Today, I’m pleased to welcome a visit by writer Fiona Robyn to my blog. Fiona’s compelling debut novel The Letters (Snowbooks, £7.99) has just been published.

Violet Ackerman has drifted through a career, four children and a divorce without ever knowing who she is or what she wants. After moving to the coast, she starts receiving a series of mysterious letters sent from a mother and baby home in 1959, written by a pregnant twenty-year-old Elizabeth to her best friend. Who is sending Violet these letters, and why?

Throughout the month of March, Fiona’s been on a virtual book tour, dropping by a different blog each day to chat about her novel and various aspects of the writing process. Today, it’s my turn to ask her some questions!

 

1) The coastal environment where much of The Letters is set comes across as a very significant aspect of the novel. Can you say something about the role of landscape and seascape in your writing?

I knew quite early on, when I was only just getting to know Violet, that she would be moving to be near the sea. The coast is the edge of things, and this helps Violet to explore the edges of herself. I suppose in general I see landscape as a part of my character’s story – it is a way for readers to place them, both emotionally and literally. My next book is about a gardener, Leonard, and his gardens are an intrinsic part of him.

2) What about the urban landscape? As a Cardiffian, I was really interested to discover that one of the novel’s key scenes takes place in Cardiff and I was even more delighted that it includes a visit to one of my favourite cafes – the Norwegian Church Arts Centre in Cardiff Bay! How did that come about?

I happened to visit the Norwegian Church whilst I was staying with my Cardiffian friend (is that really a word?!), and I fell in love with the place. When I came to this pivotal scene between Violet and you-know-who (I don’t want to give anything away) it felt like the perfect place for it to have happened.

3) When you visited Crafty Green Poet’s blog earlier this month, you mentioned that you ‘try to write “poetically”, whatever that means’ and I was certainly very struck by your use of imagery – metaphors and similes – throughout The Letters. Can you expand on what you mean by trying to ‘write poetically’?

On reflection, ‘poetically’ wasn’t a very poetic word to use! I suppose I would see poetic language as distilled language – a spoonful of sweet, sharp raspberry sorbet as opposed to bread and butter. In a novel you need lots of bread and butter too, or the whole thing is too rich, but I hope some of the small poetic details will stay with my readers. I still don’t know if I’ve answered your question very well!

4) At the conclusion of the same interview, you commented that ‘I don’t think there’s enough space for poems in my life at the moment.’ What kind of space does poetry writing need? Is it a different kind of space from the space that novel writing demands?

For me, novel writing requires a daily space and plenty of discipline. I might think about my characters at odd times during the day, or spend time doing research, but the writing itself takes place at my computer in the mornings before I do anything else. Poems seem to arrive when I notice something and this leads me to mull things over and connect what I’ve noticed with other things. At the moment I don’t do the mulling, I just write down the original thing I’ve noticed as a ‘small stone’. I’m sure things will change as time goes on – maybe I’ll take a break when I’ve finished my current novel (although I always say that and it never seems to happen!).

5) I think I read on another of your blog tour visits that your next novel is ‘full of green stuff’. In your opinion, should poetry and/or fiction play a role in raising awareness of green/environmental issues? If so, how? (I’ve borrowed this question from Morgan O’Donnell of Red Raven Circling – in an interview last week, she asked me the same thing!)

Good, important question. I think this could also apply to any other larger political or ethical issues. My approach is that it isn’t my job to preach directly, but I hope that my characters might make people think in various ways. My next novel is indeed full of green stuff. Leonard approaches plants and nature with real reverence, and hopefully readers will see how he (and the planet) benefits from this without me having to spell it out. Leonard lives slowly and gratefully – I need to be constantly reminded to do so. Violet tries her hardest to open up – I need that reminder too. I hope that some of my readers might find their own useful reminders. If so, my job is done!

Thanks, Fiona, for visiting. Hope the last few days of your blog tour go well!

Oh, and Fiona’s own blog, where she writes about her life as a ‘gardener of words’ can be found here.

 

 

9 responses to “The Letters – Fiona Robyn’s blog tour

  1. Some great questions here, and great answers to match.

    I loved the sea scenes too. And I’ve always found the sea is a great place to sit and think, and I’ve never really known why, and now perhaps I understand it more due to that comment about the edges, of the land and the person. Thanks for that mini-revelation.

    I like the gentle power of persuasion that fiction can have too – I’m sure I’ve been far more positively influenced by made up characters that I have by real life preachers of however good a message.

  2. Susan and Fiona, what a wonderful interview and now I think I will have to purchase The Letters!

    Susan, I am pleased that you found my interview question stimulating and decided to borrow it.Thanks for giving me credit. I appreciate it!

    Fiona, I love your description of poetic language! Wonderful!

  3. Thank you, Susan and Fiona.

    Fiona, I love your description of distilled language as “a spoonful of sweet, sharp raspberry sorbet as opposed to bread and butter”.

    Best wishes for your firstborn’s success.

  4. very interestign interview, thanks for linking in with my interview with Fiona.

    I really like your last question, I think all writers and artists should address the issues that matter to them, but to avoid ranting or preaching, because that doesn’t work and in fact is often counterproductive.

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