March 2016: Lynsey May
26th February 2016
Curated by Danna Solomon.
This month’s featured resident artist is writer Lynsey May.
“I’m not a plotter or a planner,” Lynsey says, reassuring me that “it’ll all make sense” as I fumble with my unlined notebook. “I’m one of the people who just writes a bunch of stuff and then ‘Frankensteins’ it together at the end. You’ll listen back and be like, ‘yeah.’” I comment that it feels a bit appropriate that our conversation is jumping around, to which she replies, “Exactly. This is exactly how I write.”
I sat down with Lynsey May, an Edinburgh native, but new addition to our roster, to get a sense of what’s going on with her work now that she’s taken up residence at Out of the Blue’s recently-opened Leith Walk Studios space. The building, on lease from the Council, is an off-beat standalone structure on Leith Walk. From the outside, Leith Walk Studios isn’t much to look at, but Lynsey says, “it kind of suits me that that’s the type of place it is for the kind of thing that I’m doing. … I’ve been waiting quite a long time to find a space. It’s the right size for just one writer, [and it’s] a quiet studio.” While Lynsey maintains that a writer “should, and can, write on anything,” having her space, her lined notepad and her fountain pen certainly helps her to get “in the right mind frame” to tackle longer pieces.
As her biography quips, Lynsey “lives, loves, and writes in Edinburgh.” With a background in copywriting for digital marketing, Lynsey maintains freelance contracts while working on her fiction simultaneously. Her long-awaited studio space provides a haven for her to focus on creative work away from the pressures of her copywriting contracts, and the mundanity of home. In addition to blogging and copy assignments, Lynsey takes on short-term freelance roles with local literary organisations, as she enjoys “being around people in the literary scene.” Some of her past posts have been with Edinburgh City of Literature, Scottish Book Trust and Edinburgh Review.
Lynsey has loved making up stories since her novelist grandmother instilled in her a passion for storytelling as a child. It was confidence, not passion, that prevented her from “taking the leap” towards pursuing writing full-time until comparatively late in life. She says, “I think for a lot of my teens and early twenties I kind of discounted the idea. I think I didn’t really have the confidence to be like, ‘well, I could just do this.’ When I studied creative writing,” she remembers, “even though I was definitely old enough, I don’t think I was mature enough in a creative sense.”
Once Lynsey made the decision to go freelance and focus on her own writing, the positive reinforcement was nearly immediate. Just a few months after leaving her marketing job at Bigmouth Media, Lynsey won a 2012/13 New Writers Award from Scottish Book Trust for her novel The Miraculous Return of Flora Whyte. She perceived the recognition as an indicator that she was on the right track: “It was a big, ‘Okay it’s fine, you haven’t destroyed your entire life…’ [I started thinking], ‘I can do this.’”
Her studio on Leith Walk helps Lynsey deal with what she considers the biggest challenge of writing: making sure to get enough space from a subject to see it clearly. She says, “it’s easy to write every day, but it’s hard to create something when you’re also juggling your normal life and your work and your emails. … You can just keep on working without actually finding the thing that you should be working on.” Another tactic Lynsey employs to get the space she needs is spending the occasional day or two in a rental flat or hotel, “like a super-mini retreat.” Lynsey also applies for any writers’ retreats that are available, and last summer spent one month in France on a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship.
Although Lynsey enjoys travelling occasionally, she is a self-identified “homebody.” Scottish links infuse many of her works, including her first novel, and her short story Harbour of the Youth, which is currently featured on the Reykjavik City of Literature website. Lynsey’s current project, however, has international and historical attributes, which represent new challenges for her as a writer. “I’ve never written anything historical before,” she says. “I really wanted to write something about ballet, because it’s something that I’ve always been really interested in. It was one of those books that I’d kind of been putting off writing for a long time out of fear I wasn’t ready, and again, I was like, ‘You know what? This is the time.’ …Part of it is the story of a ballet from its conception to the modern day, so it’s 150 years of time. It jumps through the different productions throughout the centuries. … I’ve seen quite a lot over the years, and I’ve read so many biographies about dancers and choreographers. … I did take ballet when I was younger, but I gave up when I was probably about 15, and I realised I was never going to be as good as I wanted to be.”
When Lynsey is not writing, she is probably reading. A ravenous consumer of books, Lynsey talks about visualising her ‘to-read’ stack as I ask her what she has enjoyed lately. “All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, I thought was absolutely amazing, and I really enjoyed Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.” She thinks a bit longer on the question: “And…yeah…lots,” she says, “I’ve got a big book-buying problem.” Lynsey does not have books in her studio at the moment, which she says might be a permanent arrangement: “It’s actually really weird having no books in the studio space. But, it’s kind of like, ‘well…if I have them…I would just read them…’”