5 minutes with author Lyn McFarlane
In the Over60 “5 Minutes With” series, we ask book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next up is Lyn McFarlane, who is debuting her novel The Scarlet Cross on March 29.
Lyn McFarlane is a Canadian-Australian writer, lawyer and former freelance journalist. She splits her time between Sydney, Australia and Vancouver Island, Canada. She holds degrees in economics and journalism and a masters in law. The Scarlet Cross won the Arthur Ellis Prize for Best Unpublished Manuscript in 2019.
The Scarlet Cross will keep the reader on their toes as they join Meredith Griffin in the emergency department at St Jude Hospital, who questions why women who all had the same fatal injury were labelled as suicides.
Over60 spoke to Lyn and asked about where her love of writing came from, how much her own law history contributed to her book, and the inspiration behind The Scarlet Cross.
Could you tell us about your background and your writing style?
I have always loved language, and have a deep fondness for writers who can use words with precision and economy. My background as a lawyer may contribute to this, but even before I studied and practiced law, I relished authors - Raymond Carver, Colm Tobin or Cormac McCarthy, spring to mind - who deliver writing that is clean and sparse on its face, but has a top spin that knocks you off your feet. This is the writing style that I aspire to.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen, The Way it is Now by Garry Disher, and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.
With a background in journalism and degrees in law and economics, did you find that this helped you break into crime writing or help your writing in any way?
I have always wanted to write fiction and I have several unpublished short stories and half-written manuscripts to prove it! I don’t think my education and professional life were critical to being a novelist, but both things helped me find the discipline and confidence to follow an idea through to the end of a finished manuscript.
You need many things to write a novel. People may think creativity and talent are the main ingredients, but I think it mostly requires hard work, energy, grit, confidence and, in homage to Virginia Woolf, a room of one’s one. It’s also critical to have the support of others around you. All of the things I have done in my life, and all of my relationships, contributed to the writing of The Scarlet Cross.
What inspired you to write The Scarlet Cross?
The seed for The Scarlet Cross was planted by my sister, who is an avid crime reader and a former psychiatric nurse. She suggested a hospital as the main setting for a crime. We both agreed that hospitals were these unique public places and the frontline workers within them are often on the coal face of crime. The kernel for the idea was a simple question: What if an emergency nurse observes patients coming in with similar, strange cuts?
Those two ideas - the hospital setting and the pattern of patient deaths - set me off on my journey. Then, when I started building the characters, I realised I wanted to have these characters grapple with several important social issues: how people who have mental health issues manage them and how their families help of hinder that; sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace; institutional power.
Which author, living or deceased, would you most like to have dinner with?
I think this is the hardest question of all! There are so many, but I would say Margaret Atwood, because acidic wit makes for great dinner table banter.
What book (or books) do you think more people should read?
Middlemarch by George Eliot for its piercing intelligence and broad vision of humanity.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I use a mix of practicality, discipline and distraction. The practicality is inspired by a quote from Geraldine Brooks that I have on the corkboard above my computer. It’s a simple question: “Do bricklayers get bricklaying block?” What a lovely chastisement to just “Get on with it”! The discipline comes from my ballet training and my legal career and it says to me: “Lyn, just sit your butt in that chair and start.” The distraction is usually physical - I get up and go for a walk or do yoga. Or, I put on music. Or I do some scaffolding writing, which is writing about what I am writing - to feel like I am advancing the project.