Whoever designed butterflies, must’ve been having a laugh. No mere shapeshifters, the creepy crawlers must dissolve completely for their winged alter egos to emerge. No wonder the butterfly is considered a metaphor for transformation. Where else does nature deliver such a dramatic change?
Thanks to our gorgeous garden meadows, I can observe this metamorphosis almost at my back door. And it strikes me that it’s an oversimplification to view this as a transition from ugly to beautiful: some of the caterpillars are rather attractive too. Take, for example the brown-and-yellow striped creature that feeds on ragwort, or the bright-eyed elephant hawk moth caterpillar (pictured) that graced our willow herb last year.
 Don't mistake me for a Creationist, I mean this metaphorically!
 Obviously these aren't its real eyes.
My character, Diana, was an unhappy child, but even she had a part of her that wanted to shine. In her earliest memory, she’s more butterfly than caterpillar at the tender age of three:
Initially, the attitudes of family and teachers in the close-knit mining community where she grows up in the 1960s and 70s make her a misfit, with their rigid expectations of how a child should be. If she’d lived in more liberal times, would she have needed such a radical transformation?
She’d certainly have more support for her choices nowadays. When the novel opens, Diana’s past identity has been a shameful secret for thirty years, such that she feels life won’t be worth living if it gets out. She’s cut all ties with former friends and, when she visits her parents, her mother is in denial about the person she used to be. Like the caterpillar that morphs into a butterfly, her former self has completely dissolved.
At least she gets to be a butterfly! But, lacking confidence, she’s no painted lady (pictured). Perhaps she’s one of the paler moths that only flies at night. As her friend Venus might say if you’ve set yourself free … why have I never seen your wings? (p181)
Fortunately it’s never too late to embrace our inner butterfly, and Diana’s is a story of redemption and hope. Her wings might be ragged, her colours faded, but – with the help of her friends and a lot of courage – she might just learn to fly.
Do you ever get struck by creative ideas at precisely the wrong moment? The perfect short story explodes in your head when an important deadline’s looming. A Christmas-themed post screams for attention forty-five weeks too soon. Sometimes I stamp down on these misplaced moments of inspiration. Sometimes I can’t settle on anything else until I’ve got the words on the screen. Which is why I have virtual folders stuffed with unfinished blog posts, short stories and barely-begun novels.
If it’s merely an issue of mistimed blog posts, I can be confident these creatures will be transformed from draft to published eventually, even if they might seem slightly stilted, through being composed in a different frame of mind. So, inspired by a sighting of an elephant hawk moth caterpillar, I wasn’t concerned I might be wasting my time when I drafted this post at the end of August last year. Nothing major was going to happen between then and my debut novel’s book birthday. Yeah, right.
Well, I’ve posted a string of rants about the pandemic and its mismanagement, but one positive was the opportunity to participate in events that moved online. Focused on preparing for, and promoting, my two events at Buxton Festival Fringe, I might not have remembered my book birthday if I hadn’t noted it in my diary at the beginning of the year. Even so, this post was far from my mind when I hastily wrangled my 99-word story a few hours before the live readings via Zoom. So I really don’t know how a certain caterpillar made it into my story. (It was going to be cowslips, but it’s too late in the year!)
The path cut diagonally. So did the shaggy-haired beasts. Her head insisted, despite the horns, they were gentle. Her heart plunged into childhood fears.
She stuffed her badge in her rucksack. A ranger doesn’t trespass. A ranger doesn’t sidestep cows.
Mathematically, her route was forty percent longer, but Pythagoras hadn’t factored in waist-high stinging-nettles or brambly fabric-snagging shrubs. She should’ve braved the cows.
Midway, a patch of fiery rosebay willow-herb. A plump brown caterpillar chomping away. Its doll-like eye markings and horned tail branded it an elephant hawk-moth in waiting. Amazing what you find on the fringes of fields.
Hosting international festival events is no excuse for slacking at the Ranch! There’s a callout for a 99-word story that expresses the phrase, “scream inside your heart.” Being a few years too young for screaming at the Beatles, it’s hard for me to identify with masked Japanese thrill-seekers on fairground rides, but another perambulation of the fields should do it:
She was a screamer. A virgin on marriage, it wasn’t a problem until conjugal lockdown showed she’d won the wrong man.
Not risking Rio, July found them glamping, but canvas glamour depends on sun. Silver linings abound for the vigilant, however; hers wore an earring and a goatee beard. Rain rendered the woods unappealing, but her husband would sleep through an earthquake. So long as she screamed in her heart.
She slept. Awoke with the crows, dejected: Casanova hadn’t taken the hint. But he’d taken her handbag, phone and car keys. He’d taken her hope of a holiday romance.
Finally, I’m pleased to say that, five years on from publication, Sugar and Snails is still finding new readers – and new things to celebrate, as it’s recently reached the semi-finals of the Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award, a new award for self-published and small-press published books. Yay!