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Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was published in 2012 to international acclaim. Winner of the 2012 National Book Award International Author of the Year, Ivey has also been nominated for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel prize and Waterstones’ prestigious 11 Award. The Snow Child has featured on both the New York Times‘ and the Sunday Times‘ bestseller lists, and it even made its way onto Litro‘s own Books of 2012 feature.
Eowyn Ivey — named after the Tolkien character — grew up in Alaska, and now lives there with her husband and two daughters. Currently working as a bookseller and novelist, Ivey spent ten years as a reporter on the Frontiersman newspaper. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Observer Magazine and the Sunday Times Magazine. She can be found at her website, eowynivey.com, or on twitter as @eowynivey.
Here she talks about her early experiences with the mysterious baby-quieter, becoming Super Reader, and what Alaska means to her.
Describe your earliest memory.
I remember being 3 years old or so and walking in the woods with my mom. I was a chatterbox, and I think she wanted some silence. She said, “Shhh, look over there – do you see a baby-quieter?” The trick worked: I stopped talking and started watching for those mysterious creatures. And I vividly imagined a chubby little cherub hiding behind a tree and putting a finger to his lips.
What was the first book you ever loved? Why?
My mom read to me a lot when I was a child, so books wove their way into my memories in a seamless way. But the first book I remember reading on my own and being entirely absorbed by was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It is about a family of orphans who find a boxcar to make into a home. Like a lot of children, I was drawn to stories of orphans who have to survive by their own wit and skill.
Tell us about the first time you realised that the world may not be as it seems.
I’ve always been fascinated by this thought, that there are layers to reality and to individual people that we don’t see on first glance. But one of the moments that stayed with me is when I discovered that the rough-and-tumble bartender at the Alaska lodge where I was waitressing was also an accomplished cellist. It was a delightful surprise, and reminded me to never make assumptions.
What has been the most formative place in your life? Why?
The Alaskan wilderness, certainly. I grew up here and it is very much a part of who I am. As well as I know it and feel it is a part of who I am, there are many layers to this place that I haven’t yet come to understand, and that is one of my inspirations as a writer.
Which literary or historical character do you most identify with? Why?
I am fascinated by the life of Beatrix Potter – she was a creative, independent woman who loved the natural world, who found peace there even as she suffered loss. I really admire her.
Describe your most defining experience with money.
I find money one of the most stressful, least interesting elements of life. If I never had to think about money again, about how to get it or how to spend it, I would be very happy.
Being a writer is a strange brand of celebrity. Tell us about your most memorable encounter.
I am nowhere near the level of a celebrity, but it is fun that people in my home town are enjoying my adventures with my book. I was at the grocery store the other evening when an elderly couple approached me to say that they had recently been in Paris and saw my book at Shakespeare & Co. They were so excited for me, and I found that really touching.
What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done in pursuit of reading or writing?
I did a rafting trip with my husband, just the two of us, down a remote and wild river here in Alaska. During the week-long trip we saw brown bears and glaciers and beautiful, rugged country. It was part of my research for my next novel.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Why?
I would love to be Super Reader – to be able to hold a book to my forehead and instantly know it. As the saying goes, too many books, not enough time. Although I am a fast reader, I can’t keep up with all the books I want to read.
If you were to find yourself in a Farenheit 451 world, which book would you save and why?
I would be the fool running around grabbing as many books as I could until my arms were full and I was dropping them even as I tried to scoop up more. I could never choose just one.
What’s next for you (work- and life-wise)?
I am working on my next novel and looking forward to being home more in Alaska with my family.