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June 28, 2018
In advance of our festival in September, The Word On The Street is participating in a pop-up event at Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market! We sat down with some of the authors that will be joining us for some readings from their latest works. Be sure to join us there on July 5!
WOTS: So. To start, this question is unavoidable: Why bees? What about their presence, relationships, and potential absence struck you, and became the central image in your novel?
Harriet Alida Lye: When I was young, my mum worked for the Canadian Beekeepers’ Association and the Ontario Honey Council. We had a 1-800 number to my house, as this was before the Internet and she managed all the internal communications between beekeepers. I have vivid memories of being at farms and looking into hives, trying to find the queen, and sucking straws of honey. But when I started writing this book, that wasn’t even on my mind. I was at a family friend’s property in the Loire Valley with some friends, and she keeps honey there. I told a colleague that I was spending a long weekend on a honey farm, and he said, “The Honey Farm sounds like a good title for a short story.” So this story really began with the title: it’s what planted the seed. I started thinking about what would happen in this story, and the first thing that came to mind was the Biblical quote that opens my novel, about the land of milk and honey. I started going deeper into the Biblical research while I went further into learning about bees, and it was the connections between those two themes – that intersect allegory, human relationships, and nature, both with this very poetic weight to them – that became one of the primary driving forces of my writing this novel.
WOTS: The Honey Farm is being categorized as a psychological thriller, compared in its deal to Black Swan and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. What draws you to this kind of writing? Have you always loved thrilling or mysterious stories?
HAL: I wanted to write a book that I wanted to read, and where I wanted to find out what happened at the end. As I wrote, I was experimenting and discovering what felt natural and true to the story. I didn’t set out to write a psychological thriller, it’s just where the story ended up going. I don’t read much mystery, or any other particular genre over another, but I do want to read something that keeps me invested and interested, whether that’s by beautiful or interesting language, or a compelling story. What I love about Never Let Me Go is that unnerving feeling it gave me as I was reading – I wouldn’t say it’s really a thriller either, but it is a story that plays with the revelation of information through an unusual, slightly supernatural story.
WOTS: Tell us a bit about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?
HAL: I started The Honey Farm by writing the three page prologue, and then I left it for a year to let the story, setting, and characters percolate. I was working on other things in the meantime, and then by the time I returned to the story, it felt much more real and vivid in my imagination, which made it easier to write. I wrote around 1500 words a day that summer and had the skeleton of a first draft at the end. It was another five years or so of edits and rewrites after that, and I really enjoy every step of the process, even though each step can be tortuous and hair-tearing in its own way. I wrote a lot of the first draft at my friend Hanna’s family home in northern Sweden, sitting in the greenhouse with their cat at my feet. His name is Toby and he has a bobbed tail, and he has a cameo in the novel.
WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and building out a story?
HAL: I’m not fussy at all in terms of where I write. I can write and edit anywhere, but I do need my laptop. I can make notes and work out structure with pen and paper, but I feel like my laptop is to my writing what a piano must be for a pianist.
WOTS: What would you say to a writer who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think is crucial to know?
HAL: I think the hardest thing about writing is to convince yourself that it’s necessary for you to do. To carve out time and dedicate yourself to it as though it’s a real job. That’s hard, because for the most part, it won’t make you any money or give you any recognition or encouragement for a very, very long time – if ever. You just have to find a way to write, to keep going with it, because the only thing that makes you a writer is writing.
WOTS: In the reviews for your book, some readers are unsettled by what they’re considering a sudden or abrupt ending. Why do you think this is, and how do you think a sudden ending can complement a novel that’s built on tension?
HAL: Yeah, a lot of the Goodreads reviews seem to complain about the fact that readers felt the ending just “ended,” and they don’t know what happens. I find that strange, because to me it’s very clear, despite being open-ended. What I love about open-ended endings, though, is that the story lives on in the reader’s mind. They will hopefully spend a bit more time than they otherwise might thinking about the story, trying to work it out in their heads, discussing their thoughts with other readers. I’ve loved hearing feedback from people about what they think happens in the unwritten part after I ended the novel: their interpretations are so specific and varied. That’s magical, really, and gives the reader a lot of power and agency. That’s what I’d hoped for. I love that people might interpret the ending differently from how I’d imagined it – there will always be some of that when you put art into the world, but this way the variations are just more pronounced.