With Galya Varna, ‘Doorway to Art’ Magazine

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Here is an interview I did with the lovely editor and poet, Galya Varna, for the first edition of the magazine, Doorway to Art, in December 2017

Lynne Fisher is a writer, visual artist and illustrator living in Scotland. She has published with Amazon her first book, “On Turtle Beach”, a women’s fiction novel.

1. Lynne, you have been painting for many years and have recently published with Amazon your first novel – “On Turtle Beach”. Could you please tell us how your life has changed once you got the “writing bug”, as you call it in your blog?

Well I’ve always loved immersing myself in either reading or a creative project of some kind. When I studied with the Open University for my degree, I found the balance of ‘cerebral endeavor’, shall we call it, dovetailing with my painting and painting-linked activities like teaching classes, was a perfect combination, so I wanted to carry on with this balance in my life in some way after the degree. The degree opened me up to contemporary fiction and a fresh respect for and interest in the classics, especially the realist novel genre which tuned into my interest in human nature. The idea of trying out creative writing myself was like finding some sort of ‘key’ to my life, which I was searching for at the time.

With this in mind, I completed a couple of creative writing courses which gave me a diploma, which I felt I needed to develop my confidence in writing, and since I believe in the ethos of learning one’s craft and leaving ‘inspiration’ to its own devices to work in its own mysterious way, I trusted process enough to think I’d write some short stories first. One of these really hooked me and seemed rich enough in depth, themes and plot possibilities to become a novel. And so On Turtle Beach was born, where I was also able to use my love of nature which up until this point had been solely used in my painting. Once you’ve been through the huge learning curve that a novel entails, with all the ebb and flow of a huge project, you soon find out whether you’re really passionate about writing novels and whether you’ve got the self-direction and motivation required. Well, it worked for me, and more ideas came along, together with an interest in life writing and memoir, which I was introduced to on the writing courses.

But to answer the question more directly, all of a sudden I found there was a use for all the thinking and analyzing I’ve always tended to do, with nowhere to usefully channel it – observations about life, meaning, purpose, people, society and nature and how they all interweave. The confidence to use this came, in my case, from turning 50, and being of more mature years, with plenty of life experience now behind me. It was also fuelled and encouraged by my doing a counseling skills course which introduced me to fascinating psychological theories of personal development and I began doing one-to-one voluntary work after this to put my listening skills into practice. Painting was giving me my love of colour, texture, detail and beauty, but writing was a different field for me altogether, a more challenging one as I had a lot to learn. But I discovered that when you write you can deploy your musings, passions and questioning right into the heart of your fiction. Nothing is wasted and I love this aspect. The characters I create are seeking some kind of resolution in their lives or working through inner conflicts, just like we all do in everyday life.

2. In June this year your women’s fiction novel “On Turtle Beach” was published. What did you enjoy most in writing the book?

Oh, I enjoyed so much! But before I answer this, I have to say it’s not at all plain sailing. It’s easy to be waylaid by self doubts, questions about structure and point of view, chapter length – just how many rules you feel you should follow, and if you break them, having to develop a strong faith is why you’re doing it. Sharing the first novel in progress is also a little dangerous for your flow if you share with someone or others writing in a different genre, who may not ‘get’ exactly where you are coming from (for example a crime writer giving opinions on literary fiction) because the first novel is your special ‘baby’. You put your heart and soul into it, and you haven’t quite yet developed the tougher hide which all writers need, so you must trust yourself first and foremost. And Stephen King is absolutely correct when he says in his popular book, On Writing, to ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’. Only when you’ve finished the first draft should you share it for feedback. But apart from a few glitches like this, it was heaven to write.

What I loved most? The use of the novel’s location, Dalyan in Turkey, for many reasons:
I’d visited it twice, loved it, and had written notes on my experiences and the trips my husband and I went on, so the holiday my two sister characters choose to go on together in Dalyan visit many places and do many things which I’d experienced beforehand. Being able to put this direct experience into words to do justice to the ‘real life’ location was a joy. The holiday facilitated the structure of the whole novel as we follow the sisters day by day in Dalyan, meeting helping or hindering characters along the way, just like a real holiday.

I also relished seeing exotic fruits and flowers I’d never seen before, and swimming in the sea which I hadn’t done since I was a girl, with some scuba diving and snorkelling to try out – so all this nature was wonderful to express, using a photo-bank of visual reminders to draw upon and research tools like leaflets and maps I’d brought back home with me.
I guess I should also mention, that I enjoyed writing about Lucy’s angst and frustrations with her art practice. It was a cathartic process, with a few giggles too, because I’m very familiar with these!

3. In your writer’s blog, called Head to Head, Heart to Heart you explore the creative process from different perspectives and there are quite a few articles that I am sure other authors will find interesting and helpful too. How do you decide on which topic to explore in a certain post?

