The Three Rs: Eliza Robertson

September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Eliza Robertson was born in Vancouver and studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. She pursued her MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she received the Man Booker Scholarship and the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer. In 2013, she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the CBC Short Story Prize. Her debut story collection, Wallflowers, comes out with Hamish Hamilton next fall.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

Not long ago. At least, not so long ago that it is impossible for me to remember. I was 19 or 20 and planning to be a lawyer. I was serious about it. I even spent four years in the model UN club! Then, the planets shifted and I walked across campus to join the faculty of Fine Arts. At that point, I wasn’t planning books yet. I was writing stories. Not long ago, I wrote so many stories, that I thought it would be cheery if they formed a book.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

At the moment, I don’t have children or another job, so I have the luxury to design my day around writing. I’ll often start with my first cup of coffee, after breakfast. That will last three or four hours, if I’m lucky. Subsequent hours of the work day will involve writing-related administration, which eats more time than you’d think. And reading.

Saying that, I find this is not an ideal system. Writing becomes a job, not something I look forward to. I work better with a diversion.

Do you type or write by hand?

Typically, I type. But I wrote my last story by hand. I am still experimenting with the perfect system. So far I have this:

Day 1

Write by hand.

Day 2

Type/translate previous day.
Write next scenes by hand.

And so on.

It’s satisfying to get physical with writing. And to go through pages of paper! I don’t think we realize how much we delete.

What have you read recently that you loved?

I’ve just finished John Berger’s To The Wedding, on the recommendation of my friend. Michael Ondaatje says: “Wherever I live in the world, I know I will have this book with me.” I feel similarly.

What are your all-time favourites?

Speaking of Ondaatje, I love Coming Through Slaughter. Rhythm carries that book. It’s breathtaking. Another breathtaking novel is Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009. What both of these books have in common is that they are small and the prose is exquisite.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

At first that sounded like an impossible question, but it’s not. I would read. I could not write if I did not read, so I would wind up with neither.

I can live without writing. I was drawn here by other people’s books.

What’s your third R, and why?


I would like to be many things at once. I would like to be that lawyer I mentioned, and a writer, a filmmaker, a spy, a cockeyed socialite like Little Edith Beale. If I had my way, I would lead three or four lives simultaneously.

The next best thing is travel. I am one of those annoying British Columbians who watched the “best place on earth” commercials and agreed very earnestly. But I will spend my next three years in the UK. I would also like to live in New York, New Orleans, Nice, in the off-season, and Berlin, Barcelona, Zanzibar, Capetown. And so on.

I can’t shapeshift, but I’ve become rather nomadic.


The Three Rs: Nikesh Shukla

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nikesh Shukla is a writer of fiction and television. His debut novel, Coconut Unlimited was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. Metro described it as ‘…a riot of cringeworthy moments made real by Shukla’s beautifully observed characters and talent for teen banter.’ In 2011, Nikesh co-wrote a non-fiction essay about the riots with Kieran Yates called Generation Vexed: What the Riots Don’t Tell Us About Our Nation’s Youth. Nikesh also produces a very interesting podcast, The Subaltern, which he describes as ‘the anti Q&A,’ but still found time to answer this very traditional Q&A.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I was halfway through performing an acoustic song about the secret identity of a superhero I had invented and how he had fallen in love with a girl and this was causing him some consternation once, at a gig underneath London Bridge, and I thought. This story is better than my inability to sing it. I have tried to be a rapper, a performance poet, a singer and it always came back to the word. I’ve written stories my entire life but it was this realisation, that I was distracting myself from the thing I was best at and I wasn’t very successful at it, that made me go away and stop rapping, stop singing, and just write. When I first knew? When I was 12 years old and realised I couldn’t draw, so I wrote a series of short story adventures for a superhero called Catman.


How does writing fit into your typical day?

I fit it around my dayjob. I get up early – 6am on weekdays, 7am on weekends and I write for two hours. I write during my work lunch break and because my wife is a teacher, she tends to be in bed earlier than me, so I then write from 10-2. I write best in the morning though. I’m sharper, more in tune with a freedom because of the dream world I’ve just been in and it’s quiet. There’s no email to respond to and no one I interact with is on Twitter, because, sensibly, they are asleep.

Do you type or write by hand?

I type. On whatever I can find. I’ve written parts of my novel on my laptop, on my iPad, on my phone and on Google Drive, in the cloud. Because I have to fit writing in around a dayjob, I need to access my book at all times and work quickly. I don’t believe in all this romantic BS about feeling the words at the end of your pen nib. That’s a bit wanky. For me, it’s about the volume of words, getting them down and then getting them right.

