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.


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