Today, one of my very favourite books of recent years, Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, is released in paperback. A cause for celebration indeed and I’m hugely chuffed that For Winter Nights is involved in Snow Day. To mark the event I’m delighted to present an interview with author Eowyn Ivey and a competition to win a signed copy of The Snow Child. But, first, a reminder of what it’s all about…:
‘A middle-aged couple, Mabel and Jack, are about to endure their second Alaskan winter. Far from their families, they are trying to make a life for themselves farming land that for much of the time is either too frozen or too wet. With Jack labouring all day, Mabel is left in their cabin, remembering a lost child and contemplating whether to take a walk across the barely frozen nearby river. Yet, when the first snow falls, Jack and Mabel are enchanted and for the first time in a long, long while they play together and build with great care a snow girl, complete with red lips, red mittens and scarf and yellow hair. The next morning, the snow child is gone and, when they begin to catch sight of a young girl in the trees, watching them, Mabel becomes convinced that the child is a snow girl, brought to life, just like the snow child fairy tale in the Russian book that she treasures, even though she can’t read a word.’
‘Eowyn Ivey’s prose is truly bewitching and at times you may catch your breath, smile or cry a little. She has achieved the sophisticated air of simplicity and naturalness while going straight to the heart of her fully-rounded, breathing characters, yet still always making sure that the Alaskan environment is never more than a cabin wall from us, even when we read this novel wrapped up and snug in our homes. It is a marvellous achievement and Eowyn Ivey has a great talent which we must watch in the years to come. As for the snow child herself, there’s every chance that you’ll fall as much in love with her as Mabel and Jack.’
An Interview with Eowyn Ivey
FWN: The Snow Child is steeped in the tradition of fairytale, with a wonderful mix of myth, especially Russian, but it is also firmly grounded in the landscape and seasons of Alaska. How important is your environment in your drive to write?
Eowyn: Thank you! The Alaska wilderness is really the starting ground for me as a writer. I have never come up with an idea and thought, “Where should this take place?” Instead, I’ve sought out stories that enable me to explore this landscape.
Was the story of The Snow Child the result of a moment’s inspiration or had you been nurturing the idea for some time? If so, did the story develop as you wrote it or did you know when you began how it would finish?
It really was one of those rare, lightning-strike moments. I was at Fireside Books where I work when I came across a children’s picture book that told the Snegurochka fairy tale – an old man and woman build a girl out of snow and she comes to life. I had never heard of the story, and I knew right then that this was going to be my next novel. I spent some time researching the different versions, and endings, and I had them all before me as I wrote the novel. But it really wasn’t until I was nearly finished with the manuscript that I knew how my version would end.
Mabel, the wife and mother in The Snow Child, is one of the most memorable, powerful and poignant characters that I have read in fiction for a long, long time. Where did you find her? Where is she from?
I wanted Mabel to be new to Alaska, so I could see the landscape through those eyes. And the fairy tale dictated that she be childless and sorrowful because of it. But once I planted those little seeds, she grew into a person I had never met before. Somehow I discovered that she liked to draw, and that she wanted to roll up her sleeves and work hard in this new wilderness but was too timid to do it on her own. Creating characters is almost like getting to know real people – they surprise me and reveal new layers as I spend more time with them.
I admire all writers who manage to get the words on the page day after day, despite all the distractions. Do you write at set times of the day, strictly structuring your time, or do you just grab any moments you can?
I had a fairly strict schedule as I was writing The Snow Child – after dinner each night, I would retreat to a closet I had converted into an office. My husband would get the baby ready for bed, and I would write for an hour or two before I got too tired. Years before, I wrote on a morning schedule each day after my oldest daughter went off to school. I’ve had to steal the moments when schedules allow, but a predictable routine does help me.
Thank you for asking! I am working on another novel, and it will share some similarities with The Snow Child – set in historical Alaska with some magical and mythological elements. It’s early on, but I’m having a lot of fun with it.
I read on your blog that the success of The Snow Child has enabled you to drill for water at your home, bringing water into your taps, something that many of us take for granted. Has the publication of your novel changed your life in other ways?
The important things – my family, my aspirations as a writer, my life in Alaska – are much the same. But being published has opened a whole new world of opportunities to both me and my family. We are getting to travel the world, and I have the chance to meet other writers and readers. And, as you say, we were able to drill our well this summer. After six years of hauling water, it is such a treat to turn on the faucet with no fear of running out!
The Snow Child is perfect reading for the long winter nights – which authors do you read while curled up by the fire?
A few of my favourite fireside reads are Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Two Old Women by Velma Wallis and The Hobbit – there’s something about reading a magical adventure story that makes me feel content to be indoors and warm and safe. And I remember as a child reading A Wrinkle in Time during a particularly blustery, cold autumn. My book club just chose it for October, and I am so looking forward to curling up with it again.