An Interview with Alison Pick

A. J. Levin: You seem to have started off as a poet and moved to fiction. Did you always write both, or did one come first?

Alison Pick: Originally I wrote neither. Although I loved to write as a kid, and wish that I still had a copy of a novel I started in a Hilroy notebook in Grade 2 (evil twins: how original), it never occurred to me to pursue writing as a vocation until my final year of university. I took a creative writing course as an elective and was just blown away. (What? People actually do this?) It was poetry that I was particularly taken with at that point—I remember being so enamoured that I couldn’t sleep at night (pathetic, I know). Fiction didn’t come until several years later.

AL: Do you consider money when you set about writing, or is it just a question of what medium best suits what you are working on?

AP: No, I never consider money. I mean, until recently it wouldn’t have occurred to me that considering money was an option. Again, this might sound naive, but when I started The Sweet Edge I really had no idea that there are books that make more money and books that make less—or, that there are types of books that tend to make more money than others. In my mind, it was simply the case that a first-time novelist makes the least, and as you continue to write books, hopefully the financial reward increases.

You hear about people who try to write toward the latest trend, or who write the book best suited to the Hollywood Blockbuster. My opinion is that the exercise is futile. There are guidelines, but it’s really hard to predict what will be successful. Look at John Banville’s The Sea: quiet, lyrical, poetic (all the things that aren’t supposed to sell) and a Booker Prize winner.

The best any writer can do is to try to listen to what wants to be written, to where the poem or story or novel seems to be going, and follow it there. To be faithful to the story, or the impulse behind it, and cross your fingers that enough money will follow. Not an excess of money, but enough to keep at it. Which, if you’re for real, is reward aplenty. Attempting to force the content one way or another leads to stilted writing anyway; you lose the ring of truth. And a good reader will always sniff you out.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.