Today we are talking to Eowyn Ivey, Alaskan bookseller who in 2012 became an international literary sensation. She made this year’s The Red List Hot 100, released by The Red Pages – a list which sets out to predict up and coming names in the world of fashion, music, TV, film, politics, sport and society. Last year only one novelist made the list – Téa Obreht, who as we all know went on to win the Orange Prize for fiction. Eowyn’s debut novel The Snow Child was a ‘Book at Bedtime’ read on Radio 4, selected for the prestigious Waterstones Eleven promotion, is a finalist in Amazon’s Rising Stars promotion and knocked The Bible off the top spot when released in Norway. In hardback it reached number 5 on the Sunday Times bestseller lists, no mean feat for a first novel! Snow Day, 30th August 2012, is Eowyn’s blog tour to celebrate her fantastic success with the novel – which we reviewed back when it was released – and she talked exclusively to Sarah from KCARAB about her debut novel.
First of all, I’d like to welcome you to keepcalmandreadabook and just tell you how much I loved the book!
Thank you so much. I’m honoured to be here.
You must be so pleased with the response your book has received – did you ever think The Snow Child would do so well?
Never could I have imagined this response. As a bookseller, I knew how tough the odds were. There are so many wonderful books out there, and many others I suspect never see the light of day. I am tremendously grateful to the publishers, booksellers, readers, reviewers and bloggers who have helped The Snow Child find its way into the world.
How has your day-to-day job as a bookseller informed your writing?
I never would have written The Snow Child without my work at Fireside Books. I discovered my inspiration there, in the form of a children’s paperback book that told the original Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka. But in a much more important way, the bookstore surrounds me with books and readers and ideas in a way that feeds my imagination.
It’s evident from the vivid, evocative descriptions of the scenery that you draw a lot of inspiration from living in Alaska – how do you think your writing would change if you moved away?
I think it was actually important that I did move away. I left Alaska for four years to attend college in Washington State, and with my extended family spread across the United States, I’ve also travelled quite a bit. Without that separation, I’m not sure I would have realized just how unique Alaska is. I gained a different appreciation and insight into the place I don’t think I would have otherwise. That being said, if I had never lived in Alaska, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
Does Mabel and Jack’s relationship with the beautiful but unforgiving land mirror your own feelings towards it?
That was one of the elements I wanted to explore in the novel – to imagine what it would be like to come to Alaska for the first time and not immediately be at home here. I’ve never experienced that. I grew up here and it’s an important part of who I am. I’ve always admired its extremes. Seeing Alaska through outsiders’ eyes, and to witness them falling in love with it, interested me as a writer.
The snow child’s garments are so richly described in the novel – especially contrasted to Jack and Mabel’s practical clothes. How did you find inspiration for these?
I had a lot of fun with that! When I discovered the Snegurochka storybook, I began researching the fairy tale. I came across beautiful images of the snow maiden from over the centuries, depicted in Russian oil paintings and lacquer boxes and children’s books, and I wove them into my descriptions of the snow child. Other elements, like the swan feathers, just developed with the course of the novel.
Did you make any snow children yourself while you were writing the novel?
I’ve been making snowmen for as long as I can remember, and every winter my husband, daughters and I make them when the snow conditions are right. One of the most magical moments, though, was when my husband and I returned last February from a book tour in the UK. As we drove up our driveway, three snowmen with colorful scarfs and hats greeted us along the way. While we were away, our neighbors had come over and made them to welcome us home.
You’ve said that you used the Russian fairytale of the snow maiden for the basis of the novel – do you feel that you’ve done the original tale justice?
I’ve told it the only way I could, through my own kaleidoscope of experience and sentiments. Someone else would write the same fairy tale an entirely different way, and that’s what I love about fiction. We’re all telling the same stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, over and over again, and yet each of us is unique and we bring that uniqueness to the page.
One of the great things about The Snow Child is the careful mix of wonderful fantasy and sobering reality. How hard was it to keep this balance?
Thank you! From the beginning, that was what drew me to the story — the texture of an ethereal snow maiden revealed against a gritty, at times dark, landscape. So while it was challenging, it was where I found the joy and excitement as a writer.
The set of covers for the book are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. How did you envisage the cover when you were writing it? Which version is your favourite?
I have been so incredibly fortunate with my book covers. I’ve always heard horror stories about authors being stuck with covers they hate, but I can honestly say there hasn’t been a single edition that I haven’t adored. Each and every one of them is a work of art. And part of the beauty is how different they are, each reflecting different aesthetics and culture.
Something that made this book so wonderful to read was its true emotional depth. Was that a struggle to achieve?
Again, thank you. That’s a very high compliment. I’ve often seen fiction described as an act of empathy, and I agree entirely. Both reading and writing fiction is about trying to understand another human being. I admit that when I first started working on The Snow Child, it wasn’t easy. The characters felt flat, like little stick figures I was holding up and making talk to each other. But as I got to know them, and to empathize with them, it became much easier and more rewarding.
You were named after Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings – how does it make you feel that someone may name their child after one of your characters?
What a wonderful thought! It’s funny that you mention this because Mabel is my great-grandmother’s name and I wanted to name my second daughter after her. No one else in the family agreed with me, so we named her Aurora instead. But in a sense, I still got my way – I named my main character Mabel.
Can you sum up your favourite character in five words?
Mysterious. Fragile. Violent. Beautiful. Fleeting.
So what can Eowyn Ivey fans expect from you next? Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the next book!
I have begun another novel, although The Snow Child is still keeping me pleasantly busy. My next novel is also about Alaska, set in the past with some mythological elements. But I’m imagining something more adventurous and epic in nature. Thank you for asking! And thank you for the delightful conversation.
Thank you so much for talking to us, Eowyn. And now KCARAB fans have the chance to win their very own copy of The Snow Child! All you have to do is answer this question:
What is the snow child’s name?
Tweet your answer to @keepcalmbooks. The first person to answer correctly will win!
We’d like to thank Eowyn Ivey for talking to us, Sam Eades for making it happen and Headline for publishing the book that made it all possible!