Hailing from Nova Scotia, Canada, Johanna Skibsrud is the author of two novels, Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014), and the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning, The Sentimentalists (Norton 2011). She has also published a collection of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories (Norton 2012), and co-written the children’s book Sometimes We Think You are a Monkey (Penguin Canada 2014). Not only that, Skibsrud is also the author of three books of poetry, Late Nights with Wild Cowboys (Gaspereau 2008), I Do Not Think that I Could Love a Human Being (Gaspereau 2010), and The Description of the World (Wolsak and Wynn 2016).
In the interview below, Johanna Skibsrud talks about what inspired her to become a writer, her favorite book to write, and advice for potential authors/publishers.
Meghan Reinholz: What inspired you to become an author?
Johanna Skibsrud: Reading as a kid. I was just one of those kids who wanted to be swept away by stories. I was lucky that my mother was also a reader and was always encouraging of my writing. She never gave me the sense that being a writer was an impossible career choice.
MR: What inspired the idea behind your children’s book, Sometimes We Think You are a Monkey?
JS: The birth of my eldest niece. My best friend and oldest friend, Sarah Blacker, and I had often scribbled stories together when we were younger, and when my oldest niece was born we wrote and illustrated a story for her as a gift. The book really just grew out of our love for my niece—it wasn’t published until years later after I was more familiar with the publishing world. I like the idea of writing for kids, but I think what really makes Sometimes We Think You are a Monkey special is that close personal connection to the story.
MR: Which of your books was your favorite to write?
JS: My latest novel, Quartet for the End of Time. It was inspired by one of Olivier Messiaen’s quartet of the same name, which was completed in a German prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. I wanted to express the complexity of this piece of music in the form of a novel. It was the biggest challenge I have taken on as a writer, and I really enjoyed both the research and the experimentation that went into that project.
MR: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JS: From my own experiences, mostly. That’s a very broad area, though. I get inspiration from little snippets of conversations I overhear, newspaper articles, encounters with my family, anecdotes from friends, and nature. I think reading and just participating in the world is the place of inspiration for me.
MR: Any advice for someone who’s looking to write their own novel/publish their work?
JS: Write and read! Listen to advice, but mostly from yourself; self-criticism (and encouragement) is very important. Send out your stories; take that leap of faith. And if it gets sent back to you, take a good hard look at it, and then send it out again, and again…
For more information on what Johanna, check out her website at http://www.johannaskibsrud.com
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