When I began the blog, I was very conscious of all the writers’ blogs out there. There really are so many and they frequently concentrate on writing practice, publishing and marketing. Sometimes it feels there is just too much information and I didn’t want to contribute to that intensity and frequent confusion. Since I’m also a painter I didn’t want to exclude matters related to the art world and what crops up for artists and makers – so I came up with an approach which would give me a broader canvas, which would cover many aspects of what it means to be creative, hopefully applying to many disciplines, while also supportively weaving in my personal interests in the ‘crafting’ process, humanist psychology and self care (derived form the counselling courses) and my love of nature. Most of all is the wish to be supportive to, and connect with, other creative people.
I manage to come up with a weekly topic through mulling over my week and searching for something potentially useful to post about. When I’m reading blogs I follow, tangent ideas may spark in me and my own reading material can be fruitful too – all those books on psychology and creativity which I love. Then there may be a be a few ‘real life’ social interactions which get me thinking, or conversations with artist friends, and I sometimes get ideas when I’m walking in the country lanes around where I live. I try not to worry about coming up with ideas and frantically wondering what I’m going to blog about next, because if I leave it as a kind of organic and naturally occurring process, that seems to work best for me. That all being said, some posts are certainly more engaging than others, but that’s nature at work too!

4. One of your latest blog posts is titled “Can you Compare Writing to Painting”. Could you tell us what triggers the creative process for you as a writer and as a visual artist?

It’s easier to identify what triggers me as an artist. The most significant trigger is the natural world, especially plants and their shapes and textures, and not forgetting details. I love details! Dead seed heads in winter can be transformed by creating a painting of it with an atmospheric ground and maybe an insect or two for the eye to discover. The use of complementary colour is a visual delight for me and I usually try to incorporate this feature. I love techniques too, so a painting subject might be attractive to me because I can utilize the printing of textures onto the paper or canvas, or ink spattering from a brush for atmosphere, or masked lines for watercolour silk painting effects. I don’t want a painting to be too easily or swiftly achieved, because for me it is about the journey through the layers and stages and I get my reward when I get to the final details and finishing touches – a real delayed gratification process. I also enjoy landscapes, though these are kept of a generic nature, such as a seashore or a field at sunset. I use my own photographs as an aid and sometimes have a play with digital imaging filters. I come at a painting from a decorative arts perspective, as opposed to a conceptual one, so beauty is what I am after most. My favourite decorative arts style is certainly from the sinuous Art Nouveau Period.

As for writing, I think human internal and interpersonal conflicts trigger ideas more than anything, either ones in myself or those I see in others, and the tricky situations people can find themselves in. I love writing the inner psychology of the characters I come up with, which was probably stimulated by reading those realist novels where they addressed the inner life of ‘ordinary’ people for the first time. What I personally know about, or have experienced, is also vital for my ideas, and this can be where compelling locations come in, as in On Turtle Beach. They say ‘write what you know’ for this reason, I guess. But the ideas triggered for novels, for me, have to be very personally compelling with plenty of dramatic material to get stuck into because you are ‘sat’ working on them and thinking about them, even going to sleep with them, for a far longer period than with a painting. So I’m mindful of this, and this is why some ideas are more suitable for short stories.

5.Y our visual art could be found in your website http://www.lynnehenderson.co.uk Considering your background as an illustrator, I am curious whether you designed the cover of your own novel yourself.

Hmm, yes, this was a little tricky. I initially planned to illustrate it myself and had a few ideas on that basis. But then I checked out the styles of covers in the supermarket book shelves and bookshops and I found painted ones were rare and somehow didn’t have as professional a look as the photographic ones, probably because of their rarity. So I changed my mind and found websites with copyright free images to source from, as I needed images such as turtles and a hot-looking beach. Then since my husband and I have worked together before on small design projects, with him providing the technical ‘know how’ and me the visual design element ( sometimes bickering more than we should!) we designed the cover together, with him coming up with the two ladies under the parasol, which I’m very happy with. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider hiring a professional in the future, it depends so much on what a particular novel seems to demand. But I do enjoy thinking of, and looking at, cover designs!

6. Could you tell us a little about your new projects?

Well, I have one novel in the early stages, three chapters in, about a man thrust into dramatic midlife changes, where his job, marriage and life values are all thrown into question by him and chaos threatens. Here I can use my knowledge of such life transitions from the counseling course material and related reading I’ve done, as well as some of my own experience.

The novel I’m concentrating on at the moment is set in a department store in the 90’s, and the store and soft furnishing department I describe are from my real life experiences working in such a store at that time, where the mask of customer service hides personal conflicts in a superficial world of consumerism and where materialistic values can replace true self-worth. My main character, who works in this store, is a darkly embittered woman with a troubled past, and the novel goes on to discover why she is the way she is, what life experiences have made her this way. So I get to use my shadow side with her, which has been nicely liberating.

Another interest of mine is life-writing and I’m working on a collaborative project of this kind with an artist/writer friend. Any other ideas I get are added to a growing list!

(Galya’s book of poems, Dreams You Thought Were Lost, is a wonderful read, drawing upon so much of the natural world, with a beguiling and compelling simplicity of style )