Thursday 21 May 2015

Q&A with Anna North, author of The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.

Hi Anna, thanks for joining us! What inspired you to write The Life and Death of Sophie Stark?

I first had the idea to write about a woman who was a sort of political documentarian. I knew I wanted her to be named Sophie Stark — I liked how it sounded like a pseudonym (which, in the book, it turns out to be). I also thought it sounded a bit like my name. After writing a few pages, though, I wasn’t sure where to go with the story, and I put it away for several years. When I came back to it, I realized I wasn’t as interested in the political angle as I was in the character of Sophie herself — in how people responded to her and how she influenced them.

I felt the characterisation in The Life and Death of Sophie Stark was so strong, and you built a great profile for each main character. Did you plan a lot for each character before writing the book?

Thanks, that’s flattering! I actually didn’t plan much at all. In my fiction in general, I have a hard time planning. I need to start writing in order to figure out how a book works. For this book, some of the characters came to me more easily than others. For some, I had to step back at a certain point in the writing process and ask myself questions about them — what does this person look like? What was his or her childhood like? What is he or she afraid of? But usually I started asking myself these questions as I was already writing, because I needed to get started in order to figure out what I needed to ask.

Was it always the plan to have the story based around Sophie Stark rather than being told from her perspective?

Yes, I knew pretty much from the beginning that I wouldn’t be taking Sophie’s perspective. So much of the point of her character is that she’s impossible to fully understand. The other characters have so many questions about her — if I’d included a chapter from her perspective, it would have answered too many of those questions.

I found the book to be very original and was particularly fascinated with the outlook on film-making. How much research did you put in to the story?

I did a fair amount of research early in the process. I read some books about filmmaking, like the producer Christine Vachon’s memoir Shooting to Kill. I also talked to several female filmmakers about their work. My friend Anna Kerrigan, who most recently directed the web series The Impossibilities, also gave me a lot of advice about the nuts and bolts of making movies, including the business side, about which I knew very little.

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is such a thought-provoking novel and I think Sophie will make a big impression on a lot of readers. What message do you think she'd like us to take from the book?

I think Sophie would want readers to remember her and her films forever, and to think of her life as a kind of work of art on a par with her movies. More broadly, she might want readers to know that the memory of an artist herself can be as powerful as the work she leaves behind (or maybe that it’s not so easy to separate the two).

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’m in the very early stages of a new novel that may have more in common with my first book, America Pacifica, than with The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. It’s set in the future, or perhaps an alternate present — at any rate, a world that’s significantly different from the one we live in now, though one that shares some of the same problems. I also have some ideas for short stories and for flash fiction; I love to write very short stories that let me explore unusual topics and scenarios, and I’d like to try some more of these now that I’m finished with Sophie’s story.

What kind of books do you like to read yourself? Any recent favourites?

Right now I’m in the middle of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and I’m loving it so far. I’m also in the middle of Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (I’m often reading a couple of books at once), and really enjoying that too — it imagines a world where elevator inspection is extremely important, and explores how racism and ideological conflict play out in an elevator inspectors’ guild and the life of one inspector. Recently, I also read and loved The Folded Clock, by Heidi Julavits, After Birth, by Elisa Albert, and Dear Thief, by Samantha Harvey. I tend to like novels that center on complex female characters trying to figure out their lives, but I also love a lot of books that aren’t like that at all, including memoirs, essay collections, and poetry.

If you could interview any author in the world, who would you pick and why?

This is cheating, because she’s dead, but I’d like to interview Mary Shelley. Frankenstein is one of my favourite books. Mary Shelley also had a fascinating life (though not always a happy one), and I’d love to hear about it first-hand.

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