Showing posts with label Eowyn Ivey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eowyn Ivey. Show all posts

Monday, 31 December 2012

My favourite novels of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, so what better time to look back over a year of brilliant reads? I love reading about other people’s favourite books of the year, so as 2012 draws to a wet and windy close, here is my list.

Australian ML Stedman’s first book is the moving account of a young lighthouse keeper and his wife in the 1920s. The couple live on a remote island off the coast of Western Australia, barely seeing anyone from one month to the next. Then one morning a boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man and a crying baby inside. As I wrote in the Daily Express earlier this year: “Keep a box of tissues at the ready – Stedman’s book is a real tearjerker.”

I was lucky enough to hear Rachel Joyce speak about her work and cherish her description of writing as “like having knitting in my head.” Her debut novel is the touching, uplifting story of a man in his sixties who leaves home one morning to post a letter to Queenie Hennessy, a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years. She's dying, and on the spur of the moment he resolves to walk from one end of the country to the other to see her. He has no walking boots, no map, no compass and no mobile phone, but he’s adamant that he’s going to keep on walking till he gets there.

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French
As the years go by, I like crime novels and thrillers more and more. I’m a big fan of Ian Rankin but my favourite crime novel of the year was Tuesday’s Gone. The second of the husband and wife writing duo’s series about psychotherapist Frieda Klein was even better than the first. As I wrote on House With No Name: “I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.”

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
Harriet Lane writes beautifully and her story of a lonely, 30-something newspaper sub who witnesses a woman’s death in a car crash was one of my favourite reads. When I chose it for one of my Friday book reviews I called it a subtle, beautifully observed and exquisitely written novel – the sort of book you read in one beguiling go.” And I can’t say better than that.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
It’s very special when you love a book and then get the chance to interview its author. And thanks to Headline’s Sam Eades, I interviewed Eowyn Ivey for House With No Name this year. Her first novel, the tale of a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life, is, as I said at the time, “a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.”

Pure by Andrew Miller
One of my most memorable evenings of 2012 came way back in January when I was invited to the 2011 Costa Book Awards party. I’d been lucky enough to be on the judging panel for the first novel of the year category (a prize awarded to Christie Watson for the compelling Tiny Sunbirds Far Away) and as a result got an invitation to the glittering awards ceremony at Quaglino’s. The overall prize went to Andrew Miller for Pure, his novel set in a Paris cemetery four years before the start of the French Revolution. I later reviewed it for the Daily Express and wrote: “You can almost smell the cemetery’s stifling odour, see the noisy, turbulent streets and sense Baratte’s joy when he unexpectedly finds love in the midst of all the horror.”

2013 promises a host of eagerly anticipated novels, including Instructions for a Heatwave (February) by Maggie O’Farrell, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (March), the latest in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones saga and William Boyd’s new James Bond novel.

So on that happy note, thank you so much for reading House With No Name over the past year. I hope you have a cracking New Year’s Eve and a brilliant 2013.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Interview with Eowyn Ivey - author of The Snow Child

“…a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.” Those were my words in March, after I'd read Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child for the first time. Six months on, Eowyn’s debut novel is still one of the most memorable books I’ve read all year. It’s out in paperback in the UK today - and I was lucky enough to get the chance to interview her about it.

I understand you were named after a character in The Lord of the Rings. Did you read JRR Tolkein’s books as a child and what did you think of them?

Eowyn: I have to confess, I’ve never read The Lord of the Rings in its entirety. I tried several times when I was younger. After a chapter or two, I would lose interest, skip ahead until I found my name in the text and then put it down. Somehow I could never get past all the complexities of the world and battles. However, I did read The Hobbit when I was a child, and have read it several times since. It’s one of my favourite stories. I love the characters and the simplicity of the quest. It’s very endearing.

Did you enjoy writing as a child? And if so, what did you write?

Eowyn: I read a lot when I was a little girl. And occasionally I would get in a certain mood, often on a rainy, boring day, or when I was feeling thoughtful and melancholy, and I would write stories. I once wrote a story about a planet inhabited by talking cats, and another about a little boy who disappears into the reflection in a puddle. In high school, English literature and writing classes were my favourites and I realised I wanted to find a way to earn a living with words. But never did I imagine I would someday have a career as a novelist.

You have worked as a journalist and a bookseller. What impact did these jobs have on you as a writer?

Eowyn: I would like to think they helped shape me both as a reader and a writer. As a newspaper journalist, I often wrote 10 or 12 articles in a week. I strove for clarity and conciseness and making each word do as much work as possible. I worked with editors and did a lot of editing myself, which is tremendously useful in learning the basics of the English language. But the downside is that the job was demanding, and I had no energy or time for writing fiction. My work at Fireside Books has been the opposite – it’s a source of inspiration and creative rejuvenation. I’m surrounded by books and ideas and people who love both. As a bookseller, I’m constantly discovering new books and authors and seeing how people have broken the very rules I spent years learning as a journalist.

