Getting into writing – an interview with Helen Rye

helen rye

Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK, where she shares a writing sofa with a six-year-old and a cat. She has won the Bath Flash Award, been nominated for Best Small Fictions and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Stories in or forthcoming in places including Flash Frontier, NFFD Anthology, Connotation Press.

Twitter: @helenrye

What got you into writing?

I’ve loved writing since I was a kid and lived in a world of books and imagination for far longer than was probably healthy. A couple of inspirational English teachers took me under their wing and encouraged me to take the possibility of being a writer seriously, but sixth form careers advice then was that there was no way to study creative writing beyond school unless you wanted to be a journalist, so I took the obvious route and went off to study physics while working for people who were developing revolutionary new types of leg bandage, moving on to work for homelessness and addiction charities.

I always had stories running through my head, telling myself that once this or that was out of the way, I’d start writing; eventually I hit 39 and realised that if this was ever going to happen, it should probably be now. I took a couple of excellent creative writing adult ed. courses, stopped again for a few exhausted years when my youngest daughter was born, then in 2014 joined a writing workshopping group tutored by the brilliant Ian Nettleton. I spent some time honing writing skills there, trying to write a novel, before falling in love with flash fiction over a story by Kit de Waal.

What inspires you?

I love the power of a tiny story to reach in through the spaces between the lines and speak directly to your heart. Writing that has this delicate ability to move the reader is my favourite kind.

I also get nerdily excited about viewing everyday life through the lens of science and nature: seeing in the action of gravitational waves, or the behaviour of tiny particles, a metaphor for something in human experience propels me to reach for my pen, although these pieces are often left needing work to get past the LOOK HOW COOL THIS METAPHOR IS, BE AS EXCITED ABOUT IT AS I AM stage to find a narrative arc.

I’ve always felt a connection with people on the margins of life, or who are hurting, all the voices that go unheard or are lost. These are the stories that move me, the ones I want to tell the most.


What makes you write even when the nights are long, your fingers aches and your eyes droop?

I made up a meme once that featured the statue of The David with a Mr Potatohead figure next to it in a similar pose. This is writing for me: what I want the story to be is always something so much better than it is in reality. This mismatch drives me to rewrite and edit endlessly, trying to turn that dumpy little wonky-eared story into something more beautiful.

Someone tweeted about spending two days swapping a comma in and out of a sentence in exactly the same space and I could have hugged them for making me feel less of a weirdo. That is 2am me, completely.

But there’s no buzz like it when you have an idea and the sentences are coming, or finding the exact words you’ve been looking for to describe something, or finally, finally getting that edit that makes the difference. That’s worth staying up into the small hours for.

Are you a traditionalist (print) or a new-wave (ebook)?

If someone wants to publish one of my stories I get embarrassingly over-excited about it regardless of whether it’s online or in print. Having a beautiful anthology sitting on the bookcase is still pretty nice, though.

What do you aspire to achieve if you haven’t already and how can ‘we’ help?

I love reading other people’s work, especially when it does all the things I want mine to do, and does them a lot better. I have writer friends whose work is what I want mine to be when it grows up. I just want to get better at this stuff, to match up, a bit less Potatohead and a bit more David.

I’ve had so much help and support over the past year it’s unreal. I love the writing community something fierce. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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