PHOTO BY LAURA STEVENS, COURTESY OF HARRIET ALIDA LYE

Harriet Alida Lye is a Toronto-based writer and the founder of the international literary magazine Her Royal Majesty. Her past projects include the Little Red Guide to Toronto, for which she was the writer and photographer. In an interview with The Varsity, Lye discussed her creative ventures and the quirks of the writing process.

Lye founded Her Royal Majesty as an undergraduate student in Nova Scotia, and it became international when she moved to Paris, where she lived for seven years. “The Anglophone community there is so strong,” said Lye.

Her experience in Paris centred on the famous bookstore Shakespeare & Company, where she worked and later lived as a writer-in-residence.

At Shakespeare & Company, Lye was able to hold several launch events and readings, which she described as “a really natural way of getting to extend the network and meet writers from all over the world.” The main thing that elevated the magazine to a new level, said Lye, “was finding two hugely talented and generous graphic designers, one for the website and one for the printed magazine, whose work elevated the journal to what I would consider the caliber of an ‘international magazine.’”

Lye contributed to Julie de Muer’s project Promenade nocturne à Marseille, with two other writers on a Google Story. The project allows participants to digitally explore the streets of Marseilles by night. While freelancing for a French advertising agency, she was assigned to find people in France who had relied on Google’s ‘Search and Maps’ features for a creative or humanitarian project.

“I found Julie and became super interested in her story because of the way she discovered, and then animated, contemporary and historical narratives in her city in order to help try to remove the negative associations that Marseille has in the public consciousness,” Lye said.

Lye believes that the biggest challenge writers face is “self doubt, combined with an oversaturation of the market.”

She described the difficulty of feeling confident about a written work and putting it in the world.

On her own writing process, she said that the first draft of her upcoming novel The Honey Farm was written over the course of two or three months, and she wrote around 1,500 words a day while staying at a family friend’s house in northern Sweden. The greenhouse was one of her favourite spots, and she would work there with her laptop perched on her knees.

“I look things up on Google Maps a lot and walk around the digital streets, open up books and read paragraphs at random just to remind myself of what a sentence is, drink coffee, look at the sky, walk,” she said. After taking a break from the book for over a year, she spent two years doing intense edits, with the help of many readers. At one point during these edits, she cut 200 pages from the novel, and rewrote 100.

The result is a psychological thriller as well as “a love story/identity crisis.” Lye outlined the novel’s development, explaining how its conception began with the setting, a honey farm in northern Ontario, followed by the character of the woman who runs it, Cynthia.

The book follows Silvia and Ibrahim, who end up at Cynthia’s farm after she markets it as a writer’s retreat to attract free labour. “At the start of the novel, Silvia has just graduated from university, has a very closed and Catholic background, and wants to be a writer, but has never written much of anything,” Lye said.

The Honey Farm will be published in April 2018 by Nimbus Press.

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