“I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.”
This is from Chapter 1 of Fiona Robyn’s novel, Thaw, which she is blogging daily over the next several months. I was turned on to the blog five days into the story by a friend and I am utterly and completely hooked. Fiona’s portrayal of the main character, Ruth, is elegantly nuanced as she slowly allows the layers of a life to curl outward and fall, giving us insight into the very private life of a woman on the edge of suicide. Despite the subject, the story isn’t at all morbid or depressing – so far – and the reviews I’ve read (see links on the blog) all praise Fiona’s insight and skill as a storyteller, perhaps particularly so with a subject that can so easily get mired in muck.
I knew virtually nothing about Fiona Robyn before I stumbled on this blog but, after a bit of research, found she has had several books published. She also has three blogs – one of which I am familiar with, A Handful of Stones, although I didn’t realize it was hers. I contacted Fiona to let her know how much I’m enjoying Thaw (a fan letter!) and to ask for an online interview to which she graciously agreed.
So here we go:
Is writing your full-time occupation?
Not yet! I make my living as a therapist, working with clients in private practice in the afternoons and evenings. This means my mornings are free for writing.
What is your earliest recollection of writing as a passion?
I used to make my own ‘books’ from folded paper when I was quite young, and was very excited when I started the story but I don’t think I ever got to the end! Luckily I’ve learnt to finish stories since then.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. Do you start a project with a beginning, middle and ending in mind or does it evolve as you go?
I always start at the beginning. My character arrives first, and the story emerges as I get to know my character better. I write a whole draft from the beginning to the end, which is always terrible, and then I start re-drafting.
Who’s work has inspired yours?
I like a lot of American writers – Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Lorrie Moore, and also non-fiction – Annie Dillard, and lots of Buddhist writers.
What do you do to get out of a creative funk?
When I’m working on a novel, I’ll do anything to try and get out of my daily writing. All I can do is force myself to sit down and get started. Most days I succeed – some days I don’t.
Why or how did you decide to publish “Thaw” online in diary form?
I’m still at the beginning of my career as a writer, and so I’d like to find as many new readers as possible. The novel fitted so perfectly into blog format, I thought it was an opportunity to share the book with a wider audience. I’m also hoping that some readers might buy my previous novels, or a hard copy of Thaw, but we’ll see!
Is Ruth based on someone in your life, is she a composite of people or is she purely a character of your imagination?
She’s completely fictional. All my characters will be influenced by my own experience of life, but they’re not me or anyone else I know.
Where do you see yourself and your work in 5 years?
I’d love to be doing what I’m doing now – writing and enjoying life. It’d be a bonus if more readers were reading and enjoying my books, and it would be great to be able to make a living from writing. That’s not essential though – writing is the most important thing.
“I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say, ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for,’ before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.”
Don’t let this novel pass you by.
Go. Read. Now.