Tessa Byars, whose short story ‘Save the Heart for Last’ was published in the second issue of Lucent Dreaming, graduated from Sheffield University in the seventies, had a family, got lost in teaching English and Drama both in the UK and abroad for twenty years, and managed to find lots of excuses along the way for never properly getting down to writing. Now in her late sixties she is completing an MA in Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, and currently many of her stories have a little helping of magic around the edges to beg questions about what is real and what is not. She likes the idea of becoming a bona fide old crone at last, reinventing ancient tales and passing them on, as crones have always done. In this interview we find out how a brush with death led Tessa to pursue her dream of writing.
What inspired your piece, ‘Save the Heart for Last’ and how did it find its way to Lucent Dreaming?
One bright autumn morning last year I watched a spider painstakingly spinning its web across my bedroom window and a few days later there was a clutch of tiny baby spiders on the windowsill! I’d seen Louise Bourgeois’ monumental sculpture of a spider, ‘Maman’, at the Tate Modern a few years ago, and have always been intrigued by the Greek myth of Minerva and Arachne, an ancient tale which explores what Bourgeois described as ‘the privilege and the curse’ of making art. The short story competition’s theme of ‘Wonder’ seemed the perfect fit – sometimes, if one’s lucky, all the pieces just fall into place of their own accord…
What does writing mean to you?
It’s taken me a long time to recognise that writing has been something I wanted to do all along. I’ve always tinkered with stories and poems but never felt I had the confidence or time to devote myself to them. Being an English teacher I had the whole canon of Literary greats peering over my shoulder, shaking their heads at my feeble efforts, and going, ‘No dear, no, really not…’ Finally in my mid-sixties, after a brush with the Grim Reaper, I decided to ignore them and embarked on an MA in Creative Writing, so perhaps for me writing is a way of asserting, and celebrating, my real self at last. Sometimes I wish I had had the courage and determination years ago, but I also recognise that what I write now, I couldn’t have written when I was younger. Inevitably, our life experience informs the stories we create, and, undoubtedly, a lifetime of reading helps in the crafting too.
What writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
Unsurprisingly, the theme of metamorphosis seems to be a recurrent one, as it is in ‘Save the Heart for Last’. A collection of short stories drawing on myths, legends and folktales is occupying my time now, but one of the projects that impelled me onto the MA course was a historical novel, which I may yet go back to. For the moment I think that I’ve found my form in the short story, but who knows where the re-discovered need to write will lead me next?
How and where do you find the inspiration to write?
If I knew precisely where inspiration comes from I’d bottle it and make a fortune, but it’s the elusiveness of the muse (there’s Minerva again!) that makes it exciting as well as demanding. I’m often inspired by art, and whenever I’m writing I need visual images to keep me going, ‘Save the Heart for Last’ being an example. A story loosely based on the folktales of swan maidens sent me off to my local wildlife sanctuary to watch the swans feeding; another story has tattoos as a central motif so I visited a local tattoo studio – I was very tempted to have one, but am too much of a coward about pain!
What advice would you give to those who want to do what you do?
I keep a notebook with me and often jot down brief descriptions of things or the people I see about me – my local café is a good people-watching spot. I’m also increasingly aware of how other writers craft their work, so to read, read with attention, and read widely, is essential. Ultimately the only real advice is to go for it – like learning to ride a bike you might be a bit wobbly, and even fall off at times, but the joy when you’re finally pedalling free is worth all the scraped knees and bruises!
Where can people see more of what you do?
Many years ago I won a prize in a magazine competition, although this is my first story in print, a real excitement, but so far apart from winning another short story competition last year for the website Flash500, I haven’t had the chance to showcase my work. However, I’ve finally plucked up the courage to submit my work for publication either online or in print, so in the future, who knows?
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.