Saturday, 7 March 2009

Interview with Fiona Robyn: 'The Letters'

As a creative writing student in my last year, I and my fellow budding scribblers have so many hopes, dreams, fears and ultimately a whole bucket full of questions as we look out onto the daunting world of professional writing.

Here I asked Fiona Robyn a few of those burning questions as she launches her debut novel 'The Letters'.

First of all, Courtesy of Miss Woo: Why do you write?
I write because it helps me to pay attention.

Did you always know writing was for you?
I always knew that words were for me – I’ve always loved books. I didn’t start writing until I was about 20.

As new writers a lot of us tend to draw on personal experience and a great deal of what students write seems to be 'creative' non-fiction or fiction based around situations, locations and characters we know in real life. Did you also do this at first?
I wrote poetry for years before I wrote novels, and my poems are mostly based on things that actually happened, so I suppose yes.

Mrs P would like to know if the plot shapes your characters or do your characters shape the plot?
My characters DEFINITELY shape my plots – they have minds of their own – I just follow them. I’m sometimes quite surprised by what happens.

You said: 'I don't quite see my writing as coming from a man with a beard up in the clouds, but I do acknowledge that the greater part of my work is beyond my conscious control. My characters and my stories come from deep inside me.'How much did you aim at a specific market when you were writing 'The Letters'... or did you just write the novel and worry about the market later?
On a scale of one to ten, with ten as writing with a specific market in mind, I’d say I am about a minus one. I am thinking of the reader when I do my revisions – does this sentence make sense? Will my readers understand what my character is saying here? But the actual characters and their journeys aren’t very consciously plotted. For me, it’s always been more important to write the books I want to write than it has been to get published, although I’ve always wanted both! I’m very lucky to be having my cake and eating it.

What was going on in your life as you were writing 'The Letters'? How did you find a life/writing balance?
I’ve gradually arranged my life over the years so my ‘day job’ is in the afternoons and evenings which leaves me the mornings to write. Even so, I’m very good at avoiding the writing! The first draft is the most difficult for me, so I try and write little and often.

Jayne Walter would like to know: What, if any, writing 'rituals' do you have?
I light a tea-light before I start writing, and blow it out when I’m finished for the day. The holder was given to me by my friend Esther Morgan, who is a marvellous poet and an important writing colleague to me – lighting the candle means I’m not quite alone.

You published your first poetry collection in 'Living Things' in 2007, do you prefer writing novels to poetry?
I like both in different ways – it’s good to become immersed in the long term project of a novel, but it’s also satisfying to spend a few weeks on a poem and get it finished.

Do you enjoy giving readings, do you get nervous and do you find that giving readings is essential to the process of promoting a book?
I don’t get too nervous unless I let myself – I try and pretend beforehand that there’s nothing to be nervous of and that usually works. I love reading – I haven’t done any readings from my novels yet, but am looking forward to any opportunities that might arise.

Duncan A would like to know: When writing 'The Letters' was it as difficult to write the last word as it was to write the first word?
As difficult, and as satisfying!

What's next for Fiona?
I’m currently working on a novel about a boy who visits Amsterdam, and I’m also looking forward to my next two novels coming out with Snowbooks – The Blue Handbag in August, and Thaw in Feb next year.

Thank you for having me, Leah!

Thank you Fiona!

'The Letters' is available on Amazon (£5.99)

And on Snowbooks for people overseas


  1. I read your interview earlier, and enjoyed the perspective of one writer to another asking questions and offering advice from someone a bit further down the line. It's a great format for learning and one we could all benefit from.

    I kept thinking about your question about writing from real life at the start - and had to come back and comment. I think it's vital that we do this. As if we can first find ways to write well about our own lives - detailed, vivid, engaging, and sparky writing, then surely that will better equip up to write to the same level of precision when we make-up lives later on.

  2. Great interview, you two. Love the tea light idea.