Monday, November 24, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eliza Robertson

Eliza Robertson [photo credit: Sara Hembree] was born in Vancouver and grew up on Vancouver Island. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Journey Prize and CBC Short Story Prize. In 2013, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Her first collection of stories, Wallflowers, came out with Hamish Hamilton Canada and Bloomsbury this year. She lives in England.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Well- it made me a "published author" rather than "writing student," but that answer only makes a difference when you've blagued your way onto a work visa. Honestly, I feel the same way about writing as I did a few years ago.

My more recent work is less exploratory with form, I think. I am exploring other things instead, like how a character thinks. I have always had trouble with how characters think! Saying that, I just wrote a story modelled after my astrological birth chart. Old habits, &c.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
That may be the nature of a class called WRIT 100 at UVic. I studied poetry first term, before I realized eighteen adjectives for "blue" was not poetic. My two favourite genres— fiction and screen-writing— were at the end of the year, after I had unlearned a lot of bad habits.

I still screenwrite, though. Right how I am working on a project with Carwell Casswell Productions in the UK. (

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I write so slowly! Novels take ages to start. I have to pretend they are not novels. First drafts do appear close to their final shape, though. That's one bonus to writing at glacial speed.

4 - Where does a short story usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Further to #3, I rarely think of my projects as "books" until I have a book-length word count. Maybe that will change some day. Short stories begin in details or moments for me. The last story I wrote spun out of two gentlemen who suntan in front of the council flats near my house.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Neither— I would say they are separate from my creative process. I do enjoy readings. I enjoy most events where writers gather and drink alcohol. (Let's be frank— the audiences of most readings are other writers. But I like events where non-writer readers gather too. Even better!)

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Sure. I have concerns like insecurities (see above re: "character thought/emotion.") But I don't think that's what you mean. For my PhD, I am researching rhythm in rhythm can offer an alternative "metaphor set" to analyze style. I am interested in both micro and macro rhythms—from punctuation marks to a novel's white space. I don't dwell on theory when I am writing, though.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I am not idealistic or prescriptive about these things. I think writers should be true to what they want to write. The funnelling of that work into "culture" will take care of itself.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I have always written with an editor... Be they university instructors, workshop pals, PhD supervisors, my agent, magazine editors, friends or family. Other people's opinions are integral to my revision process. With this book so far, I have mostly worked with my Canadian editor, Nicole Winstanley. I really respect and value her notes. Where I run into trouble, on occasion, is the copy editing. My MA supervisor, Andrew Cowan, once called my punctuation "unhelpfully eccentric."

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I hear so much good advice and forget it instantly. Right now one the one that applies to me might be, "just get on with it."

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

With porridge and coffee. Typically, I write in the morning for a few hours and do email admin in the afternoon. But that routine has been less defined of late. I write when I can, and particularly near deadlines.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Other writers. Herta Müller and Marilynne Robinson helped dig me out of my current work-in-progress. Housekeeping and The Land of Green Plums both revitalised the project when I was falling asleep at the wheel. (Not in any discernible way to readers, I am sure.)

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Woodsmoke and seaweed.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Well, I can't write without headphones, so music inspires me in an indirect, noise-cancelling way. I am also inspired by visual art— especially photography. I talk about that more on Hamish Hamilton's The Looking Glass. (

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I already mentioned Herta Müller and Marilynne Robinson. Also: Mark Anthony Jarman, Zsuzsi Gartner, Annabel Lyon, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Anne Carson...

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Go to India or South Africa.

Make my own yogurt.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I'd happily work in film. Production or pre-production, probably, though I've enjoyed editing in the past.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It started to feel better to do something more creative and self-guided. I wanted to go into law for a long time.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book- Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

Film- I recently watched Nebraska on the plane and really enjoyed it.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Well, I am technically still working on that novel I mentioned. And I've started another for the phd. So far, it's set on an island in the 1950s.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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