Talking to the Marvelous Sophie Pinkoski
by Xue Liu
Sophie Pinkoski is a Canadian novelist who has a store of literary experiences. After I read her biography provided by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, I found out her hometown is Edmonton, which she returned to after completing her education around the world. I am interested in her studies in the UK. I want to know what she learned from Edinburgh Napier University, and how those multicultural learning experiences influenced her writing. In addition, I am interested in her personality, and trying to see the relationship between her personality and her writing style. Below is an email interview I conducted with Sophie.
X L: I know that you have literary experiences at the University of Victoria, in England, and at Edinburgh Napier University, which is in Scotland. So why did you choose those universities?
I chose Victoria because it was my first time coming back to Canada long-term and I wasn’t a fan of the snow, so I chose the warmest Canadian city I possibly could! I like being close to the beach and living in rainier climates. Plus, I wanted to pursue an English degree, and Victoria happened to have the best English faculty of all the universities I’d looked into.
Edinburgh Napier I chose because I knew I needed a more marketable degree than just my B.A. in English if I wanted to be taken seriously in my field. I started looking for any writing related program I could think of in Canada and nothing really popped. So, on a total whim, I started looking up programs in the UK. I’d always wanted to live in Edinburgh at some point in my life, and it just happened that it had one of the few industry accredited publishing programs. So, it worked out pretty well in the end…
X L: Did those experiences and the different cultures inspire your writing or influence your writing style?
I think it did, in a way. Spending so much time in the UK (I did my high school there before returning to Canada), I fell in love with the culture and the history in ways I didn’t fully appreciate until I left. I think that’s why I got so fanatically interested in 19th century British history and literature during my time at UVic. The British school system gave us such a depth of literary background, I was already reading so much Victorian literature in high school and I just wanted to pursue more of that in my undergrad. I decided to do a minor in history and after a while, it just kind of made sense to tackle Victorian criminal history as my focus, and that’s when I started getting more and more excited about writing a Victorian crime novel. I’m definitely very influenced by dark, gothic literature and that was only intensified by being geographically right in the middle of where these novels were written. Being able to see Shakespeare’s Globe and the Bronte Parsonage made a huge difference in terms of my connection to my favourite stories that play such a huge role in everything I write. I like to joke that if you really delve deep into every single piece I write, at the end of the day, I’ve written an homage to Shakespeare or Emily Bronte. I’ve got such a strong connection to British literature that I just don’t have with Canadian literature at all, because it never felt like home to me.
X L: In your own opinion, what do you think of the relationship between personality and writing?
All good writers put a bit (or a lot) of themselves into their writing. That’s always going to happen. And I think your personality really determines every single little choice you make in the stories you write. It dictates your topic of choice, your tone of voice, your narrative perspective, your characters, your sense of humour. All of that goes into a story and it really is like letting a reader dig right into your soul and seeing who you are beyond the surface.
X L: And does writing influence your personality? If it does, is there anything you never changed?
I’m an extremely introverted person, and I tend to think that’s a natural state of being for virtually any writer. I’m personally deeply influenced by my characters, which works in a bit of an insane cycle – each and every one of my characters is an extension of myself and my personality, but at the same time, there comes a point where they take on their own personalities and go off and do their own things despite the fact I have a plan for them. A lot of subconscious things rise to the surface when you can let go and let your characters tell you what you need to know, both about yourself and about them. And often, I’ll write about characters I have no experience with in real life, and they teach me a few things about how I can grow as a person. I think the process of writing a character’s experience really challenges you to face those deep, dark fears you push back, and then once you’re on the other side, suddenly you’re stronger as a person because you’ve psychoanalyzed yourself without realizing it. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we write for the catharsis of facing our inner demons.
X L: I know that you are writing time travel novels, can you specifically explain what time travel novels mean to you and why you especially like this kind of story?
My two biggest literary idols as a kid were Madeleine L’Engle and J.K. Rowling, and I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe women can write this stuff! I could write this! I will write this!” I’ve always written time travel novels because of that.
I think I like writing time travel because it plays to the incredibly convoluted way my mind works. I’m always reaching for the most complicated route for any plot. I’m more interested in the grandest option than the simplest. Time travel has that grandeur and has the most opportunity for complications to arise. It’s very high stakes and if characters mess up even the slightest bit, they’ve screwed themselves (and potentially the world) over. I’m interested in that intensity of conflict, and making characters work for their happy endings.
Interacting with time travel stories, I’m really excited by seeing characters thrown into completely different eras, and seeing how they work out of their element. As a history geek, I love that. It seems like every time travel writer has a different take on how time travel works, so seeing the consequences of characters’ actions if they’ve changed the future by going back to the past, or just reaffirming what’s already been set in motion is fascinating to me. There is no universal answer to how exactly time travel should work, and I think that’s what’s so fun about it.
I am glad to hear a lot of thoughtful answers from Sophie throughout this interview. I feel that Sophie has a deep respect for British literature, and she worked so hard on her university education. She analyzes a lot of details of the writing process, such as creating the figure of a character, and how it relates to a writer’s personality. The most impressive thing, which she mentioned in the interview, is creating characters that she has never experienced in real life, and how doing that can teach me a few things and help me grow as a person. I really want to try it out, and this idea fuels my writing appetite. Sophie Pinkoski is a marvelous author.