31 August 2016
The Pulitzer Prize-nominated author cut her teeth in journalism and bookselling before progressing to fiction
Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child and new novel To the Bright Edge of the World, spent around ten years working as a journalist for The Frontiersman newspaper, and the same amount of time as a bookseller at Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska, before the success of her debut enabled her to become a full-time writer. She tells us how her previous jobs helped her as a fiction writer, and how her creative process works.
• I thrive on a deadline – I brought that from my journalism background. Being a journalist has been a transferable skill in a lot of ways – deadlines, writing things and knowing I’m going to be edited. I’m used to people saying, ‘this doesn’t work, you need to change that’.
• I don’t know if I’d ever have written The Snow Child if I hadn’t worked as a bookseller. As a journalist, at the end of the day I’d tapped the vein and had no words left when it was over, but in the bookshop I was reading books, talking about books. Working there was probably the most important decision I made as a fiction writer.
• Reading is where we most learn. I’ve been inspired by reading anything from ancient classics right up to modern stuff – we can learn a lot from each other as writers.
• I write everything on the computer. I have a notebook, images and pictures, but that’s early on, the process of revving up my nerves and getting excited. I don’t know how people did it before word processing! Early on in this book, I sent a draft to an editor and had to cut 30,000 words and I was completely daunted – but my mom said, you’re always going to have that draft. All you’re risking is a lot of hard work! I don’t know if I could have done that if it had been all or nothing.
• Once I’m committed I pretty much work five days a week, when my husband and daughters are at work and school. But other times, I just write when I need to.
• A lot of writers plot it out and some fly by the seat of their pants, and I’m somewhere in between. I think structure helps – the fairytale, having the reports from a real expedition. Then I go down rabbit holes and follow what interests me. It doesn’t always work, and I have to retrench and rework it.
• Creating characters has been more of a challenge. One of the things I struggle with is not being able to create a character before I start writing – I discover them as I’m writing. I only realised Mabel in The Snow Child liked to draw three quarters of the way through. I’ll go back and weave things in. It’s like a blender, weaving all these things into a new concoction – it’s like getting to know a person I’ve never met before.