F: My novels always begin when the lead character ‘appears’ in my head and I start getting to know them. Violet materialised as a tall, skinny character with a brusque manner – I knew she was a workaholic, and I knew that her life was about to change in a fundamental way. As time goes on I ‘get to know’ my character better, and the story emerges from there. Sometimes I think I know what a novel is going to be about (I thought The Letters might be about feminism, and bodies) but it turns out to be something completely different.
M: Although this novel is far more complex and challenging than any simple ‘comfort’ tale, there is a wonderful ease about your writing, almost like stepping into a warm bath. On your blog, you have talked about ideas of being ‘the typist’ – channelling words and scenes as if from somewhere outside yourself. Could you tell me a little more about this?
F: Oh, what a lovely image! I am pleased you think so. When I speak about ‘just being the typist’ I’m not implying that I have a direct connection with my great great aunt Jessie on a spiritual plane… It’s more that the characters and the story come from my subconscious, and that my subconscious knows better than ‘I’ do how the characters hang together, and what their journey might be. You could also compare it to the ‘small mind, big mind’ concept in Buddhism, I suppose. I see my job during the first draft as getting my small mind ‘out of the way’ so the story can come through me. ‘I’ come back during later drafts to make decisions about structure, clarity, dialogue etc., but I haven’t found it helpful to get this part of me out too early. It can freeze me up completely if I’m not careful.
M: I especially loved the vivid and finely wrought descriptions in ‘The Letters’ and was hugely impressed at the extent of detail surrounding your main character, Violet. How deeply did you ‘live’ Violet during the writing?
F: I suppose I carry my lead characters around in my head while I’m writing, but I’m not thinking about them all the time. Sometimes details will come to me when I’m not expecting them – I’ll be driving the car and I’ll realise that my character hates cheese. But often the details arise when I’m writing a scene. Sometimes the details don’t seem to fit the character when I read them back, and so I’ll search around for one that feels more authentic.
M: I see that there are two more forthcoming Fiona Robyn titles on Snowbook’s website ‘The Blue Handbag’ and ‘Thaw’. Would you like to talk a little about what’s coming next, or perhaps what you are working on right now?
F: The Blue Handbag follows a 62 yr old gardener, Leonard, who becomes a reluctant detective after discovering some mysterious facts about his late wife. Thaw is about Ruth, a microbiologist, who gives herself three months to decide if she wants to carry on living or not – the book is her diary for those months. And my work-in-progress is about Joe, a nerdy boy who goes to visit his aunt in Amsterdam – I’m off there this Summer to get some research done. What a lucky person I am.
M: Thank you Fiona very, very much!
To find out more about lucky, clever Fiona and her writing, please visit http://www.fionarobyn.com/