 What have you read recently that you loved?

I have read my friend Evie Wyld’s second novel, All the Birds, Singing, which is a really special book. It’s spooky, tense, sad, really bloody sad and peppered with the type of insight and description and sense of tone and place and person that makes a writer jealous as hell. I’ve also read the brilliant Sam Lipsyte’s new short story collection, The Fun Parts, which is his usual brand of funny loser doing horrible things to other funny losers. It’s hard work because everyone is flawed and nasty to each other and kinda pathetic. But it’s also brilliant. I recommend you read each story one at a time instead of mainlining them all. I’ve also read a draft of my other brilliant friend, James Smythe’s new as-yet untitled sequel to The Explorer, which amps up the tension, the sense of helplessness and the expanse of space, and the messes with your head. It’s brilliant. I think it’ll be called The Echo.

What are your all-time favourites?

My all-time favourite type of Indian bread is the thepla. It’s a chapatti fried with cumin seeds and dried fenugreek and turmeric. It’s delicious.

My favourite current author is Colson Whitehead because he is able to be free of genre, free of stereotype, and free of the shackles of literary fiction and still write about race with humour, imagination and breathless prose.

My favourite city is London. It’s the best city in the world.

My favourite person to hang out with is my agent Jamie because he makes me laugh more than anyone I know.

My favourite cool dude on the planet is Josie Long. She’s the most inspiring person I know. If I could be 10% like Josie Long, I would be a better human being.

My favourite writing partner is either Gavin James Bower or James Smythe. Because we write good things together.

My favourite thing to do with my dad is watch cricket.

My favourite song right now is The Recipe by Swami Baracus, because it’s old school rhymes with an old school conceit, why is rapping like cooking, and it’s consistent in its delivery of conceit

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Writing. Because there’s stuff in my brain that I can’t get by reading. I write because no one else is writing the thing that I want to read to tell me about myself. That’s why I do it. So I have something I know is just for me, the quiet, nerdy, brown underdog who is the sad clown.

What’s your third R, and why?

Raw chilli. I’ve been growing my own chillis and you can’t beat a fresh sting, one that tastes earthy and newly-plucked from the elements over ground and processed chilli powder. Grow your own raw chillis. Your curries will never taste the same again.

The Three Rs: Rae Spoon

September 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

The autumn season of author interviews kicks off with musician and writer Rae Spoon, whose first novel, First Spring Grass Fire, was published last year.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I read a lot as a child. It provided an escape for me, and opened up possibilities for me to re-imagine my world. I started playing guitar when I was eleven, and I began writing songs shortly after that. I thought for a long time that lyrics would be the only way I expressed myself through words, but a few years ago I began writing short stories as part of a larger project. A filmmaker had begun filming me for a musical documentary produced by the NFB, and she asked me for some material to help her sketch out the film’s narrative. I discovered I had a lot to write about, and those early pieces eventually turned into my first novel. I actually didn’t know I wanted to write books until I wrote one, and now I’m working on a second.

How does writing fit into your typical day?

It depends on where I am. When I’m on tour, writing happens much more haphazardly. I might be on an airplane, or a bus, and I’ll get out my laptop and start writing. Sometimes I’ll write while I’m in a hotel room, or waiting at the airport. Tours can be unpredictable, and often they’re very busy, but they usually come with a few long stretches of time where I can be by myself and write.

When I’m at home, I often spend most of my time either writing or making music. I usually don’t do both in the course of a day, and I never really know which one I’m going to do until I go to my office and begin. Sometimes I’ll go a week or two without writing, especially if I’m busy with music, but I always come back to it.

Do you type or write by hand?

I like to type because I find that if I’m writing by hand my writing gets messy quite quickly and it’s difficult to read later on.

What have you read recently that you loved?

I read Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist last year and I think it’s a fantastic novel. I really like how she portrays the ways that other people’s expectations of us, particularly with regard to gender, and, in this story, masculinity, affect our lives.

What are your all-time favourites?

I actually don’t have any all-time favourite books. I find that my experience of reading a book is very rooted in what’s happening in my life at that moment, and so often the last book I’ve read becomes my favourite until I begin the next one.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

I would choose to write. Communicating my own experience through words, first with song lyrics and more recently with narrative, has always been really important to me and I wouldn’t want to give it up.

What’s your third R?

Music, or re-mixing, if I have to choose a word that begins with ‘r.’

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