Harriet Lye is a 24 year-old Canadian living and working in Paris. A writer, editor and teacher, she founded Her Royal Majesty, a Paris-based literary magazine in 2008. The launch party for the 11th issue is Tuesday, November the 1st. Focused on the theme of Doubles, the works collected in the new issue explore questions of duality, opposites and partnership, and include a collaboration between James Franco and Alison Higgins that illustrates how two people can lead similar lives and have similar goals but with very different outcomes.
I met Harriet at Anne Marsella’s reading at the Library. Harriet was part of Anne’s Belleville Choir and did a fabulous job. She will present her own work at the Young Writers reading at the American University tomorrow at 6:30pm. Here, we talk about Paris, balancing art and day jobs, and what she has on her nightstand.
What brought you to Paris?
There are lots of reasons, but it might come down to this simple one: my room-mate in Halifax was going to be spending a year in Dijon and I wanted to do better. I found a way to make it work and did a university exchange with the American University of Paris.
What keeps you in Paris?
The connectivity of things, the convenience, the democracy of proximity; the language, the food, the people. I am building my home here, and once you’ve started building here (or anywhere) for the long-term, it’s harder to turtle yourself to a new place.
You are the founder and editor-in-chief of Her Royal Majesty, a Paris-based literary arts magazine. What have been some of the challenges and rewards of creating and maintaining the magazine?
It really is about creating a win-win-win situation for everyone. The artists and writers get their work published and shared, the public gets the opportunity to discover and learn about these wonderful creators, and I get the satisfaction of putting it all together. This tri-partite scenario is very rewarding. I like feeling involved, like I am participating in and contributing to some greater thing. I meet such amazing people through working at this, too – I love how it creates community and brings people together. I find people can be just so generous.
It can be challenging to find time for it all, to be self-motivating and constantly at work to build and develop this project. Another big challenge is money: finding enough to continue printing, finding enough time to work on the side so that I can support myself. The magazine is not a profit-making venture.
Can you tell us a bit about your other lives?
I have never not had a day job, even if it’s just a patchwork of odd-jobs that, combined, somehow make (or not) enough money to live on. My jobs here have ranged from Director’s Assistant at an arts centre, bookseller at Shakespeare & Company, cultural journalist for a French magazine, copy editor for some European charities and agencies, English teacher for the children of rich and famous art collectors and lawyers, reporter for the English news desk at France 24 (national news station), personal support worker to the handicapped son of Julia Kristeva…Right now, I teach writing and reading to children at Institut de la Tour, and do editing and writing for companies like the International Energy Agency and the Multiple Sclerosis Platform.
I also work as a live model for Rosy Lamb, one of my dearest friends, an artist whose work I deeply admire and respect – I publish her work regularly in my magazine. That’s one of the most delicious jobs, getting paid to lounge around naked in her beautiful studio and eat peaches and talk about life and art until our tea gets cold. It’s one of the few times that I get to just lie down and allow myself to think. I sometimes fall asleep, but when I’m awake and we’re not talking, I get a lot of good thinking done.
Working lots of different jobs sometimes feels like I’m always working, but it also sometimes feels like I’m never working – there’s the fact that variety keeps things interesting.
What books are on your nightstand?
A book of John Updike’s short stories, Praise by Robert Hass, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie by Jean Rhys, How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.
What is the best advice you have received?
My friend’s teacher would always say the number one rule of writing, or of doing anything, is “ass in chair.” You just have to sit down and do it, that’s all.
What advice would you give to writers interested in submitting to Her Royal Majesty?
It’s best to send a small variety (two stories, or three poems, something like that) when you submit – sometimes I really like something about a piece but find it doesn’t work in certain ways, or doesn’t fit with the rest of the issue. Biographical information and past publications isn’t particularly interesting – the work stands alone.
Short term (short term is easier): I’m going to Greece in a few weeks for a book and film festival, and the launch of the next issue of Five Dials. Rosa Rankin Gee and I have written a collaborative short story – passing pages back and forth or emailing bits of dialogue and description, building the story up piece by piece – to submit for the magazine.
Long term: I have ideas of opening up an online gallery and publishing company for the artists and writers whose work I represent, and organizing pop-up shops in cities all over the world. I also want time to focus on my own writing, though. I need to find an investor who wants to partner on the magazine and help us on the financial side, too. This will become a priority in the next months.