I got a chance to meet up with newly published author, Eliza Robertson while she was in Victoria taking a break from studies in England.
How is your summer going?
Oh, fine… I have returned to Victoria for blackberry season. My augusts are typically bear-like.
What is the last book you read?
Right now, I am reading A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam. Half the book is written from the perspective of chimps. It’s remarkable. I catch myself offering my hand to others in friendship.
I recently finished Break it Down by Lydia Davis. When it comes to story writers, she’s a classic.
You’ve just published your first book, Wallflowers! What was your first reaction to the news of it being published?
I’d like to say “excitement,” but it felt more like relief. Story collections have always been difficult to sell. I was nervous no one would take it.
When studying in England, what do you miss most about Victoria?
The ocean. In Norwich, I live 30 minutes from the coast, but I never see it. In Victoria, my house is bordered by at least three beaches with tsunami hazard signs. Nothing says “home” like fear of the big one.
I miss wild animals that stand taller than me knee.
I miss Mexican food.
Not that we have loads of Mexican food, but there are a few, if you include food vans. And shops in which I can buy masa flour.
I miss hole-in-the-wall sushi.
I miss each of our 7 species of salmon.
How long did it take you to complete your first book?
Well, I wrote it during my undergraduate degree and MA. So: five years. In which time I was also working on other projects and a novel.
What are you afraid of? (from the INSTA-GRIT project)
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past few years? What did you learn?
I have been trying to decide how honestly I should answer this question, as it isn’t something I’ve talked about publicly. But: last summer I lost my father to cancer. I’m still figuring out what I’ve learned.
If you could have tea with any one person, who ever walked this earth, who would you tea with?
Flannery O’Connor. She was a salty, blunt woman I could learn a lot from. She died from lupus at the age of 39 but continued to write through her illness. She described herself as a: “pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex.”
She also said: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”
What causes you the most worry/anxiety when thinking about your career in the next five years? How do you press through anxiety and fears?
I am afraid of second-book syndrome. Like most industries, publishing glorifies the young. Or at least the new. I have gotten a lot of buzz this year as a “debut” author. You can only debut once, so naturally I feel uneasy when I look to the future. With the next book, I may still get away as a debut “novelist,” but after that? It’s very easy for authors to drop into obscurity.
How do I press through? I don’t have a choice.
Other writing. Often poetry, which I should read more of. Anne Carson has been inspiring me lately.
Film and photography. Shameless plug: I curate an online art space for Hamish Hamilton.
Music inspires me in a less direct way. I can’t write without it. To get through a scene, I sometimes play one song over and over.
Can you write me a short obituary based on how you would like to be remembered? Are you that person today?
Oy. That’s a hard one. (Though as it happens, I took a class on obituary writing…)
How about “story writer and dancer who swivelled like Jewel McGowan.”
( see Jewel McGowan YouTube clip)
And no I am not that person. I wish I were Jewel McGowan.
What is a motto you live by?
I always make a point to smell the roses. And pet cats. Even if I’m late, I’ll pet a cat.
Last song you danced to?
Oh god. I can tell you I danced two fridays ago, but I forget the songs. I’ll come back to this question.
OK: I’ve done some light swaying to “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” by Skip James.
Last question, can you tell me a secret?
I’m vegetarian, but last summer I tried caribou hunted by my cousin.
I have, on occasion, sampled meat off another person’s plate.
(I asked them first.)
(My housemates call this “birding.”)
(Not the meat-eating, but the sampling in general.)
I never buy it, though. The meat.
THANK YOU, ELIZA!!! XOXO
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