Have you ever been to Odds and Ends? It’s a lovely coffee shop in Edinburgh that has a collection of the most random pieces of furniture scattered around, such as suitcases used for tables, chest of drawers on the walls and you’re served good coffee in ridiculously lovely mugs. I was sold as soon as I walked in the door and loved that it was the backdrop to my next Creative Conversations with Lara.
I decided to go old school with a pen and notebook to take notes during my conversation with Lara, and I loved it. I haven’t really set on a style for my creative conversations thus far, which has been both wonderfully freeing but sometimes frustrating because each one has had a different structure and layout every time. But I think I’m set on this way, for now. (Edit: as a write this I’ve now done four interviews this way and I think I’m sold..)
I loved chatting with Lara, it was so great to speak with someone and discover so many parallels through our conversation; we both have overly active imaginations and a favoured past time of people watching!
Lara is from Australia, but grew up in Devon by way of Bristol, Bournemouth and Sheffield where she did her undergrad. Then Edinburgh University where she did her Master’s degree and still resides. “I met a boy…” she tells me. But originally chose Edinburgh when she fell in love with our city after a brief holiday back when she was 20. “I love that you can walk everywhere, I love the Pentlands and Crammond”. “I also lived in Seoul, South Korea for a couple of years”. You know when someone just throws something into a conversation that makes you sit up a bit straighter?! I was fascinated as I’ve never been anywhere remotely near South Korea. “Everything there is open 24/7 and there is a huge eating and drinking culture. But different from here. Everyone does it because it’s social. Seoul is a city with loads to do; a sprawling metropolis, designed beautifully and very creative”. I’ve already added it to my list, pals.
Lara is a writer. Her Master’s at Edinburgh University was in Creative Writing, and she’s been writing as far back as she can remember. “My Mum still has a bunch of one page stories from when I was 6 years old that I wrote on a type-writer!”. “Writing short stories is something I’ve always done. Writing, and reading make me very happy”. This makes me smile because I used to have a type writer when I was little too. Lara tells me that she would describe her current work as ‘Modern Day Realism’ “None of the stories are based on real life, although a lot of people ask if they are”. Except one, which is Lara’s favourite story she has written. It also happened to be the piece she submitted for her Master’s degree and was the first piece she had published. It’s called “The Correct Recipe for Bleached Bones”. “When that happened, that was the first time I thought I could do this” I love those moments of realisation!
I chatted to Lara a bit further about her childhood; she lived on a farm between the ages of 5-9 and thinks her overly active imagination is down to being an only child and creating different worlds and realities. She also played music growing up; the sax, piano and trumpet. “My Dad was very musical, he played the violin and really encouraged me to play. So I had piano lessons as a kid. The sax was all me though. I have a passion for music, but always saw it as a hobby and not a career.”
That took us nicely onto my curiosity about Lara’s thoughts on creativity, which is ultimately what this passion project of mine is all about. Do you think we are born with creativity inside us, or a skill that is honed over time? I really enjoyed hearing Lara’s answer: “I think if you have someone encouraging you to explore your creativity it helps you to develop and hone your skills. Many people who are creative were probably encouraged from a young age. But creativity still has to be innate. Exposure to something doesn’t necessarily change what you innately want. And not everyone has the desire to create, but can actively appreciate others creativity. Like Art Directors, for example.” I loved that answer.
Lara is currently writing her second book, very cool, and just hit the 20,000 word mark – at the time of our interview – which is crazy to me. Not so much to Lara, who says that she doesn’t really plan her book so much “it’s all in my head”. We talked a bit more about working days, as it occurred to me recently – and this happens every time I have a lot of editing and then come out of that phase – that I designed the life I’m living and don’t like falling into a specific structured way of working. At least not for long periods of time, as it gets a bit monotonous for me. Lara, it turns out, is a night owl and enjoys writing at night time “Because everything is done. I have freedom at night time because there are no responsibilities sitting at the back of my mind” I was curious whether Lara wrote to music or in total silence. Usually when I’m editing I need some sort of sound/noise happening so I’ll have podcasts or music or the hum of conversations from coffee shops as back drops. All of which I find stimulating and comforting as editing can be relatively lonely. “A big chunk of book two has been written to the Alt-J albums. I like the ambient sounds” Great minds!
I loved chatting with Lara and finding out about her, her writing practice, creativity and ultimately just having a bloody good chat for an hour. To finish I asked her what advice she would give to her younger self that might help any other budding writers, or just anyone in general. “Don’t make excuses. Don’t be afraid of showing people your work; I’m never offended by criticism because it allows for growth. You don’t always have to agree with criticism but do give space for it. There is a lot of respect involved with people showing their work and asking for help to grow and be better. Have a group of friends to meet with whom you trust and can share criticisms with. It really is helpful!”
Another piece of advice she had really aligned with some advice I was given by a mentor a couple of years ago. He said to me “Photograph everything, because you need to get all the crap photos and ideas out of your system so you can produce excellence” And Lara said the same “Write a lot of crap to get it out your system”. I nodded in agreement.
That wasn’t the end of her advice though, and I could have listened to way more, “Movies don’t take away from the book. Always read the book, even with the movies you love/hate – read the book. Challenge your feelings!” I quite like that. How many of us skip the book and go straight to the movie? Or maybe you just don’t watch the movie entirely. New challenge?!