On Oct. 4, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented author Eden Robinson reading from her latest novel Blood Sports. York teaching assistant Chris Cornish sent the following report to YFile.
The bathroom floor has a large, red puddle near the wall, which has multiple arches of what appears to be blood spatter. The camera tilts up to examine the ceiling, which also has been sprayed.
J. REIGER: You think you know someone. You live with them. You eat with them. You fight with them. And then they go and surprise you…
from Blood Sports
by Eden Robinson
If Eden Robinson was as friendly and cheerful to her characters as she is in person, Blood Sports might have been a lot less bloody. The British Columbia writer, who has a self-professed love of Disney characters and whose hearty laugh peppers her conversation, saves all her darkness for her writing.
Right: Eden Robinson
Her most recent novel was initially proposed as an erotic tale but evolved into something much darker. She found that her erotic scenes were not nearly as good as her torture scenes, the latter becoming even more vivid when she tried to quit smoking. "The more I was in pain, the more my characters were in pain!" said Robinson. The sometimes brutal violence found in her work surprises even the author, who has come to acknowledge that "violence is one of my skills. It’s not a gift I was looking for".
In fact, Robinson’s career has been partly shaped by thwarted ambitions. When she was a child, she didn’t want to be a writer. Rather, she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up. When this dream was grounded (she missed the height requirement by one inch), she developed an interest in horror films and literature that matched her darker moods. In grade nine, one of the first writing projects she took on was to rewrite the ending to David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Her class loved it.
After that early taste of literary success, there were many years of failure and struggle. She enrolled in the creative writing program at the University of Victoria where she failed prose fiction in her first two years and was told that she had no talent. Robinson persevered and, during her master’s degree at the University of British Columbia, she wrote what would become her first short story collection, the critically-acclaimed Traplines.
It is this early struggle that perhaps led to her later success: "There were some really talented people at UVic, much more talented than I was, but I think the fact that the writing came so easily hurt them in the end," said Robinson. "They weren’t used to struggling, and when things became hard later on they just gave up." Without this kind of determination, she might never have finished her first novel, Monkey Beach. Initially a failed master’s thesis, shelved in favor of Traplines, it took 32 drafts, 10 years, some serious binge writing, caffeine and Twizzlers candy ("muse bait") to complete.
Through her self-discovery as a writer, Robinson found that she learned a lot by "genre-hopping". From screenplays, one gets a feel for dialogue; poetry teaches an economy of language; theatre is good for characters. Robinson lived in a house with five theatre majors and found their insight into characters helped her work as well as her presentation at readings. Within one book, Robinson employs the skills of many genres in Blood Sports, from epistolary to filmic to novelistic.
Robinson offered some advice for aspiring writers. While she acknowledged that there is an abundance of books on how to write, they aren’t useful until you know who you are. She suggested that before writing, one should read a hundred books of the genre(s) you’re interested in. "Writing is all about stealing. Find what you like, study it to death, and then use it."
Robinson’s own influences include Stephen King and Michael Ondaatje. Echoing Robertson Davies’ thought that books and ideas find the writer, she mused "if a book is speaking to you, it’s for a reason. It’s acting as a guide to some mysterious part of your heart."
The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature. The series is sponsored in part by the Canada Council for the Arts. Karen Hines performed from her collection Pochsy Plays on Oct. 18.
For more information on Eden Robinson, see the Quill and Quire magazine interview with the author.