Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Michael Whitworth about his life, his career, and what inspired him to write his new novel, The Camel And The Butterfly
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a former private banker who stopped working several years ago to spend more time with my family. Originally from Lancashire, I went to university in Leeds where I studied Mandarin Chinese. After graduating, I taught English in Japan, before returning to Leeds to complete a postgrad in International Studies.
Most of my working career was spent in London, where I worked in corporate banking initially, before moving to private banking.
I’m married with a teenage son, and we live in Northamptonshire. In my spare time I try to exercise whenever possible, swimming and running mainly, though I have spent several uncomfortable days cycling around the UK and climbing mountains in Scotland. A couple of years ago, I decided to write a novel.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first decided to write a book when I was in my twenties. I had just left my first job and thought I would take some time off to write a novel. I wouldn’t say that I WANTED to write at the time, rather it felt like a good thing to do. For various reasons, mainly lack of money and motivation, it didn’t work out, so I went back to work. It wasn’t until I had turned fifty that I really WANTED to write a book, and so, two years ago, I began to write The Camel and the Butterfly.
When did you take a step to start writing?
As I mentioned above, I ‘dabbled’ with writing a in my twenties, but I started writing seriously about two years ago.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
From initial idea to finishing the first draft was probably six months. I then spent a further two months tweaking it, and from submission to signing a contract was another month. The book is due out in November, so in total the process has taken a little over a year.
What made you want to write The Camel And The Butterfly?
I nearly ran over an old man in my car one day. He stepped into the road, and I had to break sharply. As he sauntered off as though nothing had happened, I was quite annoyed, but then I thought to myself that I was wrong to be angry. I was judging him on how he was at that moment, when he may well have done more in his lifetime than I could imagine. I’d been planning to start writing a book, and the idea that we judge people so quickly, without knowing anything about them served as my inspiration.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Camel And The Butterfly?
There were many challenges: lockdown, family commitments, poor willpower. But the most challenging part for me was forcing myself not to overedit what I wrote. Initially, I found myself writing and rewriting everything, changing punctuation and generally doing things which should be done after the first draft. It was taking so long to write anything. In the end, I had to just get something down and move on.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I have always been inspired by ex-servicemen and women, especially the older generation. We often see people as they are now and forget what they must have been through in their lives. They are so proud and rarely complain, and that is truly inspirational.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The main antagonist is an amalgamation of the worst of my former bosses – quick to blame other people and willing to do whatever it takes to get a result.
What is the inciting incident of The Camel And The Butterfly?
My main character, a ninety-year-old ex-soldier, catches some shoplifters; they decide to get back at him by spreading a rumour that he was never in the army.
What is the main conflict of The Camel And The Butterfly?
The main conflict is based around how quickly people believe the rumours about my main character, without knowing any of the facts. And how quick we can be to judge people.
Did you plot The Camel And The Butterfly in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
There was an element of plotting, but it was very broad to say the least. I prefer to have an idea of where I want the narrative to go, then see what I come up with as I write. For me, this is the best way, because new ideas often come up which would not have been there had I strictly plotted the story in advance.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Camel And The Butterfly need?
I was very thorough with checking and rewriting my book, but after submission, my publisher, Cahill Davis Publishing, helped a great deal with their editing process. I don’t think there was a huge amount to change, but we completed two edits which helped improve the flow of the narrative.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Just start it and see where it takes you. I think starting is the hardest part, as we often think we need to have everything planned from the beginning. The story often changes as it develops anyway.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have no immediate plans, though I am sure that I will write another novel. It proved to be quite a time-consuming and, at times, exhausting process, so I will need the right subject matter and motivation before starting again.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am immensely proud of my book, and it was very much worth the effort. There is something wonderful about creating something which was not there before you started. Bringing an idea all the way to publication is hugely rewarding.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Book: The Camel and the Butterfly https://books2read.com/tcatb
Publisher: Cahill Davis Publishing
Release date: 8 November 2021
Publisher’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/publishingdavis
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