Born in Port Moresby and raised in Hobart, Fay gradually realized that however many people had landed on the moon, dreaming of being an astronaut wouldn’t get her anywhere. Nor, it seemed, would dreaming of being an author – though she hedged her bets by studying engineering, since “engineers make the best science fiction writers.”
A move to Adelaide and a career later, Fay is now learning that with hard work, perseverance and luck, some dreams can come true. And if Elon Musk achieves his dreams, who knows, maybe she’ll get to travel to space (or at least the edge of space) after all!
Fay has been selected as one judges of the Science Fiction Short Story category, for the 2023 Aurealis Awards. Find out more here.
Author Q & A:
When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
It wasn’t a realization so much as an assumption. When I was about three, as my mother read to me, I had the thought that once I’d learnt to read books, I’d write books. By the time I heard The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” for the first time, many years later, it was obviously about me – except for the “years to write” bit. When you’re eight-ish, that sounds excruciating! And the more books I read, the more I wanted to invent worlds and characters and give other people the same pleasure I got from reading.
Then came responsible messaging about career, income and shelving your dreams. Plus, as Uni beckoned, I didn’t feel that I had enough life experience to be a good author. Apart from totally lacking the hands-on practicality a McGyver or Indiana Jones would need, I only had high school science – inadequate for sci-fi. So I studied engineering. I’ve since heard that it’s more traditional to study what you’re good at than bad at, but maybe that depends on your aims.
What made you write “Empathy”?
It was early 2012. I had opened up to my creative side as part of organising a street art festival and had helped my husband co-author a history of the South Australian taxi industry – my first book! What about my second? I’d had a story idea in my head for ages, I was turning 40 in June, I was between projects, so I decided to test whether I had it in me to be an author by setting the goal of writing a novel before my birthday.
Two weeks and 50,000 words later, I’d learned that I loved writing more than I knew, I had a first draft of my first ever novel (which became “Empathy”) and I was developing RSI. I really should’ve paid more attention to that last bit…
Do you have any other books in the pipeline?
Erm, yes. I drafted a sequel plus another three novels – when I was supposed to be doing other things. Having now gained my doctorate, I’m focusing on getting “Empathy” published, then I’ll deal with the backlog of short stories and manuscripts needing attention, and then the characters screaming at me to tell their stories. And having gained the rights to the taxi history, bringing this up to date and getting it published. And translating “Empathy” into Spanish (bit of a stretch goal, that one!)
Your name block is unusual. Tell us about it.
“Fay Lee” combines my British first name with a Chinese family surname (fun fact: “Lee” means “plum”), and the name block references both European wax and Chinese ink seals. And old Chinese coins. I always loved those! When we read, we don’t put letters together to form words, we recognize entire blocks of characters. Similarly, instead of looking for “Fay Lee” on my books, you can look for my name block. That’s the theory, anyway!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
How about a top three?
- Make sure your set-up is ergonomic. RSI isn’t fun. Worst case, it’s a chronic condition that stops you writing. No-one wants that!
- Writing develops your skills. Polishing your work-in-progress before you’ve finished it doesn’t. If you’re endlessly polishing, then stop, diagnose what’s getting in the way of actual writing, and address it. Easier said than done, but this is part of being an author.
- Join a critique group. Only (unbiased) readers can tell you what (unbiased) readers think about your writing. A good critique group will help you find your voice, learn your craft, improve your work-in-progress, and recharge your batteries. Not all critique groups are equal; find the one you need.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Too many things. Cycling for fun, health and the environment; cycle advocacy for other people’s fun, their health and again for the environment; gardening (plants are restorative); fulfilling Councillor duties (at least until the next local government election); being a friend/ daughter/ sister/ wife/ etc.
And getting interested in random things and researching them to the nth degree. A too-engaged mind is my biggest barrier to writing, but it’s also my muse and an asset when I’m writing, so…
How can readers contact you?
Empathy: Where sex meets science fiction, Panel discussion with Steve Davis Podcast.
Book Review: Empathy, by Fay Lee, Glam Adelaides
Read this great review of Empathy by Clare Rhoden in Aurealis Magazine.
Read Fay Lee’s Short Story on Infectiveink.com: Independence Day
To buy a copy of Fay’s book, ‘Empathy’ visit the Hawkeye bookstore here.
Read some of Fay’s Flash Fiction
Both pieces were published in Antipodena SF