Could you tell me about how and where you found the inspiration for The Snow Child. Was the book straightforward to write and how long did it take you?

This is a perfect example of how Fireside Books has been quite literally a source for my inspiration. Several years ago I was working an evening shift when I discovered a little paperback children’s book that retold the Snegurochka fairy tale. I had never come across the story before, and I quickly read it standing there among the shelves. It was an incredible experience – I just knew this was the storyline I had been seeking. For nearly five years I had been working on a different novel, and I abandoned it to begin The Snow Child. In less than a year, I had a first draft. I felt inspired in a way I had never been before as a writer. As quickly as it came, though, I never knew exactly where the story was going until I wrote it.

The Alaskan landscape is beautifully portrayed in The Snow Child. What are the main characteristics of Alaska that you wanted to convey in the book?

Eowyn: I think like a lot of extreme locations, Alaska has become somewhat mythologised and romanticised. But what I love about this place is its complexity and contradictions, and that’s what I hoped to bring to the page. The northern wilderness is both awesome and delicate, beautiful and frightening.
The winter is so hard for Jack and Mabel, the two main characters. When you were growing up did you experience a similar sense of isolation during the winter months?

Eowyn: That was one aspect of writing The Snow Child that I really enjoyed as a writer – the challenge of seeing Alaska through eyes so different than my own. I have always loved the extremes here, the wind and snow and dark of winter, the lush green and midnight sun of the summer. And there is a sense of loneliness and isolation, but for me that has always made the camaraderie of neighbours and friends somehow all the sweeter. As a child, I found it exciting, and I still do. But I have always wondered what it would be like to come here for the first time as an adult and to not immediately love it. That’s what I had to imagine as I told Jack and Mabel’s story.

Do you live in a remote part of Alaska now and is it in any way similar to Jack and Mabel’s homestead?

Eowyn: Like a lot of Alaskans, we straddle two worlds. We live along the road system, so can drive easily to Anchorage and all its urban opportunities. We live near a small town, where we work, shop for groceries, go to the movies. But our home is in a relatively rural area, and we share some similarities with Jack and Mabel – we hunt moose, caribou and bear for meat, raise a vegetable garden and chickens, fill our freezer with salmon and heat our home with a wood-burning stove. There is an independent spirit here, and a lot of us strive for a certain amount of self-sufficiency.

Where do you write now?

Eowyn: Wherever I can find a quiet spot in my home. Right now I’m at a little sewing table in my bedroom where I can look out our back window toward Castle Mountain. Usually I am easily irritated and distracted by noises, like my daughters arguing or my husband talking on the telephone, so I’ll sometimes even put in earplugs. Then, once I’m particularly engaged with a project, I can write standing at our kitchen counter with the radio blaring, the phone ringing, and everyone talking at once and it doesn’t faze me.

Are you working on your second novel? Is it set in Alaska and can you give any hints as to what it is about?

Eowyn: Thank you for asking! I am working on another novel, although it is still early in the process. It will share some similarities with The Snow Child – set in historical Alaska with some mythological, magical elements. But I also want to continue to stretch my wings as a writer, to break some of those rules I learned, and try something new. I’m having a lot of fun.

Thank you so much to Eowyn for a fascinating and illuminating interview - and to Sam Eades at Headline for organising it. And for those of you about to read The Snow Child, trust me, you are in for a treat.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review, £7.99)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Friday book review - The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The two books that have made the biggest impression on me so far this year are the Costa prizewinning Pure, by Andrew Miller, and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child.

Coincidentally, I read The Snow Child at the end of January, when most of the UK was blanketed in snow. As I watched snowflakes drift gently past my Oxford window the view looked tame in comparison to the desolate Alaskan landscape where Ivey’s novel is set.

Alaskan born and bred, she knows the place like the back of her hand and excels at describing a magical world where wild animals appear out of hidden crevasses, waterfalls of ice cascade off the mountainside and the snow is so deep that you can get lost just a few minutes from home.

Ivey’s first novel is set in the 1920s and tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a middle-aged couple who move to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life.

They expect “a land of milk and honey” but are in for a rude awakening. Winters are harsh and food is scarce. Jack finds working on the land backbreaking, while Mabel experiences acute loneliness and despair. To add to their plight, they’re both struggling  to cope with the loss of their only child, who was stillborn ten years earlier.

But one winter’s night, their mood lifts when they make a little girl out of snow, complete with red scarf and mittens. The next morning the snow child has completely vanished. But all of a sudden, Jack glimpses a small blonde figure dashing through the trees, red scarf at her neck.

As the child comes and goes as she pleases, often with a red fox at her heels, the couple start to love her as their own daughter. But is the little girl real or a figment of their imagination? Cooped up in their remote homestead, could their minds be playing tricks on them?

Ivey was inspired to write The Snow Child after discovering an old Russian folk tale about a couple who see the little snow girl they sculpt turn into a real-life child. The result is a touching and truly exceptional portrayal of heartbreak and hope.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review, £14.99)
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