Fay Lee

Fay Lee

Q&A with Author Fay Lee

What inspired you to be a writer?

As a child, I had the thought that once I could read books, the next step would be to write them. As I got older, reading was my world. The first time I heard “Paperback Writer”, it was about me. I used to get to sleep by trying to imagine what would happen in the next episode of “Dr Who.”

Then… Disillusionment due to the lack of markets or a clear pathway, but also the knowledge that high school hadn’t provided enough technical background for science fiction, much less the practical mindset or experience with people that would support good writing. So, I studied engineering and got a job.

What prompted you to write 'Empathy'?

In 2012, with my 40th birthday looming, I suddenly had to know if I could write a novel. One option related to a confused dream I’d had that had left a lasting impression, and three scenes: an opening, middle and ending. 

Then I heard on the news yet another item involving the abuse of women. I can’t recall exactly what it was about, but I got so, so angry. It occurred to me that I could incorporate deeper themes of agency and self-determination into the dream idea, and Empathy was born.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

Too many. I wrote a sequel to Empathy and two other manuscripts, but when I started a PhD, I made a resolution not to write fiction until it was finished. Some short stories, another manuscript and a thesis later, I was officially allowed back to creative writing. That’s when I entered Empathy into the Hawkeye Publishing Manuscript Development Prize 2021 and won. 

Since then, I’ve been consumed by “don’t-renovate-in-a-pandemic” dramas, promoting Empathy and depression brought on by a close friend’s death. I’m currently working on a non-fiction book, after which I’ll have to turn to those languishing manuscripts.

What is your professional background?

I studied mechanical/electrical engineering but ended up as a traffic engineer specialising in walking and cycling. I also have a degree in computer science – again, useful for science fiction – but haven’t really used it.

Any advice you’d like to give aspiring writers?

First, make sure you have a good writing set up. I wrote the first draft of Empathy in two weeks, on the couch with a laptop – and promptly developed RSI. Learn from my mistake!

Next, join a critique group. Obviously, feedback tells you how people experience your work. But giving critiques helps you learn writing craft and how to interpret the feedback you’re given. Finally, getting published is huge. Celebrate it as an amazing milestone rather than the one achievement that will satisfy all your dreams – because there’s a good chance it won’t.

Who/what inspires you?

Generally, things around me are the raw material for plots, people and scenes. Specifically, my husband is my greatest asset as he talks to me about things he’s reading or listening to; and nurtures my inspiration with love, encouragement and the space to daydream.

What are your hobbies, interests and favourite books?

I ride a bike for transport, fun, health and the environment, and am active in cycle advocacy for the same reasons. Gardening is my mental balm. Radio and podcasts expose me to new topics. But my main ‘hobby’ would be researching anything I get interested in. Thanks to a science-heavy news feed, I’m currently wondering how to gas sprouting seeds with ethylene, as this has been found to improve plant growth. (Put a banana and a seed tray in a bag?)

Sadly, I don’t read many books, because if I pick one up, I typically don’t put it down until I’m finished – which can be problematic. 

How can readers contact you?

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