a farm, so being out in the market garden is a huge and grounding part of my world. I grow flowers and make healing balms and salves. I also love doing beadwork, playing music, hiking, and reading in the company of my two cats.
Where can people find you online?
I’m at www.jennabutler.com, www.larchgrovefarm.com, and on Facebook and Instagram.