Six questions with Eliza Robertson
She has been rightly dubbed–on both sides of the Atlantic–one of Canadian literature’s rising stars. And no wonder. Over the last few years, Eliza Robertson has garnered an impressive array of awards and accolades for her deeply enigmatic, pitch-perfect short stories.
I interviewed Eliza shortly after she won the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and since then have been eagerly anticipating her debut collection Wallflowers, which was released in Canada and the US earlier this year. Many of the stories are heart-stopping: gorgeous, faultless prose; compelling and original plotlines; and an eerie, quiet calm at the centre of each narrative, like the exhilarating comfort one might feel waiting out a blizzard in the warm, dark heart of a well-built snow fort.
Eliza Robertson was born in Vancouver and grew up on Vancouver Island. She attended the creative writing programs at the University of Victoria and the University of East Anglia, where she received the 2011 Man Booker Scholarship. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Journey Prize and CBC Short Story Prize. In 2013, her story “We Walked On Water” co-won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She now lives in England.
Congrats on all the rave and well deserved reviews of Wallflowers. How does it feel now to have the collection finally out there in the world? Have you been surprised in any way by the reception?
Thank you! It’s wonderful to have the book in the world, but life continues as normal. I’m still in England, hacking away at a PhD. I am grateful Wallflowers has received some attention; Stephen Myers at Hamish Hamilton played a huge role in that. To be honest, I always feel some surprise when I encounter a review. Even more so when it’s pretty positive. One thing I find reassuring is that some people’s favourite stories are other people’s “deadweights,” and vice versa. I don’t mind a little disagreement.
The New York Times says, in a great review of the collection,“Often the grief in her stories is so huge the telling requires an oblique approach that can contain the crushing devastation without slipping into sentimentality.” The same review goes on to say that you pay “careful attention to the smallest detail, the one rich with opportunity and heartbreak.” Why are you so drawn, do you think, to grief and heartbreak?
Not to be cynical, but aren’t grief and heartbreak a CanLit specialty? Literary fiction requires a degree of gravitas. Even the funny stories. Especially the funny stories! But for myself: I don’t know. My dad used to say, “I thought we gave her a happy childhood.” And they did. I had a very happy childhood.
Have you noticed any differences between how the book is being read and received in Canada and the US? What are you anticipating in the UK, when it comes out in January?
I am not very in-touch with what is happening in America. The NYT review came as a surprise. I am better known in Canada, so I have had more coverage there, but the individual reviews have not been so different. As for the UK: I haven’t a clue! Fingers crossed.
You’re back now at UEA, working on your PhD. What does the Canadian literature scene look like from the other side of the Atlantic?
As ever, it’s most of what I read. (In the last month: Miriam Toews, Joseph Boyden and Anne Carson.) It looks zesty from over here and I’m happy to peer in through the Twitter box.
If you had to spend the weekend with one of the characters in Wallflowers, who would it be and what would you do?
Gosh, good question. I think I’d ask the forlorn geographer in Here Be Dragons to take me to Vlad’s Vodka House.
What are you working on now Eliza? Can you tell us anything more about your next book?
I’ll tell you about what I am working on now, but it won’t be my next book. So far it’s set on both Salt Spring Island and San Diego and tentatively called Demi-Gods.
(Photo credit: Sara Hembree)