‘I like to get to the guts of my characters.’ – An interview with Eden Robinson, nominee for the Giller Fiction Prize 2017

Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. Her novel Monkey Beach was nominated for The Giller Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award. It received the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her latest novel Son of a Trickster is also nominated for The Giller Fiction Prize. Eden is an alumna of the UBC Creative Writing MFA Program and we caught with her to speak about her the nomination, her novel, writing and her time at UBC.

Congratulations on being shortlisted. What does it mean to you?

Having my novel chosen for this shortlist is very humbling. I am deeply grateful and moved.

Tell us about Son of a Trickster.

My dad was telling his grand kids Wee’git stories and they didn’t understand the humour in them. I found it heartbreaking and decided to write a short story putting Wee’git in a modern context.  The story edged up to 50 pages and I thought, hmm, it might be a novella.  Once it passed 400 and I still hadn’t introduced the main antagonist, I knew it might be more than one book.  I’m hoping to keep it to a trilogy.

Your novels in particular seem to strongly resonate with people. Why do you think that is?

A lot of families have official stories and then the emotionally real ones.  I like to get to the guts of my characters.  I was worried it would be too raw, but why write something if it doesn’t resonate with you? People seem to respond to the intimacy of knowing the characters’ deep, dark secrets.  And the banter.

What are you trying to achieve in your writing? 

I’m fond of the margins of society and am always trying to give depth to my outcasts. I’m trying to reflect back a working-class world, a world of precarious jobs and struggling to make ends meet.  I prefer the shades of people rather than strictly likeable characters. I think we all have moments when we make horrible decisions and moments when we’re full of grace.

You are an alumna of the UBC MFA Creative Writing program. What drew you to the programme?

When I was doing my undergrad at the University of Victoria, I won the Prism International short fiction contest. As a part of the prize, I did a reading at UBC. I met the editors  and we hit it off. The evening was so much fun, I really wanted to work with these people. So I sent in my application and crossed my fingers.

How did your work change during the MFA and after you graduated?

A part of the program is that you work in different genres. I found that intimidating at first, but learned so much from poetry and screenplay. In poetry workshops I learned the economy of words and to pay attention to the rhythm of my sentences. In screenplay, I learned how to break apart a manuscript and examine its bones. I also joined Prism, and from defending works I wanted to include in an issue, I thought about my own aesthetic and learned to articulate what I loved about the work we were considering. I became a more well-rounded writer.

What was your most valuable learning from UBC’s Creative Writing program?

That you can disagree with someone without taking it personally. Different people love different  writers. Writing can be a lonely profession, especially in the beginning when you aren’t sure what you’re doing or how to edit. Workshops teach you about tactful feedback and it’s easier to see clunky bits in other people’s work. You start to see the craft of writing as something that can strengthen your vision. My best memory from this time is hanging out at restaurants and bars and getting into long writing discussions after workshops.

Read more about The Giller Prize here.